How to Create a Site Structure that Benefits End-Users and Search Engines

After all the recent talks about Panda integrating into Google’s indexing algorithm, after the last roll out coined as Panda 25, I couldn’t think of any better topic than one that reminds marketers to create excellent website structures that work best for visitors and ultimately serving search engines. As most SEO’s know, creating an effective site structure takes a combination of various elements including visual design, effective content creation and curation, internal linking, URLs, and a lot more. Here, I’ve outlined some guidelines to help you create a navigable, user-friendly website that’s search engine-friendly at the same time. Identify Your Goals Determine your target audience, write down exactly what you want your website to accomplish, and identify how you intend to achieve these goals. If you want to sell your products and services, your website should be designed in a way that encourages your web visitors to linger on your site longer. If your aim is to attract leads by having them sign up for the newsletter, your website should be engaging enough to entice them to get more updates from you. Organize your site content The best and most recommended way to organize complex website information is to put it in a hierarchical structure. Most websites adopt a hierarchical format wherein the website information is organized from the general to the specific.

A hierarchical website typically has four parts: the Homepage, category (main section) pages, subcategory (subsection) pages, and detail (content/product) pages. To make the most out of your SEO efforts, start linking from your homepage to the most significant category pages; link your category pages to subcategory pages; and link these subcategory pages to detail pages. Detail pages are not limited to products; it can be a page full of relevant news articles or blog posts.

site architectureLimit the number of your categories to whatever is most useful to your visitors. The more categories you include in your site, the less important they become to search engines. Make sure to also limit the number of links on your homepage. The most important keywords, including those keywords that are most difficult to rank, should always be found in the category pages.

Use a Logical Navigation Structure

The majority of your readers will not land on your homepage right away. That’s why your website should effectively guide your web visitors around your site. You should be able to show them the content they will most likely find beneficial as quickly as possible. Use links to show them where to go next or use big call-to-action buttons to immediately drive them into a desired action (eg: signing up for newsletter, making a purchase, etc). zappos A popular example of a high quality site structure is zappos.com. If you click on the Shoes category, it automatically displays all the possible links about shoes that you might find interesting. The side bar on the left also offers detailed subcategories for a more convenient shopping experience. With visually stimulating product images at the center, zappos.com is able to capture consumer interest and drive web visitors to spend more time on the site.

zapposAvoid navigation structures that are 100% built on Flash or JavaScript. It can be effective in engaging your site visitors, but search engines will find it difficult, if not impossible, to crawl. I suggest choosing navigation schemes based in XHTML and CSS since these formats are easily indexed by search spiders.

Another thing to take into consideration is the page depth of your site. Page depth refers to the number of clicks required to reach any page on your website from your homepage. Pages that are instantly available in less than four clicks (aka shallow navigation structure) helps improve your site’s usability and is preferred over those that require five or more clicks (aka deep navigation structure). Check the Quantity and Quality of Your Internal Links The number of internal links you have that point to a certain page in your site helps search engines determine the importance of that page. If you notice, a website’s homepage often has the highest page rank compared to other pages of the website. That’s because every page of the website links to the homepage, thus it increases its relevancy.

tj home page

Take note that it’s not advisable for you to provide a link to each page of your site, otherwise it would be read by search engines as spamming.

Setup an SEO-friendly URL structure An ideal URL structure is simple, easy to understand, and should include relevant keywords in them. When creating an effective URL structure, pay attention to the following: Choice of Keywords – It’s best practice to do some keyword research to give you an idea on the most commonly search terms/phrases which you can use when creating your URl structure. URL Length – Create your URLs as short and relevant as you possibly can. Avoid gibberish URLs that has too much numbers and punctuation marks in it. Try to make it keyword rich to help you achieve an optimized URL structure. Static vs Dynamic URLs – Google, Yahoo! and Bing accept both static and dynamic URLs. A static URL is more advisable to use since it contains your keywords and easily gives a user an idea about the page she’s browsing (Example: www.mywebsitename.com/blog). Static URLs are more user friendly compared to a dynamic URL which mostly contains gibberish alphanumeric characters and punctuation marks (example: www.mywebsitename.com/?p-654788546&436&) Use of Hyphens and Underscores – Words that are connected using underscores is read by Google as a single word (example: dont_use_underscores_in_your_URL is read as dontuseunderscoresinyoururl by Google). This is why Google prefers the use of hyphens/dashes in the URL structure to make it more SEO friendly. Click this link to know more on how to create an SEO-friendly URL structure. Be Consistent in Your Design, Content, and Layout On top of using a consistent color scheme and navigable layout on each web page, ensuring the consistency of your header, footer, branding, content value, and navigation menu among other visual and textual elements are vital in improving the end-user experience. In the sample below, Marketo let the color purple stand out on its website, thus encouraging brand recall among its web visitors.

marketo

Regularly Check for Possible Malfunctions Perform a quality check on your site at least once a month. Watch out for broken links, make sure your website launches properly in all browsers, and ensure all your forms are working. When checking for spelling and grammar errors, take into account your target audience – do they use British or American English? Never use both in one website. Consistency is essential in all your web copy as your brand image rests heavily on it.

Google_Analytics

Google ranks websites according to its usefulness to searchers so it’s only imperative that you build your website with the convenience of your web visitors as your end goal. Search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing merely rank websites which they think are useful to searchers. If your website does not satisfy the needs of your target audience, then all your SEO efforts will be futile. Always build your site structure with the end-user in mind. If you do, search engine optimization will immediately follow.

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Itamar Gero
Itamar Gero made the Philippines his home in 2009 when he founded TrueLogic Online Solutions. Since then, he has garnered the brightest minds in digital marketing who have successfully executed digital strategies in the most competitive industries online. Besides being a serial entrepreneur, he travels the world, meditates whenever possible and dreams in code.