Website structure is a very important part of on page optimization that is often overlooked. By giving your website a meaningful website structure, you are giving search engines an easy to understand method of classifying both your website and the pages within your website. I am going to try to make this break down as easily understandable as possible, and in order to do that I am going to start off with a simple glossary of terms I will use in this explanation:
Theme = I use the word theme, because I don’t want to say keywords. Keywords can include variations like “New York Lawyers” and “Lawyers in New York” are both the same theme, however they’re two different keywords.
Main Category = This is a root category, it is an all encompassing theme of your site. It must be broad enough that there can be several themes that nest under the category while specific enough to be one theme, not several themes in one.
Child Category = This is a category that nests under a main category. The main category in which it nests under is referred to as it’s parent category.
Grandchild Category = This is a category that nests under a child category and therefor it’s parent category would be a child category.
Page = This is the end page within your site structure that lies in a (ideally) grandchild category, or it could lie directly in a child category or a main category. This is basically a post on a blog, a page on a site, or a product page within an eCommerce store.
With those basic principles in mind, let’s get into it. A proper site structure would have an all encompassing theme that you can categorize everything on the site under. From there the main categories are a bit more defined, but still cast large enough of a net to include several child categories. The child categories again are more specific, while still having grandchild categories if applicable.
You want to have 5-7 main categories. You do not want to have 10+ or even worse, 50+ different main categories on your website. Most topics, regardless of what they the are about, can be broken down into 5-7 all encompassing topics. If you’re optimizing a store’s website structure, you want to have 5-7 categories where all of your products fit under. Likewise, if you’re optimizing a blog you want to have 5-7 main categories that all of your posts can fit under.
Every single page (product/post), every single grandchild category, every single child category and every single category should have it’s own theme. None of the pages on your site should be overlapping with each other. In other words, you don’t want to make a page about New York Lawyers and then make another page which is about Lawyers in New York. You want every single page on your site to have it’s own theme that is 100% relevant to one theme without having any spill over onto other themes.
Every child or grandchild category on your site has to fit logically into it’s parent category. Every page has to fit logically into it’s parent category. The more grand child or child categories a category has, the more important it becomes within your website’s structure. Every page that you make, reinforces it’s parent category’s importance.
Let’s get into an example to make this a clear picture. Let’s assume we have a website about food:
- Grains & Seeds
Furthering breaking down our main category:
The again we can further break down our child category into grandchild categories:
Where you would ultimately end up with some specific articles that you could post under a grandchild category like:
—- Origins of Blueberries
—- How to Identify Blueberries
—- Where are blueberries grown?
—- Blueberry harvesting seasons
Now the main point here being that we do not put how to identify blueberries under the fruits main category, let alone under the berries category. We do not optimize the “Berries” category for “Blueberries” by putting blueberries in the title, in h1s, in image names, etc. Nor do we optimize the “Blueberries” page for the theme “Berries”. Each page within this structure neatly fits under it’s parent category while having it’s own distinct theme that no other page on the site is directly relevant to.
I don’t want to sound like I’m repeating myself, but it’s really important. We do not want this:
—- Origins of Blueberries
—- Blueberry Origins
—- Where do blueberries come from?
Those origins of blueberries, blueberry origins and where do blueberries come from are all the exact same theme. Some people while doing their keyword research make the mistake of thinking each keyword needs to have it’s own page, however this is counter productive. Having several pages for the same theme bleeds the theme site wide. If Google thinks that several pages on your website are all relevant to the same keyword or search string, then it will have to decide among those pages which one is the most relevant.
Adding to the point, if your internal links are pointing at four different versions of the same theme, that means that the page devoted to that theme is only getting 25% of the link juice it should be getting. You’re competing with yourself in a way that’s counter productive.
If a topic is important enough to have sub topics, then by all means split up your topics into sub topics. However do not under any circumstance create entirely new pages to target variations of keywords that you already have a page for. You can put all possible information about the topic on the one page and just have that one page that is optimized for all variations of that one theme.
Can Important Pages go at the Bottom of the Website Structure Hierarchy?
The answer is yes. Most of the time when I have clients who see this type of website architecture, they understand the power of it and they want to do it however they are nervous to bury an important page 2-3 levels down on their website. This is not a cause for concern. Going back to our example of the origins of blueberries, you can see that a search engine’s algorithm would be able to understand and classify the theme of the page better (if not, just as well) being in a grandchild category than it would if it were resting directly under fruit. By nesting your themes, you are reinforcing the structure of the website which gives direct benefit to all themes, no matter where they lie in architecture of your website. Through additional internal linking, you can also stress the importance of the page outside of the hierarchy of your website structure.