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“Provide a valuable experience for users”.

It’s what we expect once we step inside a shop, thirsty for knowledge about that product we’ve heard such good things about. We want valuable information to reassure us that we are making the right purchase or if we’ve already done our research (when we saw so-and-so parading around in those gorgeous new shoes and just had to ask where they were from) we expect them to be easy to find and beautifully presented so every shopping trip doesn’t turn into an exhausting expedition just to find what we want.

And we shouldn’t expect any less when we are doing the same online. SEO is all about giving users the best experience possible on a website, having the information they require exactly where they expect to find it and also helping Google find out what your business is all about.

The structure of your website is much more than just plonking your products, information and services in a section that makes sense to you. A good site structure should provide a great user experience. Once you strip away the fancy graphics, eye-catching colours and beautiful imagery, a great category structure is what will keep users on your website. A good site structure also determines whether search engines understand your website and how easily it will find and index the content that you’ve created.

So how do we go about creating an SEO friendly site structure?

seo-site-structureFirst of all you will need to plan out a hierarchy of how your site structure will look. Whether you use an excel spreadsheet or a jot this down on paper, creating a visual structure of all the intended pages on your site including content as well as ecommerce related pages, will help you decide where the pages will fit into the hierarchal order. When creating a structure it’s important to have logic at the forefront of your mind. Don’t try and overcomplicate the structure, simplicity is important for the ease of navigation and to make it easier for the crawlers too.

The top level (or main category) should be unique and distinct whilst its second level categories (or sub-categories) should relate to the top level but also have a clear distinction too. On any website’s main navigation you would expect to see anywhere between four to eight categories and this is something that should be considered when building your own structure. Again, you don’t want to overcomplicate the navigation by having too many categories appearing at first sight for your users.

Next comes the research. Once you have come up with a structure for your site, it’s time to review and research the names you have given each section in your structure. For example if you had a section dedicated to all the beautifully designed rattan garden furniture you sell, you wouldn’t just name your section “rattan” as this doesn’t mean an awful lot to the search engine or the user. You would have to delve into the minds of users, what they would search for (in this case “rattan garden furniture”) and use this as a base for your keyword research. A favourite tool of ours, the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, helps you find exactly how many people a month are searching for your keywords and offers up suggestions for other related keyword ideas to help you choose the right keywords to name the categories within your structure.

Choose the most relevant keywords for your category and subcategory pages and you’ve nearly created an SEO friendly site structure that users will love to navigate. So using the same research methods, choose appropriate keyword targeted page names.

Once you have mapped out your new structure it should take the shape of a pyramid, with the most important pages and categories appearing at the top. To establish authority on your pages you will need to develop a link pattern that favours the pages which feature higher up that pyramid. Because you are linking to pages which closely relate to other content specific pages, you’re increasing your chances of that page ranking for that target keyword. By establishing a clear link strategy within your site structure you’re guiding google – and your users – to related content and providing a logical navigational experience (basically you’re doing the hard work so they don’t have to).

And that’s it! Well the most important factors to consider anyway. If you want to find out all the things you should keep in mind when developing an SEO friendly site structure Yoast’s Intelligent Site Structure for Better SEO covers everything from URL structure to categories and tags, making sure you haven’t missed a thing.