Site structure is extremely important, yet commonly overlooked when thinking about SEO possibilities. In a world where “content is king”, we sometimes forget that how we present our content can be just as important as the content itself. After all, what's the purpose of great content if no one can find it?
Presentation can be the reason why people — and search engines — engage with your content. A clear, navigable site structure enhances your user’s experience and allows Google to understand your site.
Let’s walk through the many ways site structure impacts SEO, or search engine optimization. This includes a basic overview on how search engines use keywords and find websites, and how you can use this knowledge to teach search engines what to look for.
A Basic Overview of How Search Engines Work
Site structure not only improves aesthetics, but it's also vital for Google’s “eyes.” We are going to focus on Google although we are aware there are other search engines like Yahoo and Bing. At the most basic level, Google has three functions : crawling, indexing, and ranking.
In order to map out the entire internet, Google first has to discover a URL, which can happen through several means. The search engine can find web pages through following links from a known page to a new page, or from submitting a sitemap. Sitemaps are when you give a blueprint of your site to Google to crawl. Website-creator sites like Wix or Squarespace will automatically tell Google when a new page has been created.
Once Google finds a page, it scans the page to see what it is all about. Crawlers are search engines’ way of “reading” your content and learning what it's all about so it can sort and index it. This is where Google makes its decision on where to place the page in search results.
The next step after crawling a page is sorting it in a process called “indexing” where Google analyzes and tries to understand all the content — video and images included — on the page. This is then stored in Google’s massive database.
How to Make Indexing Easier for Google:
- Page titles need to be concise and clear
- Relevant headings
- Annotate or use text to explain images and videos
Google’s job as a search engine is to provide the user with the best answer to their question. Google takes into account location, language, previous computer searches, and other data-driven factors for how they rank the results. Not everyone is going to get the same results from searching the same thing.
The Featured Snippet on Google search is another way search engines have changed over the years. The featured snippet goes above Position 1, meaning it is the most optimal spot when considering SEO - it’s the first thing the searcher sees.
How does site structure optimize for the featured snippet? Your site structure tells Google exactly what to read. By utilizing categories and subcategories, Google can be driven right to the point - and right to the sentence or paragraph that can be taken as a featured snippet. Organization in terms of clear titles and consistency in menu and paragraph format can also make things extra clear for search engines - as opposed to a chaotic site!
How to Utilize Site Structure for SEO
Site structure allows you to tell Google what you want it to see. It’s like an organized cabinet with labels - a house guest will easily be able to find where your bath towels are. Or think of a preschool play area. All the cabinets are clearly labeled “markers,” “papers,” and “toys.”
Proper site structure will also allow Google to index pages with ease, which would lead to a higher ranking on the search engine because of the crawl, index, and rank process.
Let’s go over the best practices in site structure for SEO.
Internal Linking for SEO
There are two types of links that can be incorporated into web pages: internal and external. You may be asking what’s the difference? Internal links take the user between one post on your website to another post, video, menu or any other form of content on your own site. External links drive you to another site.
Internal links, between your own content, help you help Google read your site. That’s what a lot of this site structure stuff is talking about — how can you best help Google help you? Internal linking creates a hierarchy for the Googlebot crawlers to follow so they can index which pages are more important.
Let’s go over the 6 reasons internal linking can improve SEO.
6 Ways Internal Linking Can Improve Your SEO
1. Navigation & Architecture
Guide them along the reading path! Linking is another way to establish hierarchy. Take them through the journey of your website without them even consciously knowing. The way you link can establish the pyramid of structure we discussed previously.
2. Link Equity
Make your links meaningful! Links have varying levels of value, trustworthiness, topic relevance, and authoritativeness. You can use any number of these factors to increase the worth of your link. SEO will respond positively to an equitable link.
3. Linking Keeps Readers Longer
Internal linking helps keep a low bounce rate. Keeping visitors for an extended amount of time can significantly help your SEO. Internally link content that may be of interest to them so they continue to spend time on your site.
4. Linking Gives Authority
Show ‘em what you got! To supplement your argument, you want to have research. Internal linking is a great way to show you know your stuff by providing more helpful content and more explanations on your own site.
5. Re-Engaging Old Content
Internal linking can promote older content that may not be getting as many views these days. Push your reader to the content you want to be seen again!
6. Limit Being Your Own Competition
A lot of your posts are likely to be on similar content because blogs are typically geared towards a topic. MotorTrend’s blog is going to have the search term “cars” very frequently and TasteMade is going to have lots of articles on How to Bake various bakery items. Since the terms and themes are very similar, Google may get confused which is more important if you lack internal linking. You don’t want to have to compete with your own content!
The URL is a major piece of what Google indexes and how search engines know what your page is about. There are a few simple rules to follow to keep your URL structure relevant, clean, and intentional for the crawlers.
First, it’s important to use a standard URL structure. Since at this point your site should be organized in a hierarchy, your URL should reflect that. The main website name should be the company name. Then, after every “/” should be an explanation of the organization within the category and subcategory.
The URL should be extremely clear, to the point where a user could guess it if they had to. Google will read a simple structure with much more ease than one filled with confusing numbers and letters or irrelevant wording.
We suggest using your primary keyword in the URL. For example, if the post’s title is How To Manage Influencer Social Media Accounts, users are likely to reach you by searching words and phrases like “influencer” “managing social media for influencers” and so forth. Your URL should reflect this so it is clear for Google crawlers and benefits your SEO.
Finally, there are two important details in URL structure we cannot skip over. The first step is to use hyphens to separate words. This allows Google to register them as separate words (since you can’t use traditional spaces). Another wording trick is to remove unnecessary words like “a” “the” “and” “but” and other transition or conjunction words.
URL Structure Overview
- Use a standard URL structure
- Keep it simple!
- Take advantage of keywords
- Be aware of details
What Does Ideal Site Structure Look Like?
The homepage should be the heart of the website. Remember in high school science class when they taught you that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell? Well, the homepage is your mitochondria. Don't say freshman year biology didn't teach you anything!
Google suggests websites use the Theme Pyramid structure to best optimize their content. Let’s walk through what this means. For a small to midsize blog, you should have 2-7 categories. Anymore than 7 could be confusing for both Google and the user! The categories should be on the top or side handle of your homepage in menu format. The menu should be easy to navigate and find on the site from any page.
Subcategories are a great way to practice internal linking. Categories can act as pillar pages with many subcategories off of them, as long as there are not too many categories — this could overwhelm the user and search engine bots.
Insider Tip: Keep your subcategories balanced for a cleaner site structure. For example, if one category has 14 subs and another category only has 2, you may want to think of ways to restructure!
The web pages that will hold all your beautifully written content, videos, and images. Pages are all about hierarchy — you need to tell the reader where to look first and where to look after that. The title should be the biggest. We suggest using H1. Then the subtitles should be H2, the subtitles of those sections H3 and so forth.
Thinking back to what we discussed about aesthetics, your individual pages should also be aesthetically pleasing (and should match the branding of your homepage!).
Make sure to have a shallow site structure, meaning you shouldn't have to click too many times to get to each page. There should be two or three navigation clicks at most to get to the content the user is looking for.
Site Structure: Do Your Research
What Matters to Your Business in Terms of Terms?
Keyword research is the process of finding and analyzing what words are being typed (or spoken) into search engines, then using them to your advantage.
Keywords research tells you what the people you are trying to reach care about. Keyword research is becoming less about the literal word, since search engines are becoming smarter and can tell intention even if not the correct wording. Keywords still tell us the general topics that users are searching for.
Keyword research is so important because of site structure hierarchy. Keywords tell a topic’s popularity.
Check out your competitors sites. Ask yourself these questions.
- What is their site structure like?
- What can you be inspired by from their site?
- What are they doing wrong that you do not want to repeat?
- What changes would you make as a user? As a company?
- What are they prioritizing in their hierarchy?
- Does this feel like a “good” or “bad” site to you as a user?
After reflecting on the competition, it should help you assess your own site. It’s a great idea to look at competitors for research, inspiration, and potential changes.
How to Use Keywords & Competitor Research for SEO
- Make a list of relevant topics for your business.
- Transfer these topics into keywords.
- Try out related search terms.
- Try out longer phrases surrounding these terms.
- Double-check the competition - how high is your competition ranked for these keywords?
- Use a keyword tool likeGoogle AdWords Keyword Planner or SemRush.
Now that we have gone over the many ways site structure impacts SEO we hope you will reassess your site structure (or if you are starting now - get it right the first time!). We dove into an overview of how search engines work, and the best practices on how to optimize for them. We talked about the importance of internal linking and the 6 ways linking can help you. We also discussed URL structure and doing your research to smash the competition.
The big takeaway is that site structure does matter for SEO. Remember after taking the time and effort to write great content, you want Google and your users to be able to find it!