Websites are essentially informational resources published for people to use. Similarly to books, they could be tiny or extensive in their volume. But unlike books, the content of a website could be structured in a wide variety of ways, making use of freedom of expression and design.
At the same time, websites need to follow best industry UX practices and user habits and expectations, so freedom is quite limited. The website structure is key to how information is accessed and used by the target audience. Therefore it has to be built according to a large number of rules.
Why Is Website Structure Important?
A website’s structure refers to how the site is built up, how all the single subpages in it are linked to one another, and what hierarchy is followed. A good structure will make finding information intuitive and easy to use.
When designers create a site structure they need to think about how visitors will use a website and navigate through its content. The focus is shifted from what to publish to how and why.
Website structure is a fundamental concept from three major standpoints: the business owner’s goals, the site’s visitors’ experiences, who benefit from it, and search engines that crawl, rank and serve content to the right users.
How Good Website Structure Works
When the information on a website is well structured and is supported by a relevant design, everyone is happy – the site’s owner, the users and search engines.
Here is how good structure works:
Supports the business owner’s goals and boosts expected results
When you invest in a website, you should set clear goals for its performance. These goals have to be integrated and expressed by the site’s structure.
For example, if you want to focus on the blog and resources published, you need to include the best articles on the homepage and make the resources sections prominent on the menu. You may also decide to set the homepage to open at the latest blog posts – which is a typical WordPress option, used by digital publishers and bloggers.
Improves the user experience
Website structure closely influences the user experience of a website. When information is structured in a logical way and everything is intuitively accessible, users move seamlessly through the content to find and use what they are looking for.
Enhances your SEO by optimizing the robots crawls
Search engines (Google) operate with tools that crawl site content and sort it for users. Crawler-friendly websites have a good structure and therefore are ranked higher by engines.
XX Website Structure Best Practices
Without a clear vision of how to plan a website and build its structure, it is not possible to do web design and development.
The following good practices include the above-described perspectives and benefits when approaching website planning.
1. Set Your Business Goals and Target Audiences
Your website is an instrument to serve your business. Planning what information you will publish on it and how often you will update it, is fundamental to its website structure. You need to decide on what products or services you will present and sell on the site.
Based on your goals and communication objectives, you may choose between two basic approaches:
- User-centered design – Where all the information is categorized and structured to its target user groups. This approach is a must for large companies like telecoms or institutions, servicing millions of people, where users need to find their own category and the information, tailored to their needs.
- Company or product-centered design – These websites are built to feature the company-owner itself and/or its products. They may also include sections and pages, targeting particular groups of users but the brand is still the main focus.
2. Do a Competitor Research
When designing your website, there are several reasons to research competitors. One of them is to inspect how their sites are structured.
When site structure is the focus, you may want to research your competitors’ home page layout, how they group and present their services, what is the hierarchy of the inner pages, how navigation is organized, and what is the user behavior flow.
From an SEO perspective, competitor research will help you find out what industry-related keywords to use for your own site’s main pages names and URLs, categories, sections and navigation.
3. Make an Inventory of All Your Content
To be able to structure your content, you need to first describe what you want to publish on the site. When you have everything out there, it is only a matter of grouping it into categories and selecting the proper labels.
If this is a new website, you can make a list of what you need to publish on it. Do not forget to add a note of who will be responsible for the content production and how often it will be created and updated.
When redesigning a site, auditing your content is one of the very first steps to take, too.
4. Decide on Post Types
Post Types is a term used to refer to different types of WordPress site content. Each post type is usually associated with a different page design, custom fields and functionalities.
By default, WordPress has two main post types – Pages and Posts – which comes from when the CMS was solely a blogging platform, where blogs needed to have several “static” pages for the more permanent content and blog posts for news and updates.
Whatever the purpose of your website may be, you will need to make use of these two basic post types. So after you have collected and described all the content you want and need to publish on your site, divide it into two types:
- For Pages – The more permanent, conservative, or evergreen part, where the information will not change regularly such as what you do, what are your core services and why you are in business – most of it is not time-sensitive.
- For Posts – The dynamic part like news, blog posts, white papers, research, etc. or any content that includes current information and will be continuously produced in the future.
You may discover that you need more post types like Portfolios, Testimonials, Projects. The good news is there are multiple plugins to create custom post types on WordPress and some themes include a variety. Also, in the later versions, WordPress has enabled the registration of custom post types.
When you have finalized the post type selection you need, it will be much easier to structure your site to include them.
5. Create a Buyer Journey and Use Cases
The buyer journey on a website is the process users go through from their first visit to the moment they purchase a product or a service on the site. The website structure should be based on this buying process and thus make it easier for users to find what they need and step into the next stage.
Use cases are a fundamental concept in Usability. They are written descriptions of how visitors will use your website. To describe each use case, you have to list a sequence of simple steps, based on user intent and ending when the goal is reached.
When deciding the site structure, you need to write down the use cases for all your target groups. That will give you a clear vision of the user behavior on your site so that its structure can support it. This is the best way to plan the functionalities of your site, too.
6. Do the Primary Keyword Research
After you build the website you will be able to add as much content to it as you wish.
But in the process of planning the site – or redesigning it – it is of utmost importance that the website structure is built using the most significant and relevant keywords you want to rank for.
Are you going to call your services “Products” or “Solutions”? Do you need a section “Brands” in your online store?
Make sure to include the most popular terms relevant to what you do. Use words and expressions that will be at the core of your SEO marketing strategy in the years to come.
There are many tools, both free and paid, and tutorials on how to do the primary keyword research for a website. Combine them wisely and start with the most common-sense choices.
7. Make Use of Taxonomies
Taxonomy is a system used to classify published content. It’s the strategy to add labels and descriptive terms to what you publish. Taxonomies are used to group similar types of content and define the relationships and similarities among these groups.
In WordPress, taxonomies are added to post types. There are Categories, that can be hierarchical, and Tags, which are stand-alone labels. They create a classification system for the post types which makes it easier for users to find the content they are looking for.
Search engines also use taxonomies as they help sort and rank content in a relevant way. After you have finalized the keywords you want to rank for and the post types that will use them, you have to simply add selected keywords as your taxonomies – categories and tags.
With WordPress, taxonomies are not obligatory. But they can be added to the site menus which is why they are closely associated with the site structure. For example, DevriX blog has a sub-menu for articles, based on 3 main categories: Business, Marketing and Development:
8. Create a Simple and Logical Navigation
The website’s structure is visualized in its design primarily by the menu. Your business’s priorities should be implemented in the menu structure and feature your best content.
The pages and categories included in menus could have subordinates or be created equal, without hierarchy. The number of links at each level is called menu breadth and the number of levels is called menu depth.
When it comes to the menu breadth and depth, there are a few simple rules to follow.
- Do not use many horizontal categories – go for 7-8 maximum;
- Do not make it too deep – subordination should not go down for more than 3 levels
- Keep it symmetrical and balanced – if there are too many subpages in one section and only a couple in another, the whole structure might be wrong.
A typical business website should use simple and predictable navigation, located in a standard place. On a WordPress website, some themes allow two or even more menu locations, with the option to choose different pages and links for each of them. It is recommended to add a menu in the footer of the site and keep the sidebar navigation separate.
9. Decide on the Website’s URL Structure and Permalinks
The URL structure with WordPress is predefined in the settings.
When you have done your keyword research right, created taxonomies, and decided on the menu hierarchy, it will be easy to finalize the permalinks. Your most important keywords and taxonomies need to go into the URLs to make them stronger for SEO.
Here are some good practices for URL structure on a WordPress website:
- Use a permalink structure that combines the post name with the domain like this: https://yourwebsite.com/post-name
- By default, WordPress will create a permalink for your pages and posts, including all the words from their titles. However, those may be too long and contain unimportant words so do edit them.
- To rank your pages best in Google, keep the permalinks about 60 characters in length.
- Whenever possible, create shorter URLs by keeping the most important keywords from the title – that also helps search engines index your pages.
- Remove all stop words like conjunctions and pronouns.
- Use hyphens to separate the words in the permalinks to help both users and search engines see what the page is about.
10. Add a Sitemap For the Website
The sitemap of your site is a file that includes all of your website’s pages and published media and shows how they are interrelated. It serves Google and other search engines as a roadmap through your content and helps them crawl and categorize it faster and more intelligently.
The sitemap is not obligatory to have, yet it is highly recommended, especially for complex sites. The file also needs to be automatically generated and updated.
There are many tools to help you create and add a sitemap to your WordPress site, including plugins. However, with the latest release WordPress 5.5. XML sitemaps are enabled by default and users may also see them.
If you have any doubts about the structure of your site and what both search engines and people see while navigating through it, check out your sitemap.
Planning Your Website’s Hierarchy
After you have completed all of the above tasks, finalizing the site’s structure will be easy and fast. Here are some generic types of site structures to consider when you make your final choice:
A hierarchical website means some pages are subordinate to others and the structure resembles a tree. On a typical website, the home page is at the top. From it, you navigate to other pages in the main menu which can further have sub-pages.
A non-hierarchical website structure means no subordinate pages. When there is not much content and only several pages, they could be all created equal and show horizontally in the main menu.
Single-page websites are another good example of no-hierarchy structures. There are no parent/child pages simply because everything is published on one page. Single-page design is a good solution for event and promotional websites with a short life, teaser pages or a business that needs a very brief representation similar to a business card.
There are less popular types of website structures such as the Sequential, the Matrix and the Database. As you may have guessed from their names
- the Sequential model engages users in a sequence of steps
- the Matrix allows users to choose their own way how to navigate the site content
- the Database is built upon a database and uses its attributes to search and produce the user experience.
The generic structure of a business website has to be clean, simple and logical. Designing the structure is a fundamental process in website design and development. Following the good practices mentioned above will help guarantee that you take into consideration all the important factors to make the structure of your site relevant to your business goals and target groups.