This is the third post in Growth Spark's SEO Basics for Business Owners series.
When building a website, in addition to thinking about the user interface, design, and content, you should take a step back and look at the site as a whole. Planning the site structure entails making a list of all of the pages on your website, and organizing them by the hierarchy of navigation sections or categories that you intend to use on your site.
The difficulty in this process will mostly be directly correlated with the number of unique pages your website has. For search engine optimization, the objective will be to have every page on your site reachable from the homepage within 3 clicks. This may not be possible for news sites with huge archives, but for most business sites it is easily achievable.
The reason you want each page reachable within 3 clicks, besides making the information accessible to your visitors, is that search engines will sometimes abandon drilling down through too many links to find content on your site. The result is that obscure pages may end up not being indexed, because search engine spiders could not reach them easily from the home page.
The best way to set up your site is to have as many sites linked to from your home page as possible. For aesthetic reasons, this will often not be possible. So, the second best approach is to have the homepage link to category pages, which in turn link to all pages related to that category. In this structure, ideally someone will only have to click twice to reach each page.
Another way to make your pages easily accessible is to link to other pages within the content of each page. This will make your website more connected, information easier to find, and if you use correct anchor text, it can help with rankings for specific keywords as well.
When planning your site, another issue to make sure you avoid is duplicate content. This means having the exact same content in two different places on your website.
Using the shoe store as an example, let's say you have a product page for a men's leather shoe. You might be tempted to put the product under two categories:
This could be a problem for search results, since only one result is shown, and because the links you acquire will not be focused on one URL, it will be more harmful to have two pages with the same content.
There are two ways to solve this issue. If you have a small site, I would say less than 100 products, you can have a flat site structure and create the product page: www.bostonshoeco.com/shoe1.html
It won't have the category name in the URL, and you can link to it from anywhere on the site.
For larger sites, for organizational reasons, this usually isn't feasible. A more common approach would be to create the product page: www.bostonshoeco.com/mens/leather/shoe1.html
It is still a clear and rational way to organize the products, and it will only take 3 clicks to get to that page.
These are the types of things that you should keep in mind when defining your site structure. For small business sites, keep the structure as flat as possible, but also organize it clearly for visitors to navigate and avoid duplicate content. Once you've decided on a structure, you're ready to start building individual pages, with a focus on SEO in the code itself.