There are tons of factors that play into your search engine rankings. Your content, backlinks, site performance and UX are all critical … but you knew that already. What you may not know is how important your site structure is to SEO.
Yes, that means your sitemap isn’t just a list of pages anymore. It’s the foundation of your search engine optimization efforts.
In this post, we’ll break down the perfect site structure for SEO. You’ll learn how to build an information architecture that thrills spiders and users. And you’ll walk away with a better understanding of what SEO is and how it works.
What Is Site Structure?
When we talk about site structure, we’re referring to how you present and link your pages and posts. It’s often called a sitemap (not to be confused with the XML file), information architecture, “IA” or flow map.
Your site structure is critical to both user experience and SEO. Done well, it makes your website easy to find and navigate. Done poorly, it can ruin even the prettiest digital presence.
The goal of building a site structure for SEO is three-fold. You want to:
- Make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for
- Encourage search engine crawlers to dive deeper into your website
- Highlight and promote your most important content
Why Site Structure Matters
Your website visitors and Google’s robots have something in common. Both love organization and clear hierarchy.
There are two basic ways users and spiders can come to a website:
- Direct through the homepage, and on to interior pages
- To an interior page or blog post first via a link or search
Both paths absolutely require a solid site structure for SEO.
In the first case, they hit the homepage – a summary of everything you have – first. From there, they’ll choose their next destination from on-page links and menus.
Think of a disorganized site, with no thought given to hierarchy. A user or Google spider could start at the homepage and jump to a core product page. Or they could end up on some irrelevant, old blog post. Or a sub-product. They won’t know until they click.
That’s bad UX!
Now, think of an organized site. Homepage links and menus are obvious about where they go. They start “big” and get progressively more refined. It’s a bit like a funnel.
Now, we aren’t saying you should try to establish a hard and fast “user flow.” But you do want the experience to make sense.
Same goes for sessions that start on an interior page or blog post. In this case, the user is probably interested in a specific topic. You need to structure your site to give them more of what they want – not something different.
Flat & Silo: The Perfect Site Structure for SEO
The perfect way to give your human and robot visitors what they want is a “flat & silo” site structure.
In this methodology, you’re looking to do two things:
- Reduce “crawl depth”
- Group related content to show you know your stuff and highlight what matters
What Is Crawl Depth?
Just like a user, search engine crawlers will eventually get bored with your site. It’s not like Google hits every page and post on every website every day. They’re good, but not that good.
Instead, the Googlebots sample content. They learn which sites are active and important and hit them more often. Regardless of the first page they hit, they’ll only go so deep – figure two or three clicks, max. That’s crawl depth.
That’s where the “flat” part of the flat silo structure comes from. If you bury a page five layers deep, it won’t be seen often … if at all. Doesn’t matter if it’s a great page with amazing content. Too much crawl depth sends a signal that it’s not important. And if it doesn’t matter to you, Google won’t value it much, either.
Site Structure to Maximize E-A-T
E-A-T – expertise, authority and trustworthiness – is a core tenet of SEO in 2020. The guidelines that Google gives its Search Quality Raters focus on the concept.
To succeed with E-A-T, you need to prove to Google that you’re an expert in a topic.
When users search for something on Google, they’re asking for a recommendation. Google wants to point them in the right direction. Thus, if you prove that you’re an expert, you have a good chance of Google pointing them in your direction.
As you might have guessed, this is the “silo” part of the flat silo site structure for SEO. The fewer clicks between related content, the more Google will see. The more it sees, the more it recognizes your expertise and authority.
What the Flat & Silo Structure Looks Like
Now that you understand the concept, it’s time to build your SEO-focused site structure.
You can use any tool you like for this, including a pencil and paper. Some good choices include:
- Airtable, a cloud-based spreadsheet alternative. Their prebuilt sitemap “base” lets you enter information like Excel, but visualize it like an org chart.
- Slickplan, a visual sitemap builder. It’s not amazing for huge sites, but it’s a breeze for 10- or 20-page architectures.
- Excel, the bane of every web designer. Not the best for visuals, but there’s nothing better for huge sitemaps.
(If you’re working from an existing site, it’s useful to run a Screaming Frog website mapper crawl first. This will tell you what pages you have, even if they’re not easily linked.)
When you’re building a site structure for SEO, you need three pieces of data for each page:
- The page title or topic
- Its level
- Its “parent” page
The level is a measure of crawl depth. The homepage has a crawl depth of 0; it’s zero clicks away. Level 1 pages should be the obvious next tier. Level 2 pages are a level down from there, and so on. The key to a site structure that’s good for SEO is to avoid getting to Level 4. Once you’re there, you’re basically hiding the content from Google.
The parent page is the page that logically links to something a level below it. This usually manifests itself in the URL structure. For example, let’s look at this URL:
https://altitudemarketing.com is our homepage, at Level 0.
The homepage is the parent of https://altitudemarketing.com/services, at Level 1. The Services page is the parent of B2B SEO Agency, which is at Level 2.
This is a logical flow. From the homepage, a user might want to know about our services. From there, they might pick the one they’re most interested in – SEO for B2B companies. Each “child page” supports the parent a level higher with internal links.
In this example, there’s technically one more tier – Level 3. That’s a post like the one you’re reading, which logically supports the related Level 2 page. We cover a lot of SEO topics on our blog, and all link to our B2B SEO page. It’s related, and it’s close together.
The Best Site Structure for SEO: Illustration
Here’s a graphical representation of the SEO-friendly site structure you should go for.
Note a few things here:
- There are no Level 4 pages, and only some Level 1 pages have children. This is to keep things as flat as possible.
- Related content is closely linked. In this case, there are two content silos, under the second and fourth Level 1 pages:
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, Google is out to provide the best possible answer to its users search queries. To succeed at SEO, you need to make your site structure reflect that goal.
When you’re making a Google-friendly sitemap, remember the tenets of the flat & silo approach.
- Keep crawl depth low. Burying your content makes it invisible on SERPs.
- Keep related content close and focus on logical internal links. These “silos” show that you know your stuff about a particular topic.
- Ignore “parallel construction.” If some pages have children and others don’t, that’s fine.
Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll improve your search engine rankings in no time!