How to properly structure your website
Structuring your site establishes how to organise your website’s content. Usually, a website often consists of content on a variety of related topics, presented on posts and pages.
Nonetheless, a site structure deals with how this content is grouped, linked and presented to the visitor.
But why is this important to us?
Well that’s easy! Site structure is important because it increases the navigability of your site, and points users to the most relevant information.
Ultimately, structuring your website is crucial for both its usability and findability. This is because many sites lack a sound structure to guide visitors to the information they’re looking for.
Well that’s simple!
If your visitors cannot find the products and information they’re looking for, then it’s most likely that this will damage the experience for your visitors. In other words, you should help them navigate your site in a breeze. A good site structure will help with improving your usability and findability
Likewise, navigating should be easy! You need to ensure that you are categorizing and linking your posts and products so they are easy to find. New visitors should be able to instantly recognise what you’re writing about or selling.
Overall, this smart site structure will increase your brand’s reputation, improve user trust, help you dominate the SERPS, increase clickthrough rates, and shorten the conversion funnel. Pretty cool, right?
Are you ready to smartly structure your site? Well, let’s go!
THE IMPORTANCE OF SEO FOR A WEBSITE
A solid site structure vastly improves your chances of ranking in search engines. There are three main reasons for this:
It helps Google ‘understand’ your site.
The way you structure your site will give Google vital clues about where to find the most valuable content on your site.
Also, it helps search engines understand what your site mainly is about or what you’re selling. So, a decent site structure should enable search engines to find and index content quickly.
This will lead to a higher ranking on Google!
It prevents you from competing with yourself.
On your site, you might have blog posts that are quite similar.
For example if you write a lot about SEO, then you could have multiple blog posts about site structure. These could be covering different aspects too.
Consequently, Google won’t be able to tell which of these pages is the most important. So you’ll be competing with your own content for a high ranking in Google.
Due to this, you should let Google know which page you think is most important. You need a good internal linking and taxonomy structure to do this, so all those pages can work for you instead of against you.
It deals with changes on your website.
The products you sell in your shop likely evolve over time, and so does the content you’re writing.
You probably add new product lines as old stock sells out. Or, you probably write new articles which make old ones redundant. You don’t want Google to show outdated products or deleted blog posts, so you need to deal with these kinds of changes in the structure of your site.
HOW TO SET UP THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR SITE?
So, are you ready to construct a solid site structure?
First, we’ll look at an ideal site structure then I’ll explain how to achieve this for your own site.
Ideal site structure
Let’s start by looking at an ideal situation.
If you’re starting from scratch, then how should you organize your site?
Well, that’s easy! We think a well-organized website looks like a pyramid with a number of levels:
- Categories (or sections)
- Subcategories (only for larger sites)
- Individual pages and posts
The homepage should be all the way at the top. Then, you have some sections or category pages beneath it. Typically, you should be able to file all of your content under one of these categories.
However, If your site is larger, you can divide these sections or categories into subcategories as well.
Beneath your categories or subcategories are your individual pages and posts.
On top of the pyramid is the homepage.
But what is your homepage?
Your homepage should act as a navigation hub for your visitors. This means that you should be linking to the most important pages from your homepage.
By doing this:
- Your visitors are more likely to end up on the pages you want them to end up on;
- You show Google that these pages are important.
Note: Beware not to try to link to too many pages from your homepage, because that will cause clutter.
Unfortunately, a cluttered homepage doesn’t guide your visitors anywhere. If you want to optimize your homepage further, there are a lot of other things you can do. Read Michiel’s article on homepage SEO to find out what.
In addition to having a well-structured homepage, it’s also important to create a clear navigation path on your site.
Your site-wide navigation consists of two main elements: your menu and your breadcrumbs.
First, let’s take a look at the menu. The website menu is the most common aid for navigation on your website. So, you want to make the best possible use of it. Visitors use your menu to find things on your website. It helps them understand the structure of your website. That’s why the main categories on your site should all have a place in the menu on your homepage.
Also, it’s not always necessary to put everything in just one menu. If you have a big site with lots of categories, then this may clutter your website and make your main menu a poor reflection of the rest of your site.
For instance, eBay has one menu at the top of the page which is also called the top bar menu. This top bar menu links to important pages that aren’t categories in the shop, like pages that have to do with the visitor’s personal account on the site.
The main menu reflects your most important product categories on eBay.
Finally, just like on your homepage you shouldn’t add too many links to your menu. If you do, then they will become less valuable for your users and for your search engines.
You can make your site’s structure even clearer by adding breadcrumbs to your pages. Breadcrumbs are clickable links that are usually visible at the top of a page or post.
Essentially, breadcrumbs reflect the structure of your site. They help visitors determine where they are on your site. As well as this, they improve both the user experience and the SEO of your site. This can be proven in Edwin’s guide on breadcrumbs.
Overall, if you use a WordPress site then you can use one of the many breadcrumb plugins that are available. You can also use our Yoast SEO plugin, as we’ve implemented a breadcrumb functionality in our plugin as well.
WordPress uses so-called taxonomies to group content.
The word ‘taxonomy’ is basically a fancy term for a group of things such as: website pages. This is convenient because people looking for more information on the same topic will be able to find similar articles more easily.
But how is this done?
Well that’s easy! You can group content in different ways. The default taxonomies in WordPress are categories and tags.
You should divide the blog posts or products on your site into a number of categories. If these categories grow too big, then you should divide these categories into subcategories to clear things up again.
For instance, if you have a clothing store and you sell shoes, then you can decide to divide this category into a number of subcategories such as: ‘boots’, ‘heels’, and ‘flats’. All of these subcategories contain products of that specific type.
Ultimately, adding this hierarchy and categorizing to your pages helps your user and Google make sense of every single page you write. So when implementing your category structure, make sure to add your main categories to the main menu of your site.
Read more: Using category and tag pages for SEO »
Your site’s structure will also benefit from adding tags.
The difference between a category and a tag mostly has to do with structure. Categories are hierarchical.
However, tags don’t have a hierarchy. Tags just say: “Hey, this article or product has a certain property that might be interesting for a visitor.”
Basically, categories are the table of contents of your website, whilst tags are the index. A tag for the online clothing store mentioned above could be a brand such as: Timberlands.
Keep reading: What is the difference between tags and categories? »
It is important that you don’t create too many tags. If you add a new unique tag to every post or article, then you’re not structuring anything. Make sure each tag is used at least twice, and that your tags group articles genuinely belong together.
Typically, some WordPress themes display tags with each post but some don’t. Make sure your tags are available to your visitors somewhere, preferably at the bottom of your article or in the sidebar.
Google isn’t the only one that likes tags since they are useful for your visitors too, who may want to read more about the same topic.
CONTEXTUAL INTERNAL LINKING
Site structure is all about grouping and linking the content on your site. Until now, we mostly discussed so-called classifying links. These are links on your homepage in your navigation and taxonomies.
On the other hand, contextual links are internal links within the copy on your pages that refer to other pages within your site. For a link to be contextual, the page you link to should be relevant for someone reading the current page. If you look at the previous paragraph, then we link to a post about tagging so people can learn more about it if they’re interested.
Ultimately, your most important pages are probably often very relevant to mention on several pages across your site. This means that you should link to them most often. Just remember that not only the page you’re linking to is relevant but the context of the link is important as well.
In short, Google uses the context of your links to gather information about the page you’re linking to. It always used the anchor text (or link text) to understand what the page you’re linking to is about.
Regardless of this, the anchor text isn’t the only thing Google looks at. Nowadays, it also considers the content around the link to gather extra information. Google is becoming better at recognizing related words and concepts. So, adding links from a meaningful context allows Google to properly value and rank your pages.
Yoast SEO Premium makes internal linking a breeze by automatically suggesting relevant content from your site to link to.
CONTEXTUAL LINKING FOR BLOGS
For blogs you should write extensively on the topics you’d like to rank for. You should write some main articles (your cornerstone articles), and write various posts about the subtopics of that topic.
All you need to do now is link from these related posts to your cornerstone articles, and from the cornerstone articles back to related posts. In this way, you’ll make sure that your most important pages have both the most links and the most relevant links.
CONTEXTUAL LINKING OPPORTUNITIES FOR ONLINE SHOPS
Contextual internal linking works differently on an online shop with very few to no pages that are exclusively meant to inform.
You don’t explore a specific topic on your product pages, you’re selling a product. Therefore, on product pages you mostly want to keep people on a page and convince them to buy the product. Consequently, contextual linking is far less prominent in this context.
You generally shouldn’t add contextual links to your product descriptions because it could lead to people clicking away from the page.
Here are a couple of meaningful ways to add contextual links to your product pages:
- Link from a product bundle page to the individual products
- A ‘related items’ or ‘compare with similar items’ section
- A ‘customers also bought’ section
- A ‘product bundles’ or ‘frequently bought together’ section.
Landing pages are the pages you want your audience to find when they search for specific keywords you’ve optimized for.
For instance, we want people who search for ‘free SEO training’ to end up on the page about our free training called ‘SEO for beginners’. So, you need to approach the content of your most important landing pages differently than your other, regular pages.
Here we’ll discuss two types of landing pages: cornerstone pages and product landing pages.
They’re both pages you’d like people to land on from the search engines, but they require quite a different approach. First, we’ll go into search intent because you have to know what your audience is really looking for.
When setting up your site structure, you need to think about search intent.
But what is search intent?
Well, that’s pretty simple! It’s about what you think people are looking for when they enter a query into a search engine. What do people want to find, and what do they expect to find?
So you need to take the time to think about different possibilities in search intent. This is because you might want to cater to different types on your site.
Here are some questions to think about to get you started:
- Are people just looking for an answer to a question or a definition?
- Are they comparing products before purchase?
- Are they intending to buy something right away?
This is often reflected in the type of query they make. You can also use Google’s search results to create great content which fits your audience’s needs.
When you have an idea of the search intent, it’s essential to make sure your landing page fits the search intent of your audience. Pages can answer more than one search intent, but you need a clear view for at least your most important pages.
Read all about search intent and why it’s important for SEO.
Cornerstone content pages
Cornerstone articles are the most important informational articles on your website. Their focus is to provide the best and most complete information on a particular topic. Their main goal is not to sell products.
Because of this, we usually think of blogs when talking about cornerstone content. Of course, that doesn’t mean it can only be a blog post. All different kinds of websites have cornerstone articles!
If an article brings everything you know about a broad topic together, it’s a cornerstone content article.
In this article, Marieke explains what cornerstone content is and how to create it.
So, if you want to set up your own cornerstone content strategy, then here’s our new Internal linking SEO workout. This makes the cornerstone content approach easy to implement!
Product landing pages
Product landing pages significantly differ from cornerstone articles. The latter are lengthy, whereas product landing pages shouldn’t be that long.
Instead, they should be focused! These pages only need to show what your visitors need to know to be convinced. They don’t need to hold all the information.
You obviously want to rank with these pages though, and that means they need content. Typically it needs enough content for Google to understand what the page is about, and what keyword it should rank for.
Where cornerstone articles could be made up by thousands of words, a couple of hundreds could be enough for product landing pages. Here, the main focus of the content should be on your products.
Michiel listed all the essentials of your product landing page here.
MAINTAINING YOUR SITE STRUCTURE
Structuring or restructuring your content doesn’t always have high priority within everything you have to do. Especially if you blog a lot, or add other content regularly, it might feel like a chore.
Although it isn’t always fun, you have to do it or your website might become a mess. To prevent this from happening, you need to not only fix your site structure but keep an eye on it while adding new content.
Site structure should definitely be part of your long-term SEO strategy.
Evaluate your menu
When your business goal or website changes, your menu also needs to change.
So, when you start thinking about restructuring your site, planning things visually will pay off. So the best way to do this is to make a flowchart.
Start with your new menu one or two levels deep, and see if you can fit in more of the pages you have created over the years. You’ll find that some pages are still valid, but don’t seem relevant for your menu anymore.
No problem! Just be sure to link to them on related pages and in your sitemaps, so that Google and your visitors can still find these pages. The flowchart will also show you any gaps in your site structure.
Read more: Optimizing your website menu »
Rethink your taxonomy
Creating an overview of your categories, subcategories, and products or posts will help you to rethink your site’s taxonomy. This could be a simple spreadsheet, but you can use more visual tools like LucidChart or MindNode.
If one category grows much larger than others, your site’s pyramid could be thrown off balance. So, think about splitting this category into different categories. However if some product lines end up much smaller than others, then you might want to merge them.
Note: Don’t forget to redirect the ones you delete.
In the unlikely event that you have built your HTML sitemap manually, then you need to update that sitemap after changing your site structure. In the far more likely event you have an XML sitemap, re-submit it to Google Search Console.
Keep reading: The structure of a growing blog »
Clean up outdated content
Some outdated articles can be updated and republished to make them relevant again. If an article is outdated no one will read it anyway. So you should consider getting rid of it altogether. This could clean up your site very nicely.
It’s important to know that you should never just delete a page or article. If Google cannot find the page, then it serves your user a 404 error page. Both the search engine and your visitor will see this error message saying the page doesn’t exist, and that is a bad experience.
This in return is bad for your SEO.
Be smart about this! You need to properly redirect the URL of the page you’re deleting, so your user (and Google) lands on a different page that is relevant to them. This could even improve your SEO!
Got some old content to clean up on your site? You can sort out hidden pages and dead ends in four easy steps with our orphaned content SEO workout, available in Yoast SEO Premium.
Avoid keyword cannibalization
Your website is about a specific topic, which could be quite broad or rather specific. Whilst adding content, you should be aware of keyword cannibalization.
So if you’re optimizing your articles for keywords that are all too similar, then you’ll be damaging your own chances of ranking in Google.
Alternatively, if you optimize different articles for similar key terms, then you’ll be competing with yourself and it’ll make both pages rank lower.
Ultimately, if you suffer from keyword cannibalisation then you’ll have some work to do. In short, you should research the performance of your content, and probably merge and redirect some of it. Essentially, when merging posts we recommend creating a new draft by cloning one of the original posts with Yoast Duplicate Post plugin. This gives you the freedom to work on your merged post without making these changes to a live post.
Read the guide by Joost to learn more about keyword cannibalization and how to fix it.
INTERNALISING WITH YOAST SEO
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all this advice, then Yoast SEO has some handy tools to make internal linking so much easier.
Yoast SEO’s text link counter visualizes your links so you can optimize them. It shows the internal links in a post and the internal links to a post. You can use this tool to enhance your site structure, by improving the links between your related posts.
Note: Make sure your cornerstones get the most (relevant) links!
Yoast SEO Premium helps you with your internal linking as well!
Our internal linking suggestions tool shows you which articles are related to the one you’re writing. Now you can easily link to them just by dragging the link into your editor!
Moreover, our tool allows you to indicate which articles you consider to be cornerstone content on your site. These articles will be shown at the top of the internal linking suggestions. You’ll never forget to link to them again.
Overall, there are several reasons why site structure is important. Good site structure helps both your visitors and Google navigate your site. As well as this, it makes it easier to implement changes and prevents competing with your own content.
So, use these tips and tricks in this guide to check and improve your site structure. That way you’ll stay on top of things, and keep your website from growing out of control!
Want to get improve your site structure, but don’t know where to start? Get Yoast SEO Premium and get loads of helpful tools and guidance, including free access to Yoast SEO Academy and our Site structure training, as well as our SEO workouts!
Congratulations! You have successfully learned the ultimate guide on how to smartly and simply structure your site. Now you can share your new structuring tips and tricks with your family, friends, and business community. Keep learning how to be engaging, keep maintaining your site, and climbing up the Google ranking ladder. Remember, we want to see your progress so make sure to tag us!