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The Importance of Site Structure : the ultimate guide

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For a lot of people who want to improve their rankings, it makes sense to think about keywords. But what does the structure of your website have to do with your ranking in Google? For many people, this remains unclear. In this chapter, we will therefore try to explain the importance of having a good site structure. In the next chapters of this section, we will explain what an ideal site structure looks like and how you can improve upon your own site structure.

Two reasons why site structure is important

In our opinion, there are two main reasons why site structure is an important ranking factor:

  • 1   A decent structure makes sure Google ‘understands’  your site

The way your site is structured will give Google important clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what your site is about, and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent. A good site structure could thus lead to a higher ranking in Google.

By creating a good structure, you can use the content you’ve written that has attracted links from others to help other pages to rank as well. Your site’s structure can help spread some of that link juice to the other pages on your site. On a commercial site, that means that you can use the quality content you’ve written to boost the search engine rankings of your sales pages too.

  • 2   A decent structure makes sure you do not compete with your own content

On your website or weblog, you will probably write multiple articles about similar topics. At Yoast, we write a lot about SEO. If we would write eight different articles about SEO, Google would not know which of the articles is the most important one. If we didn’t solve this with our site structure, we’d be competing with our own articles for a high ranking in Google. Solving this problem with a good internal linking structure will thus result in higher rankings.

The ideal site structure

In theory, you should build your site as a pyramid. On top of the pyramid is your homepage and under the homepage are a number of other pages (categories). These pages in turn refer to even more pages.

Focus keyword and site structure

Using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin allows you to choose a focus keyword and to optimize your post using the features of the Page  Analysis tool This is not the case. In fact, every post should have a different focus keyword. Subsequently, posts about similar topics should be linked to each other.

Keyword strategy and site structure

Your keyword strategy and the way you structure your site should be related. In a proper keyword strategy, you would have thought about common, competitive key words as well as more long tail niche search terms. A similar dichotomy should be made in your site structure. Pages focussing on more common search terms should appear high in your pyramid, while pages optimized for more long tail keywords should appear in a lower part of your site structure. These long tail pages at the bottom of the pyramid should then be linked correctly to the pages higher in the pyramid.

Setting up your site structure

We will help you to set up an ideal site structure. We’ll try to show you how to change the site structure of a site according to an example.

Analyzing your pyramid

An ideal site structure should look somewhat like a pyramid from ancient Egypt. When working on your site structure, you thus should try to create a reasonably balanced pyramid for your site structure. On the top of the pyramid is your homepage, with links / buttons allowing people to go down to the second level. From the pages on the second level, people are able to navigate to pages on the third level (and so on). As you go down in levels in your website, the number of pages per level will go up. We would advise you to have something between 2 and 7 main sections, depending on how content heavy your site is.

You can make subsections beneath your main sections. Make sure that sections are about equally large. If sections are too large, you should divide them into two main sections. A good rule of thumb for the size of sections is to make sure that no section is more than twice as large as any other section. Large sections should have a prominent place on your homepage. Indeed, if a section is relatively large, this is apparently something you write a lot of content about. Dividing such a section in two separate ones, would then result in a more accurate reflection of the content on your website.

Structure should reflect content

In making your site structure, make sure that the structure reflects the content. Similar things should be grouped together, while things that are in fact different should be put in another section.

The structure of the old yoast.com was unbalanced did not reflect the content. There were three pages that were basically about Joost de Valk: About, Projects and Websites. These three pages were not very different in content, but were treated differently in structure.

Traffic

Pages that generate a lot of traffic should have a prominent place on your website. Check your site statistics to see which pages are the most popular. Try to put these pages relatively high in your site structure. These pages apparently attract a lot of traffic and need to be placed high on your pyramid.

Designing a new site structure

After you have analyzed the flaws in your site structure you can rearrange sections, and design a new and improved site structure. Make sure you draw a balanced pyramid, giving more popular pages a higher place in the pyramid.

Once you’re satisfied with your site structure, have a look at the names you have come up with for your sections. If you have enough content about a subject for it to be able to have its own section, you can bet people are searching for it as well. That’s why it’s very wise to make sure your section names use the keywords people are searching for! Pick the right names for your sections and subsections, and you’re halfway there. Now use the same techniques to pick the titles for your pages, and make sure to keep them short and clean.

Internal link structure

If you did it all right with your new site structure, it should look like a pyramid. Now you should consider how you’re going to connect the sections of this pyramid. Look at those sections as small pyramids inside your main pyramid. Each page in the top of that pyramid should link to all its subpages, and the other way around. So, all the subpages within a pyramid should link to the page at the top of that same pyramid.

Because you’re linking from pages that are closely related to each other content-wise, you’re increasing your site’s possibility to rank. Doing it like this, will help the search engine out by showing it what’s related and what isn’t.

From your new site structure to URLs

Once you’ve created your new site structure, you can go ahead and create the URLs to go with this structure. Each page’s URL should describe the content of that page, yet be as short as possible. If you have determined what keywords you want to rank for, you might include the most important ones in your URLs.

If you’re using multiple words, separate them with hyphens.

  • Mixed case URLs are an absolute no-go, as Unix and Linux servers are case sensitive. Having mixed case URLs drastically increases the possibility of typos – have you ever tried remember a URL that / LoOks / LiKe / ThiS /  ?
  • Numbers might be easy for your CMS, but not for your users. Remembering a URL with a number in it is hard, so the chance people will remember it and link to it is smaller – don’t use numbers in URLs. • Make URLs guessable if you can. If people can remember your URLs they can also talk about it with their friends more easily.
  • Make sure you redirect all your old pages to their new equivalents using 301 redirects. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect, and this way search engines will move all the link value from the old URL to the new one. For example, make sure http://example.com 301 redirects to http://www.example.com, or the other way around, so people always link to the same ‘version’ of your site.
  • Make sure content is available at one URL and one URL only, for example by implementing print stylesheets on your pages. There’s no valid reason anymore to have a different page for printing purposes because all major browsers support print stylesheets.

Quick wins to improve your site structure

Changing the entire structure of your website can be a bit overwhelming and rigorous for some of you. But if your website is alive and you add content on a regular basis, the structure of your website will automa tically change.For instance, some time ago, we started writing about keyword research at yoast.com. Our content about keyword research thus grew rather rapidly. Such a change in content asks for some adjustments in site structure.

These kind of changes of course occur in every website. You should thus regularly evaluate your site structure. Closely monitor changes in focus and content on your website and adapt the structure of your website accordingly. In this chapter we give three practical tips you can use to make quick and easy improvements on your site structure without having to change your entire sites URL structure.

  • Update your internal linking structure

Writing an article about a topic often leads to inspiration to write an article about a similar topic. You should try to optimize for a slightly different focus keyword and link these posts internally. Every time you write a post, you should think about similar posts you have written and link to these. Of course, you should always link to your most important article about this topic .

  • Evaluate your sections

At your homepage you normally have a few sections. You should critically evaluate these sections every few months, asking yourself whether one section is growing faster than another section. If some part of your website is growing much faster than other parts, you could divide such a section in two separate sections.

Just over a decade ago, Joost de Valk wrote his first WordPress blog. He wrote about internet, HTML, CSS, webkit and SEO. After some time, he found himself writing almost half his stuff about CSS3. He then decided to start an entire new website (CSS3.info). If you are adding a lot of content which does not fit the initial structure of your website at all, it could be a good idea to start another website for this topic which could become an authority in this particular field.

  • Make good use of taxonomies and tags

Your site will get more structure (or at least Google will understand more of its structure) if you make use of the taxonomies WordPress provides. It has two ways of doing this: you can use categories and you can use tags. The difference is that categories are hierarchical, so you can have sub-categories and sub-sub-categories, whereas tags are unstructured. You can consider the categories to be the table of contents of your website, and tags as the Index.

Taxonomies can go wrong!

A lot could go wrong with taxonomies when people start using them randomly. The structure of your taxonomies is important. As taxonomies group your content, you should keep in mind where these could be used, how they are used and where they are linked. Do not create too many categories. Do not create too many tags. Make sure tags are used more than once or twice.

Cornerstone Content

Really important content pages are called cornerstone articles. This chapter is about these articles. We will first describe what cornerstone articles actually are. Then we will discuss what kind of content these cornerstone articles should contain. Finally, we will explain how one should incorporate cornerstone content in the site structure.

What are cornerstone articles?

Cornerstone articles are the most important articles on your website. This is the content that exactly reflects your business. These articles should be relatively high in your pyramid, focussing on the most ‘head’ and competitive keywords. If you should think of 4 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 home page links to these articles. Websites should have a minimum of 1 or 2 cornerstone articles and a maximum of 8 to 10. If you want to write more than 10 cornerstone articles, you should probably begin a second website.

Type of content of cornerstone articles

Cornerstone content should always be content pages. We advise a page and not a blog post. You should make them timeless and update them very regularly to make sure these pages are up to date. Cornerstone articles should be explainers, it should be informative articles. Also on a webshop, the cornerstone content should be informative articles. Perhaps you can write about the use of the products you sell.

Cornerstone content should thus reflect exactly your business or the mission of your business. But focussing on the field around your business could be a fine strategy to increase your audience and potential buyers.

Incorporation in your site structure

The cornerstone articles should appear very high in your sites pyramid. If you add new content relating to the cornerstone topic, you should link from within this new content to your cornerstone article.

For instance, your cornerstone article is about dog health. This is a lengthy article about all things concerning dog health: food, exercise, sleep and so on. If you write a post about taking long walks with your dog in order to keep him fit, you link from this post to your cornerstone article. Also, when you write about a new type of dog food, you should link to your cornerstone article.

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