When establishing a new website, it is crucial to carefully consider its architecture. By structuring your website in an organized and hierarchical manner, you significantly enhance its potential for achieving a high ranking on Google search results. An effectively structured website enables search engines to navigate and understand its content easily, leading to improved visibility and increased organic traffic.
But how can we achieve this?
1. Start with the Basics
Website architecture encompasses the organization, interlinking, and design of information on your site. To illustrate this further, let’s consider an example of an e-commerce website:
A simpler analogy to understand website architecture is to think of it as a folder system on a computer.
Navigating through folders and subfolders can be time-consuming. However, by establishing a well-organized and hierarchical structure with clear and descriptive labels, you can significantly streamline the process of finding the desired information.
When it comes to optimizing websites for SEO, the same principles hold true.
To ensure seamless navigation for both Google and human visitors, it is essential to establish a logical website architecture.
A recommended starting point is to incorporate commonly found pages into your website’s navigation.
- About page
- Contact page
a. About Page
The About page provides an opportunity to share your brand’s story. Consider including the following elements on this page:
- A concise overview of your website’s objectives and purpose.
- A photo of your team.
- Incorporate social proof elements like customer reviews or testimonials.
- Locations of your office(s).
For inspiration, take a look at the recently revamped About page of Ahrefs.
b. Blog Section
The blog typically serves as the hub for your frequently updated content. The blog plays a crucial role in Ahrefs’ content strategy. If you’re curious, take a look at our blog to get insights into its structure and organization.
c. Contact Page
Another essential page that most websites include is the Contact page. This page is crucial for providing visitors with a means to reach out to you. Additionally, it is recommended to include your NAP (name, address, and phone number) on this page for easy reference and accessibility.
d. State the Website’s Primary Purpose, Service, or Product
Including a clear indication of your website’s main purpose in the navigation is highly recommended. If your website offers a specific service or sells products within a particular category, it is beneficial to explicitly mention these details.
As seen in the example below, this website effectively displays its services and products in the primary navigation.
If you’re uncertain about the specific keywords to use, Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer can be a valuable tool for conducting keyword research.
e. Sketch Out a Simple Site Architecture (and build it out)
Once you have established the fundamental pages, you can proceed to visualize the structure.
When working with a team, visualizing your site architecture becomes crucial as it allows you to gather feedback and validate your design with colleagues before launching it.
Below is an example of a straightforward website architecture created using the mind mapping tool called MindMeister.
If you are dealing with a larger website, you might find a tool like this particularly useful, especially for constructing more intricate and complex websites.
I personally find this tool to be user-friendly and convenient, but if you prefer a more traditional approach, you can also use tools like Excel or opt for the old-school method of using a pen and a large sheet of paper.
What insights can we gather from the structure of this website?
- The website exhibits a clear page hierarchy, where “Cat sitting” is categorized under “Services.” This hierarchical structure indicates that cat sitting is a service offered by this website.
- The website follows a logical approach by grouping similar types of content together. For instance, Blog posts #1 and #2 are appropriately placed within the designated blog section.
- The essential pages are prominently placed at the first level of the website’s navigation. Typically, this includes vital pages such as an About page and a Contact page, which are fundamental for most businesses.
f. Flat Architecture vs. Deep Architecture
With the fundamentals in place, let’s now explore various types of site architecture and their characteristics.
With a flat architecture, you can access every page on your website using a minimum number of clicks.
In a deep architecture, accessing the pages on your site requires a significant number of clicks.
For basic websites, a flat architecture might suffice, while more intricate websites may require a deeper architecture. A deep site architecture necessitates careful attention to internal linking. It is crucial to ensure that your essential content is not buried deep within your website, making it difficult for visitors to find. Your most significant pages should be readily accessible through strategically positioned and descriptive internal links.
g. Make it Better with Keyword Research
After outlining the framework of your website, you can proceed to enhance it through the utilization of keyword research. At this stage, employing keyword research is crucial to gain insights into the specific keywords that your customers are searching for, which are relevant to your website.
In this example scenario, let’s imagine that we are constructing a website centered around “cats” and offering a “cat sitting” service to our customers.
To utilize Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, we can enter the term “cat sitting” in the search bar and navigate to the Matching terms report.
The report reveals two location-specific searches, along with the keyword phrase “cat sitting rates.”
We should incorporate these keywords into our website architecture.
- I have placed “Rates” below “Cat sitting” in the website architecture because once visitors have reviewed the service, they would likely be interested in checking the pricing.
- Additionally, I have included “San Diego” and “San Francisco” in a newly created “Locations” menu to maintain a relatively flat site architecture.
If you want to delve deeper, you can utilize Keywords Explorer to analyze clusters of keywords. Now, suppose we intend to incorporate a new section on “cat care” to the website. To accomplish this, input the keyword and navigate to the Matching terms report.
Examining the left-hand column, we observe the inclusion of “sphynx.” By expanding this section, we can determine how to organize our website architecture based on the search preferences for this specific cat breed.
h. Get Inspiration from Competitors
After concluding your keyword research, it is worthwhile to examine the website architecture of your competitors for inspiration. To examine a competitor’s site structure, the easiest method is to enter their domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and then navigate to the Site structure report through the left-hand navigation.
Here’s an example of me analyzing a competitor’s site structure.
Taking it a step further, let’s explore another advanced technique I employ to analyze the website structures of competitors who already achieve high rankings for specific keywords I aim to target:
- Go to Keywords Explorer and enter your keyword (e.g., cat sitting), and hit search
- Scroll down to the SERP overview and click on a competitor in the list
- Click on the downward-facing chevron and click on Site Explorer’s overview
- In the search bar, change Exact URL to Domain and hit search
- Then click on Site structure in the left-hand column
- Click on the chevron next to the domain to show the full path
If you find a competitor’s website structure appealing, you can click on the “Export” button located in the top right-hand corner to analyze it further.
With the insights we have gained from studying these competitors, let’s modify our site architecture plan according to the keywords we aim to target.
To enhance the structural competitiveness of my website with one that is already ranking on the first page, I will incorporate an “FAQ” page and merge my “Services” and “Cat Sitter” categories, rebranding it as “Book a Cat Sitter.”
Engaging in competitor site structure analysis is a potent process that we can repeat with any competitor, enabling us to enhance the organization of our own site architecture.
2. Add these Elements to the Pages
When considering site architecture as the comprehensive design and construction of a website, we must incorporate a few additional structural elements to ensure its optimal performance in search engines.
While we have examined the design of the site’s hierarchical structure, it is equally important to ensure the presence of essential on-site architectural functionality.
Here is what I think you should include:
a. Add Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
If you have come across SEO articles previously, you might have encountered references to title tags and meta descriptions. It is essential to incorporate these elements on every page, so it is beneficial to have knowledge about them.
In Google results, the title tag is situated above the meta description.
Breadcrumbs should not be considered a substitute for your website’s primary navigation, but they are highly effective in visually representing the hierarchical relationship between pages.
From a user’s standpoint, breadcrumbs are valuable in two specific scenarios:
- They aid in website navigation when you arrive on a page buried within the site’s hierarchy.
- They serve as a convenient shortcut to return to the main category page.
b. Use Descriptive SEO-friendly URLs
Once you have flourished your website structure, it is crucial to utilize descriptive URLs to facilitate search engines in comprehending the nature of your website.
Table of Contents (ToCs) provide convenient navigation for your visitors to browse your content effortlessly. ToCs prove particularly beneficial for navigating lengthy pages, and I highly recommend incorporating one into your blog post’s template.
c. Use Internal Linking
Internal linking plays a crucial role in your website architecture, as it aids search engines in comprehending the interconnections between pages on your site and assists visitors in navigating through it.
A relatively recent addition to the Ahrefs Blog is the inclusion of related links. Positioned at the bottom of our blog content under the section titled “Keep Learning,” these related links offer an effortless means to enhance your internal linking strategy.
d. Use Author Bios
The Ahrefs’ blog effectively incorporates author bios, which not only establish trust with both Google and visitors but also serve as an avenue for credibility. These author bios usually encompass social links, further enhancing the overall credibility and authenticity of the content. This practice aids both Google and visitors in recognizing the presence of a genuine individual behind the article, adding an element of authenticity. If you have a team, utilizing author bios becomes a logical choice to showcase the collective expertise and credibility of your team members.
3. Get the Technical Bits Right
Technical SEO stands as one, if not the most critical aspect of SEO. When constructing and designing a website’s architecture, there are numerous factors that necessitate careful consideration.
Here are some crucial aspects to take into account:
a. Use Sitewide HTTPS
It is no surprise that your website should implement HTTPS. Google established HTTPS as a ranking signal as early as 2014. Consequently, it is now uncommon to come across websites that solely use HTTP.
b. Add a Sitemap.xml File and Submit it to Google Search Console
Once you have created your website and are satisfied with its structure, it is advisable to generate and submit your sitemap.xml file(s) through Google Search Console.
The sitemap.xml file should be located on your website at the following location:
For more detailed information on constructing and submitting a sitemap, refer to Google’s comprehensive guide provided below:
c. Add a robots.txt File
A robots.txt file specifies the areas of your site where search engines are allowed or not allowed to crawl. It is another essential file that must be included in your website architecture.
The robots.txt file should be placed on your website at the following location:
d. Use <a> Links
It is essential to ensure that your links are easily crawlable by Google. Here are a few examples of what is considered acceptable and what is not in terms of crawlability for Google.
e. Make it Mobile-friendly, use Responsive Design
Google strongly advises employing responsive design to develop a mobile-friendly website. With responsive design, your webpages will be visually appealing and functional across all devices.
f. Use Canonical Tags
Canonical tags are HTML code snippets that establish the primary version for duplicate, near-duplicate, and similar pages. It is crucial to include these tags on your website’s pages.
Here’s what the snippet of HTML looks like:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://yourwebsite.com/blog/”>
g. Use Structured Data
Structured data refers to a standardized method of offering information about a webpage. It aids search engines, such as Google, in comprehending the content’s context and subject matter more effectively.
It is highly advisable to incorporate structured data into your page templates right from the beginning, as Google utilizes it to facilitate search result enhancements. This can potentially lead to increased visibility and prominence of your result on the search engine results page (SERP).
h. Audit your Site’s Structure
Once you have finalized and launched your site’s architecture, there may be a temptation to leave it as is.
However, it is worth conducting periodic reviews using tools such as Ahrefs’ Site Structure in Site Explorer or Ahrefs’ Site Audit to make sure that your site’s architecture remains well-organized and in optimal condition.
Developing a well-structured website architecture from the beginning requires time and extensive research. However, if you design it with SEO in mind, it will yield substantial benefits for your website in the long term.
Leveraging tools like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and Site Explorer grants you a competitive advantage on the search engine results pages (SERPs) by providing insights into what is already effective and successful.