Years ago I was called for a job interview at a well-known bank. The meeting was to be held on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in Wilmington Delaware. My stress level immediately went up. Without asking, I knew that there was a good chance that I’d be speaking with a corporate executive. How did I know? Because executives typically have their offices on the top floor of a building, where the rent is highest, the views are the best, and they’re bound to make an impression.
Your website structure, much like a building layout, can be a silent and powerful communication tool.
When your site is thoughtfully and purposefully structured, it:
- Quickly and quietly communicates your site’s most valued and important content to search engines, prospects, and customers
- Orients visitors quickly and eases site navigation
- Provides a robust and meaningful framework for assessing your site’s health and performance
These are the underpinnings of website success.
In this post, we’ll look at how to structure a small business website so that it ranks well in search results, satisfies users, and is easier, and cheaper, to manage and maintain.
The intent of this post is to help position you for search engine optimization (SEO) success.
What is Site Structure?
Site structure refers to the way that a site’s content – its applications, text, images, videos, music, and more – is grouped, interconnected, and presented to human and non-human visitors. It establishes the order in which content is discovered, accessed, interpreted, and used.
Think of it like you would a restaurant menu. You want people to get oriented quickly and to enjoy the experience of navigating the menu, and deciding what they want to order. You don’t want to overwhelm them with too many options at once – instead, it’s better to ease them in gently with selections laid out hierarchically, in a limited number of logical categories and subcategories. Appetizers go first, then main courses, salads, and desserts. No surprises.
This makes it easy for visitors to quickly find what they came looking for.
How is Site Structure Implemented?
Site structure is implemented using directories, folders, and links.
- Directories and folders group content into meaningful collections. Groupings determine how different pieces relate to one another, and which ones are most important. On a website, directories and folders appear as breadcrumb and menu options designed to help website visitors, developers, and managers get the lay of the land quickly and decide where they want to go next.
- Categories and tags are another way of grouping content – blog content – into contextual, easy to locate and access folders.
- Links connect related content, both on and offsite. They ease and speed navigation. On a website, links are the unique web address or URL for a specific piece of content, folder, or directory. The link allows human and non-human visitors to navigate to the content directly. When links have meaningful names, they help humans and search engines set expectations about what they’re likely to find when they arrive at the link destination and can help with search rankings.
- Website menus and breadcrumbs are just another type of link. They provide context – helping visitors get oriented quickly, keep track of where they are, reduce the number of clicks needed to get to where they want to go, and generally ease and speed navigation.
Some website development tools afford limited control over your site structure. It’s best to consult with an SEO specialist before you make your purchase decision and begin design and development.
Why Is Site Structure Important?
Site structure is important because it gives you a way to:
- Signal your priorities and relevance to search engines;
- Ease visitor orientation and navigation; and
- Assess your website’s overall health and performance.
It puts you in control.
Signal Your Priorities
Google’s index is similar to a library’s index. The index contains information about all the books in the library – or in Google’s case, all the webpages it knows about. When Google visits your website, it detects new and changed content and updates its index.
Google discovers content by following links from one page to another. If your content has no incoming links, it won’t get indexed, and it won’t show up in search results. If your content is buried deep in your site, and is rarely visited by a search engine, it will show up in search results but it could be outdated.
Structuring your content top-down with the most important items presented first helps search engines discover and update your most important content first and fastest.
Links also pass link equity. Link equity is a search engine ranking factor based on the premise that links signal trust, that the source of the link is recommending your content to their readers. The more authoritative and trustworthy the source of the link, the greater the positive impact it will have on your rankings.
Most incoming links to a website point to the home page. From there, link equity flows down into the website like champagne flows down a champagne pyramid. The glasses (or pages) closest to the top of the pyramid end up with more champagne (or “link equity”) than the glasses (or content) at the bottom.
Hierarchically structuring your content better ensures search engines can quickly and easily find and update your content. Putting your most important pages closest to the top positions them to be discovered first, and to receive more link equity than less important pages. More link equity helps them rank higher in search results.
Signal Your Relevance
For any given search query, there are thousands, sometimes millions, of webpages that could potentially provide helpful content. Google’s search algorithms sort through hundreds of billions of webpages in their index to find the most relevant, useful results for what you’re seeking.
Google’s algorithm looks at many factors when deciding who ranks where in search results. It considers, for example, the words in the search query, the suitability and usability of pages in their index, the expertise of content sources, and your geographic location and search settings. The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of the query – content freshness, for example, plays a bigger role in answering queries about current events than it does for recipes.
A well-structured website groups content into topically-related and meaningfully-named directories and folders that help search engines recognize when your content is relevant.
Ease Visitor Orientation and Navigation
Menus, internal links, blog categories and tags, and breadcrumbs all ease orientation and navigation for human and non-human visitors. It helps them identify and keep track of where they are, get to where they want to go faster, and generally eases and speeds navigation.
Easy navigation increases user engagement by encouraging people to explore and spend more time on your website. They get to know your products and/or services better, and you get an opportunity to begin to earn their trust and confidence.
Usability factors into Google’s ranking algorithms. When visitors have an easier time finding what they came looking for, and engage with your content after arriving, it tells search engines they chose a good option to present in search results. They will then subsequently reward you with higher rankings.
Assess Site Health and Performance
The individuals who maintain and manage your website also benefit when your content is grouped logically, hierarchically, and in meaningfully-named folders and directories.
Website developers increase their productivity when they can find, understand, and navigate to content faster. Website managers gain the ability to do micro and macro analyses of website performance when content is methodically organized because analytics applications leverage your site structure when producing reports.
Site Structure Best Practices
Ideally, a website is structured logically and hierarchically, with the most highly-segmented, top-level, and important content presented first; the most specific and detailed last. Your site structure should allow human and non-human visitors to get to the most relevant content with the least number of clicks.
A sitemap is a visual representation of your site structure. An ideal sitemap is pyramid-shaped with a single introductory (Home) page at the top, expected and conventional navigation items below that, priority subject-area groupings next, and individual pages and posts at the very bottom.
Best practices when structuring a small business website include:
- The home page should always be at the top
- You should follow website design norms and have the predictable and expected About, Products and/or Services, Blog, and Contact pages on the second level
- Have no more than 5-7 groupings in this second tier
- Your most important product and/or service groupings should be on the third tier along with blog posts
- Link to 2nd tier files or folders and (optionally) only your most important product and/or service pages in your Main Menu
- Individual pages and posts should be at the lowest level
- Small business websites generally should not have more than 4 levels
- Cross-link related content
- Provide breadcrumbs to users when your site has 3 or more levels
- Use unambiguous, recognizable, and descriptive labels for menu items, directories, folders, and links. Use the same language as your intended audience so as to provide a useful “information scent” that guides visitors to where they want to go
Always provide search engines with a copy of your machine-readable search map so they will be notified when content is added, removed, or changed. It speeds up indexing and reindexing.
Monitor your analytics to determine where you might be confusing your intended audience, where files may have been misplaced, and make adjustments, as needed.
What Factors Need to be Weighed When Deciding on Site Structure?
When deciding how to structure your content, take into consideration:
- Your different audiences
- Their information wants, needs and pain points
- The quantity and quality of information you can provide to address those requirements and concerns
- What’s most important and valuable to your business
Aim for balance. If you notice one side of your pyramid growing much larger than others, you may want to consider splitting that topic into smaller groupings. Similarly, if you have silos with very little content, think about merging them so you don’t give too much weight to something that is less important to your business or audience.
Common Site Structure Missteps
Flat Website Structure
A flat website structure is when there is no website hierarchy. This is problematic in that crawl budget can run out before your site content gets indexed or reindexed.
When every file sits in the root domain, SEO equity gets evenly distributed to every piece of content on the site. Google has little to go on in terms of deciding which content is most important and how content relates to one another.
This impacts your rankings and can frustrate visitors who are trying to locate information on your site.
Mega menus are large panels of expandable menu choices displayed as drop-down options – they let visitors see lower-level site pages at a glance.
The problem with mega menus is that they negate any structuring that’s taken place with folders and directories, in that search engines also see everything all at once and repeatedly – on just about every page on the website.
When everything has priority, in effect, nothing does, and you may find your most important pages get outdated in the index and ranked lower than expected. It can also be overwhelming for human visitors who, like in the overcrowded menu discussed above, get overwhelmed with too many options all at once.
Poorly Named Structures
Your content should be deliberately organized around the topics of interest to your intended audience. Directories, folders, and files should all be named using the same language. The way you identify the best language options is by doing keyword research.
Keyword research is an SEO practice used to identify the specific language (keywords) used by your search audience. It surfaces search volumes, seasonality, keyword difficulty, and whether there is sufficient commercial value to warrant optimization of content around specific words and phrases.
Keyword research should be performed before your site structure is implemented in order to minimize the possibility of disappointing performance and rework.
Outbound links on the Home Page
Most incoming links to a website point to the home page. The SEO equity that accompanies those links can bleed out pretty quickly if you are linking to an external website from your home page.
Don’t do it. If you absolutely must link out to an external source from your home page, qualify your link with an attribute that tells search engines to stay on your site, not follow the link, and not send any link equity to the link destination.
WordPress is the content management (CMS) system of choice for most small business websites and it is notorious for duplicate content.
The problem arises with the way WordPress stores content in its database. Media entries and sliders are all stored as separate files on the back-end of the website as well as appearing on pages and posts. Date, author, category, and tag archives – all different ways of getting to the same content – store the same content, over and over again, in different folders in the database.
When search engines find duplicate content, they have difficulty deciding which specific pages or posts to rank highest.
The result is not always what you expect or want. Your SEO equity can get diluted many times over, and analyzing content performance becomes complicated and time-consuming.
When you have known instances of duplicate content, you need to tell search engines which to rank and which to ignore. There are SEO tools and techniques that enable you to manage this effort, but they are often either not installed, not configured, or configured incorrectly.
Worst case, your chosen CMS does not offer the ability to perform any of these actions.
Overlapping, Undifferentiated, Too Many, or Thin Taxonomies
Taxonomies (named after the biological classification system) are a way to group related blog posts by high-level category or subject area, a specific topic or tag, author, publication date, and more.
If your chosen blog categories and tags are overlapping, undifferentiated, too many, or too thin (meaning you only have one or two pieces of content per grouping), you’ll end up with the same content being replicated in multiple folders leading to -you guessed it – duplicate content.
You also run the risk of frustrating your audience.
You can avoid these problems by putting some structure around your choice of blog categories and tags. You’ll find it’s a similar discussion to the one we’re having here.
Unmanaged Site Structures
If you’ve done a good job thinking through your information architecture, your website structure should only change infrequently.
What you’re more likely to find, is that it can quickly lose definition, change shape, and become unbalanced. For that reason, it’s very important to establish controls, and routinely review your website structure to ensure it continues to satisfy your business and visitor needs.
Purposefully structuring and managing your content around sought-after information groupings, using best practices and meaningful and accurate navigational clues, ensures that visitors don’t become frustrated and leave when they can’t find what they came looking for.
It helps you rank better in search results because your SEO equity gets channeled to your most important content first, and your file and folder names give search engines context.
A good site structure eases website management and maintenance increasing your productivity and opportunities for improvement. Take the time to structure your site thoughtfully and you won’t be disappointed.
This post was first published on the B-SeenOnTop Small Business SEO blog.
Meta’s Developing the World’s Fastest AI Supercomputer to Fuel its Metaverse Vision
As it looks to a future in the currently theoretical ‘metaverse’, Meta will need to up its computing power and systems in order to facilitate simultaneous connection in wholly immersive digital worlds, while it’ll also need more advanced computing power to fuel the next stage of its AI plans, in various forms.
Which is why Meta is developing a new AI Research SuperCluster (RSC), which it says will eventually become the fastest AI supercomputer in the world, when it’s fully built out by mid-2022.
The advanced system will eventually be able to perform ‘5 exaflops of mixed precision compute’ at peak. Which, I have no real idea of what that truly means, but basically, Meta’s new, advanced computational system will be able to process huge amounts of data, facilitating development in a wide range of applications, with a specific view towards the next stage of its metaverse vision.
As explained by Meta:
“RSC will help Meta’s AI researchers build new and better AI models that can learn from trillions of examples; work across hundreds of different languages; seamlessly analyze text, images, and video together; develop new augmented reality tools; and much more. We hope RSC will help us build entirely new AI systems that can, for example, power real-time voice translations to large groups of people, each speaking a different language, so they can seamlessly collaborate on a research project or play an AR game together.”
AR is clearly a key focus, with Meta developing its own AR-enabled glasses that will expand the use cases for the technology. The RSC will provide increased capacity to develop more complex AR systems, which could advance Meta’s tools beyond what’s currently available, which would ideally see its AR glasses become the top of the line, most advanced model available, helping Meta potentially dominate the space over rivals Snapchat and Apple.
Unless, of course, Snap and Apple team up, which is my prediction. But even so, with the additional computing power of the RSC behind it, Meta could still be well ahead, which could be a key step in bridging our current online experience to the next stage.
Which is where Meta is really focused:
“Ultimately, the work done with RSC will pave the way toward building technologies for the next major computing platform – the metaverse, where AI-driven applications and products will play an important role.”
It’s worth noting here that Meta specifically notes that the metaverse will take years to develop, it’s not something that’s happening overnight, nor will it become an all-immersive, integrated world by next year. Which is why any company or project that’s pitching itself as ‘metaverse ready’ is kidding itself – the metaverse, as it’s broadly envisioned, will require massive collaboration between platforms, in order to transfer your digital identity between virtual worlds, and take your avatars, skins, digital items, and more with you.
Meta is keen to reiterate that it won’t own that space, as such:
“No one company can (or should) build the metaverse alone. It will be built by people and businesses all over the world. And it’ll be important that experiences built by different companies or people, like avatars or virtual worlds, work together.”
But really, Meta is best-placed to host the party, via its industry-leading consumer VR tools and advanced computing systems like RSC, which will give it a significant advantage in dictating what the metaverse will be, and who will be able to sign up.
Eventually, this will require industry agreement on schemas and systems that will likely enable any service to join. But they’ll still need a host platform, along with software/hardware connection. Meta will be at the forefront of that aspect, which, again, will see it well-placed to define the rules of the space, and dominate the next stage of digital connection – whether it technically ‘owns’ it or not.
But it is worth noting that the metaverse does not exist yet, not in any form, and any platform or project that claims otherwise is ultimately misleading. Those NFT projects that claim to be ‘metaverse-ready’, yeah, no, maybe avoid them.
Eventually, Meta’s RSC will give it significant advantages in developing new systems for everything from combating harmful content on its platforms to building entirely new user experiences. The potential here is massive, and while it will take time to see the results of these developments, it’ll be interesting to see how Meta’s processes evolve in turn, and whether these advanced systems result in a significant acceleration in its development cycles.
You can read more technical details on Meta’s RSC project here.
TikTok Partners with Zefr to Offer Increased Assurance on Safe Ad Placement
TikTok has partnered with brand suitability platform Zefr on a new brand safety post-bid measurement solution for in-feed ads, which will enable advertisers to ensure that their TikTok promotions don’t appear alongside potentially offensive material.
As you can see here, using Zefr’s dashboard, which provides insights into each campaign by mapping it against the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) Suitability Risk categories, advertisers will now be able to ensure that their TikTok ads are not shown next to content that they don’t want to be associated with.
As explained by TikTok:
“This solution will provide advertisers with campaign insights into brand safety and brand suitability for their TikTok campaigns. These insights provide clients with third-party impartial reassurance that their investment is delivered next to content suitable for their brand, protecting brand reputation and mitigating risk.”
Zefr’s advanced ‘Cognition AI’ process utilizes audio, text, and frame-by-frame video analysis, along with scaled human review, to determine brand safety, and provide full assurance on potential ad placement.
With TikTok’s challenges and posts sometimes veering into dangerous territory, the option will help to reassure brands that their campaigns won’t end up being associated with potential harm, which could help TikTok secure even more ad spend.
Though it could be difficult to 100% guarantee success here. For example, the recent ‘Milk Crate Challenge’ on TikTok started off innocently enough, but eventually lead to increasingly risky and dangerous behaviors, which resulted in serious injuries to some participants. Other TikTok challenges could follow a similar evolution – though the additional assurance of Zefr’s systems will ideally help to catch these out before they become a potential brand risk, or at the least, as soon as they’re identified as a problem.
It’s a good integration, and another key step in TikTok’s broader expansion of its ad tools.
The new TikTok Zefr integration is available to advertisers in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.
How to Elevate Your Social Media ROI [Infographic]
Looking for ways to improve your social media marketing efforts in 2022?
As we head into the new year, it’s worth revising your business goals, and establishing a clear direction for your digital marketing process. Maybe you’re happy with the growth and interaction you’re seeing, and how that’s then leading to conversion, but over the past two years, in particular, there’s no doubt been some level of disruption to your marketing plans.
With that in mind, this infographic from the team at Click Dimensions could help. They’ve put together a simple overview of how to establish your social media marketing goals, including which metrics to focus on, how to increase engagement, and the importance of adapting as things progress.
It could help to spark some new thinking in your approach – check out the full infographic below.
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