A convenient navigation menu and well-thought-out user interface design are paramount when it comes to positive user experiences.
Visitors to your website expect to be able to find what they're looking for as quickly as possible, and any time wasted will add to frustration — which will likely cause them to turn to a competitor's site instead.
Site architecture is what we call the planning of your site structure and the layout of your website's content and information.
How you group your data together, what categories you use to organize content, and how many you use are considered site architecture aspects.
So how do we utilize this concept to create a good site structure and great user experience? And what else can we optimize by focusing on the architecture of the site? Let's discuss.
What is Website Architecture?
Simply put, site architecture is how your web pages are structured. Like building architecture, you want a strong sense of organization and easy-to-understand navigation.
Well done, your website's structure puts your most relevant and engaging content in front of users first, while the more esoteric your content gets, there further it is from the home page.
That's not to say that anything you have available on your site is difficult to find, but some things will always be more accessible than others. Particularly if your site has a large number of important pages or products, optimizing your site architecture can be a huge help to your users when they're looking for something specific.
Best Practices for SEO-Friendly Site Architecture
Obviously, search engine optimization is critical for getting your content in front of potential customers, which is why site architecture is so important.
Search engines use spider programs called crawlers that visit your website and crawl its content. They attempt to follow your pages' organization to find relevant content and identify what each page is prioritizing.
But without a successful site architecture, they can get confused and spun around. If there isn't any followable layout or organization to your content, then the spiders will be unable to determine the relevance of your information.
A Website's Own Web Pages Are Poor Signals Of Context
While what's on the page can include information that informs crawlers about the product or data being presented, the navigation and architecture of the entire site give context to every page.
Imagine that you were looking for a particular pair of running shoes, and you went to a shoe store website. You know you want running shoes of a certain brand, but they don't offer any navigation to find specific "running" shoes, let alone the brand that you want.
So you simply have to click through all of the shoes they have until you find what you want.
This is the same issue that the crawlers run into. Without those extra levels of context, they have a hard time rating the page's relevance in regards to a user's search query. This can also affect your bounce rate and pagerank.
A Website's Interlinking Pages Are Crucial
Internal links to pages on your website can be really helpful for both your users and your SEO.
By providing regular and relevant anchor text and internal links, you boost the category page relevance, which is a measurement of how many other pages link back to it at a time.
Crawlers will use page relevance to determine the rating it gives to your content when observing the index.
You also have the opportunity to link your users to content that might be similar or otherwise helpful. If they're still looking at running shoes, for instance, you might keep them on your site by offering them an article on the proper running form or an internal review of the best running shoes available at the time.
A Website Must Have A Home Page And Sitemap
A home page should include general information about your company, such as your core values, any current sales or hot products, as well as a call to action to get your users engaged as soon as they land on your company site. Remember, though, your homepage isn't always the page that your visitors will land on first.
Sitemaps might be a little less well-known but important for both your human visitors and virtual crawlers. There are two versions of a sitemap: XML sitemaps and HTML sitemaps.
The XML format is more crucial for crawlers as they use it to help efficiently discover your content and make sure they collect everything your site has to offer.
HTML sitemaps are for your non-digital users. It doesn't need to be extremely aesthetic, but it serves as a map of all the categories and sub-sub-categories on your site.
Imagine the floor and store map at a mall; you don't use it every time you go, but it definitely comes in handy when you need it.
A Website's Navigation Should Guide Visitors And Googlebots
A few navigation systems are essential to boosting the positive user experiences on your website.
The first is having a form of categories available, either in your header or in a dropdown menu. If the user wants to click and browse through your products or isn't entirely sure what they're looking for is called, this option can be incredibly useful to them.
The menu links for each category are like the identifying signs hanging over each aisle in a store – if the user knows they want headphones but aren't sure exactly what brand or what style, they might use the drop-down menu to browse your site.
Optimized site architecture would have you arranging these categories and sub-categories into efficient paths that make sense to help guide the customer to their goal.
Another navigational tool that's becoming more expected by users is an advanced search engine. A user's time is extremely valuable, and if they already know exactly what they're looking for, you want to provide them the tools to jump straight to it.
While the browsing option might seem more beneficial to you as a company because it requires the user to look at more content on their way to what they want, wasting a user's time will negatively impact their experience.
If a customer has difficulty finding something specific, it won't take long for them to start their search over on a competitor's website. You'll want to ensure that a Googlebot and other search engine crawlers can crawl your site easily. You can do this by doing your keyword research and using those keywords across the relevant website pages. You'll also want to analyze your internal site search insights to improve your internal search usability for your visitors and that your site helps achieve your business goals.
Overhauling Your Website Architecture
So how do we optimize your website's architecture? There are a few key aspects to focus on that will have your user experience and Google SEO results, as well as your internal site search results moving in a positive direction.
Deep Vs. Flat Architecture
Site architecture can typically be described in two ways: It's either deep or flat. What works best for users and SEO is a flat design, so that's what you want to aim for when restructuring your site.
Flat architecture refers to the number of categories and subcategories you have. The more ways you divide your content into categories, the flatter your webpage is.
This is because if it's organized this way, it will take fewer clicks to get to specific content.
Imagine a page with fewer categories that would fall into the deep architecture style. A user would have to click through multiple pages of content rather than a category menu to get where they want to be.
Flat architecture works best because the user can front-load the number of categories they're searching through to find their objective sooner.
We've mentioned the benefit of having multiple systems of navigation. If your website doesn't currently utilize either or even one, then adding those to your layout will definitely boost user experience and the SEO results of your content.
Drop-down menus and internal search engines, particularly advanced options with natural language processing, will make a huge difference to your user experience.
Internal links are pretty easy to implement and boost your page relevance which is great for SEO. Not to mention it routes your users back to other content that you have on your page.
Breadcrumbs are a great way to offer backward navigation to your customers. In case the user ends up in a sub-category that doesn't have what they were looking for, they can use breadcrumb links to easily back up to a wider category and continue their search.
Site architecture optimization is a great way to improve the experience your users have on your company page. By implementing logical navigational tools like menu links and site search functionality, you can help make their browsing more interesting and relevant, or if they have something specific in mind, they can find it even faster.
Online users rarely (if ever) look beyond the first page of results on their favorite search engine, so making sure that you have well-organized and easy to crawl content is a must.