The structure of your web site, blog or ecommerce store is very important both in terms of SEO but also for a great user experience. It should be user friendly, easy to navigate, fast and serve its purpose: attract new customers, get more email subscribers, make a sale, get revenue from advertising or just present the information in the best possible way.
Although the design and look n feel of a web site is subjective, there are some components necessary for a high quality site. These components make the site search engine friendly, usable, trusted and professional. As a result you rank higher in Google and other search engines, you receive more social love (Facebook likes, tweets etc.) and most important of all loyal visitors.
In this post I will explain, with real examples, the necessary components of an optimized web site. I will not go through the initial setup (domain registration, hosting setup etc.) since this post assumes that you already have (or can setup) a blog or website. The guidelines are applicable for all platforms i.e. wordpress, jumla, dotnetnuke, jimbo, yola, .net or any other technology.
All the examples and websites I will use in the demos are based on the WordPress platform and run the Thesis theme.
Web Site Structure for an SEO optimized site
The structure of your web site must help users find the information they want in the fastest possible way, this is your primary goal. At the same time it should also make it easy for search engines to crawl the site and provide them with different ‘signals’ so as to: understand what the web site is all about and to convince the bots (search engine crawlers) that it is a high quality site suitable to rank higher in their index.
The home page
The home page is probably the most important page of your blog, web site or online store. This is the place to show off your best content, promote your brand and establish the unique identity of your site. While the design of a home page (colors, images, theme and template) depends on the type of web site and preferences of the blog owner or designer, some elements are essential and these are explained below.
 Logo and favicon – Your web site or blog should have a clearly designed logo to distinguish your brand from the competition. If you cannot create your own logo it’s worth investing a few bucks to hire a designer to do for you. Odesk.com is a great place to find logo designers for reasonable prices. Along with the logo you can also create a favorite icon to give your web site a more professional perspective.
Show off your best content – This very important for SEO and it is advice suggested many times by Google. Select 3-4 posts or pages of your web site that you want to promote and link to them from your home page. These should be the pages/posts that you want to perform better in search. You don’t have to place them in the center or the page (as shown above) but make sure that these are linked from your home page.
What’s your site’s primary purpose? – What do you want to achieve from your web site? If you are running a blog (especially if it’s a new blog), your primary purpose may be to get new subscribers to your newsletter and more fans to your Facebook page. Depending on your design the actual position may differ but your site’s primary purpose should be visible from the home page. If you are selling a book or product this should also be made available above the fold. Study the screenshot above and also have a look at the home page of this web site.
My recommendation for new web sites is to concentrate first on building your subscriber list, Facebook fan page, Google+ followers and anything else that can improve the credibility and authority of your web site.
Main Menu – Either above the logo or below the logo, your web site should have a clearly defined main menu. Include in your main menu links to your important categories and pages.
Static VS Dynamic Home page
Many web site owners wonder whether to use static or dynamic Home pages. My recommendation is to use a hybrid home page with both static and dynamic areas.
The static part can include your best content, products or services you are selling or that unique characteristic that distinguishes your web site from the rest.
The dynamic part can include your latest blog posts, latest tweets or FB Page updates.
Updating your home page on a regular basic is an incentive for users to come back and see what’s new and it is also beneficial in terms of SEO to link your latest posts from the most important page of your site.
Essential pages for a high quality site
About Page– A well designed about page improves the credibility and trustworthiness of a web site. Typical items to include in an ABOUT page:
Welcome message – What the web site is about, when it was created etc.
Philosophy and goals-Purpose, vision and goals
Team – Who runs the site, who writes the articles, who to contact in case of a problem
Advertising policies – Do you run ads or affiliate promotions on the site?
Have a look at my about page for a real example.
Contact Page – Email and or physical address, phone to contact the webmaster.
Disclaimer – Especially important if you are running a health related web site or blog that provides advice that if followed by a reader can create any sort of problems.
HTML (User) Sitemap– The sitemap page should provide easy access to all site pages (for example: www.reliablesoft.net/sitemap)
Navigation and URL Structure
I have explained the importance of URL permanent link structure for SEO purposes in my previous post: SEO Tips for beginners . In terms of web site structure, the URL format is related to the overall navigation experience of the user and this is what I will cover below.
Navigation: The navigation structure of a web site should help the novice user find information in a fast and easy way without guessing.
- Group related information together (products, articles, services) into categories and sub-categories (if too many).
- Provide a way for users to access the categories from your home page and main web site menu.
- Preferably plan your navigation structure before building the website so you know in advance where each page should reside.
- Make sure that you have a breadcrumb in all your internal pages so that the user can go step-by-step backwards.
- Assist the user in finding what they want by proving related content. For example if you have an online shop show ‘Related products’ when a user is viewing a product (see what ebay and amazon show when you display a product). If you have a content driven web site, provide ‘Related articles’ at the bottom of each article (see screenshot below)
Do not forget that users are more likely to leave a web site if they don’t find what they want in the first 10-15 seconds, so make their life easier by keeping your navigation structure simple.
URL structure: The format of your permanent link structures (i.e. the URL of each page of your web site), should help the users (and search engines) understand what the page is about. It is therefore important to:
- Avoid very long URLs
- Avoid keyword stuffed links
- Use ‘-‘(hyphens) to separate keywords in the URLS. For example: www.domain.com/this-is-a-good-url
- Make sure that when you remove part of the URL the link does not lead to a non-valid page. For example if a URL is: http://www.domain.com/products/games/call-of-duty and the user removes the last part, the new URL http://www.domain.com/products/games/ should display a list of games and not a ‘not found page’.
- Make sure that you have a custom 404 page to handle cases where users enter or mistype urls.