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December 16, 2012

Proper Site Architecture for SEO

There is a lot that goes into properly running an SEO campaign. From keyword research to being able to write quality, interesting
and informative content, and everything in between, the job of an SEO is endless. However, many people overlook an extremely important element of SEO that if ignored could end up rendering a lot of your hard work fruitless.

Proper site architecture can make the difference between a first page and second page ranking. In this article I will go over what you need to know in order to properly build your website for SEO purposes.


A well thought out site hierarchy is crucial to your SEO efforts. Starting with your home page, and working your way to all the internal pages, you want to make sure that the flow of navigation makes sense and is easy to follow. This is crucial for SEO for three main reasons.

a. If your visitors cannot easily navigate through your site and find what they are looking for then your bounce rate will be high and the average time people spend on your site will be low. Those are two indicators to the search engines that your site does not have relevant information and they will rank you lower because of it.

b. Link Juice! Properly laying out your site will ensure that you have a free flow of link juice leading from your main categories to your deeper internal pages. Page Rank is still an important factor in how your pages are ranked. You want to make sure every page on your site receives the benefit from other pages that have a high Page Rank.

c. Search engine bots navigate through your site just like a human would. They follow links on your site to find pages to index. If the search engine bots cannot find all your pages easily, or run into a dead end, they will leave your site. This may mean that well written, quality pages you spent time creating may not be found and indexed in a timely fashion. Can you force a crawl through webmaster tools to find those neglected pages? Sure. But, building your site properly in the first place will save you the time and has other benefits that we have already discussed above.

How Do You Layout Your Site the Right Way?

It is actually quite simple. Let’s take a look at the steps you should follow.

1. Identify Main Navigation

The first thing you need to do is identify what is going to be in your main navigation. There are typically three pages that are almost universally used in every site’s navigation:

a. Home
b. About Us
c. Contact

The “Home” page button is there, so people can easily navigate their way back to your main page. An “About Us” page is a way to tell your potential customers a little about yourself and your business. People like to feel comfortable with whom they are doing business and telling them a little bit about you can go a long way. The “Contact Us” page is an easy way for people to find out how they can talk to you if they have any questions or want to purchase your products or services.

The next thing you need to do is decide if you are going to have a blog. I would suggest doing so. A blog is a great way to constantly add new content to your site, which the search engines love, and engage your visitors and potential customers with information regarding your specific business or about your industry in general.

You can also go the humor route and post funny and interesting tidbits about you, your business or even just about random things. People love to laugh and making them laugh is a good way to get them in the buying mood and make them feel comfortable about doing business with you. If you do decide to have a blog, then you must be able to make the commitment to it and post at least a couple times a month. If you take too long in between posts, then it makes it seem like you don’t care about your website and that can reflect badly on your business.

The truth is you are probably too busy running your business to be able consistently post to your blog, but your potential customers don’t know that. To some of them it could seem like you are lazy, just don’t care or even possibly that you’re no longer in business.

If you have decided that you can make the commitment to regular blogging then you can place a button for it in the main navigation.

We now have four buttons in our main navigation.

What else do you need?

The next thing you have to do is decide what you want your main category pages to be. The answer to this question will differ depending on what type of business you run.

For example, if you are a Family Law lawyer then you are going to have a button in your main navigation called “Family Law.” You would want to name it that because you want to take advantage of keywords in your navigation.

If you are a Personal Injury Lawyer that also handles Workers Compensation cases, then you would add two buttons to your navigation, “Personal Injury” and “Workers Compensation.”

Now, if you are a Personal Injury Lawyer that also handles Worker Compensation, Social Security Disability claims, Medical Malpractice and Maritime Law then you may want to consider creating a main “Practice Areas” overview page and utilizing drop down navigation to list each of your practice areas.

I recommend this approach if you notice your navigation getting too crowded. You don’t want to have nine or ten buttons in your navigation. It just doesn’t look atheistically pleasing and it can force you to make the buttons, and by consequence the text on them, so small that they become harder to read. I would suggest limiting your navigation to 7-8 buttons if you can.

After taking into account your Home, About Us, Contact, and Blog buttons, that leaves you with space for an additional 3-4 buttons. If you are selling products and have more than 3 or 4 of them, then you may want to consider creating a main “Products” page and either linking your products solely from that page or utilizing drop down navigation in addition to linking.

Now that you have your main navigation figured out, it’s time to move onto the next step.

2. Structure Drop Down Navigation

If you have decided that you need to employ drop down navigation, as most sites do, then you need to properly structure it. This is sometimes referred to as “siloing” or using a “silo” technique.

Let’s go back to my lawyer example.

If you are a lawyer who practices multiple areas of law, then you are going to do one of two things:

a. You practice three different areas of law, Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice and Social Security Disability, and you have put them in your main navigation. Underneath each one you are going to have a drop down menu with links to pages talking about specific types of cases.

For example:

Underneath Personal Injury you may have links leading to the following pages:

i. Car Accidents
ii. Truck Accidents
iii. Pedestrian Accidents
iv. Motorcycle Accidents
v. Wrongful Death
vi. Workplace Accidents

You would then do the same for the other two areas of practice (Medical Malpractice and Social Security Disability).

b. You are a lawyer who practices more than three areas of law and you decide that you need to create a main “Practice Areas” page and have a drop menu link to each individual area of practice.

For example:

Underneath “Practice Areas” you would have links to the following pages:

i. Wills Trusts and Estates
ii. Elder Law
iii. Tax Law
iv. Asset Protection
v. Probate and Administration

Each practice area would then have a drop down menu appear to the right of it listing specific types of cases as follows:

i. Wills Trusts and Estates
* Trusts
* Estate Planning
* Wills

ii. Elder Law:
* Medicaid Planning
* Medicaid Eligibility

And so on and so forth…

You want to keep your navigation limited to three tiers. Tier one is your main navigation. Tier two is your first drop down menu and tier three is the drop down menu linking off of your first drop down menu.

You want to keep your navigation limited to three tiers for the following reasons:

a. Ease of use. Visitors can find four and five drop down menus confusing and annoying.

b. Search Engines. You want to keep all your main content and important pages within three clicks so the search engine bots don’t have to look long to find the important information. In our example the first click is your main navigation, the second click is the main practice area pages, and the third click is the specific case pages.

Now that we have taken care of our navigation the next step is to start internally linking.

3. Internal Linking

When you internally link your site’s pages you want to make sure that you do so in a hierarchical structure. This means that you typically want to link top down from your home page to your internal pages and not bottom up to your home page. Although, in some cases where you have an internal page with a higher Page Rank than your home page, you may consider linking to your home page from it. However, for the majority of websites, the page that is linked to most often, and therefore will probably have the highest Page Rank, is going to be the home page. You want to link this way so your link structure is created in such a way that allows for the most optimal flow of link juice through your site.

Using our lawyer example, you may have anchor text links (links that incorporate keywords not “click here”) that link from your home page to your main practice area pages. On your practice area pages you would link to your specific case pages. However, you would most likely not link to your home page from any other page on your site (refer to my exception above).

Also, when you are using a “silo technique” for your navigation, you never want to link between silos. Linking within silos is permissible, but linking between them is inadvisable.

You also want to keep the number of links on each page to a minimum. There is no real set number to abide by, but common sense should tell you that when there is an inordinate number of links on a page compared to the amount of written text then you probably have too many links.

4. The Footer

The Footer of a site used to be a place where SEO’s would place a lot of links in an attempt to manipulate the search engines’ algorithms. Well, the search engines caught on, and now it is completely useless to place links there for the purposes of SEO. It can also hurt your site’s SEO if you have too many Footer links. My advice is having only the following links in your Footer:

a. Site Map
b. Terms of Use
c. Privacy Policy

These links should be tagged with “no follow” so you aren’t sending these pages any link juice.

Following these simple steps will help you to create a site that is search engine friendly and easy for your visitors to navigate.

Joseph Piracci is an internet marketing expert with 7 years of experience in SEO, SEM, Social Media Marketing and e-Commerce Management. Contact his internet marketing company, Predominant Domains, for more information.

27 Responses to “Proper Site Architecture for SEO

    avatar Rubi says:

    Hierarchy and structure is the second step in web application development or in website design. The first step is an idea- what is the website about. A lot of designers don’t think it is so important and then SEO specialist needs to guide how to change the structure to be more user friendly.

    avatar Joseph Piracci says:

    While you are technically correct, I am assuming that a person already knows what they want their website to be about. If they own a business then it’s pretty obvious what their website should be about. That is why I didn’t feel I needed to mention that step. Pretty obvious step. Thanks for your feedback.

    avatar Robert says:

    Seems pretty stupid to me. Those drop down menus won’t usually work until the site is fully loaded, people may leave well before then. If they don’t make it to an interior page it counts as a bounce.

    Also marking nofollow on . . .

    a. Site Map
    b. Terms of Use
    c. Privacy Policy

    What’s the point of G checking your responsible site has these items if you’re marking them nofollow telling G they don’t exist on your site?

    avatar Valerie says:

    Hardly stupid. Helping your visitors find stuff on your site, and leaving appropriate breadcrumbs for the bots both make sense.

    I’m not sure why you think the dropdowns won’t load. They are done via unordered lists and CSS about 99% of the time these days, there isn’t any code that has to load to make them work. (dhtml and javascript are rarely used for navigation anymore)

    I sort of get your point about the footer links, we’re largely told to put those pages on sites because google looks for them to determine if you’re following their rules, then marking them as no-follow. Really the proper thing to do is to leave the follow/no-follow alone and set them to not be indexed in the robots.txt file. (nobody needs them coming up in SERPS)

    avatar Robert says:

    I’m in dialup hell, so I really can’t say how sites load at warp speed. For me my favorite site loads drop menus last trapping me on the loading page until finished about three minutes later. I don’t know how many dialup users are still out there, there must be some because the three services I subscribe to are all still up there selling their services. Also don’t see how allowing privacy pages in htaccess and then blocking in robots lets google verify and ignore for serps?

    avatar Kevin says:

    Good article. The only thing I would slightly disagree with would be going to more than 2 levels of navigation especially in the light of mobile devices.

    avatar Joseph Piracci says:


    Going with three levels of navigation is fine. It really has nothing to do with mobile devices. I say that because you should have a separate mobile site. If you do not then you are way behind the times. Mobile and “desktop” sites have nothing to do with each other as far as layout. You should be creating your website to be as user and SEO friendly as possible for desktops. You should then create a mobile site for mobile devices which is redirected to when people visit your “desktop” site from a mobile device. I say this because search engines do not index mobile sites. They index your main “desktop site”. I have only seen two mobile sites ever show up in the search results and I think that may have just been a test or a mistake by Google. If you don’t have a mobile site then people coming to your website from mobile devices are going to have a lousy experience regardless if you have two or three levels of navigation.
    Thanks for your feedback and for reading my article.

    Some good points mentioned here. As an SEO specialist myself, optimizing and (both online Gift shops), I have come across places where I had to question the navigation structure of my sites and try and adjust the structure for SEO purpose.

    This is very informative, especially for novices. Well written.

    avatar chris says:

    i learnt this the hard way, used to be a hardcore backend developer, then UI now SEO.

    I started from scratch developing very basic but well structured sites, viola! the simplest structure i had worked the best.

    the timing couldnt be better as it was in the middle of google releasing its various animal updates, i even tested and sent a top ranking site into oblivion, now its back, was surprised to see it again but a total rebuild worked using very basic SEO principals.

    no wordpress site or enhancements etc……straight code and good content, not even a backlink and especially ‘NO jQuery circus tricks’.

    @kevin, with the mobile side of things, try going ‘responsive’ as a good responsive layout will take care of the mobile issue with SEO and menu systems.

    my suggestion is to start simple….like above

    avatar milwaukee says:

    Are you ever going to fix the ability to comment from mobile? Its a real pain to type out a big response on this tiny keyboard and then have it give an error message.

    avatar kai says:

    You definitely nailed that! Proper site architecture is very essential if all your SEO efforts are to be realised.

    avatar BlokeToys says:

    I learned this the hard way too. I had several blogs all doing very well, but the shop was stuck in a static low traffic position no matter how much SEO and linking was done.

    Length and quality of content was the same across all sites, and although the platforms were different the biggest difference was site structure.

    Of course, with WP it’s pretty straightforward, and you can change this straight away. So I adapted the shop to have a similar structure (forcing the automatic structure to change) and suddenly things began to improve.

    This really should be one of the first things considered for poor traffic sites when there is a problem that isn’t easy to spot. It took me months to work out this was what was happening.

    Good article, very worth the read for everyone!

    Good tips! I didn’t know about the “bad to link between silos” and “add ‘nofollow’ to your footer links” techniques. Seems I have some work to do this morning! Thank you!


    avatar Jere says:

    I’ve been doing SEO since before it had a name, before Google and Yahoo existed. The use of rel=”nofollow” on internal links is (sorry Joseph!) not a good idea, IMHO. Every link drains away link juice, whether it is rel=”nofollow” or not. So why drain link juice through links at the bottom of every page to relatively unimportant pages like the site map and privacy policy? Set up your sitemap as the 404 default page (but be sure to return a 404 error when you do) and link to it from the bottom of the home page only. (Just the one link in the site to it.) Put a link to the privacy policy from any forms you have. Otherwise you’re just wasting PageRank with these links on every page!

    avatar Barb says:

    Do more research before making changes to your site. Find out what others are saying on the subject then decide.

    avatar SYED says:

    I am glad somebody wrote about The structure kind of thing for SEO, most of the kids for so called SEO are link builders.

    I wish you had added Page Weight. because i am dealing with such thing right now. SO much java script that it is impossible for the page to load think about the Crawelers.

    avatar Dana Tan says:

    I really wish as SEOs we could start using more professional terms. I think when we throw around terms like “link juice” people just look at us like “What the hell are you talking about?”

    I have yet to run into a CEO who is going to give me any budget at all because I am proposing improvements to our “link juice.”

    How about “Page Authority” instead? If we want to be respected and valued as SEOs we need to start putting our heads (and language) into the real business world and be able to prove real value (i.e. bottom line ROI). No CEO in the world is going to approve a plan to improve a site’s architecture based on improving “link juice.”

    avatar Barb says:

    Absolutely agree, Dana. The term sounds so very unprofessional. Another term I like is “credible links.”

    Great overview. On CMS platforms like WordPress its easy to let the number of on page links get too large when using things like tag clouds or recent post widgets. Be sure you are always manually limiting these widgest and using no follow tages. I even recommend using a no index tag on your tag pages. Thanks for sharing!

    Some webmasters and SEO professionals fail to consider the importance of proper site architecture which goes hand-in-hand with site usability.

    Website design should be intuitive and the required info should be available within three clicks.

    avatar Ashish says:

    Very well written article. Site navigation architecture is the most important factor. It should be based on common sense and usability principles, after all websites are made for human being not just for search engine boats.

    avatar Match Income says:

    what is the disadvantage if we make footer links as a dofollow link? you mentioned Footer links should be tagged with “no follow” so you aren’t sending these pages any link juice.

    secondly @kevin I TOTALLY agree with would be going to more than 2 levels of navigation especially in the light of mobile devices. it gives benift to your site

    avatar Marco says:

    Excellent article! When developing my site, I threw out all the text books on navigation architecture and used common sense to guide me through the process. Starting simply and building a navigational hierarchy around a multi-faceted retail proposition is possibly the most important variable but it requires continual tweaking.

    avatar Gabrielle F says:

    Site architecture is a great way to get index and get those ranking especial for the new sites. Google wants structured sites and those are the ones that gets easily indexed and ranked. Thanks for sharing these tips.

    avatar brad says:

    What are your thoughts on creating new pages just to create more content? For example making a page for Toronto Car Insurance Quotes and Ottawa Car Insurance Quotes.

    […] Proper Site Architecture for SEO by Joseph Pracci […]

    Great article.. thank you very much to sharing.

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