If you’ve not read my other musings on technical SEO, you can have a look at Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking the links. But please come back here, because this is a really important (but often overlooked) part of technical SEO. It’s kind of fundamental, really.
What is site architecture?
Site architecture is the hierarchical structure of a site created by internal linking. As with anything that can be edited and updated, over time, a website’s architecture can become somewhat cumbersome with add-ons here and new sections of content there…
Before you know it, your nice tidy website is quite frankly a ‘bit of a mess’. Even if it’s a beautiful mess, like an old building that has been extended over the years, like this fabulous National Trust property a few miles from where I grew up – beautiful yes, charming yes, but a bit of a muddle really in terms of its architecture with a Jacobean Hall, a Georgian extension (I personally love the Orangery, it’s one of my ‘happy places’) and a Victorian Stable Block. Whilst one wouldn’t wish to change the beautiful building that I’ve described here for heritage reasons, your website is not a historic old building that needs to be kept ‘as is’ for future generations to learn about our collective history – it is a tool you have, which should be designed to gain you more customers and share information. It requires regular updates. It should be constantly changing. Think of it as like ‘painting the Forth Bridge’, rather than something you will ‘complete’. You will never complete it. It will never be ‘finished’ (like your laundry pile, but much more rewarding… I hope).
How to stop your site becoming a ‘bit of a mess’
How do we ensure that our website doesn’t become a maze of dead ends, with content dotted all over the place, no clear user journey, or logical structure?
How you tackle this really depends on what your site is like now. Is it already a maze of information dotted about with no real logic? Or are you developing an entirely new site? Or perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle of these, with a site that has potential to become a maze and you want to avoid that happening? You may not be able to answer this objectively – it’s your site, and like I fail to see any flaws in my son, you may have similar ‘rose-tinted glasses’ about your own website. So, get an objective opinion on it. Ask someone who has no agenda as to whether they can find your important pages.
Where to start?
The first thing you will want to do, if you have it available, is to delve into your Analytics and Google Search Console (GSC) data (you do have these, don’t you?). Remember, what you can’t track, you can’t optimise, so get these set up now!
- Which pages are ranking in organic search? You can see this information in the GSC Performance report.
- Then log into your Analytics and take a look at the landing page report. Which landing pages convert best?
- Next, use a backlinking tool, such as AHREFs or Majestic, to discover which of your pages have backlinks pointing to them.
- These are some of your most important pages. These pages are your virtual sales team. You want to make sure that the benefits these pages are offering are not lost when you start to restructure your site.
How does site architecture affect SEO?
Site architecture is really a kind of fancy way of talking about internal linking. Internal linking is one way you can control and influence the user journey throughout your site. It is a way of leading users to the pages you want them to see to get them ready to take the next step towards becoming a customer of yours. How long this journey is or how many touchpoints the user will need to make in order to get where you want them to, will depend on what you are offering. A site that sells relatively cheap or inexpensive items is likely to have a much shorter user journey, or require fewer touchpoints with your site, in order to get the user to take that next step. And, a site that sells something more expensive or complex, or something that requires a lot more research, will need more touchpoints and a longer user journey because there is more information for the user to digest in order to be convinced that what you offer will work for them.
Internal linking is also the method that the search engine spiders use to discover new pages or updated content. It cannot be stressed enough as to how important and indeed, powerful, internal linking can be for improving traffic and conversions.
A site that doesn’t use this easy-to-implement technique is missing out – big time.
Fountain’s Top Tips for ensuring a good site structure
Tip 1 – Use as flat a structure as you can. The fewer clicks from the homepage, the better, as backlink value flows through links (some SEOs call this ‘link juice’), and the more links it passes through, the more diluted it is when it reaches the ‘end of the line’.
Tip 2 – Be consistent. Site architecture should use logic. Using a consistent and logical URL structure will help keep things tidy, as well as ensure the relevancy of content is maximised.
Tip 3 – Build in growth potential. Make sure the site structure lends itself to growth.
Tip 4 – Use breadcrumbs. These automatically add internal links and can help users understand where they are on a site, and how to find other relevant information that may be helpful for them. When coded correctly, these can appear in the SERP, offering several entrances to your site from one rank listing.
Tip 5 – Organise content into hubs. These hubs should include content that is related in some way. The pages within each hub should link to each other in a logical way, and these internal links will help you to control how the ‘link juice’ flows through a site and ends up on the pages you want to rank.
Tip 6 – This one is from my SEO colleague, Libby Masters, who says: ‘Be inspired by websites that have a decent site architecture. If it’s working for them and makes sense for your target audience, it should work for you.’
Tip 7 – Don’t be afraid to rebuild from the ground up if you need to, but be mindful not to throw every good thing away – use your analytics and GSC data to discover your most important pages for traffic, conversions and engagement. The data is all there (assuming you have analytics and GSC set up) and there to be used.
Tip 8 – If you do decide to bite the bullet and rebuild the site, make sure your site migration is handled well, ensuring all and any URLs that have been updated are redirected, and that best practice is followed to the letter, because a site migration can have a negative impact if things aren’t done right. We’ll be covering more on site migrations within my Technical SEO Series, so watch this space if you are interested – or get in touch today to talk specifically about your project – the sooner we’re involved with a site migration, the better.
Tip 9 – This one is from our Digital PR expert, Matt Hartley, who says: ‘If you’re going to be changing URLs of pages as part of site architecture changes, don’t forget to redirect those existing URLs, especially those that have backlinks pointing to them! You’d be shocked how much link equity is lost because people forget to do this, and it’s extremely difficult to build decent links, so you want to make sure that those links are being pointed to the most relevant and useful pages!’
Get in touch if you would like an SEO-led site architecture plan – we’d love to be involved!