Key Steps to Create a Well-Structured Website Architecture
Are you in the process of creating a website or do you want to refresh your existing site? You are feeling inspired by the design, content ideas are coming in, and the strategy and tasks are created quickly? That's great, but don't forget to think about your website structure from the start.
What is a Website Architecture?
Also known as the website structure, site plan, sitemap, web tree or navigation menu, the architecture is the representation of the structure of your website. It gathers and organizes all the Web pages and articles under the same skeleton, with the homepage as the main item. Although it’s not mandatory, from an SEO and navigation point of view, it is highly recommended. It is often presented in the form of the main menu of the site with a sub-menu composed of different subsections.
What is the Purpose of a Website Structure?
Improving the User Experience (UX) with the Navigation Menu
Having a good website architecture will allow your visitors to easily navigate your site in order to quickly find the information they need. The simpler and clearer your navigation menu, the better the user experience. Excellent prioritization of your content will also result in an increase in time spent on your site, a decrease in bounce rates and a higher probability of conversion.
It is therefore essential to put yourself in the shoes of the users when designing your website’s architecture. We will come back to this shortly.
Optimizing for Organic Search with a Good Website Architecture
Your site plan is a key element for search engines. Google Bots, BING or Yahoo use the structure of your website to discover and index its various pages so that they can appear in the results. A simple and readable website structure facilitates their work. Although Google Bots crawl the web continuously, they are not foolproof. It is therefore a good idea to provide them with an updated sitemap on a regular basis, either manually or through a CMS.
The structure of your site also tells bots how to prioritize different content based on its hierarchy. This reduces the risk of cannibalization at the SEO level. For example, you can write several blog articles on the same subject, but using different angles. The sitemap avoids SEO penalties due to similar content by clearly indicating which articles are the most important. You have to think about this when developing the tree structure and include in the main menu the products/services/topics categories for which you want to be ranking.
Getting Sitelinks in SERP from Your Website Structure
Providing an General Overview of your Site
Sitelinks are links from the same domain that are grouped under a web result. They allow users to click on the section of the site that interests them directly from the Google (or other) search engine results page (SERP). This eliminates extra navigation, drives more targeted traffic, improves click-through rate and ultimately conversion. In the following example for Mantra Pharma, the sitelinks are represented by the different clickable categories under the main link leading to the homepage.
Unfortunately, you cannot determine the sitelinks yourself. They are created by Google using an algorithm. However, if you create a simple site structure with relevant and concise titles, anchor links composed of informative text, internal linking to the main pages of your site and avoid repetitions, you have better chances of having sitelinks presented in the SERP.
The site plan helps both users and search engine crawlers, but it also serves as a guideline for your employees. With the implementation of the sitemap, your staff better understands the main objectives of the site, the different target audiences of the latter and the overall vision that will guide them in the next steps.
How to Map out your Website Architecture?
Take Inventory of Your Content
If you already have a site, but its tree structure should be optimized, start by compiling all the content already published in order to analyze it. For each page, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is this content for? The answers collected will allow you to create profiles of your typical visitors, which should represent your personas. These will guide you in building the web tree. For example, if you have content for businesses and some for individuals, it's probably a good idea to create different navigation paths for those two personas.
- What is the content about? By grouping items into distinct categories, you will be able to define your secondary menu items.
Explore and Choose Keywords
Make a list of keywords that define each of the sections determined in the previous step. If you don't have a website yet, define your company's service or product categories. Then use different tools (Semrush, ahref.com, MOZ, Google Trends, etc.) to analyze these keywords and find variations and synonyms. It is important to take into consideration the search volume and the level of competition of the different keywords before making your final choice. You want your site to get all the organic traffic it deserves.
Analyze Competitors’ Sites
Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and visit your competitors' websites. It will help you in several ways. First, you will get ideas of services or products categories to create and of the type of content to post. However, be careful not to plagiarize your competitors. Secondly, you will be able to see if certain formulas are not suitable, if they weigh down the navigation and harm the user experience. You will know not to reproduce these errors on your website.
Define the Navigation Menu Hierarchy
It's time to compile steps 1-3 and to organize and prioritize the various content on your site. Be logical in this process and, once again, put yourself in the visitor's shoes. On the homepage, you should indicate concisely the main categories. Then list the subcategories and sub-subcategories. For example, a clothing store might have the main category WOMEN, the sub-category SPORTSWEAR, and the sub-sub-category LEGGINGS. The most important content should be found at the second or third level of the tree structure, the first being the homepage.
When deciding on content hierarchy, take into account that a user rarely goes beyond 3 clicks to view the desired page. If your article, service, product or other is buried under the menus and submenus, visitors will lose patience and leave your site. Remember that simplicity and logic decrease bounce rates. There is nothing better than a visual diagram of your web tree to confirm that your structure is optimal. Several layout tools are available online (Lucidchart, Cacoo, MindMeister, etc.), or you can use Microsoft Powerpoint, Excel or even Canva.
Test Your Website Architecture
Now is the time to test your website structure. Is the navigation intuitive? How many clicks are required to get to your destination? Are the chosen keywords representative of your content? Put your staff to work and browse all of your pages. Are they all accessible? Refine, adjust and tweak everything. You may have to start the process over halfway through if your testing shows bad structure, but better now than once your site is live. You don't have a team to help you? Hiring a web agency can help you counter the labor shortage.
Navigational Elements to Consider for Your Website’s Structure
We have already covered the main menu and subcategories, but there are several other items that can improve the user experience and navigation on your website.
- Ariane's thread: also known as breadcrumbs, Ariane’s thread indicates clearly at the top of the page where the visitor is on the site. It includes clickable links that offer the possibility of going up the tree structure without having to use the main menu or the previous option of the search browser.
- Blog categories: If your blog has a large number of articles, it is relevant to separate them into distinct categories and sometimes even to include a search field. Be sure to name the various sections using keywords.
- Internal linking:This consists of making links between different pages of a website and allowing your visitors to navigate from one page to another within your site. This technique helps with content indexing, as well as SEO, and maximizes user engagement. Google Search Console is a great tool for generating an internal linking report.
- The optimized URL structure: Prioritize concise URLs containing keywords. The visitor must be able to deduce where he is on the site by reading the URL of the page.
It is fair to say that this work is rigorous but effective. In addition to helping your website with its positioning in search results, the web tree structure makes navigation easier, improves user experience (UX), decreases bounce rates, promotes visitor retention and can even go as far as to increase the conversion rate.
You understand the importance of this exercise but do not have the necessary internal resources to carry out the work? Contact us, our experts will be able to help you.
With a Bachelor in Communications, Public Relations and a SEO certification from University of California in Davis, Melanie is very detail oriented, has an immense love for words and a competitive side that makes her always up for a challenge.