site structure for SEO

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Site structure

Site structure: the ultimate guide

November 30th, 2016 – 7 Comments

Your site needs a certain structure. Otherwise, it’ll just be a collection of pages and blog posts. Your users need the structure to navigate through your site, to click from one page to the other. And Google uses the structure of your site in order to determine what content is important and what content is less important. In this ultimate guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about site structure.

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Why is site structure important?

Structuring your website is crucial for both usability and findability. A lot of sites lack a decent structure to guide visitors to the product they’re looking for. Apart from that, having a clear site structure leads to better understanding of your site by Google, so it’s really important for your SEO.

1 Importance for usability

The structure of your website is of great importance for the User eXperience (UX) on your website. If visitors are able to find the products and information they’re looking for, chances increase that they’ll become customers. In other words, you should help them navigate through your shop. A good site structure will help you do that.

Navigating should be easy. You need to categorize your posts and products in a way that they will be easy to find. New audiences should be able to instantly grasp what kind of products you’re selling.

2 Importance for SEO

The structure of a website or a shop is of great importance for its chances to rank in search engines. In our opinion, there are three main reasons for this:

1. It helps Google ‘understand’ your site

The way you structure your site will give Google important clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine can understand what your site is about and what you’re selling. It also determines how easily a search engine will find and index the content on certain products. A good structure could, therefore, lead to a higher ranking in Google.

2. It prevents competing with your own content

In your site, you might have blogposts that are quite alike. Perhaps you write a lot about SEO. You could have multiple blog posts about site structure (each covering a different aspect). Consequently, Google would not know which of the product pages is the most important one. So you’d be competing with your pages for a high ranking in Google. You should let Google know which page you deem most important. To do this, you need a good internal linking structure and taxonomy structure, so you can make all those pages work for you, instead of against you.

3. It deals with changes in your website

The products you sell in your shop will probably change over time. So could the content you’re writing. A new collection will be added, as the old one is sold out. Or perhaps you think the information of outdated blogpost should disappear from your site. You do not want Google to show outdated products or blogposts which are no longer available.  You’ll have to deal with these kinds of changes in the structure of your site.

How to set up the structure of your site?

So, how do you construct a decent site structure? We’ll first explain what an ideal site structure looks like and then explain to you how to achieve that for your own site.

Ideal blog structure

The structure of your site should be like a pyramid. On the top of the pyramid is your homepage, and under the homepage are a number of category pages. For larger sites, you should make subcategories or custom taxonomies (more on that later). Within the categories and subcategories you will have a number of blog posts, pages or product pages.

Read more: ‘Intelligent site structure for better SEO’ »

Dividing your pages into categories

If you’ve not yet divided the blog posts or product pages on your site into a number of categories, you should definitely do so (right away). Make sure to add these categories to the main menu of your site.

Equally large categories

Make sure that categories are about equally large. If a category becomes too large because you are blogging a lot about a certain topic, you should divide that category into two main categories. A good rule of thumb for the size of categories is to make sure that no category is more than twice the size of any other category. If you have one such category, dividing it into two separate ones would result in a more accurate reflection of the content on your website. Note that if your category name is reflected in your website’s permalink structure, you should make sure URLs are properly redirected after splitting up a category.

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Your linking structure is of great importance. Each page in the top of a pyramid should link to its subpages. And vice versa, all the subpages should link back to the pages on top of the pyramid. There should be really essential content (cornerstone articles) at the top of your pyramid, and these should be the articles you link to from all of your blog posts.

Because you’re linking from pages that are closely related to each other content-wise, you’re increasing your site’s possibility to rank. Linking this way will help search engines by showing them what’s related. In addition to that, with all subpages linking to that one main page at the very top of your pyramid, you are creating cornerstone pages. This will make it easy for search engines to determine what your main pages per subject are.

Yoast SEO Premium helps you do your internal linking well. Our internal linking suggestions tool will show you which articles are related to the one you’re writing, so you can easily link to them: just by dragging the link into your editor! On top of that, our tool allows you to indicate which articles you consider to be cornerstone content on your site. This way those articles will be shown on top of the internal linking suggestions. You’ll never forget to link to them again.

Keep reading: ‘How to incorporate cornerstone content’ »

Taxonomies and tags

Your site will also benefit from adding tags. Tags and taxonomies will give your site more structure (or at least Google will understand it better).

In WordPress there are two standard ways of adding taxonomies: you can use the aforementioned categories (which will give you the pyramid-like structure) and you can use tags. The difference has to do with structure. Categories are hierarchical; you can have subcategories and sub-subcategories, whereas tags don’t have that hierarchy. Think of it like this: categories are the table of contents of your website, and tags are the index.

Try not to create too many tags. If every post or article receives yet another new unique tag, you are not structuring anything. Make sure tags are used more than once or twice. Make sure tags group articles together that really belong together.

In some WordPress themes, tags are displayed with each post. But, some themes neglect to do so. You should make sure your tags are in fact available to your visitors somewhere, preferably at the bottom of your article. Tags are really useful for your visitors (and not just for Google) to read more about the same topic.

Read on: ‘Tagging post properly for users and SEO’ »

Cornerstone content

Really important content pages are called cornerstone content. Cornerstone articles are the most important articles on your website. Therefore, in Yoast SEO 4.6 you’ll find an option to indicate that the selected article should be treated as a cornerstone article. Cornerstone content is the content that exactly reflects your business or the mission of your business. But focusing on the field around your business could also be a fine strategy to increase your audience and potential buyers.

As we’ve discussed before, cornerstone articles should be relatively high in your site structure, focusing on the most ‘head’ and competitive keywords. If you think of four specific pages you would like someone to read in order to tell them about your site or company, these would need to be the cornerstone articles. In most cases, the homepage would link to these articles.

Websites should have a minimum of one or two cornerstone articles and a maximum of eight to ten. If you want to write more than ten cornerstone articles, you should probably start a second website.

Read more: ‘What type of content should a cornerstone article be?’ »

Category pages or tag pages could make great cornerstone ‘articles’ as well. If you want to optimize your category pages for cornerstone content, it is of great importance to provide really awesome introductory content. You should make sure that this page is a compelling overview of the subject and invites visitors to read even more articles on your sites.

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Practical tips and quick wins

Your structure is dynamic. Your business might change over the years, and it makes sense your site’s structure will reflect this change. When you don’t think about your website’s structure on a regular basis, it could grow into this monstrous collection of pages. Your pages or products might not fit in your navigation anymore, and the coherence of your website is nowhere to be found.

Remove and redirect!

Lots of shops will sell a different collection of products (clothes; shoes) every season. The old products could go on sale for a while, but eventually they will be sold out. If you don’t expect to sell the exact same product again, you should remove the page. Also, if content is completely outdated, remove that page!

However, you may have had some valuable links to that exact page. You want to make sure you benefit from these links, even though the page does not exist anymore. That’s why you should redirect the URL.

Redirecting pages is not that hard. If you use WordPress, our Yoast SEO Premium plugin can help you to take care of redirects. Preferably you should redirect the URL (301) to the product that replaced the product or, if there is no replacement, a related page. That could be the category page of the specific product,  as a last resort to your homepage. This way the (outdated) page won’t interfere with your site structure anymore.

 

When your business goals or your website changes, your menu should probably change as well. When you start restructuring your site, making a visual presentation (like an organogram) will pay off. Start with your desired (one or two level) menu 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 suitable for your menu anymore. No problem, just make sure to link them on related pages and in your sitemaps. This way Google and your visitors can still find these pages. Perhaps the organogram will also show you the gaps in the site structure.

Optimize your site for search & social media and keep it optimized with Yoast SEO Premium »

Yoast SEO for WordPress pluginBuy now » Info

Rethink your taxonomy

Creating an overview of your categories, subcategories and products or posts will also help you to reconsider your site’s taxonomy. Do your product categories and subcategories still provide a logical overview of your product portfolio? Perhaps you’ve noticed somewhere down the line that one product category has been far more successful than others.Or perhaps you wrote many blog posts about one subject and very few about the others.

If one category grows much larger than others your site’s pyramid might get off balance. Think about splitting this category into different categories. But, if some product lines tend to become much smaller than others you might want to merge them. Try to create eight to ten top level categories max to keep your site and structure focused. And don’t forget to redirect the ones you delete.

Tell Google about it

In the unlikely event you have constructed your HTML sitemap manually, update that sitemap after changing your site structure. In the likely event you have an XML sitemap, re-submit it to Google Search Console.

Keep reading: ‘The structure of a growing blog’ »

Duplicate content

The same content is shown on multiple locations on your site. As a reader, you don’t mind: you’ll get the content you came for. But a search engine has to pick which one to show in the search results, as it doesn’t want to show the same content twice.

Above that, when other websites link to your product, chances are some of them link to the first URL, and others link to the second URL. If these duplicates were all linking to the same URL, though your chance of ranking in the top 10 for the relevant keyword would be much higher. Joost wrote a huge article about this on our website that you should definitely read.


7 Responses to Site structure: the ultimate guide

  1. Jorge Villegas
    By Jorge Villegas on 5 December, 2016

    Thanks Marieke for the article, I am serving a lot for an investigation, I want the pages of my clients are very optimized for SEO
    regards

    An apology for my bad English (I’m from Mexico)

  2. Stark Edge
    By Stark Edge on 3 December, 2016

    Hi Marieke, Thanks for sharing great information about site structure. Can you please let me know site structure is important for both HTML websites and CMS websites?

  3. Charles Lowe
    By Charles Lowe on 3 December, 2016

    Marieke and Joost:

    Guys – I’m sorry to be critical once more (but that shows you I value you!).

    I am buggered if I can figure out how to ACTUALLY construct a (user) site map for these business pages (not blogs). AND YOU DON’T TELL ME!

    I’ve got ‘xml’ sitemaps and ‘html’ sitemaps. I now understand I need a ‘user’ sitemap. I’d hoped that you would say something like this:
    1. Ensure each of your pages focusses on a uniquely identifiable topic. If they don’t, transpose some existing content from one page onto another so that each page becomes more clearly defined in terms of addressing its topic.
    2. Use plug-in ‘xyz’ to create “categories”. Place category-related pages within nominated categories via their URL.
    3. Similarly with sub-categories.
    4. Use ‘tags’ similarly. Use plug-in ‘mno’ to create tags at the bottom of each of your pages; simply enter the relevant URLs of each of your pages into the appropriate box (offered within the plug-in).

    Guys – I hope such plug-ins exist – for FREE! (And I will look for them.) I just want you to understand that it is infinitely frustrating to read otherwise excellent articles such as each of yours – AND NOT BE TOLD HOW TO IMPLEMENT THEIR GUIDANCE.

    (Yes – I cannot write HTML code – hence I search for plug-ins!

    With thanks and best wishes nonetheless,

    Charles

    • Marieke van de Rakt
      By Marieke van de Rakt on 3 December, 2016

      Thanks for your excellent feedback Charles! You gave me some stuff to think about over the weekend :-). We are really thinking about site structure at Yoast right now. And how to incorporate more of it in our plugin. So, your feedback will help us to develop such features.

      Perhaps Joost knows of an exisiting plugin. He’s in the States right now (WordCamp), so I’ll talk to him after the weekend.!

  4. Lars Nørgaard Graversen
    By Lars Nørgaard Graversen on 2 December, 2016

    Great article on how to structure a site.

    Any pointers towards a tool that can visualize the structure of a large website either by crawling it or by uploading several sitemaps?

    Thanks

    • Marieke van de Rakt
      By Marieke van de Rakt on 2 December, 2016

      uhm… working on it ;-).
      Site structure is someting we are really focussing on at Yoast right now. There will be some really nice features in the next update of Yoast SEO premium, but we are already working on additional features (planned release spring/summer 2017).

      I do not know of such a tool that already exists, but I’ll ask Joost and come back to you (he’s in the states right now, so it can take a while).

      • Redmond
        By Redmond on 7 December, 2016

        Marieke,
        What do you recommend I do for my site to avoid duplicate content of my Petrified Wood pieces. Is it bad that I am calling them all Petrified Wood Side Table or Petrified Wood Coffee Table? I have varied the URLs for each of the pieces. The descriptions of the pieces are all nearly identical however.

        http://andriannashamarisinc.com/petrified-wood-furniture/


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