A well-planned, clear site architecture can offer numerous benefits for both users and search engines, which in turn can benefit your website in the long run. A strong information architecture should be the foundation from which you build out your website, and if you design your site right, your information architecture should never be in conflict with your SEO goals.
Why A Clear Site Architecture Is Important
The way a site is structured affects multiple aspects of your website: usability, rankings, and conversions. Information architecture should be designed to help visitors to your site accomplish their goals quickly and effortlessly, and should make it easy for search engines to crawl your site.
On any one page, search engines must be able to access the content to index the pages, and they also need to have access to links to crawl to be able to find other pages throughout the site. Often we see websites that hide main navigation pages, or have a complicated site architecture that makes finding pages difficult. Not only does this hinder search engines from crawling your entire site, but it can also be frustrating to your users, who may choose to leave and visit a different site. Strong content, good use of keywords, and marketing techniques only go so far if search engines are unable to access those pages to begin with.
Internal links are links that go from one page on a website to a different page on the same website, assisting search engines in crawling, and therefore, indexing. They are most commonly used in main and side navigations and help establish an information hierarchy for the website, creating a clear site architecture.
Within a site, pages with more inbound internal links are considered to be of higher importance than those with fewer internal links—within reason. This isn't to say that you want to go link-crazy and add dozens of internal links pointing to pages you consider to be of high importance. Rather, this should occur naturally as you build out your information architecture.
Broad To Narrow Organization
When developing an information architecture, we want to organize the site from the top level down, starting with broad pages and narrowing down to specific pages. Within this organization, it also helps to link from the parent page to the child page, and vice versa. A parent page is any webpage that has a sub-page, and a child page is a sub-page of a parent page.
It's important that when you're narrowing down your pages, you don't end up getting granular to the point of irrelevancy. You should only make sub-pages if the intent of the page is unique. If there are two pages that cover the same idea, combine those pages into one.
Top & Side Navigations
Your top and side navigations will have a backlink from every page on your site, therefore these navigation links should point to the highest level, most important pages. Start with priority links to the top pages on your website, but make sure to provide users with other links so they can easily access the pages they are looking for.
A good information architecture will ensure that it takes as few clicks as possible to get to any given page, and that there is a logical flow of links from the home page to parent pages to child pages. Try to have 100 or fewer links per page, to prevent overwhelming users and crawlers. This may seem like a high number, but remember that everything in your top and side navigations is a link on every page of your site. When we take that into consideration, the links per page can quickly add up.
Creating an SEO-Friendly Site Architecture
Below is a checklist to help you get started on creating an SEO-friendly information architecture that will benefit both users and search engines:
Begin by planning your site. Start broad then narrow down, organizing pages in an hierarchy and determining where sub-pages belong. Be sure to include not only the pages that you want to start with, but the ones you may want to add in the future.
Organize your navigational structure, ensuring that your high-priority links are immediately clickable.
When starting to create your site and pages, don't create all the pages at once. Start only with the highest priority pages, and make sure they're filled out with content before adding the next pages.
Link parent pages to child pages, and link child pages back to parent pages.
As you continue to add pages to your site, make sure that they still make sense within your information architecture, and that every new page is accessible.
Remember to balance optimizing your links for search engines with optimizing for visitors and user experience.