How to Structure your Website
Even the best content in the world will fall flat if your users can’t find it. That means your website structure is almost as important as the content itself. And not just for your human visitors – but for your automated ones, too. Search engines rely on a well-structured site to accurately understand and share your content.
What’s the right way to structure a website?
For better or for worse, there’s no single “right” way to structure your site.
To figure out the best structure for your site, ask yourself:
- What is the most important information your visitors need to know?
- What information do your visitors want highlighted?
- What information will encourage your visitors to convert?
Even better than asking yourself these questions is asking your visitors. Do some market research to find out what your visitors are looking for on a website. Understanding that will help you organize your content to maximize conversions.
While planning the structure of your site, keep in mind:
- It must be user friendly. Users don’t spend a lot of time “figuring out” a site – they just leave.
- Your most important information cannot be too many clicks away from the homepage
- Linking between pages doesn’t define the site structure, but it does help with user discovery. This gives you flexibility to add links to your most important content on the homepage without changing your site structure.
- The importance of linking key content is especially true for search engines. A homepage is usually a website’s strongest page, in terms of link power. That means that links from the homepage and second tier pages have greater value.
- The user always comes first. Plan your site for a human being – then consider the search engines. Often times, by planning your website for people it also ends up being search-engine friendly.
Step 1: Define the Goals of Your Website
This step might seem like a no-brainer but it’s crucial you get it right. Articulate the goals of your website – write it down, talk to your team, or tell your cat. Whatever you do, define goals that are cohesive, actionable, and realistic. Once you define goals, any user who completes the goal has “converted.”
Your goals will define how you build your website. If your goal is to share information with as many people as possible, your site will be structured very differently from someone whose goal is to generate as many comments as possible on their blog posts. And those sites will be very different from a site whose goal is to generate email signups to a newsletter.
Step 2: Define Content Types
Once you understand the goals of your site, consider what types of content will help you reach those goals.
For example, an e-commerce site might have long-form content such as user guides or manuals. A consultancy site might have short-form content like an “About Us” page. A non-profit might include a mission statement or information about past donors.
Here are some examples of different types of content:
- Product/service descriptions – Lists and descriptions of your product or service
- E-commerce product descriptions – A page detailing a product your company sells
- Category lists – A page displaying multiple items in one category
- Posts – This can include blog posts, research posts, case studies, interviews, and more
- Profile information – A page to highlight a person or place (author page, team member page, business information, etc.)
Depending on your industry and your goals, you’ll need to tweak the above information and maybe even include something we haven’t listed. Ask yourself – if you were a website visitor, what information would you need to drive you to convert? Then, include that information.
Don’t be your own competition. You don’t want search engines to see content from two pages on your website and have them compete for the same search result ranking. Avoid doing things like having two pages with the same name or repeating identical content on multiple pages.
Step 3: Create a Sitemap
Creating a visual representation of your site layout can go a long way. That’s what a sitemap does – it shows the hierarchy of your website. Take the content types you defined in step 2 and organize them into a layout that makes sense.
Make the sitemap any way you prefer – use a pen and paper, whiteboard, sticky notes, or a platform like Microsoft Word SmartArt Hierarchy. No matter how you do it, just do it.
Here is an example of Lunteer’s sitemap to help you get started:
Step 4: Differentiate Between Category and Tag Pages
There are two ways to categorize a page – labeling it within a category or tagging it. Categories create a hierarchical structure while tags create a more free-form structure.
For example, if you write a new article about a NY Yankees baseball game, you might categorize it under Sports > Baseball. However, your categories probably don’t get as specific as “NY Yankees” or “Derek Jeter.” That’s where tags come in.
Over time, tags have become less popular – search engines actively remove them from their indexes. That’s because tag pages can be perceived as spammy, low quality, and can sometimes be mistaken for a search result page. But, if you create tag pages strategically, you’ll maintain a high-quality site.
Step 5: Implement Your Website Structure
Once you build out your website structure, review it with your team. Get feedback from potential website visitors or clients.
When getting feedback, you want to see if the person understands intuitively how to navigate your site and find information. Resist the urge to explain anything to them until after they’ve shared their initial thoughts.
Ask them questions like:
- Were you able to find the information you were looking for?
- Was the structure easy to understand?
- What’s missing?
Step 6: Improve Based on Feedback
Once you’ve gathered enough feedback (asking one person isn’t enough), iterate on your original plan. Make changes based on what users said what difficult to understand or navigate. Then, do more user testing – but ask new users. Don’t return to the people you spoke with in round 1 since they’re already primed to understand your site and you won’t get first-impression feedback from them.
Repeat this process until you feel like users overwhelming understand the structure of your website and find information easily and quickly.
Don’t underestimate the power of a well-planned site – it’s well worth the time of planning and testing your intended structure. Your site will be unstoppable once it’s easy to navigate and has all the right content in all the right places.