A lot of our clients are really excited when they’re able to greenlight a website redesign. It’s a big investment in the future of their business, which is certainly worth celebrating. In this excitement, it’s easy to get wrapped up in surface-level upgrades, like new photos and headlines. Redesigns are also a really good opportunity to audit structural elements, including website architecture.
Starting fresh is the perfect time to make sure your website is organized in the best possible way for users and search engines. Businesses with established websites that receive a lot of traffic have a distinct advantage when it comes to optimizing website structure: data. Years’ worth of onsite user behavior collected by your website lets us know what users are looking for — and if they’re finding it.
Types of Website Structures
Our clients generally use one of two website structure types:
- Linear: If you were to map out a linear site structure, it would (obviously) look like a line. Every page within the website carries the same weight. This architecture is appropriate for small websites because every page is about a distinct topic. Linear site structure isn’t great for large websites; users and Google don’t know what’s important or how pages relate to one other.
- Hierarchical: Hierarchical website structures look like a triangle, with one main page pointing to multiple categories and subcategories. Large websites with lots of products, services and posts usually follow this type of architecture. Ideally, hierarchical website structures are well-balanced. Each section should have a similar number of pages, products or posts.
Website Architecture’s Impact on SEO
Organizing your website logically is essential for users and search engines. Top-level pages are important to your business, so you’re probably linking to them a lot throughout your website. Google sees those connections, as well as the ones you make between related topics on your website. These signals, which mirror your website structure, make it easier for Google and website visitors to figure out what your website (and business) is about.
As a website gets older, its architecture can deteriorate. This happens for a lot of different reasons, including internal teams with different priorities, a shift in the way you do business or changing technology. As a website’s structure becomes less clear, it’s harder for Google and searchers to use. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for, neither can your customers or a search engine.
How to Organize Your Website
Your website architecture will be unique because your business is! However, there are best practices for mapping a hierarchy that works for your business and users.
1. Analyze your website structure.
Most businesses (and all of our clients) use Google Analytics to capture onsite user behavior. This is the time to go through all of that data and answer these questions:
- What pages are most visited? Least visited?
- What pages lead to conversions? Are they easy to find?
- How do users get from one page to another?
- Are there pages that aren’t relevant anymore?
- Are there multiple pages with the same information?
You may also want to look at how your competitors’ websites are structured. This could give you some insight into what their customers are looking for.
2. Visualize an updated architecture.
Map out an updated website hierarchy using the insights you learned by answering the questions above. You can do this with index cards, Post-It Notes, Excel, or the Parkway Digital team’s favorite, GlooMaps. It’s easier to see how each page fits into your sitemap when it’s laid out like this. Does every page have a purpose within your website? Should any pages be combined or re-categorized?
Think about your business both now and in the future. A redesign is a good opportunity to refocus on what information is really important to your customers and your business. Ideally, the site architecture you outline now will be relevant for a long time.
3. Redesign with website structure in mind.
When you’re ready to start building your redesigned website, incorporate your ideal architecture throughout the process. The first step is creating a layout that can be replicated in each section of your website. Keeping a consistent format across your website’s pages helps users engage across topics more easily.
Internal links are another important consideration during the early stages of the design process. Think about how website visitors will physically move from page to page of your website architecture. This process also includes using URLs that clearly indicate what a page is about. If your website is large enough, this probably means creating a hierarchy and URL structure that includes parent pages.
Your blog posts and ecommerce products can easily be organized by categories. During the redesign process, think about how you can incorporate these categories to make navigating your website easier.
Make every design decision with user experience in mind. Because of BERT and other search engine algorithm updates, what’s good for users is also good for SEO. Test user flows within your website early and often in the redesign process. You should also think about your marketing funnel. Where and when will conversions happen on your new website?
4. Align content with your hierarchy.
Website structure isn’t just about the technical and design elements of the site. Content is essential as well. Make sure that the words on a page match the purpose of that page within the site’s structure, the page’s URL, and the information users expect to find on that page.
For older websites, this will probably mean utilizing content pruning. Removing (and redirecting) pages with duplicate information ensures no pages are competing against one another for views within your website structure or the search results.