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Case Study | Aug 10
Elise Dopson on December 2, 2019 (last modified on June 2, 2020) • 22 minute read
Sure, 404 errors and internal links have a part to play in how Google spiders find their way around your site.
But we wanted to find out how big of an impact your site structure on SEO.
And, if so, how you can optimize your website to make it easier for Google (and your users!) to navigate.
Before we dive in with the techniques, let’s be clear on why the structure of your website needs to be SEO-friendly.
Donna Duncan of B-SeenOnTop explains: “The goal of structuring your website is to group your content topically so it is (a) easier for search engines to find and determine the relative importance of pages, and (b) easier for you to measure their performance over time.”
In layman’s terms: Google looks at how user-friendly your site is to determine where it ranks. If it’s not easy to use, you won’t be positioned high.
(Not to mention that Google’s spiders need a simple site structure to crawl your site, too.)
So, how can you create an SEO-friendly site structure? We’ll share the tips contributed by 50+ experts, including:
*Editor’s note: Keep an eye on your SEO with our Improve Your Google Search Position dashboard. You’ll be able to view your most important KPIs all in one place, and monitor how changes in your website structure impacts them:
“Websites are always evolving, and there is always new content being added,” Tara Reid of The Introvert Coach says.
“My best advice if you are building a new site or restructuring an old one is to make a plan for your site structure first before you start building. It will not only save you time later on in the creation process, but it will ensure nothing is missed, and everything is set up correctly.”
You can do this using a pen and paper, or online tools like GlooMaps:
“The most common website structure is that of an inverted pyramid: the homepage sits on top, and underneath a handful of top-level service pages, with additional pages to sit under that to provide more detail,” says Digital 22‘s Tiffany Kalus.
“For example: Home > Digital Marketing Services > SEO / PPC / Social Media etc.”
“Search engines use the hierarchy of a website to get an understanding of the importance of a page. A sensible hierarchy also helps users find their way around a website and makes breadcrumbs easier to implement, which is also beneficial for SEO.”
Ryan Guina of Little King Media explains: “Ideally, your site structure will look like a pyramid or an organizational chart, with your home page serving as the tip of the pyramid and gradually widening as your content structure becomes more specific.”
LetMeBank‘s Morgan Taylor summarizes: “If you want to improve your website structure for SEO, decide on the hierarchy of importance for each piece of your website – every page should be listed in its order of importance.”
“Within each of these main pages, subpages should be ordered in the same fashion. Your goal is to make your website a map with a clearly defined path leading your visitors to the main goal.”
You’ve got the hierarchy of your website planned.
But it’s not just your entire site you’ll need to think about. SH1FT ‘s Dorian Reeves advises to “optimize your H1, H2 [to include the] best possible keywords for your business using tools like Serpstat, SEMrush or Ahrefs.”
“You can also use tools like Yoast SEO on WordPress to make sure all your pages are SEO friendly,” Reeves adds.
(Maybe that’s why WordPress is voted one of the best CMS for creating an SEO-friendly site structure.)
Beekeeper‘s Jessica Ruane agrees: “It’s very important to pay close attention to the hierarchy of your tags. Be sure that you use H1 for the title, and then move on to H2 and H3. Some may tend to select the tag for the size of the text, but that’s a big mistake when it comes to SEO.”
“More often than not a website’s navigation fills up with unnecessary pages that don’t serve any purpose–the pages aren’t driving traffic, aren’t engaging visitors, and aren’t getting conversions,” Matthew Edgar explains.
“As you remove these pages from your website, almost always, the website becomes easier to use and that increases conversions and engagement. It also helps the remaining pages on the website rank better in search results because Google’s bots are able to more easily crawl through the website.”
Precise‘s Nikki Corbett adds: “If your blog is a treasure trove of information, your fans shouldn’t have to dig to find it. Keep it in the top navigation, and you’re sure to get more traffic.”
That’s partly why over half of our experts recommend using a subfolder for your blog, rather than a subdomain:
Corbett continues: “People don’t have time to hunt around on your site. Lead them to the path you want them on, and make it easy, fun, and entertaining along the way.”
David LaVine of RocLogic Marketing agrees: “For your navigation menu, consider adding/removing links to focus on your most valuable pages (consider multiple navigation menus where it makes sense).”
That’s why Ricemedia‘s Isabelle Drury recommends to “link to key, revenue or inquiry driving pages from your navigation, and use internal links to point to-and-from deeper pages. For large sites, in particular, this ensures that the most important pages are being crawled more regularly.”
However, Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles has a word of warning: “Be really selective with your choice of categories in your run of site navigation.”
“Due to natural linking from all other pages on your site, these pages will be your most powerful. So once you’ve updated your keyword search, find which pages are bringing in traffic, which have the potential to if fully optimized and which can effectively be culled from your run of site navigation.”
McCall Robison also advises against removing “anything from your main navigation if you don’t have to.
“[Best Company] removed our “News” section from our main navigation to put it in the footer, and almost immediately we saw negative results. Our traffic hit a big blow and the only changing factor was our main navigation edit.”
“We wanted to be more selective and replace the “News” section with something more beneficial for our site, but because we are a developed site with quite a bit of traffic, messing with the main nav complete upset our traffic.”
McCall continues: “Once we put the “News” section back into our main nav, our traffic leveled back out. Google didn’t like to see us messing with the core structure of our site. So when you’re building an SEO-friendly website architecture, really think about what your main navigation should include and what it shouldn’t so you don’t have to hit a snag like we did later on.”
Ben Cook of JC Social Media concludes: “Having a great structure is all about prioritization – elevating the importance of key pages and content on your site.”
“Main menu items are given priority by the search engines so getting rid of options that are not ranking page or fundamental to the user journey is a simple and effective way to give more power to the pages you actually want to rank.”
“One great tip to help optimize the SEO structure of a website is to use proper internal linking,” says Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design. “Internal linking helps connect your website and helps users navigate around your website properly.”
“If you are linking your site, and it takes too many clicks from your homepage to get to a subpage, this can have a real negative impact on the user experience and SEO.”
That’s why Wolfate‘s Carlos Castro also advises to “ensure that the URLs are maximum 3 clicks away from the homepage”–something over 40% of our experts recommend, too:
inSegment‘s Alexander Kesler explains: “Creating a site structure with an extensive crawl depth of over 3 clicks from the homepage negatively impacts optimization efforts because it makes it more difficult for users and search engine crawlers to reach pages buried too deep in the website.”
Farasat Khan of IsItWP puts this into practice: “You have 1000 posts all in one category, and your website shows 10 pieces per page. And then there is pagination (Next >> , Previous <<); the crawler would need to crawl 100 pages deep to find the first post among those 1000 posts.”
“Since a crawler has billions of pages to crawl, it won’t go that deep. Therefore it is highly important to keep your money pages [close to your] homepage.”
Breadcrumbs are short navigation menus, usually shown on pages further away from the homepage, that help a user get around your site.
“My one tip is to always use breadcrumbs as a form of navigation,” says Adam Hempenstall of Better Proposals. “Not only does it make your SEO structure neater and cleaner, but it also forces you to think logically when building your site.”
“Your development and marketing teams will build the site logically and create an orderly structure when building the website and it will make it that much better for SEO in terms of crawling.”
“Finally, it’s a nice UX touch that makes it easier for visitors to find the information they are looking for,” Hempenstall says.
That’s why Beaconstac‘s Sneh Choudhary also advises to “use breadcrumbs in addition to this to help Google’s crawlers comb through the site better and consequently display sitelinks in SERP.”
“Don’t forget to create an internal linking strategy because your own website pages contain a significant amount of power to influence SEO rank between them,” Webbuzz‘s Ben Carew says.
“You want to map the flow of ‘page rank’ through your site, including the anchor text you are using to link to each page, which can be quite aggressively keyword-optimized without incurring a Google penalty. Part of this process will be linking between pages that are topically similar.”
Carew continues: “If you have a larger site you could also consider as part of this strategy to ‘wall off’ areas of your site by topic and only internally link between them.”
Not only that, but Luke Budha of TopLine Comms recommends to “use descriptive internal links! It’s not enough to say ‘click here’ or ‘more info’ and then link those words to the destination page – rather make it crystal clear to Googlebot what the destination page is all about.”
Budha references a speech from Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller: “The context we [Google] pick up from internal linking is really important to us… with that kind of the anchor text, that text around the links that you’re giving to those blog posts within your content. That’s really important to us.”
When structuring your website, Mathew Peranick of 420interactive recommends to “make sure you identify your money pages or the pages that you want to rank for high-volume keywords. Then make sure you have content that supports the money page and links back to that page.”
“This helps show Google that you are putting emphasis on the money page, and that the rest of your content is pointing back to that page as a high authority page on your website.”
Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design continues: “Internal linking will also help you to connect blog pages and subpages to your main content “pilar page”. This helps the search engines understand what is the most important part of your website.”
“Internal linking is a great way to optimize your website structure and improve your SEO,” Growth Hackers‘ Jonathan Aufray explains.
Aufray adds that you can take advantage of using this process: “Find pages and articles on your website discussing the same topic. Then, add internal links between them with relevant SEO. This will boost your SEO while helping search engines understand your site structure.”
Beaconstac‘s Sneh Choudhary summarizes: “The most overlooked piece of advice is interlinking. Make sure your high traffic blog posts are linked to your product pages and other relevant posts that help users and crawlers navigate faster.”
*Editor’s note: Do you know which pages on your site are driving the most organic traffic to your website? Add our Google Analytics Content Analysis dashboard to your Databox account and find out:
Anand Iyer says that “more than 50% of all online searches will be voice-based by 2020”– which is why Iyer’s “ONE tip would be to optimize the website for voice search by adding FAQ section and structured data.”
Fueled‘s Max Falb explains: “It is a really easy and effective way for Google to easily crawl and read the content on your page and will improve your SEO.”
We’ve put together a list of expert-recommended structured data tools to help you do this. But to start with, Insightland‘s Irena Zobniów advises using “schema.org online checker tools to make sure your website works properly.”
“When you publish content, you should ensure all but a few pages and posts have a consciously assigned parent,” says Donna Duncan of B-SeenOnTop.
“For example, if you are in the business of plumbing, it would make sense to create a “parent” plumbing services page that highlights the things you do for individuals and businesses, and points to child pages that provide more detail about each of your specialties.”
“Your “emergency repair”, “remodeling”, and “maintenance” pages should all be assigned the parent “plumbing services” page.”
Duncan continues: “If you do not assign parent pages to content, they will, by default, be assigned to the Home page. That can result in a very flat website structure, one with a single Home page and dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of pages underneath it.”
“Google won’t have any way of determining which of these pages are most important. Visitors will have difficulty finding what they’re looking for on your site, and you won’t be able to easily determine the performance of page groupings like services and blog posts,” Duncan adds.
“When creating an SEO friendly website structure, you must use logic to group products and buying styles together,” writes Marketing Labs‘ Matt Janaway.
“For example, if you sell personalized socks you ideally want to increase the exposure of your products by capturing as many related keywords as you can that surround how people may find your website.”
Janaway continues: “As well as SEO optimized product pages, think about using top-line categories such as ‘Shop by Recipient’ or ‘Shop by Occasion’ which then have targeted pages underneath such as ‘Socks for Mothers’ or ‘Birthday Socks’. These optimized pages can then begin to match ‘search intent’ of your potential customers.”
“I’m a strong advocate for one category per blog post if your site or blog runs on WordPress,” writes Adzooma’s Luke Davis. “This reduces the possibility of duplicate content and helps you to categorize your content strategy – the clue’s in the name!”
“If you’re thin in some places and heavy in others, you can reconsider your plan and balance things out, opening up the door for outreach and repurposing.”
Wayne Thompson says that Colewood‘s “one tip would be to avoid pages that only have one item on them. Whether that be a single product or a single sub-category, anything that adds an extra unnecessary click to the user journey will usually be bad for SEO.”
“This is usually because that unnecessary page in the journey will compete with the final destination you want users to get to. Removing this step makes site structures flow much better and gives search engines fewer competing pages,” Thompson adds.
“I’m a strong believer in having a site’s main pillar page(s) live on the root domain, and then build the supporting articles off of that URL,” writes Levi Olmstead.
“For example, the SaaS brand Hotjar does this perfectly. They build amazing pillar pages that live on their root domain (ex – https://hotjar.com/heatmaps) and then for supporting content, they continue the URL off that root domain (ex – https://hotjar.com/heatmaps/examples).”
Levi adds: “This helps both user experience and link equity flow through their site beautifully.”
Vistaprint‘s Giorgio Alan Franco explains what that might look like for an eCommerce website: “Your URL structure might look something like this: domain.com/product-category/product-sub-category/product.”
Plus, Bart van der Meer of Klik Proces advises: “Make sure all the pages for the big important keywords have at least 5 pages below the in the URL structure and at least 10 pages linking internally to this page to give it relevance and authority.”
“One great tip is to change the default permalink structure in WordPress from blog post/ date to just blog post,” Skill Scouter‘s Lewis Keegan says. “This will prevent adding in the year and month into the permalink structure which will eventually age the website over time and prevent article updates.”
You might have one question at the forefront of your mind: “Does URL structure affect SEO?” The answer is yes. Data from Backlinko found that shorter URLs rank better in organic search:
However, Topic‘s Ryo Chiba says: “Avoid changing any traffic-generating URLs unless absolutely necessary. You may be tempted to rename directories for the sake of a better “structure”, but it very frequently hurts more than it helps.”
(If you do decide to change your URL structure, use tools like Redirection to prevent 404 errors ruining your SEO and user experience.)
A sitemap is what the name suggests: A document that tells people (and Google) how to navigate around your website.
Morningscore‘s Zalan Taller explains: “Creating an XML sitemap will help search engines to understand the structure of your website when crawling it. It also helps you to determine which pages are the most important and valuable ones, so you can give those pages priority.”
Rajat Chauhan of TutorEye Inc also advises to “set a proper sitemap (.xml format) on your server and make a proper structure of it for the users to showcase on front-end of your website as well.”
Summarizing, Cary Haun of Page 1 Solutions says: “A working sitemap is critical to your website. It provides a snapshot for search engines of where everything currently lives on your site and how to get to it. The less confusing your internal architecture is, the more likely the pages of your site will be found, crawled, and indexed.”
“One extremely overlooked way to optimize the structure of a website is to delete your old content that isn’t needed at all,” says Hosting Canada‘s Gary Stevens.
“If you’re an eCommerce store and have old products that aren’t being used, you need to delete them as Google crawlers will be scanning unnecessary products. The same is true for websites that rely on content more than anything else.”
Stevens continues: “Chances are that you have old content that may have been relevant years ago but now is completely unnecessary. Delete those pages, your site structure will be much improved.”
“Extensive keyword research is key to an SEO friendly architecture,” says Jaywing‘s Ash Terry.
“This helps webmasters to understand how people search and what their intents are at each stage of the user journey. Your website architecture should reflect this eg. each silo targets different keyword groups you’ve identified within your research.”
You’re likely already using keyword research tools to find the search terms your target customers are using. But how do you organize those keywords when using them on your site?
“At the very beginning, you should brainstorm and highlight specific categories describing your products or services. Then write them down and identify how they connected to each other,” says DDI Development‘s Alexandra Zelenko.
“After filtering can you visualize them and create a website structure map – a basic skeleton of the key phrases that describe your product or service. After you have filtered all the irrelevant keywords, you need to build a hierarchy of your website by prioritizing the pages.”
Zelenko adds: “Also, don’t forget the rule – the higher page in your architecture is, the more competitive keywords can be used.”
Angela Ash of Flow SEO summarizes: “It can’t be stressed how important it is to identify the right keywords, and then to utilize them in the most SEO-friendly way.”
“For the main keyword, always be sure to include it in the first and last paragraphs, as well as somewhere else within the content. For supporting keywords, use them in the content, as well as in a sub-header. Google WILL notice, and you WILL be rewarded.”
(Once you’ve created that content, Candour‘s Mark Williams-Cook advises to “make sure your evergreen content isn’t on a chronological sorting system like a blog or news section, otherwise you’ll be doomed to lose good content deep within your site.”)
You don’t have to do every SEO activity from scratch. Chances are, you can latch onto the legwork your competitors have already done–especially when it comes to site structure.
PixlClick‘s Rai Yugen explains: “Most of the time your competitions have already done most of the work for you and all you have to do is steal them and make it your own. You can use a tool like Sitebulb to help you crawl and visualize the site structure better.”
When we asked Forward Linking for their best site structure tip, James Johnson said: “Make proper use of canonical tags wherever possible.”
(Jeffrey Moriarty of Moriarty’s Gem Art explains: “This then helps you reduce the chances of duplicate content and having search engines waste spider time on pages within your site that should not be indexed.”)
Johnson continues: “This is particularly important for eCommerce websites where hundreds of duplicate pages are created as a result of category filters; such as (examplestore.com/category/page-2/colour-blue/size-large) and so on.”
“Ensure that the canonical tag points to the most simplified version of the URL, which in this instance would be (examplestore.com/category). This reduces the risk of keyword cannibalization as it tells Google which version of the page you want them to index & rank in the search results.”
It’s easy to get caught up with SEO best practices. You might find yourself falling down the rabbit hole of optimizing for Google–and forgetting all about the human visitors you’re trying to convert.
That’s why Stuart Cooke of Levity Digital says: “My tip would be to layout the structure of your website with the user in mind, not search engines.”
“This way you will create the best user experience i.e. getting to the right page in as few clicks as possible, providing relevant internal links and calls to action. When you do this not only will your website have a better user experience and lower bounce rate, it will also rank better as search engines want to rank sites that help users find answers to their queries.”
Engenius‘ Brooks Manley also recommends to “prioritize the user experience with testing and research. There are many SEO implications in regard to site structure, but none large enough to overlook what makes the most sense for your brand and audience.”
Plus, Alony Media‘s Nir Alony adds: “When you focus on value, and not SEO or trying to optimize for anything, you usually do better, if your users love your site and find the answers they need on it, Google will love it too.”
So, how do you keep your website easy to navigate for human users?
Carly Campbell, who runs, Mommy on Purpose puts that into practice: “Looking back, I wish someone had told me to keep my structure as SIMPLE as possible (and still cover my key topics). Don’t go crazy with extra tags and categories. Make sure there is a straightforward and clear path for your readers to follow.”
“For example, they want pregnancy tips, they click on the pregnancy category. That takes them to a landing page where they can choose from 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-trimester information.”
“That’s as complicated as it needs to be. You don’t need 17 subcategories under pregnancy! If your site is well organized for people, it will probably also be well organized for Google,” Campbell adds.
Tung Dao of Avada Commerce agrees: “If you have a small site with a few hundred pages, you can get away with any kind of structure.”
“But when your site gets to a thousand pages or more, if you don’t have a clear, simple structure in the first place and place internal links according to it, things will be way more chaotic and it’s going to be bad for both SEO and user’s experience.”
Are you ready to rejig your site’s structure to make it more SEO-friendly?
Always prioritize how easy it is for real users to navigate around your site, and be wary of changing URLs, as Joseph Colarusso of ESM Digital summarizes: “Always consider your users [because] they matter more than anything else.”
“How do they navigate through their online journey as they seek information about your product/service/topic/etc? Your website should follow that journey.”
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