How Website Structure and Information Architecture Is Critical to SEO Success

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.

Information Architecture

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:

http://www.yoursite.com/cruises/5-day-alaskan-cruise.html

http://www.yoursite.com/flights/alaska-seat-sales.html

http://www.yoursite.com/hotels/4-star-anchorage-alaska.html

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.

Launching a website? Have you considered the search engine implications?

Hopefully you have, but if not we can help. Whether you have a small business site or larger enterprise site, let us eliminate the stress and worry of launching your website for maximum search engine success. See our small business seo services or seo consulting services for more details.

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.

About John Somerton

John Somerton is a web marketing strategist and creator of the Keyword Unity methodology for developing search engine marketing strategy. He lives in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

Comments

  1. Oli Gardner says:

    Great post John.

    I particularly like your points about the “phone test” and “crawl budget”.

    I remember having a session at a previous company where we had a domain branding session over a conference call. It was especially evident that certain domain names that people thought had potential would never pass the phone or radio test in terms of the ability for a listener to phonetically recall a correct spelling having heard the URL without seeing it.

    Cheers
    Oli

  2. Thanks for stopping by Oli.

    Domain/brand name selection is an excellent example of passing the phone test – in fact just last night I ran into that very problem when trying to route my brother-in-law over Skype to a project I’m working on – http://www.SuitUpp.com

    The brand meets the keyword test, in that we are selling suits online, but is especially hard to tell people about given the product itself is tangible and traditional (i.e. not digital) and lends itself more readily to offline word of mouth communication in the form of – “Hey, need a suit? You should check out SuitUpp.com … Suit U-P-P …. yeah Suit Up with two p’s…” is how the conversation often goes.

    Cheers,
    John

  3. Hi John,

    This is a great post!

    I would like to add something and get your feedback on my input. :)

    Would it be cleaner to to add an Alaska folder to each product line? Then use the page name for keyword opportunities?

    http://www.YourSite.com/hotels/alaska/5-star-hotels-near-anchorage.htm

    Just curious about your take on that.

    Thank you and keep up the great content!!!

    Carl

    • Carl, that would certainly be a cleaner approach for a large site with lots of information to organize.

      I would pay more attention to your internal linking structure to insure that, from a crawler’s perspective, the pages you want to index and rank are not too many hops away from the homepage.

      I’ve yet to see clear evidence one way or the other regarding Google’s treatment of directory structures as a ranking signal. But you are correct, it does get the keyword into the URL in a cleaner way.

      This post from 2009 might also shed some light on whether it’s better to have the keyword in the folder vs. the file path: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/seo-cheat-sheet-anatomy-of-a-url

  4. Corina says:

    John, great article – found you from “website structure keywords url”… crawl budget is defintely a valid factor. I use robots.txt to disallow indexing of the privacy policy, accessiblity, terms and conditions and other bumph on the site which – although useful once on the site – does not need to take up crawl resources, and would not be something customers would search for you on. We are a small commercial and residential property agent, so I allow indexing of an images subfolder containing the properties we have for sale, but disallow the remainder of images since they are stock photography, buttons etc.

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