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It is no secret that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is now crucial to digital marketing success. Indeed, with search engines offering access to a vast potential audience, it’s hard to argue otherwise. However, SEO is a holistic set of practices spanning across content creation, web design, link building, and more. As such, it’s no easy endeavor for many newer businesses – with the question “where to begin?” being all too prominent. Thus, we’ll explore how it informs content creation and categorization, building toward a site structure that will enhance SEO.

What is SEO?

SEO is indeed no easy feat, precisely because it’s so expansive. It seeks to adhere to, primarily, Google’s ranking factors, which are over 200. These include:

  • Website loading speed and responsiveness
  • Security certificates
  • Page Authority (PA)
  • User engagement
  • Image optimization
A silver laptop on a wooden desk, showing Google’s search engine page.

Photo by Caio from Pexels

SEO seeks to help websites rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).

As such, SEO typically focuses on three key areas, splitting into 3 SEO subsets:

  • On-page SEO – on-page element optimization, such as images
  • Off-page SEO – off-page activity optimization, such as backlinks
  • Technical SEO – technical health practices, such as sitemaps

Other subsets may include a type focus, such as local SEO, which delves into local visibility. However, all of these types hinge on shared fundamentals, such as a site structure that will enhance SEO.

How does SEO overlap with site structure?

This is because site structure affects multiple aspects of both SEO criteria and user engagement. Naturally, content plays a huge role in both regards, but it is structure that frames it in an optimal way. Consider such benefits as the following:

  • Crawling and indexing priority. A clean hierarchy informs crawlers of your page prioritization.
  • Subject contextualization. Content groups and internal links contextualize your pages’ subjects for search engines.
  • Enhanced engagement. Among other engagement signals, “pages per session” is a metric that affects SEO – which a clean site structure facilitates.

Creating a site structure that will enhance SEO

With the above context, we may now delve into the fundamentals of setting up your site’s structure. For the sake of text economy and digestibility, we will explore five key points.

#1 Conduct keyword research and create a content hierarchy 

Initially, you may begin with keyword research to set the foundation of content creation. SEO rightfully holds that retrofitting old content around new keywords typically fails, so you may keep this in mind.

Consider the keywords that best reflect your products and services, as well as factors like specializations and locality. Then, with your candidates in hand, you may conduct keyword research to determine which ones you should rank for. Keyword research tools include:

  • Google AdWords
  • Ubersuggest
  • Moz
  • SEMrush
  • Ahrefs

It is notable for this step that long-tail keywords are also highly viable keyword candidates. If ranking for a generic single-word popular keyword isn’t feasible, ranking for a long-tail descriptive one might be.

Two iMac screens on a desk, one displaying pictures and another image editing software in use.

Photo by Tranmautritam from Pexels
While XML sitemaps will assist crawlers, HTML ones will make navigation easier for visitors.

Then, you may categorize your content accordingly. There are two significant factors to consider when creating a site structure that will enhance SEO:

  1. Group relevance, and
  2. Page value.

Thus, your hierarchy must account for both. Make the most valuable pages accessible from your home page, where applicable, and ensure categories make logical, thematic sense.

#2 Use SEO-friendly URLs and breadcrumbs

Having settled for an optimal content hierarchy, you may then consider 2 crucial structural elements; URLs themselves, and breadcrumbs.

Breadcrumbs are, in essence, a text path which lets visitors know how they got to a given page. For them, this asset lets them return to previous path sections like a broader category with less hassle. For webmasters, it reinforces a clean, concise site structure and produces better engagement signals.

URLs themselves are equally important, especially for such sites as eCommerce stores. Ideally, URLs should match header titles as closely as possible. This makes them more readable when shared, more informative, and more indicative of a strong site structure. In this regard, consider the following best practices:

  • Avoid indecipherable characters and ID numbers wherever possible.
  • Use hyphens instead of underscores.
  • Match URL text to breadcrumb paths and page headers.

#3 Streamline your header menu and footer

Of course, one of the most fundamental elements of optimal site structure is ease of navigation. Here, with proper page categorization and matching breadcrumbs, you may begin by solidifying your header menu. Best practices in this regard include:

  • Opt for drop-down menus. Visual clutter hampers visitor retention.
  • Add sections for all valuable categories. Your header menu should offer easy access to pages of interest.
  • Closely match your content hierarchy. Your menu should reflect your desired hierarchy for optimal user actions.

Likewise, your footer can serve a similar purpose, even if you choose not to use a traditional sitemap there. It can effectively serve as one, providing valuable links to visitors and reinforcing a solid site structure.

#4 Provide visitors with an HTML sitemap, and Google with an XML sitemap

On the subject of sitemaps, these are another vital element of a site structure that will enhance SEO. There are two types of sitemaps, with each serving a unique purpose.

HTML sitemaps

These are navigation tools for visitors, which webmasters typically place in footers. In essence, they serve as an additional page index for visitors. They are the easier of the two types to create, as many Content Management Systems (CMSs) like WordPress offer plugins dedicated to this purpose.

XML sitemaps

These are reserved for search engine crawlers and are thus invisible to visitors. XML sitemaps contain a list of a site’s URLs and relevant metadata, which helps crawlers index pages faster. They are relatively harder to create, but many third-party tools and plugins can help you do so.

A woman browsing pictures on a laptop.

Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels
While XML sitemaps will assist crawlers, HTML ones will make navigation easier for visitors.

#5 Optimize internal linking

Finally, internal linking offers another invaluable asset toward a stronger site structure. Namely, it helps achieve the following, among others:

  • Higher content value. Internal links on subjects of interest add value for visitors and thus enhance SEO.
  • Easier navigation. Links to other relevant pages enable easier navigation to the material of interest.
  • Reinforced hierarchy. Links that follow your established hierarchy reinforce it, leading visitors to conversion pages.

To solidify internal linking, consider the following practices:

  • Include links on all pages. Whether they include a Call to Action (CTA) or not, all pages should link to other pages.
  • Don’t leave orphan pages. All pages must be linked to by others to ensure both visitors and crawlers find them easily.
  • Adhere to content hierarchy. Remember that internal links should serve your sales funnel; link toward conversion pages, not away from them.

Conclusion

To summarize, a solid, clean site structure is demonstrably beneficial. For search engines, it provides context and denotes page value. For visitors, it offers easier navigation and a better user experience. Finally, for webmasters, it provides increased engagement and thus increased potential for conversions. Keyword research and content hierarchy are the first steps toward it. SEO-friendly URLs follow, in tandem with breadcrumbs, optimal header menus and footers, and sitemaps. Finally, internal linking, in line with the established content hierarchy, completes it, letting webmasters reap its benefits.