Improving Your Site Architecture For SEO

Site architecture is an important SEO element, and one that is often overlooked (particularly as the site grows and extraneous pages and are consistently added). You probably start with a nice, flat architecture when your website is created, but over time this architecture can easily become far more complicated, giving you pages which are far too deep and high-quality content which is difficult for your users to find.

Successful site architecture is about ease of navigation for your users; ensuring that your highest quality content is easy for your visitors to find and that none of your important pages are ever more than a couple of clicks away. An added benefit to having a reasonably flat site architecture is your search engine indexation rate, which is likely to improve with effective SEO site architecture (meaning you have more of your sites’ pages in Google’s index, improving the number of website entry points as well as the number of pages generating traffic).

Let’s start with discussing what an effective SEO website architecture should look like:

None of the pages are more than 3 clicks deep, resulting in high(er) authority pages, a higher indexation rate and an improvement in long-tail, organic traffic. On top of this, the highest quality pages are cross-linked throughout the site, ensuring none of the top content is stuck in a silo (we’ll cover this topic a little later on in the post).

Looking At Your Own Site Architecture

So how can you go about improving your own site architecture? First, you need to ascertain the effectiveness of your current website architecture, and that involves a little bit of research (and some drawing). Start with your homepage, and start listing your website pages in terms of links and depth … you should end up with something looking a little bit like this:

Obviously yours will look a little different, but I’ve come up with the above image as it allows me to demonstrate the issues you’ll likely need to address when looking at your own site architecture.

As we can see, some of the content is 6, 7 or even 8 clicks away from the homepage, making it extremely difficult for visitors (and search engines) to find it. A site architecture like the one above will result in the bottom sets of pages (3+ clicks from the homepage) seeing a poor indexation rate, low level of long-tail searches and low power and authority. Have a look at this SEOMoz post on the Dmoz directory for an example of how indexation stops once it reaches a certain level, even on hugely authoritative domains.

One of the primary reasons for this is a lack of internal links to the bottom pages, with many being stuck in what SEO’s refer to as a ‘silo’ …

What Is A Silo?

A silo refers (in this instance) to a collection of pages which are only accessible from the preceeding page. Let’s take a look at the following example:

The pages above are in a silo; the lower pages are only accessible via the page above it. This means that in order to reach the bottom page (which could well be a piece of high quality content), users are expected to embark on a six-click descent – making it very unlikely that many people will reach the page.

This kind of internal linking also results in very low authority pages at the bottom of the silo, as the page authority drops considerably the further you move down. This is likely to result in those bottom pages not ranking well (even for very long-tail terms), and in a lot of cases not even being indexed by search engines.

So how do we avoid these content silos? The answer lies in improving your internal linking campaign, and ‘flattening’ your site architecture …

Flattening Your Site Architecture

The aim here is to ensure that all of your high quality content and relevant pages (or preferably every page on the site) is never more than three clicks away from the homepage (or from any other page for that matter). We can achieve this simply by improving our overall internal linking structure:

As you can see from the image above (apologies if it’s a bit squashed, but it should be clear enough for you to get the general idea), we have flattened the site architecture by effectively ‘promoting’ our lower down pages via internal links. Essentially, we’ve increased the number of internal links and decreased the number of user clicks needed to navigate; this not only improves your overall indexation rate and user navigation, but ensures a greater spread of domain authority throughout the site.

This can have a considerable impact in terms of SEO, and ‘promoting’ pages in this way (moving them higher up the site architecture) can result in substantial ranking improvements.

There are numerous methods you can employ to flatten your sites’ architecture; javascript dropdowns, footer links (like we’ve employed, ensuring our services pages are never more than one click away), image links, ‘read more’ tabs, sidebars, etc. Have a look at some of the most prominent sites in the SERPS for competitive phrases and see which methods they’ve utilised to improve their overall site architecture.

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Post by John Pring – Follow him on Twitter (@john_pring)

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