Successful performance on the web is reliant upon creating the perfect storm of many factors including brand recognition, a unique product offering and great performance in search engine results. However, a high ranking page is not always a direct reflection of a great user experience.

There are hundreds of ranking factors that can influence how your site performs in SERPs. From site speed to having secure encryption, search marketers are well versed on how to optimise websites however the same attention is often not paid to how users can navigate once they are on-site nor how a search engine crawler reads the site.

What is site architecture and why is it important?

Put simply, site architecture refers to how a site is laid out and how the internal pages are connected to each other.

It is a simple concept however one that requires careful planning and research to ensure your users have the best possible experience and that search engines can read your website as you intend.

Common sense also tells us that if you have poor site architecture, pages full of errors, crap content or a difficult to navigate site, then your users are going to do one thing – leave.

But don’t just take my word for it, research from Vanson Bourne tells us that the leading feature required for e-commerce sites is clear and easy navigation on any website and that site design makes for a positive online shopping experience for over a third of UK consumers.

The gallery below highlights the important features of online commerce websites and also gives us a clear indication of what is required for a positive experience.

Spoiler alert…  “A clear/easy to navigate website on any device” is the number 1 requirement.

United Kingdom, July 2015, 16 years and older, 1,000 (600 women, 400 men) UK consumers
Source: Vanson Bourne; Tryzens ID:478419

So what do you need to consider when making changes to site architecture?

I’ll tell you!

Remember, site architecture should always benefit both site users and search engines. As we know, search engines are becoming a whole lot smarter and human like but as with humans, the less work they have to do, the happier they are… So make it easy for them.

Here are my top points to consider in order to please both your users and the search engines.

What makes a great site structure for users?

Clear and simple navigation

Having a page for every single model of product you have or each individual item you sell is often unnecessary.

If you make it hard for users to find what they want they will simply leave. Consolidation of pages and ‘content pruning’ can often have a much more positive effect than just creating more and more new content.

Image shows '79% of people who don't like what they find on one site, will go back and search for another site

By having an efficient site structure you can ensure users find what they are looking for. Making the right site architecture changes can have a significantly positive impact on site performance and conversions as a simplified structure will benefit not only the user but also search engines.

“Don’t make users hunt out what they need, present your site in a logical and clear way to increase user engagement which is a known ranking factor”.

Attention spans are shrinking and users are demanding an ever greater return on attention, so give it to them by making it easy for them to find what they want.

One of my favourite speakers from Searchlove 2016, Bas van den Beld summed it up perfectly:

“Attention is a currency and users will not spend it lightly”

Image shows Les Mis - Site Structure

One truly great way to combine pages and provide an over-arching benefit to your site is to create authoritative topical hubs.

By combing existing pages with topical relevancy or creating new pages that will sit underneath one parent page or hub, users will be able to easily navigate around your site whilst simultaneously educating Google on your entities and how authoritative you are on your subject.

In addition, topical hubs are a great way to drive traffic to a single place that can satisfy a user’s intent and answer multiple queries.

Tip: Save time by re-purposing existing content and create a topical hub around a key area of your business to gain authority.

Consistent features between desktop and mobile devices

With Google announcing their mobile first index, it is plainly clear in which direction Google are focusing their efforts. Website managers should also be making mobile experience their utmost priority.

“99% of women and 97% of men say the most important feature of a website is that it should be clear/easy to navigate on any device”

When planning a new site structure or site navigation, the message should be absolutely consistent across all devices and navigation should be optimised to ensure users can navigate your site as easily on a desktop as they can on a mobile device.

It is often the case that simply scaling down your existing desktop site to fit the parameters of mobile is not effective.

Statistics show slow loading sites and non-mobile friendly design are two of the biggest reasons that users will exit a site

Tip: Always consider mobile devices when looking to make any structural changes. A separate map of how the user journey should look on mobile is just as important as desktop.

The serial position effect

Image shows memory recall and its relation to site structure

The serial position effect looks at how readily users can recall information dependent on where it is placed within a list.

Put simply, users will remember more information if it is placed at the end of a menu bar. We would like to think that users are able to absorb all the amazing content we are producing however that is simply not the case.

What does this mean for site architecture? Essentially, if you have information that you REALLY want users to navigate to, think carefully about where it is placed within navigation bars and do not make it difficult to find.

Tip: If you want users to remember and navigate to a key product, place it at the end of your menu structure to increase the chances of users navigating to it.

Don’t neglect your user journey

Always consider the user journey and make your navigation structure as logical and simple to follow as possible. As a general rule, it is best practice to make sure content is no more than three ‘clicks’ away from your home page.

By looking at searcher intent, you will be able to deliver a much better user experience and ultimately move your users further down the purchase funnel to eventually enable them to become brand advocates and shout about the great experience they had on your website.

By using key phrase research and looking at the long and short tail searches that your users are carrying out, you will help to narrow down the exact content and sections of your website you should be optimising.

The way you lay out your content is just as important as the optimisation and topics you write about so consider category layout when curating content.

Tip: Research your customers and their buying habits in order to formulate the most effective site structure.

There’s more to site architecture than what’s covered in this post, so stay tuned for my upcoming post on how you can nail site architecture for the benefit of search engines, giving you a fail-safe attack on your overall site architecture approach.

For more information, head over to our Search Marketing service page, or contact the team to discuss your requirements in further detail. I’d also be happy to chew the ‘site architecture’ fat with you on Twitter, if that’s your thing:  I’m @nottidge4.