Posted to Volacci's blog on September 9th, 2011

5 Internal Site Architecture Tips Fit for Humans, Crawlers & Mothers-in-Law

Site architecture is one of the most important facets of SEO because it has a profound effect on the two (and only) most important entities: human visitors and search crawlers (the mother-in-law comment was just to be cute - sorry). The humans obviously bring you leads or sales via whatever conversion goals you’ve set up; the search crawlers decipher the importance of your site and relay their findings to the SERPs. The convenient thing is that they both generally look for the same structural elements when perusing a site. Good site architecture ensures that users and search crawlers seamlessly navigate your site. The architecture pie has several pieces to consider.

Here are five things that will greatly improve your website’s internal architecture.

1. Reduce the number of clicks it takes visitors to get from the top level (domain) to the bottom level of your website.
Your architecture should be flat. This doesn’t mean removing pages - it means restructuring your pages. The best way to do this is to organize your content hierarchically, from broad to specific (i.e. Domain > Men’s > Suits & Sportcoats > Overcoats, and Domain > Women’s > Plus Sizes > Dresses. The more pages the crawlers have to crawl to find out what your site is about, the worse it is for your site’s overall SERP placement; the more pages a visitor has to navigate to get to the bottom, the more likely he or she is to leave before getting there. In the below chart, it only takes three clicks to get from top to bottom, which is a good click number.

2. Write URLs that reflect the architecture of your site.
URL structure is closely tied to content siloing and hierarchy because it displays in a visible way how you’ve laid out your site. Each layer of your site should be described accurately in the URL. Using the above example, here is an example of a URL that matches the structure of the site. Make sure all of your URLs are 74 characters or less - that's how far the crawlers crawl.

3. Develop a clear, obvious navigational menu structure that effortlessly guides visitors and crawlers to the next layer.
This is a commonly used form of internal linking and can be accomplished by having a clean main menu and either a drop-down menu or a sidebar navigation for the lower-level pages (depending on the nature of your site). This is important for humans and crawlers alike. Basically, you don't want visitors to have struggle to find what they're looking for and you want the crawlers to have a portal to the next level.

4. Ensure that visitors know where they are in your site at all times.
You don’t want your site’s visitors to be lost in a sea of pages. They should be able to briefly glance around and see where they are. A common and effective way to do this is through breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs show the navigational path to the page you’re on, so you can see which categories and subcategories the current page falls into. Breadcrumbs put visitors' minds at ease and give them the feeling of intentional browsing.

5. Use keyword-rich internal linking to link to relevant pages within your domain.
Placing anchor text around important keywords tells the search engines which pages in your domain you consider important. That said, you want to link to pages that are both relevant to the page that holds the internal link and full of compelling content. Make sure your keywords and links follow the theme of the page you’re creating because you don’t want to confuse the search crawlers with conflicting messages.