We’ve all been to websites that are not user-friendly. Maybe they’re poorly laid out, the menu may be tough to understand (or missing), or when you access the site with your phone, it’s frustrating to navigate. We hear a lot about optimizing your website for search results, but you’re creating a better user experience when building your site structure with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind.
Websites don’t automatically show up well in search results – they need to be intentionally built so that search engines know what the site is about. An SEO-friendly site structure makes it easy for visitors to find your site, discover what they need, and understand precisely what you’re offering.
If you’re considering building a new website or making changes to your existing site, here’s why you should pay very close attention to the site structure.
SEO-Friendly Site Structure is Crucial for Usability
When visitors come to your website, you want them to stick around. The average user’s dwell time is about 15 seconds on a site. They click and make a snap judgment—does this site have what I’m looking for? Yes? Keep reading. No? Click back to search.
With such a limited amount of time to really hook your audience, you need to be sure that the user experience is the top priority. When searchers reach a site that’s well laid out, beautiful on mobile and a clear listing of products and services, they’ll stay and explore. If the site has a slow load time, looks confusing, or requires more than 15 seconds (often less) to navigate, forget it.
But you may be wondering what that has to do with the SEO-friendly site structure? Why does the visitor experience matter? Can’t you “build in” the SEO later with keywords and markup?
Here’s why SEO-friendly site structure is vital for any successful endeavor online.
1. User Experience and SEO Go Hand-in-Hand
User experience is actually at the heart of good SEO. Without the user or searcher, what are you building a site for in the first place?
When readers can navigate a site and find what they’re looking for, they stay longer. Optimization happens by making it crystal clear WHAT is on the site and WHICH questions it will answer for the searcher.
SEO isn’t about appealing to Google or encouraging bots to crawl your site so you can rank “first” for a particular keyword. SEO is about optimizing your site for search by connecting the dots for the algorithm to understand to deliver the correct answer to the searcher.
The objective should always be to get conversions, not just visitors. Visitors may arrive at your site through an SEO-friendly site structure, but conversions come from an excellent user experience once they get there.
2. If You Want to Be Popular, Search Engines Need to Understand
We may think that algorithms are intelligent, but really studies show that Google is about as “smart” as a five-year-old with an IQ of around 47. However, AI can learn and become more intelligent over time, but search engines still have a long way to go.
You need to communicate clearly with search engines so they can understand what exactly is on your website. If it’s unclear, they won’t display great results in search. SEO-friendly site-structure leads to site links linked to important pages and content displayed below your snippet in search.
Well-organized content helps Google create site links. Unfortunately, you can’t add a site link manually, and you can’t force it to happen. The algorithm chooses these links. Sitelinks are crucial because they improve your click-through rates (CTR) and help readers figure out your site.
Additionally, Google has a highlight feature, which anchors and highlights the text you saw in search results. Highlights are only shown for the featured snippet—in other words, the result that Google has deemed to be the best answer to the searcher’s inquiry. Should your site be chosen for the featured snippet and highlight, it means that your site structure was easy for Google to navigate.
3. Search Engines Can Only Find Content That’s Well-Linked
Site structure is key to how Google scans your site and organizes results for search, but search engines can only find content when it’s well-liked and clearly structured. With 4.9 billion pages on the web, search engine crawlers can’t find everything immediately.
You could have beautiful, unique content that speaks precisely to your niche market’s queries, but if the crawlers don’t know how to find it, it will go unnoticed. That means you must make a clear map for Google and other search engines to understand. Your site structure should fall into basic parameters, be well-organized, and feature all the essential “back end” language that communicates with the algorithm.
4. Your Reputation Depends on Your Site Health
Trust is everything when it comes to search. With so many pages out there and so much information to assess, Google doesn’t have time to learn that you’re a friendly, genuine person with a winning smile who made some site structure mistakes. Google needs to filter good from bad quickly, and once that judgment is made, it can be tough to undo.
A better user experience thanks to an SEO-friendly site structure will mean more visits. It will result in more conversions—users who stay on your site longer and do what you want them to do. When you have more conversions and a longer dwell time, Google gets the message: this site is good.
User experience is like a snowball for your site’s reputation. As you build up a better user experience, you gain more trust. More trust from users means more trust from search engines, and your site’s reputation continues to build on itself.
How to Create an SEO-Friendly Site Structure
So you understand why an SEO-friendly site structure is so important, but how do you make it happen? How do you create a site that makes sense, is well-structured for users (and search bots), and has all that great optimization built into the back end?
The answer is to plan, plan, plan.
First: Plan Your Website Structure
Before you hire a graphic artist, a writer, and a branding expert, you need to plan your site structure. Many people get excited about all the bells and whistles they want on their site—they think about all the things they want their site to say and do, but they don’t think of the structure.
Your Site Should Feature a Logical Hierarchy
Content should be structured in a clear, logical way. Think of it as a top-down menu. What are the first buckets where you can funnel content, the second buckets, and so on? What pieces will be your cornerstone content—the content that really hits the heart of what you’re all about?
Minimize Top Categories
Initially, you may feel that everything on your site is equally important; but in most instances, there are only a handful of items that should fit in your “top categories.”
Keep Navigation Shallow
Shallow navigation means that users can reach each page in three or fewer clicks. Some websites go deep with lengthy strings of clicks to discover every page. When this happens, you will lose users exponentially with every click.
Next: Plan How Users Can Easily Navigate Your Content
Now that you’ve given thought to create an SEO-friendly site structure, it’s time to focus on user experience. How will users explore your content? You’ll want to make it simple, easy, and as user-friendly as possible.
Include a Table of Contents
Like every map needs a key and every book needs a table of contents, your website needs a straightforward navigation tool to help users jump to the place they want to go.
URLs Should Match Structure
Pay attention to the URLs for your site. They should match the site structure and include the keywords for each page.
As users are trying to explore your site, they should access an easy-to-understand menu that lists the main pages. Drop-downs and disappearing menus are confusing for the user (and don’t help SEO). Layered secondary navigation menus are confusing to readers and crawlers.
Put Products and Contact Information Front-and-Center
In many instances, when someone visits your website, they either want to find a product or contact you regarding a service. Make sure your product and contact information are front and center, not a treasure hunt.
Make it Easy to Open in a New Tab
Many users prefer to right-click to open a new tab while not navigating away from your site. Every link and every page should pop.
Check the Mobile Experience
Mobile searches count for about 55% of search, compared to 41% for desktop. Yet, many people forget to check the mobile-friendliness of their sites. Check to ensure all content displays clearly on various devices and that images, menus, and links are easy to see and click. Do popups crowd in? Can users get to you from their phones?
Last: Plan How You Will Create Useful, Interlinked Content
Your content is intertwined and should lead logically from one page to another. A user might explore a service, and then they’ll want to reach out to you to find out more. Make it easy for them with interlinked content.
Step Back and Read Your Site Like a User
As you explore the ins and outs of SEO-friendly site structure, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. Occasionally take a step back to make sure your pages are written with the user in mind. Do you answer their questions?
Create Navigation and Interlink in HTML & CSS
Linking to other content on your site is a good idea. It’s always important to choose relevant content that would be helpful to your user. It is possible to over-link.
Set Up a Clear Internal Link Structure
When you set up internal links, keep in mind that simple is usually better. The links should always help users navigate the website, and internal links should be used to establish information hierarchies on the site.
Explore Search Console
Set up Google Search Console (GSC) and learn more about it to help you get a clear idea of your internal link structure (especially as it becomes more robust in the future). Think of it as a better way to manage all those links and improve your site’s SEO-friendly structure.
Test, Test, Test Again
Finally, if you’re unsure how your user experience translates to actual users, have someone (or several people) test it. Each time you make changes and updates, it’s a good idea to go back to re-test. What is evident to you may present a challenge for someone visiting your site for the first time. Encourage honest feedback and listen.
Setting up an SEO-friendly site structure will improve your domain authority and overall ability to rank on Google. Your site should be straightforward, user-friendly, and easy to explore. Remember that SEO and user-friendliness go hand-in-hand. Cover them both, and you’re bound for search success!