They say "every building is only as strong as its foundation". WordPress websites are no exception to this rule. Site structure makes an enormous amount of difference on how the website functions and handles different aspects of your business. It also defines the user experiences (UX) that each of your users has.
But how does the structure of your WordPress website affect it? How important is it?
The basics of website structure
Website structure refers to how a given website is set up. Especially, the structure of a website pertains to how all pages related to that website are grouped, linked, and presented to the users and crawling bots used by search engines.
An easy-to-understand example of a site structure could be the one following:
As you can see, this website example accounts for 10 pages, including the homepage. Its structure is a map of how logically the business wants to group and present all their information in a way that makes sense to their users.
WordPress developer and Codeable expert Daniel Klose uses an interesting analogy to describe the importance of your site structure as a web:
Look at your website: you see it's like a spider web. Basically, all the pages of a website are connected one another. And it's quite interesting that, when people want to build a new website, they often forgot about this aspect, they underestimate this 'spider web' aspect and don't see the value of investing some time structuring the website in the early days of the project.
In fact, the structure of your website has a direct impact on two interconnected aspects of any website:
Let's have a closer look at each of these to understand them better.
1. Why website structure is important for User Experience (UX)
Your website is a business tool that has to serve a purpose. No matter if you're selling a product, a course, providing a service, or simply use your website as a window for your brand, your website has a major goal.
By giving it a well-defined structure, one that follows a logical order of how your pages and content are presented, your target user has a better understanding of your whole message and offer.
Some key design and UX principles that should always be taken into consideration when structuring your website are:
- Easy to understand layouts
- Easy to understand navigational flows
- Easy to find and consume content/information
By following these 3 key principles, along with the help of a professional developer, your website will be able to deliver and support a smooth and easy navigational flow within your pages.
A website where pages are exactly provided and placed where they belong is a website your user will hardly abandon.
2. Why website structure is important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The more Internet matures, the more search engines improve their algorithms to reflect the complexity of this world. Therefore, SEO is always less a matter of short-sight tactics and keyword-placing, rather it's becoming closer to how users engage with the content of a website. In short: SEO is becoming a more complex area of marketing, which has to do with the message and how it is consumed by a target audience, rather than being a separate field for some professional who have aces up their sleeves.
A proper-structured website, will benefit and improve your SEO on:
The easiness through which crawlers and bots will navigate through your pages in a natural way. A bad structure could be mitigated with a sitemap, yet not providing a clear structure of your site might stop crawlers to index some of your pages.
Remember the spider web we mentioned earlier? Having a robust internal structure of your site will pass what's commonly called "SEO juice", which is the SEO value each of your pages has. Without such internal linking, your SEO will strongly be affected as some pages will never be able to rank. And, for sure, your website will never be able to show Google sitelinks
Why?s Because your site structure isn't done correctly, or in Google's words:
We only show Sitelinks for results when we think they’ll be useful to the user. If the structure of your site doesn’t allow our algorithms to find good Sitelinks, or we don’t think that the Sitelinks for your site are relevant for the user’s query, we won’t show them.
2.3 Overall SEO
With a well-structured website, where all content and pages are shown and grouped where they belong, the SEO value will naturally improve. Crawlers will find an easier path to index your pages, which you could help even more by submitting sitemaps; your users will find what they meant to find while performing their query on a search engine (user intent). On top of this, the number of quickly abandoned pages, also known as pogo sticking, will decrease adding another good ingredient to the overall SEO pie.
Website structure development: Best practices
A well-defined website structure is extremely important in order to improve customer experience, retention, and SEO. As a result, creating these structures during website development should be given utmost priority.
But where should you start from?
Identifying & Defining User Goals and Expectations
The very first step to designing the structure of your website is about defining the Who, Why, and How behind your new website:
- Your Who: who's your target audience?
- Your Why: why are you creating the new website? What are the goals you want to achieve?
- Your How: what are your website's functional requirements?
Answering to these core questions will uncover the pillars on top of which your structure will be designed. If you have no clue on how to come up with the right answers at this stage (like many business owners), firing up a discovery phase before even starting to talk about design elements, mockups, etc. is strongly recommended. This will also allow you to get a clearer picture of costs and time constraints involved in the development project.
As a good alternative or little helpers in the process of finding the correct answers needed at this stage, you might want to start with questions suggested by Cody Landefel from Mode Effect:
- What pages will my website need to have?
- What is the goal for each page?
- Do each of these pages make sense in the overall scheme of my site?
- What pages are the focal point of the website?
- Which pages are the most important in terms of business growth? i.e. subscriber pages, store, products page, etc.
- Are there any pages that’ll be expanded in the future? i.e. your blog page, faq section, case studies, etc.
Once these 3 aspects have been laid out, then it's a matter of understanding what type of content needs to be created and organize it accordingly. The best way to approach such task is to start from the deeper level of your site and then walk back to the top. Suggests Daniel:
If you start from the bottom, you can more easily think of and build all components you'll need. It's like a reverse funnel. The front page is the biggest piece of the funnel, and at the bottom - end - of it, you have a single post or page. That's where you should start and then move up from.
Site structure has to occur with a bottom-up approach, not the other way around, otherwise, you'll either have to re-organize your whole site navigation or simply won't be able to position a page/content where it should be because of structural limitations.
Following a top-down approach means you're driving into the unknown because, as Daniel points out:
Unfortunately, a lot of clients realize when we're ahead with the development work that their new requests can't fit the current structure. That means I have to redo the front page with delays and additional costs, which could have been prevented with a bottom-up approach at the beginning of the project.
Design your site hierarchy to accommodate your needs
Your site structure needs to reflect your goal requirements and how your users use your content. This means taking into account where users are coming from and what information expect to find on your website.
This is the concept of user flows, examples of which are shown here below:
Is your user coming from a Google search (organic)? Are they coming from a Facebook Ads or any other social media channel? Maybe a direct link?
Their entry point is crucial to help you define the best flow and organizational structure on your site.
What if I have an eCommerce store?
A simple WordPress website might have only a few components that include a homepage, an archive page (category page) and then the blog posts. WooCommerce stores are relatively more complex as they have to account for a plethora of more advanced feature and result in a much more advanced project. As a result, the precautions and structuring requirements differ on it.
You need to take into account both user and administrators UX with eCommerce sites
The bottom-up approach still remains relevant in terms of WooCommerce websites, but here the entire user experience is more complex because it also entails a complete buyer journey experience. Creating a new account, adding products to the cart, buying and processing a payment, getting email confirmations, and so on.
But that's not just it.
With an eCommerce store, there's also the admin/manager UX that needs to be taken into account. On an administrator level, what happens when a new user account gets created? What about a new purchase? Who gets a notification? What if a user requests a refund? All these additional elements, which aren't usually touched by a standard website, become part of the project. Explains Daniel:
As the administrator or store manager, you have to understand your side of processing the business and, at the same time, you have to make sure that your customer is getting a good experience. What emails are they receiving? How's the workflow for their PayPal payment? A lot of store owners, unfortunately, don't do this and they simply set up their shop and they think they're done with it, only to realize afterward their customers, for example, gets weird emails and notifications from their store.
Structures define the path customers follow when they visit your WordPress website. It is crucial because, if not designed and implemented properly, the result will be a lost and frustrated user that just wants to hit the small red button in the top left of their browser and never come back.
That's why focusing on the proper site structure when planning to build your new website shouldn't be a nice-to-have additional task, yet it should be part of the project from the very start.
Daniel Klose is a Tech-Wiz, Blogger and Industry Professional. Born and raised in Germany, he quickly discovered his passion for all things digital. As a full-stack developer he now supports small and medium-sized businesses in their digital endeavors, with a focus on scalability.