TL;DR: The structure and interactivity of your website impacts SEO. To improve your structure, you need to consider:
Even before you begin designing or creating your website, you should consider the impact it will have on your technical SEO. Thinking about best practices for website navigation and structure will influence your search visibility success later on.
That said, it’s never too late to improve your website’s organization. For those of you who have a more mature website, it’s a good practice to audit your structure and navigation, particularly if your site has grown over time.
Why site structure and navigation is important
Easy navigation and seamless internal organization is undoubtedly a factor in boosting your SEO results and elevates the overall quality of your website.
We spoke in our technical SEO terminology explainer about crawling and how important it is for Google. Having a flat site structure makes it easier for Google’s bots to crawl your site—and being visible to Google is the only way that you can be visible to others.
Enhances the UX
Always remember that Google continually updates its SEO rules so that they can better serve their users. That’s the motivation behind every decision the team at Google makes. By extension, anything you do to enhance the user experience of your website will also benefit your SEO, and having a clean, easy-to-navigate structure is key among this.
Your blog or website is going to produce similar content that explores unique aspects and angles related to your particular product or service. For example, all our content at Watchdog Studio revolves around supporting and managing a website. That means we may create multiple posts about website security, for example. We know those posts deal with distinct points, but how does Google?
The way you structure your website—particularly with internal linking—allows Google to know which pages you consider to be most important and avoids competition with yourself.
Gives room for growth
The last reason you should think about your structure and navigation as early as possible is because it will help you down the line. The more organized you are, the easier it will be to grow.
Your website may begin quite simply, with a home page, a few product pages, and not too much else. But as you add to the blog, offer more services, or include more product pages, the amount of content you have increases. If this is not properly planned for and categorized, it can get out of control more quickly than you would believe.
Best practices for website navigation and structure
Whether you’re just starting out or already have a website in operation, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you have an easy-to-follow structure.
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Choosing a domain name
Let’s start at the very beginning—with your domain name. You will likely spend some time on this as it will need to represent your brand identity and will define your business moving forward. But you should also think about it in terms of SEO.
Specifically, you need to define which variation of the domain you want to use so search engines don’t get confused. By default, you can access websites with and without the “www.”
It could be:
https://www.yourwebsite.com or https://yourwebsite.com
This is no problem at all for users, but for search engines, it can cause issues with indexing and duplicate content. To address this, choose your preferred domain and be sure the other redirects to your chosen option. The search engines will get the hint as long as the 301 redirect is set properly. If you’re unsure how or where to do this, root level 301 redirects are best handled by your hosting provider, so our recommendation would be to connect with their support.
You can further let search engines know about your prefered setup by::
- Adding the rel=”canonical” links to HTML pages so that Google knows what URL you prefer on your site. For non-HTML pages, add the links to HTTP headers.
- Only using the preferred version of your URL on your website’s XML sitemap
Creating a flat structure
Design and functionality should always go hand in hand and this can be a delicate balancing act when it comes to website navigation. You want your branding to be accurately represented on your website.
However, this cannot come at the expense of a flat structure. In essence, a flat structure means that your site’s pages are no more than a few clicks away from each other. This is a must for both the user experience and so that Google (or other search engines) can easily crawl your site.
The importance of a flat structure is particularly noticeable when it comes to ecommerce. With potentially hundreds or thousands of products available, the likelihood of orphan pages—pages with no internal links to them—increases. If Googlebot can’t reach them, they essentially don’t exist.
Checking your current website’s architecture and improving your internal linking can be done with the help of a few tools.
As a rule of thumb, your site’s most important pages should never be more than three clicks away from the home page. Ideally, most will be no more than one click away.
To spot areas where linking can be improved, Screaming Frog’s tool can help.
- Download Screaming Frog
- Crawl your site starting from the homepage
- From the “internal” tab, filter by “HTML”
- Export the data to a CSV or Excel format.
- Open the CSV document Google Sheets, Excel, etc.
- Filter the “indexability” column removing all non-indexable pages.
- Users and search engines likely can only find indexable pages
- If there are important pages that are being filtered out, review those pages on your website and be sure to make them indexable
- Sort by the “crawl depth” column in descending order, putting pages with the largest crawl depth at the top
- Determine ways to reduce the crawl depth for any key pages with a depth greater than 3
Ahrefs also has a “Site Audit” feature that can help you gain an overview of your structure. But, while extremely helpful, it doesn’t have the most user friendly design.
Finally, if you need it to be more visual, you can use Visual Site Mapper. This free tool is more interactive and lets you understand where your site’s architecture needs to be improved.
Breadcrumbs allow you to see exactly where you are on a website. They appears at the top of any page and will look something like this:
Blog > How-To > Technical SEO
Including this is an essential best practice for large websites with deep links. First of all, it helps the user. Visitors can determine exactly where they are within the website and navigate to top level pages if they want to dive further into a topic. And, anything that is good for the user is generally good for SEO.
Beyond this, breadcrumb navigation automatically adds internal links to categories and subpages on your website. For more complex sites, this will cut down on any orphen pages slipping through the cracks.
Following these simple steps is the best way to ensure that you’re beginning your SEO journey with the right foot forward. As you continue implementing your strategy, having a properly organized structure will give you an edge over the competition and help attract more qualified leads to your website.
Once you have implemented best practices for website navigation and structure, it’s time to begin thinking about crawling, rendering, and indexing your website.