“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
While this quote typically applies to those you meet in person, it can also apply to websites. A website that is difficult to navigate or hard to understand will cause users to quickly X out of your website and move onto the next one. You may have useful content or products on your website that users would love to purchase but cannot find it because of a poor website structure. Don’t let a poorly designed website be the reason users leave.
Creating a functional, attractive website structure will make users want to stick around and look through the content of your website. Website structure is what keeps your website content organized and functional. Your website structure will be a user’s first impression of what your website has to offer: make it a good one.
But this only applies to the frontend of the website. What about the backend? (And why do you want to look at the website’s backend? Isn’t that frowned upon?) The backend of the website is where all the HTML and coding lies. The backend is also what Google will use to determine if your website is structurally worth ranking on the search engine results page.
Not only is important to appeal to readers, but it is also important to appeal to Google, too. In this guide, we will help you understand site structure and why it is important.
Four Types of Site Structure
There are four different types of site structure that you can choose from when organizing your website: hierarchical, sequential, matrix, and database. We will describe these four structures for you to determine which is the best option for organizing your website.
This is the most commonly used site structure, and the one that Google understands the most. Site hierarchy focuses on a broad parent page with many informative subpages within it. Usually a menu or navigation bar is used to display these different subcategories. These internal links should be easy to find and return to the parent page. Hierarchical sites work best on mobile devices, so keep this in mind when deciding which site structure to use.
This structure sends users either forwards or backwards on the website. Sequential structures work best with educational websites, as they represent turning a page in a book. Sequential structures make adding subpages a limited option. These subpages can make it difficult for a reader to return to the original page.
This site structure essential has no rhyme or reason. It is a structure that gives readers the choice of where to go next without leading readers through parent or subpages of the website.
This structure is similar to the matrix structure, except you will want to build from the ground up. You will need to tag your content with a meta description or metadata for it to be easily found.
How Does Site Structure Relate to Google?
Now that you know the different types of site structures and how they pertain to users, you need to understand how these structure relate to Google. After all, if your website isn’t ranking on search engine results pages, it is essentially useless.
Search engines use a program appropriately named crawlers. Search engine crawlers will visit your website and collect all the text to dump in its database. In addition to your text, the crawler also stores internal links and external links within your website.
When it comes to your site structure, search crawlers will visit your website to determine how quickly and easily the pages and subpages can be accessed, as well as what kind of useful content is within them. If your website is structurally sound, Google will know because the crawlers will have determined this during the sweep. This means your website will have a great chance of ranking on the search engine results pages.
Help the Crawlers Do Their Job
By adding an XML file to the coding of your website, you will help crawlers access parent pages and subpages more quickly. XML stands for extensible markup language. This means crawlers and other robots can read your website’s text through this language. By adding a sitemap.xml file to the coding of your website, the crawlers can easily navigate your website’s structure and content.
You can also include a robots.txt file to your coding as well. This will prevent a page or section of your website from being included in the information obtained by the crawlers; thus, omitting in the page or section from search engine results.
How to Create the Best Site Structure
At this point, you are ready to create a functional and effective site structure for your website. We will discuss how to fix a current website’s structure, as well as how to create a new website’s site structure.
Fixing Your Current Site Structure
Let’s say you have a pretty good site set up so far, but you need to make a few adjustments for search engine optimization. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel; just realign it!
Take a look at your website to determine if there are any parent or subpages that should be removed. You don’t want to be competing with yourself on Google, you know? If Google, or any other search engine, is scouring your website to determine the relevant content, you could easily be hurting yourself if you have lots of jumbled up content on various pages and subpages.
Ensure that your subcategories are worded correctly or contain keywords, are found through internal linking and are easy to search for. Look for duplicate content and remove it.
Think of the hierarchical site structure and put the pages in order of parent-to-child. This will allow Google, or any other search engine, to better understand the content and pages within your site.
Creating a New Site Structure
If you are creating a new website, you should choose one of the four site structure types before you begin. The most common and effective is the hierarchical site structure, but you can still achieve productive results through the other structures.
You will need to make a sitemap first to determine the type of site you want to build. What is the homepage going to include? What are the subpages going to be and where am I going to place them?
One you decide the parent and child pages you are going to create, you can now fill the pages with content.
(Remember to add sitemap.xml or robots.txt to the html of your website to help crawlers navigate your space.)
Take a look at your competition. What is their navigation structure, and how do they link to subcategories? This may give you a good idea of how you want your page to look.