Getting lost sucks. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a city or a corn maze, the ambiguity of not knowing where you are and what might happen next can make you sweat.
Website visitors feel the same way when they land on a messed up website. Almost every second person leaves a website after visiting just one page. We don’t have much time to make a good impression on a user, and poor site architecture is guaranteed to increase bounce rates.
It is important to make your website intuitive and easy to navigate in order to get your audience’s attention. If you don’t, they’ll ricochet in seconds. And if people leave your site because your user experience is messy, search engines won’t think much of you either.
If you need help structuring a website that will appeal to an audience and rank on Google, you’ve come to the right place. We will show you what website architecture is, why it is important for UX and SEO and how you can develop a sound architecture for your own website.
What is website architecture?
Website architecture is the hierarchical structure of your website pages. This structure is reflected in the internal link. The structure of your website is designed to help users find information easily and to help search engine crawlers understand the relationship between different pages.
Without question, your website structure plays a crucial role in retaining users and increasing conversions.
By implementing a website structure, you can design your website for the user experience. You may have the most amazing content, but when users can’t find it, they go to a competitor’s website.
A typical website structure looks like a rooted tree diagram with the home page as the root directory. The pages linked from the home page are branches, and from there additional branches sprout on each page. These branches are then connected to each other.
This is what it usually looks like:
Why is website structuring important?
A solid website architecture strengthens the user experience of your website. If you structure your website intuitively, users can find the information they are looking for seamlessly.
If your user experience is good, so will your search engine rankings. Users spend more time on your website linking to your web pages. These are important indicators that your brand is creating quality content.
In addition, a solid website architecture:
- Helps search engines crawl your website effectively.
- Promotes full navigation of the site by providing more pages to users.
- Distributes “page authority” more fairly so that a page is not left out.
- Strengthens the current authority due to the strong internal linkage structure between related or similar topics.
- Increases conversions by making it easier to find products and lead-generating content.
Let’s look at some best practices to keep in mind when designing your site’s architecture.
Website Architecture Best Practices
- Create a simple top-level navigation menu.
- Keep your URLs simple and easy to use.
- Model your website architecture according to the top players in your industry.
- Keep your website consistent.
- Implement the internal link model for pillar clusters.
- Provide access to most of the pages on your website in 3-4 clicks.
- Use breadcrumbs.
- Create an HTML and XML sitemap.
1. Create a simple top-level navigation menu.
First, don’t expose too many top-level menu items. Second, make sure you provide the promised content based on the name of the menu item.
For example, when your users click the Email Marketing tab on the home page of your blog, they are likely to be directed to a list of email marketing posts. From this page, you’ll also need to create a simple navigation path back to the home page of your blog and the home page of your website.
See an example below from our own website:
The menu is divided into three simple menu items: Software, Pricing, and Resources. On the Resources tab, users can find various resources that are divided into different names.
Don’t let your users think too long. A hard-to-navigate website has a high bounce rate. Users don’t want to waste time finding information on your website. If they do, they will just go. So practice empathy and ensure an intuitive web experience.
2. Keep your URLs simple and easy to use.
No user wants to read a url like this:
It’s important to create user-friendly URLs. Most CMS systems like CMS Hub and WordPress will automatically create a friendly URL based on the title of your page. It will usually read like this:
You can also create subdirectories that are easy to follow.
Tip: While subdirectories are useful from a UX perspective, they do not have to reflect the architecture of your site. Internal linking is more important than URL structure. This means that you can structure your URLs as follows:
All you need to do is connect them to each other and to their parent pages using internal links.
3. Model your website architecture according to the top players in your industry.
Your customers are used to the website architecture of big brands in your industry. So if you run an ecommerce store, analyze how Amazon structures their website and emulate it. Your website will appear more familiar and easier to navigate.
4. Keep your website consistent.
The navigation format, the design principles and the link displays of your website should follow a uniform pattern. If you keep these elements, your users will stay on your site longer by making it easier for them to quickly navigate to new pages and click links.
5. Implement the internal link model for pillar clusters.
In the columnar cluster model, you have a parent page (the column) that is linked to child pages (the cluster). These child pages are then linked together, creating a cluster.
This model makes your internal linking structure clearer and effectively guides users to other relevant and useful content. When users come across an internal link on your website, they should immediately understand what content the link is pointing them to and why that content is linked from the page they are on.
This is what a pillar cluster linking strategy for a blog about training routines looks like.
The lines represent internal links.
An internal link warning to be aware of is not to include keywords in the anchor text of your link. This is known as black hat SEO. To prevent this from happening, Google has developed special algorithms to punish this type of behavior.
6. Provide access to most of the pages on your website in 3-4 clicks.
Even if your website has a million pages, the architecture should allow users to launch from the homepage and land on any page in three to four clicks.
To do this, design a top-level navigation that can direct users to the main categories of your website. Then, on each of the main category pages on your website, make sure they can click through to all of the sub-category pages.
7. Use breadcrumbs.
Once internally linked, breadcrumbs are the ultimate way to show off your website’s architecture. These links show the superordinate pages of a page up to the start page. They’re usually located above the title of the page and have arrows showing the path to the current page.
Here is an example from Best Buy:
You can add breadcrumbs to your CMS Hub website by creating an advanced menu module. If you run your website on the WordPress CMS, we’ve written a simple tutorial on how to add WordPress breadcrumbs.
8. Create an HTML and XML sitemap.
A sitemap is a document that lists all the crawlable pages on your website. This is extremely important to website architecture because your structure is displayed in a readable, crawlable format.
An HTML sitemap is user-centric and has the same design as the rest of your website. It was usually designed for users who cannot find a particular page and want to benefit from a list of all of their pages.
Here is eBay’s HTML sitemap as an example:
An XML sitemap is primarily designed for search engine crawlers. They list all URLs in a plain text format. If your site is in WordPress, you can use a sitemap plugin to create both an HTML and an XML sitemap.
Update your website architecture and improve your SEO
The architecture of your website is incredibly important to both user experience and search engine optimization. With a solid website structuring strategy, you will improve retention time and entice users to consume more of your content. That means more conversions across the board, improves your ROI and increases your company’s sales.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has been updated for completeness.