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Structuring Your Website

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Though you could read about the overall process of creating natural websites and integrating all aspects of web design, SEO, usability and accessibility in the process before, some more information about structuring your website may be useful as well.

What to consider?

When structuring your website, you need to consider:

As it will be your customers, who will be using the website, you’ll need to analyze their needs and your product and provide the information in such a way, so they’d find the information they need as easily as possible. To be more precise, you need to have site sections that answer specific needs for information, when customers view your site, such as:

  • learn why your product fill answer the need of the customer
  • get specific information on how the product can be used
  • read product testimonials and possibly other things that inspire trust to use the product
  • learn how to use the product (the help manual, for instance)
  • a place to communicate with the developers (a blog) or a forum (to also communicate with the peers)

Defining site sections depends on how well you know your customers. In essence, you’ll be better off, if you know as much as possible about them, to make the necessary information easily accessible.

If you plan to build a larger website as time goes by, you need to create the finite structure beforehand, so you’ll know where to go as the site grows. It will also keep your site structure logical, efficient and will not require redesigning the website.

Though developing easy to understand site sections is important, it is still important to develop secondary navigation to show secondary pages (mostly, pages of the same section) to the visitors.

Internal site linking structure

A website structure is not limited by main sections. You’ll also need to define what pages to add to each section. Obviously, they’ll need to serve the purpose of the section.

While the top main navigation is occupied by the site sections, you have several ways of creating your internal linking structure:

  • left-side secondary navigation
  • right-side navigation
  • dropdown menus from the top menu

There have been several studies on different navigation types, most of which conclude that the left-side navigation should be more user-friendly. However, if you want to show other less important pages, you may want to have right-hand navigation.

Mostly, the choice is between readability (people read from left to right and can start from the main content, if there is no left side navigation) or ease of navigation (the left side navigation is almost as noticeable as the top navigation). Though, the difference is not great, you need to consider if at all you need secondary navigation (for a large website, for example) and where to place it. In each case, the decision will be case-specific.

You can also use breadcrumb navigation, which shows the page hierarchy in website structure and allows a visitor to navigate easily. Again, on larger website this may be quite useful, while on smaller websites (with lesser amount of pages), it will, most likely, only clutter the interface.

Apart from having fixed secondary navigation, including links inside the pages (context links) will give a more efficient way to the site visitors to find what they want.

Linking between sections

While some think that linking between pages of different site sections (what is also called ‘siloing‘) is not desirable, my own opinion is that linking to other pages lets the visitors get the information they want faster. Generally, the choice is yours, but remember about your customers and the goals of your website.

If you plan to link to any relevant page from any page, you may want to be more consciensous with your internal linking structure. When linking to other relevant pages, use the words that describe the page you link to – two or three words is, generally, enough, and using more may make it hard to perceive a page with numerous links.

This is where knowing the words your customers use pays off. Not only you’ll get more linking power and long tail traffic from internal linking, but your customers will be able to see (blue, underlined) words they know, can relate to and seek information about. This will ensure that they do what they want on their site (also increasing the time they spend on your site, so you should be able to see this from your stats).

Page-specific navigation

Another moment to consider, when developing your site layout, is to remember about the homepage and your Pay Per Click (PPC) landing page structure.

While the goal of the homepage is to be able to direct visitors to various topics they are interested in (based upon their needs, goals and in what conversion phase they are in), a PPC landing page goal is to inspire a visitor, who landed from a PPC search engine, to take action.

Naturally, the homepage will have numerous topic sections and also easy navigation, while a landing page should rather be topic-focused and lead a visitor to the desired action (a sign up, a download, or a purchase).

Of course, informational pages may not need page-specific navigation, but your visitors can always use an extra direction to a more helpful section or a page (a tutorial, for example) from the secondary navigation.

Keywords as site sections

If you are sure your customers are familiar with certain words, you can use them as site sections or categories. This, again, gives your customers a familiar path to walk and additional traffic from the search engines to you.

The process of naming your categories, subcategories and pages using keywords is called theming. Here, you start by using general keywords to describe main site sections/categories, then use less competitive (but still understandable) words as subcategories and leave the least competitive words (usually 3-5) to name the end page.

By creating such a variety of pages using various keywords will, first of all, give your customers an easy way to find and absorb the information they want – and as much as they want, and, secondly, will give you the benefit of getting the long tail traffic for the host of combinations of all of your keywords.

Rounding up

Though creating an understandable site structure can bring you some search engine traffic, your primary concern should be how easily your visitors should find the information they want or do what they want (download a program, subscribe to a newsletter, buy a gift, etc). Only when really taking into account what your customers need and how they view websites, you’ll be able to create an efficient site navigation and improve your site conversions.

Related posts:

Develop your internal linking structure smartly
When you need site optimization (or not)
Steve Bradley (vangogh)

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Yuri Filimonov is a freelance website optimization and usability consultant, who writes about improving websites to gain more visitors,
customers and profit at his blog, http://www.ImproveTheWeb.com.

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