How to Build the Ideal Website: Website Architecture

  • Website architecture is a branch of information architecture (IA) that describes a website’s layout and navigational features.
  • The importance of making your website flow and how you can benefit from intuitive website architecture
  • User-friendly website architecture and how it ties into SEO

Website architecture is a branch of information architecture (IA) and describes how your website is laid out and how visitors can navigate through it. It differs from website infrastructure in that the infrastructure refers to the backend, technical elements which allow your site to function online, such as servers (DNS) and protocols (HTTPS, TCP/IP) while architecture is about the customer-facing elements, such as content and pictures.

Your website architecture defines the navigational features visitors that allow a visitor to move around your site and find what they are looking for. It is the system that’s used to tell people where things are and presents them with related pages that might interest them, like the Dewey Decimal System in a library. This includes:

  • Menus
  • Linking
  • Page URLs
  • Content Categories
  • Breadcrumbs (visual lineage of page hierarchy to help navigation)

Why is website architecture important?

Website architecture is important for a number of reasons, not least because your website is like your own shop or even home, so you want it to have aesthetic appeal and harmonious feng shui. You want visitors to your website to enjoy their time there, have a good experience and move along the sales funnel. Website architecture also plays a significant role in your SEO and helps your site to rank highly with search engines.

The biggest reasons why website architecture is important are:

User Experience (UX)

Your website architecture defines how site visitors will navigate around one of your most important sales assets. Naturally, you want them to be able to find exactly what they’re looking for with ease, while also being shown other similar pages they might be interested in. Intuitive website architecture that is quick and comfortable to move around improves customer experience and contributes to better sales.

Search Engine Crawlers

Crawlers are the robots that travel around the internet indexing the pages for search engines. This allows Google and others to identify what exactly a page is about to give their users the most relevant search results. When requesting that Google index your site, providing an XML sitemap allows their crawlers to move around it more easily. The better they are able to do this the better they will be able to rank you for the keywords that are relevant to your business. For example, if you sell windows and curtains, but don’t have any navigational links between those two sections then Google won’t be able to see the relationship between them and you won’t be rewarded any cross-over relevance between the topics.

Decreasing Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is a metric that measures how often someone clicks through to your site but then leaves after one page without going any further. The average bounce rate for all sites is 47% but for certain industries, it can be much higher, such as B2B which is at 75%. Bounce rate is understandably detrimental for business and website architecture can lower it by making your site user friendly and allowing visitors to quickly find whatever they need while navigating the site. Better website architecture means more time spent on the site and an increased chance of a conversion.

Link Authority Spreading

When thinking of SEO and the impact of website architecture on it it’s always important to remember that Google is blind and can’t actually ‘see’ things unless they are told or directed to it. In one very important example, link authority, this means you need to build channels to funnel the authority around your site. PageRank was Google’s first search algorithm and still forms a core part of its ranking metrics. It basically measures how many links there are back to a page to determine how much authority the site has in a field. Website architecture is essential for taking the high link authority of one page (like your home page) and showing Google that this has relevance for other pages that don’t have many backlinks (like individual product pages).

Better Use of Your Crawl Budget

As mentioned, it is Google’s crawlers that go through your site and content to find out what it’s about so it can direct users to you. However, these crawlers won’t just work indefinitely to go through your page and in fact will only spend a limited amount of time there, which is known as your page’s crawl budget. This is especially relevant for larger e-commerce sites, as the more difficult and complicated it is for crawlers to move around your site, due to incoherent website architecture, the fewer pages they will actually index, meaning many of your products or services will be invisible to searchers/potential customers.

Creating SEO and user-friendly website architecture

The basic structure of good website architecture can be both SEO and user-friendly at the same time. What’s good for human visitors is also generally good for Google’s crawler robots too. Some of the key areas to look at include:

Flat vs Deep Website Architecture

Depending on the size of your business or web presence this may be more or less of an issue. If you have say 20 pages within six categories then it’s no problem to have a very ‘flat’ website architecture, i.e., a user is only ever going one or two pages deep to find what they need. Some businesses however may have thousands of product pages spread between dozens of categories, so simply having all the categories in a header bar on the page isn’t possible. How ‘deep’ your website architecture refers to how many successive pages a visitor will have to click through to find something. The deeper it is the greater the risk of them getting lost or just becoming frustrated and leaving, so try and keep things as flat and manageable as possible.

flat vs deep website architecture diagram
Difference between flat (left) and deep website architecture (right.)

Pillars and Clusters

Making information easy to find for your human and robot visitors can either move them along your sales funnel for the former or help them see your keyword relevance for the latter. Having a pillar and cluster structure in your website architecture involves using a core ‘pillar’ page, which is then clustered with related branch pages. For example, here at Redefine our SEO Services page will also branch out to other pages related to that core concept elsewhere on the site.

URL Structure

URLs are a major SEO factor in helping Google’s robots to define what a page is about. They also help visitors identify where they are and have an important aesthetic value if they are to be shared or posted. The ideal is for your URLs to follow a clear logical structure, based on categories and pillar pages. For example, our link building page is: which clearly shows its category (‘services’) as well as quickly identifying what the page is about with the keyword ‘link-building’. Some other URL tips include using hyphens rather than sticking words together, always using lower case, and using words wherever possible instead of numbers.

HTML and XML Sitemaps

These are just like an architect’s blueprints for your own website architecture. HTML sitemaps are usually hidden at the bottom of the page but are useful for visitors who want to find something specific but are having trouble navigating there. The HTML sitemap will be in plain text and give an overview of every page on your site. The XML sitemap is just for Google’s robot crawlers and you can submit it to them by adding it to the ‘robots.txt’ on your site.  

We can help with site architecture

Website architecture is how your site is built and content is laid out. This affects visitors by defining how easily they can navigate around your site and find the information they need. Your website architecture also has an impact on your site’s SEO as it affects how easily search engine crawlers can identify what your site and individual pages are about, determining their relevance for keywords.

Issues or improvements that can be made to your website architecture are among the key elements that will show up in an SEO audit. At Redefine we’re always looking for ways to help our clients get an edge in their SEO and identifying easy wins in their website architecture is one thing we make sure to look at when performing an SEO audit. If you’d like to find out more about improving SEO and UX with better website architecture and how an SEO audit can deliver that you can read more about it here or talk to our team.

Author avatar
Victor Lopez
Victor is an SEO specialist for Redefine Marketing Group. Victor's primary focus within his role at Redefine is technical SEO. He's also a Cal Poly Pomona alum with a Business Administration degree in E-commerce and minor Marketing.
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