Site structure: the ultimate guide
Your site needs to have a defined structure, because without it, it’ll just be a random collection of pages and blog posts. Your users need this structure to navigate around your site, to click from one page to another. Google also uses the structure of your site to determine what content is important and what is less relevant. This guide tells you everything you need to know about site structure.
Are you struggling with setting up your site’s structure? Don’t know what the best strategy is to link from one post to another? Consider taking our Site structure training, so you’ll be able to improve your rankings by creating the best structure for your site.
- Why is site structure important?
- How to set up the structure of your site
- Taxonomies and tags
- Cornerstone content
- Practical tips and quick wins
- Duplicate content
- Site structure: in short
Why is site structure important?
Structuring your website is crucial for both usability and findability. Many sites lack a sound structure to guide visitors to the product they’re looking for. Having a clear site structure also leads to better understanding of your site by Google, so it’s incredibly important for your SEO. Let’s take a closer look at why structure is so important for your website.
1 Importance for usability
The structure of your website has a significant impact on its User eXperience (UX). If visitors can find the products and information they’re looking for, it’s more likely they’ll become customers. In other words, you should help them navigate your site and a good site structure will help with this.
Navigating should be easy. You need to categorize your posts and products so they are easy to find and new visitors can instantly grasp what you’re writing about or selling.
2 Importance for SEO
A solid site structure vastly improves your chances of ranking in search engines. We think there are three main reasons for this:
1. It helps Google ‘understand’ your site
The way you structure your site will give Google vital clues about where to find the most valuable content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine can understand what your site is about and what you’re selling. It also determines how quickly a search engine will find and index products. A good structure should, therefore, lead to a higher ranking in Google.
2. It prevents you from competing with yourself
On your site, you might have blog posts that are quite similar. If, for example, you write a lot about SEO, you could have multiple blog posts about site structure, each covering a different aspect. Consequently, Google won’t be able to tell which of these pages is the most important, so you’ll be competing with your own content for a high ranking in Google. You should let Google know which page you think is most important. You need a good internal linking and taxonomy structure to do this, so all those pages can work for you, instead of against you.
3. It deals with changes on your website
The products you sell in your shop will likely evolve over time. So could the content you’re writing. You will probably add new product lines as old stock sells out. Or perhaps you think the information in old blog posts shouldn’t be on your site any more. You don’t want Google to show outdated products or deleted blog posts, so you’ll need to deal with these kinds of changes in the structure of your site.
How to set up the structure of your site
So, how do you construct a solid site structure? First we’ll look at an ideal site structure, then we’ll explain how to achieve this for your own site.
Ideal site structure
The structure of your site should look like a pyramid with your homepage at the top, and some category pages beneath it. For larger sites, you should have subcategories or custom taxonomies – more on that later. In the categories and subcategories, you’ll have some blog posts, pages or product pages.
Dividing your pages into categories
If you’ve not yet divided the blog posts or product pages on your site into categories, you should – right away. Make sure you add these categories to the main menu of your site.
Keep you categories the same size
Each category should be about the same size. If a category gets too big because you are blogging a lot about a certain topic, then divide that category into two. A good rule of thumb is to make sure no category is more than twice the size of any other. If your site has an oversized category like this, dividing it into two would be a more accurate reflection of the content of your website. Remember that if your category name is reflected in your site’s permalink structure, you should make sure URLs are properly redirected after splitting up a category.
Internal link structure
Your link structure has a direct impact on your site. Each page at the top of a pyramid should link to its subpages, and likewise, all the subpages should link back to the pages at the top. At the top of your pyramid, there should be critical content – so-called (cornerstone articles). These should be the articles you link to from all your blog posts.
Because you’re linking from pages that are closely related to each other content-wise, you’re increasing your site’s chance of ranking. Linking this way will help search engines figure out what’s important by showing them what’s related and what isn’t.
On top of that, with all subpages linking to that one main page at the very top of your pyramid, you’ll be creating cornerstone articles. There’s more about cornerstone content later on in this post. These articles will make it easier for search engines to determine what your main pages are for each subject.
Improving your internal link structure with Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO’s text link counter visualizes your links so you can optimize them. It shows the internal links in a post and the internal links to a post. You can use this tool to enhance your site structure, by improving the links between your related posts.
Yoast SEO Premium helps you with your internal linking as well. Our internal linking suggestions tool will show you which articles are related to the one you’re writing, so you can easily link to them: just by dragging the link into your editor! On top of that, our tool allows you to indicate which articles you consider to be cornerstone content on your site. This way those articles will be shown on top of the internal linking suggestions. You’ll never forget to link to them again.
Taxonomies and tags
Adding tags will also benefit your site. Tags and taxonomies will improve structure, so users and search engines like Google will understand it better.
In WordPress there are two ways of adding taxonomies. Firstly, you can use categories, which we’ve already covered, for your pyramid-like structure. Secondly, you can use tags. The difference is in their structure. Categories are hierarchical; you can have subcategories and sub-subcategories, while tags have no hierarchy. Think of it like this: categories are the table of contents of your website, and tags are the index.
Try not to create too many tags. If you add a new unique tag to every post or article, you’re not structuring anything. Make sure each tag is used at least twice, and that your tags group articles that genuinely belong together.
Some WordPress themes display tags with each post, but some don’t. Make sure your tags are available to your visitors somewhere, preferably at the bottom of your article or in the sidebar. Google isn’t the only one that likes tags: they are useful for your visitors, who may want to read more about the same topic.
Critical content pages are known as cornerstone content because they are the most important pages on your website. This is the content that exactly reflects your business or the mission of your business. Also, it might help to widen the field to topics around your business. This could be a good strategy to increase your audience and potential customers.
As we’ve already covered, cornerstone articles should be relatively high in your site structure, focusing on the most ‘head’ and competitive keywords. Try to think of the top four pages you would like someone to read if they wanted to know all about your site or company. These should be your cornerstone articles and in most cases, the homepage should link to these articles.
Category pages or tag pages could make great cornerstone ‘articles’ as well. If you want to optimize your category pages for cornerstone content, it is important to have awesome introductory content. You should make sure that this page is a compelling overview of the subject and invites visitors to read more articles.
Yoast SEO helps you create your cornerstones
Since your cornerstone content is the most valuable content on your site we decided to create a distinct cornerstone content analysis for those articles. As explained in the internal linking section above you can mark an article as cornerstone content with Yoast SEO. If you do that, the content of this article will be analyzed with a stricter set of rules, as we’ve set a higher standard for this content. You’ll need to write a longer article (at least 900 words), use more subheadings, make sure you’ve optimized your images well, like we’ve done for this article:
Practical tips and quick wins
Your structure is dynamic. Your business might change over the years, and your site’s structure will have to reflect this change. If you don’t think about your website’s structure on a regular basis, it could grow into a monstrous collection of pages. Your pages or products might not fit into your navigation anymore, and your website can lose coherence.
Remove and redirect!
Lots of shops will sell a new collection of products every season, for example clothing or footwear. Last season’s products could go on sale for a while, but eventually they will sell out. If you don’t expect to sell the same product again, you should remove the page. Also, if content is completely outdated, remove it.
However, you may have had some valuable links to the deleted content. You want to make sure you benefit from these links, even though the page doesn’t exist anymore, so you should redirect the URL.
Redirecting pages is not that hard. If you use WordPress, our Yoast SEO Premium plugin can help you take care of redirects. Preferably you should redirect the URL (301) to the product that replaced the product or if there is no replacement, a related page. That could be the category page of the specific product, or as a last resort, to your homepage. This way the (outdated) page won’t interfere with your site structure anymore.
Evaluate your menu
When your business goal or website changes, your menu also needs to change. When you start thinking about restructuring your site, planning things visually will pay off. Make a flowchart. Start with your new menu one or two levels deep and see if you can fit in more of the pages you have created over the years. You’ll find that some pages are still valid, but don’t seem relevant for your menu anymore. No problem, just be sure to link to them on related pages and in your sitemaps, so that Google and your visitors can still find these pages. The flowchart will also show you any gaps in the site structure.
Rethink your taxonomy
Creating an overview of your categories, subcategories and products or posts will also help you to rethink your site’s taxonomy. Do your product categories and subcategories still provide a logical overview of your product range? Perhaps you’ve noticed somewhere down the line that one category has been far more successful than others, or maybe you wrote a lot of blog posts on one subject and very few on others.
If one category grows much larger than others, your site’s pyramid could be thrown off balance. Think about splitting this category into different categories. But, if some product lines end up much smaller than others, you might want to merge them. Try to create eight to ten top level categories at most to keep your site and structure focused – and don’t forget to redirect the ones you delete.
Tell Google about it
In the unlikely event you have built your HTML sitemap manually, update that sitemap after changing your site structure. In the far more likely event you have an XML sitemap, re-submit it to Google Search Console.
The same content is visible at multiple locations on your site. As a reader, that’s not a problem because you’ll get the content you came for. But a search engine has to pick which one to show in the search results, as it doesn’t want to show the same content twice. On top of that, when other websites link to your product, chances are some will link to one URL, and others will link to another. If these duplicates were all linking to the same URL, your chance of ranking in the top ten for the relevant keyword is likely to be much higher. Joost wrote a huge article about this that you should definitely read.
Site structure: in short
As we have seen, there are several reasons why site structure is important. Good site structure helps both your visitors and Google navigate your site. It makes it easier to implement changes and prevents competing with your own content. So use the tips and pointers in this guide to check and improve your site structure. That way, you’ll stay on top of things and keep your website from growing out of control!
Want to get improve your site structure, but don’t know where to start? Get our Site structure training! We’ll guide you through the process step by step.