A well balanced website structure, logical information architecture, and clean URLs make your website more appealing to both search engines and visitors by ensuring your content is laid out and accessible in a logical and intelligible way.
Website structure, also sometimes referred to as information architecture, describes the logical flow of content on your site. A site that is well structured tends to focus on one overall major theme, and branch out from that theme into pages that are continually more focused, specific, and relevant to the overarching topic of the site.
For instance, a well architected website selling Caribbean cruises would branch into sub-topics (sub-directories and/or sub-menus) that flesh out the main theme. These sub-areas of the site might focus on specific Caribbean ports of call, cruise lines, specials / deals, thematic cruises, local culture, and anything else relevant to Caribbean cruises.
Furthermore, search engine crawlers will tend to primarily crawl links that are at most three or four clicks away from your homepage, therefore you should strive to keep your most important content within those 3-4 tiers.
SEO Friendly URL Structures
Your website structure is defined by the various primary and secondary navigational structures in use on your site, and is comprised of all the URLs that point to pages on your site.
Here again, the layout of your site in terms of the location of individual pages should be logical and intelligible to both visitors and search engines. This is often best accomplished by sticking to static URLs (also called permalinks in some blogging and content management systems like WordPress).
Using static URLs will offer a number of advantages:
Reduce or eliminate crawling problems associated with dynamic, parameterized URLs
Parameterized URLs are addresses that have variables or values after the “?” character. In the past, search engines had problems crawling websites that used dynamic URLs. Nowadays the major search engines can generally follow most parameterized links, however it still may not be 100% reliable.
Causes of overly complex URLs include such things as page and affiliate referral ids, sorting, searching, and date parameters, and unique session IDs.
Short, descriptive, and memorable = communicable
Just like a virus and true to viral marketing, your messages (and as a result your URLs) must be communicable to others. Do your most important URLs pass the “phone test”? If you cannot easily tell someone, verbally, the location of your page then the URL is probably too complex.
Incorporate your most relevant keywords into your URLs and directory structure
Using keywords in your URLs serves 3 important purposes – 1) it is yet another indicator to search engines to let them know what your page is about, 2) the keywords will be bolded in the SERPs, resulting in potentially more clicks through to your site, and 3) if anyone links to your page using the URL as the link anchor text, your most important keywords will be included in the link anchor text; this can be extremely beneficial to search engine rankings for that page.
For example, if you are a Travel web site and your main products are cruises, flights, and hotels, you could have the following directory/URLs:
Prevent the accidental creation of “Infinite Spaces”
Infinite spaces are created when you have a dynamic linking method that is perpetual and infinite – for example a calendaring application that uses dynamically generated URLs for each and every month into the future. Each time a crawler finds a calendar page, it encounters a link for the next month, and the next and the next forever into the future.
This is what Google calls an Infinite Space, and you want to avoid that on your site. A search engine crawler arrives at your site with a certain “crawl budget” – that is a certain number of pages, or kilobytes, or bandwidth it will crawl and consume before moving on to the next site. If your links are providing no added value and are consuming crawl budget, you are preventing your more valuable content from being crawled and indexed.
Reduce and eliminate duplicate content
As discussed in this post on duplicate content, search engines will filter out duplicate content and may even levy an penalty against your site for publishing it. Having excessive out-of-control parameterized URLs all pointing to the same content substantially increases your chances of getting dinged for having duplicate content.
Information architecture is a broad and interesting field that spans many information domains – not just the web and SEO. If you know of any good tools, articles, or other information architecture resources please share in the comments below.