Search engines are still one of the most important traffic drivers to sites these days, which is why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is incredibly important. While SEO is often thought to be just a set of some technical tricks – and as a professional SEO, I confess to spending a lot of time with clients fixing technical issues – the site structure is just as important. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what the topic of your site is and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent.
By creating a good structure, you can use the content you’ve written that has attracted links from others, and use your site’s structure to spread some of that “linkjuice” to the other pages on your site. On a commercial site, that means that you can use the quality content you’ve written to boost the search engine rankings of your sales pages too. Did I get your attention now? Ok, now we’ve covered what and why, let’s get on to how.
Developing a good site structure
When developing a new site, or restructuring an existing one, it helps to draw out your site’s structure in something like Visio, or even putting it in Excel. What you’ll want to do is put all the pages and sections in there as a tree, something like that shown in Figure 1 (based on my own old site structure):
Now as you can see this structure is unbalanced, as the Code section constitutes more than half of the entire site. You should make sure your site structure looks like a reasonably balanced pyramid. I’d advise you to have something between 2 and 7 main sections, depending on how content heavy your site is, and no section should be more than twice as large as any other section.
As well as the code section being way too big, there’s another couple of points to consider about Figure 1. First, there are three pages that are basically about me: “About”, “Projects” and “Websites”. In addition, upon checking my site statistics I found that the WordPress pages were responsible for about 30% of my site traffic, yet they were down on the third and fourth level.
The benefit of using a tool like Visio or OmniGraffle, as I did, is that it’s quite easy to rearrange stuff, and it’s easy to get a good “feel” for whether the new structure is going to work. I’ve often used a desk or a wall and a lot of post-it notes for this purpose too, and that has also worked fine for me.
So I started to rearrange the sections and came up with the section structure seen in Figure 2.
As you can see I decided to move some pages “up” the tree, and I removed some pages. When you’re rethinking your site structure you’ll often find that some pages are not really beneficial to your users. Deleting them is the best thing you can do if that’s the case.
Another choice I made was to move the blog to the homepage. My homepage was utter nonsense, and basically yet another “About” page. And though I like myself, that’s not what I was hoping people came to my site for. My blog is the basis of my site, so I decided to make it the cornerstone of this structure too.
Naming your sections
Once you’re satisfied with your site structure, have a look at the names you’ve come up with for your sections. If you have enough content about a subject for it to be able to have its own section, you can bet people are searching for it as well. That’s why it’s very wise to make sure your section names use the keywords people are searching for!
For example, if you’re like me and you’ve written WordPress plugins and created a section for them, you should not call that section “WordPress”. What would you search for? “WordPress plugins”, right? So name it that (which doesn’t mean you can’t call it WordPress in your menu structure if that works better, just make sure the page title and breadcrumb links are “WordPress plugins”). You can do quite a bit of research on which keywords people search for. Some freely available tools are:
Pick the right names for your sections and subsections, and you’re halfway there. Now use the same techniques to pick the titles for your pages, and make sure to keep them short and clean. My sections now have names as shown in Figure 3.
Now we’ve covered the two most important parts of defining your site structure, we’ll turn our attention to some other important points to consider.
Other things to keep in mind
There are another couple of things to keep in mind when working out the structure of your site.
Forums, and other user-controlled content: If one part of your site is producing way more content then another part, and the quality of that highly productive part is poorer, you may not wish to mix the two. For instance, let’s say your front page is like A List Apart, updating every few weeks with very high-quality articles gathering loads of links. Another section of your site is your forums section, which produces loads of new threads every day, of questionable quality.
Your forum is probably going to deteriorate the rankings for your front page, because you’re constantly “flowing” ranking strength from your high-quality front page into your forums. So the best thing you can do with them is move them to a subdomain of your site.
This is less of a problem when you have a blog on your site, which you control. The quality of that will be less questionable, and you may want those blogposts to rank well.