What is website architecture?

Website architecture is the approach used to design and plan a website to meet both business and user needs.

Why website architecture matters

Developing good site structure enhances your chance of higher rankings in search engines. A search engine’s algorithm is complex and based on hundreds of factors, mainly focusing user experience. The way a user interacts with your site provides search engines with data they need to help determine how to rank your site.

In this article, we’ll cover several important factors and decisions that website owners need to make that are crucial to deploying an SEO-friendly site structure.

Good website architecture decisions – technology decisions

Avoid dynamic URLs

Dynamic URLS are URLs that contain dynamic characters like “?”, “_” and parameters are not user-friendly because they are not descriptive and are harder to memorize.

  • Lower click-through rates.
  • Difficult for a user to copy and paste.
  • Difficult sharing the link over the phone or writing it down.
  • Not transparent as to where the link will take you and what the page is to the user.
  • Difficult to read dynamic URLs compared to static URLs.

Avoid Session IDs

A Session ID is a unique number that is assigned to a specific user for the duration of that user’s visit (session).

  • If your website uses HTTP cookies for sessions, spiders cannot accept cookies and are blocked from those pages.
  • Your website could end up with hundreds of versions of the same URL, causing duplicate content and resulting in a Google Penalty.
  • Linking to pages with a session ID will not help with page rank since each session will have a different ID for each visitor.

Avoid Flash, JavaScript and Java for links and content

  • Flash is difficult for crawlers to index. Use HTML5 instead of Flash for optimal usability and SEO.
  • Important content should be placed on your website with easy to read HTML.

Avoid redirects

  • Set your preferred domain to either www or non-www. Fixing this will prevent search engines from indexing both versions of your site.
  • Avoid issues with HTTP/HTTPS displaying two versions of your site or invalid certificate errors. Having an invalid SSL certificate will cause most browsers to either prevent users from visiting your site or display a warning showing them an “insecure connection”.
  • Avoid 302 redirects unless it is for temporary use. 302 redirects do not transfer “link juice” to another page.
  • Verify the use of 301 redirects, which are permanent redirects. 301’s are usually used to redirect duplicate content or URLs no longer accessible. If SEO matters to your website, you should be using 301 redirects as your default method for redirections.
  • Avoid using Meta refresh redirects.

Good website architecture decisions – structural decisions

Website hierarchy should match the way users search

  • Good websites are built to lead and funnel users to make actionable decisions that provide them with the answers they are searching for.
  • Your website hierarchy needs to have a flow that is easy to navigate and makes sense to your users.
  • Your URL structure should follow your navigation hierarchy.

Minimize page depth

  • Page depth refers to the number of clicks a user is away from a specific page while starting at the homepage.
  • A general rule of thumb is to keep your page depth to 3 or fewer clicks.
  • Pages with more than 3 clicks from the homepage are known to perform poorly with search engines and are not crawled as often as pages with a page depth of 1 or 2.
  • Your page depth is not only important for user experience, it also matters to Google. Pages that are buried in your site have less link authority, also known as “link juice”.
  • The less link juice that is passed, the less likely Google is to index those pages.

Eliminate distracting elements in your header

  • Simplify your navigation. Provide only the most important pages to your site in your main navigation.
  • Doing so let’s search engines know that those pages are the ones you want to be most visible.

Cross-link relevant content

  • Aids in the navigation of the website.
  • Distribute page authority and ranking power throughout the website.
  • Avoid linking back to your homepage or contact us pages from internal pages.
  • Use anchor text to describe the page in alt tags, but don’t over optimize and try not to think too much about it.
  • Be natural in linking. Think of what would be beneficial to your user and not what is going to get you ranked better in a search engine.
  • Don’t use too many links on a single page.
  • Link to relevant content. Make sure the content is something that follows a theme or is relevant to the content on that page.

The easiest way to develop your site hierarchy is to make a list of categories and subcategories, then create topics and actions your users will perform under those subjects. For more information about site architecture, take a look at our article on the How to Get Your Website to Speak to the Right Audience.

Final thoughts

By making good technological and structural decisions, you’re building a better and more functional website for your users. When you focus on a user’s experience, not only will enhance your chance of ranking higher in search engines, you’ll also increase user engagement leading to higher conversion rates.

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