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Written by Caroline Cox on Aug 27 , 2021

Not only does proper website architecture help your users, but it can be a game-changer for your SEO.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What site architecture means
  • How this structure affects your SEO
  • Ways to make your architecture SEO friendly
  • How to build a website structure with SEO in mind

Imagine you’re in a home improvement store, shopping list in hand. Maybe this is your neighborhood shop or a brand-new spot you’re visiting for the first time. Either way, there are plenty of design decisions that were made to make your experience as streamlined and efficient as possible.

Think: similar product categories being grouped together, organized shelves, and signage telling you what’s on each aisle. 

This is how website architecture works. Its aim is to make navigating a website clear and intuitive. It also makes it easier for search engines to crawl your pages — a big factor when it comes to your SEO.

The best time to create an ideal site structure is when you’re building or revamping your website. But even a well-established site can be tweaked and modified to be more organized, user-friendly, and appealing to search engines. 

aerial view of an aisle at a home improvement store

Your site structure can help users easily navigate through your offerings to find what they’re looking for. (Image via Unsplash)

Let’s dig into how effective site architecture doesn’t just improve your rankings, but your overall website user experience (UX) as well.

What is website architecture?

As HubSpot explains, website architecture is the way your site is structured. Your structure can help users easily navigate through your offerings to find what they’re looking for. The quicker they can do that, the higher your chances are to drive conversions. 

In simple terms, website architecture refers to navigation elements on your website. This includes headers and footers (plus other internal links), as well as your URL structure.

Pro tip: Site architecture can also help you avoid keyword cannibalization, which is when two or more pages have the same intent and compete with one another. As SEMrush explains, “The right website structure can make it easier to stop this issue from occurring due to a clearly defined place on your site for a particular topic or piece of content.”

How does site architecture benefit SEO?

If someone lands on your website through an online search query but can’t find the information they’re looking for, they’re likely to bounce from your site and look elsewhere.

Having a clean, intuitive navigation allows people to find the pages relevant to them quickly, which keeps them on your site. For that reason, it’s best to always put the user first when considering how to set up your site navigation.

How does site architecture affect search bots? 

Good site architecture also helps search bots (which determine what to include on the search engine results page, or SERP) crawl and understand your site better. Generally, pages at the root of your map are given higher priority. 

Say you’re an e-commerce brand with a large amount of products. You may want to use “/products” in all of your product URLs. This signals to search bots that all pages under that parent category are related in some way. 

If all your pages are at the root, for example “site-name.com/name-of-product,” bots don’t recognize that these are related. This makes it more difficult to know which pages are the highest priority.  

The same can be said for site hierarchy. Tier 1 items should be top priority pages. Related pages can be linked underneath as Tier 2 items. Say you have “products” as your Tier 1 and underneath you have product categories on the Tier 2 level. (Use Tier 3 items sparingly. They tend to clutter up your navigation and can overwhelm users.)

hawksem: website architecture blog

In this example from Columbia Virtual Academy, “Program” is the Tier 1 item, while “Home” and the items below it are all Tier 2. (Image via cva.org)

Pro tip: Having a page linked in the navigation signals to search bots that it’s an important page. Google tends to give more credit to pages in the header navigation than footer. However, if you try to link every single page, it’ll ignore these signals and assume you’re trying to trick the algorithm.

How do you determine if your site structure is SEO-friendly?

There are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if your current site architecture is set up for SEO success:

  • Do you use clean, easy-to-understand URL structures with parent items to categorize content? If not, you should. 
  • Do you use images in your navigation? If so, be sure you’re also using text links. Search bots can’t “see” images. They use anchor text as a signal for a page’s keywords. (Technically, navigation items are considered an internal link.) 
  • If you’re using text links, do your navigation items include keywords when possible? Again, search bots crawl these links and use the anchor text as a clue to the page’s content.
  • Is your navigation easy for a user to understand? You can dig deeper into this question with heat-mapping or other services that let you do user testing or screen recordings. This way, you can see if users are bumbling around on your pages or find what they’re looking for quickly.
  • How many items are in your navigation? There may need to be a lot. A generally good rule is to keep things as concise as possible. You (almost) never need to link every single page on your site in your navigation. Also, consider how many clicks it takes to get to a page from the homepage. Try to keep it to less than four clicks when possible.

Need more help with your website design or marketing? Let’s chat.

hawksem: site architecture article

At its core, site architecture is about improving a visitor’s experience on your site. (Image via Unsplash)

How do you create a site structure with SEO in mind?

Don’t panic if you’re realizing that your site architecture isn’t where it needs to be. There are changes and tweaks you can make that’ll get your site on the right path in a flash.

First off, use keywords in your URLs when possible (without keyword stuffing). If your site’s not already set up this way, work with a developer to see if you can redirect and update your URLs so they have parent items. They should also be clean and easy to read. This means no random scramble of letters, numbers, and symbols.

You also want to make sure there aren’t too many elements in your navigation. Having no more than seven Tier 1 items is a good basic rule to follow, if you can. And using internal links can help search bots and users get to relevant pages quicker

Humans read left to right, so think about how you can prioritize navigation based on what visitors most likely want to see. While it may make sense to you to put your “About” info as your first navigation link, put yourself in the user’s shoes. Most likely, they’re more interested in what you have to offer first.

Lastly, make sure you have an XML sitemap (and potentially an HTML sitemap). Submit these to Google Search Console so Google can see a full list of the pages you want indexed and can go crawl them accordingly.

Pro tip: The growing trend of mobile search is yet another reason to make your navigation as easy to use. When building or updating your navigation, you always want to make sure it looks clean and works properly on both mobile and desktop.

The takeaway

At its core, website architecture is about improving a visitor’s experience on your site and helping you rise in organic search result rankings. It’s also a way to keep your site clean and organized, even as you expand and build it out as time goes on.

Follow these tips to ensure your site is set up in a way that’s easy to follow and designed to help visitors find what they’re looking for.

This post has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Jul 14 , 2021

How sitemaps keep your website organized, help search engines crawl your site more easily, and more

Here, you’ll find:

  • What different types of sitemaps are
  • Key benefits of using sitemaps
  • How to create and submit a sitemap
  • How these maps affect SEO

Whether you’re building a website from scratch or revamping an existing one to boost your SEO, you need to factor in your sitemap. 

That’s because a sitemap is an excellent tool that can help simplify website navigation for both search engines and visitors.  

By providing a sitemap, you make the search engine crawler bots’ job simpler, which helps them index your website quicker. Without a sitemap, it’s easy for crawlers to miss important pages and slow your SEO efforts down as a result.

Let’s take a closer look at what sitemaps are all about.

hand putting pins in a map

XML (which stands for eXtensible Markup Language) is a document formatting language that’s easily understood by both humans and machines. (Image via Unsplash)

What is a sitemap?  

A sitemap is a structured list of all the pages on your website. Search engine crawlers use this information to find content, understand the layout of your website, and determine the relationship between its pages and files.

Without a sitemap, a crawler would have to use internal links to find other pages on your website. Unless all of your pages are perfectly interlinked, a search engine is likely to overlook some important pages, which hinders your SEO efforts.

Types of sitemaps

Four common types of sitemaps exist:

  • XML index sitemap – the most common type of sitemap that helps search engines index your web pages
  • Google News sitemap – helps crawlers find content on websites that can be used for Google News
  • XML video sitemap – helps crawlers track the video content on your pages
  • XML image sitemap – allows crawlers to find all images on your website

There’s also what’s called an HTML sitemap. This type of sitemap has (no surprise here) an HTML format. It’s designed to improve the user’s interaction with your website. These sitemaps are created to simplify navigation and/or replace the search feature.

XML sitemap example

Here’s a basic XML sitemap that includes the location of a single URL. (Image via Google)

Understanding XML sitemaps

XML (which stands for eXtensible Markup Language) is a document formatting language that’s easily understood by both humans and machines. 

An XML sitemap looks like a list of URLs with additional information attached. This information is in the form of tags that demonstrate:

  • Update date – shows the date when the webpage was last modified
  • Update frequency – the more frequently the sitemap is updated, the more often it needs to be crawled
  • The page’s priority – gives crawlers an understanding of which pages are the most important to your website

Search engines only crawl a certain number of pages when they visit your website. If you don’t create a sitemap with the right page priority tags, the crawler may overlook important pages during its visit.

The higher the page’s update frequency and priority, the more frequently the page is crawled.

Pro tip: Sitemaps can’t contain more than 50,000 URLs or be more than 50MB in size. If your sitemap is bigger than allowed, you probably need to create more than one.

The benefits of having a sitemap

Sitemaps can provide benefits for both your website and digital marketing campaigns. The key benefits include:

  • Properly structured XML sitemaps help search engines crawl your pages more efficiently than they would without a sitemap.
  • Sitemaps allow you to set priorities for the URLs. This helps you to direct crawlers to high-priority pages.
  • You can change update dates and update frequency details to bring crawlers back to your website when necessary.
  • If you’re creating a new website, a sitemap can help crawlers discover it more quickly. The same is possible when you create new web pages and other pieces of content.
  • XML sitemaps help you avoid duplication issues. If another website copies your content, you can use the sitemap’s “last modified” information to show who the original content creator is.
  • Sitemaps automatically notify search engines whenever you update your pages, so they come and crawl them faster.
  • A sitemap report can help you discover errors in your website structure.

An XML sitemap is a key part of your overall SEO efforts. Meanwhile, an HTML sitemap can improve the user experience on your website, which can mean boosting its popularity and stimulating conversion rates.

three people's hands pointing at a map

Once you create a sitemap, you have to submit it to the search engine. (Image via Unsplash)

Are sitemaps necessary?

Technically, search engines can find your web pages without a sitemap. However, by including pages in the XML sitemap, you’re showing crawlers that you prioritize them.

Sitemaps are especially important for websites that:

  • Are brand new
  • Have hundreds or thousands of pages (such as an e-commerce site)
  • Have a deep website architecture
  • Add new pages frequently
  • Update existing content frequently
  • Have weak internal linking
  • Have a weak external link profile

Submitting an XML sitemap doesn’t automatically attract search engine crawlers or cause your web pages to get indexed. However, doing it helps increase your chances of being noticed quickly.

Even if your website is small and has a strong linking structure, you may still want to submit an XML sitemap.

Creating an XML sitemap

To create an XML sitemap, you can take advantage of one of the available tools provided by your content management system. Alternatively, you can leverage an XML sitemap generator like Screaming Frog or XML-Sitemaps.

Once you create a sitemap, you have to submit it to the search engine. To submit the sitemap to Google, you need to:

  • Go to Google Search Console
  • Choose “sitemaps”
  • Paste the sitemap’s URL under “Add a new sitemap”
  • Click “submit”

You should also add the sitemap to your robot.txt file. The file is located in the root directory of your web server. To add the sitemap, you need to open the file and add a line that looks like this: “Sitemap: <sitemap URL>.” Submitting a sitemap is free.

The takeaway

Basically, a sitemap is a useful tool that helps search engines and users navigate your website. As mentioned above, while a submitted sitemap doesn’t automatically improve your SEO efforts, it can increase your website’s visibility for search engine crawlers.  

You don’t need any special skills to create an XML sitemap. However, adjusting it efficiently may require technical SEO experience, so don’t be afraid to enlist the pros

Want to learn more about sitemaps and other aspects of technical SEO? We’re here to help.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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