Structure is important. In a house, structure ensures the walls don’t collapse while you’re sleeping. In a business, structure guarantees that work gets done and profits are made. Finally, in a website, structure allows users big and small to learn, enjoy, and buy without becoming confused or frustrated.
Good website structure isn’t obvious; in fact, the less your website visitors notice your site’s structure, the better. Unfortunately, this fact makes it difficult for new web developers to recognize when their structure isn’t working well. This handy guide will help you determine whether your structure is suiting your site’s needs ― and tell you what to do if it isn’t.
Signs Your Structure Needs Work
Bad websites are inarguably bad: They have poor color schemes, annoying features, and cheesy images, and worst of all, bad websites lack good structure. Unfortunately, even if your site doesn’t have those first three requirements ― that is, even if it boasts the look of a polished, high-end website ― it might still have a poor structure that prevents users from finding the information they want.
You should dig deeper to determine whether your structure needs help. These four signs are significant symptoms of weak structure:
- You try to accomplish multiple goals on one page. There is no reason to be economical on the web. When too many messages appear on a single page, your visitors will get confused and leave.
- You name pages and sections inappropriately. Using jargon alienates the majority of web users; using long names is boring and inconvenient; and being inconsistent in your naming convention is confusing.
- You hide your content. Forcing users to use an integral search bar to find your content is like asking them to leave. You want visitors to stay and browse, and failing to provide sufficient links prevents this. They need to be able to easily find anything without having to jump through hoops.
- You never test your structure. Perhaps the number-one sign that your site’s structure is lacking is the fact that you’ve never once tested it. Intuition is not an effective tool for generating online success.
Why Good Structure Matters
The task of building your site’s structure to make it more effective may seem daunting, but the endeavor is endlessly worthwhile. Though you might be tempted to leave your site’s architecture to third-party web designers, the truth is only you know your business well enough to effectively plan for its website structure.
You are better off using a D.I.Y. website template and having complete control over your site’s architecture. This way you can be sure that everything is exactly as you need it and that if you discover any issue or wish to add new pages later, you will have the power to make the changes yourself.
By building your own website and developing the site structure appropriate for your business, you will gain two significant advantages:
- Indexing. Good structure allows search engines to find all of your website’s pages and catalogue them properly. Then, internal pages can appear on search engines’ results, helping you gain more visitors (and potential customers).
- Usability. Ultimately, you are building your website not for search engines but for flesh-and-blood web users. It just so happens that effective structure is best for both. Websites with good structure decrease the number of clicks users must make to find the information they want, which means there is a lower chance of them navigating away and taking their business elsewhere. If it takes more than a few clicks to get anywhere, potential customers will leave.
How to Build Good Structure
The best time to plan a site’s structure is at the very beginning ― just after you secure your domain name but before you start imagining individual pages. Of course, it is possible to restructure a live website, but it takes more effort to move around existing content than put it in the right place at the start. Still, the steps of giving your website good site structure remain the same:
- Plan the hierarchy. Start with pen and paper (or marker and whiteboard) and draw a hierarchy chart of your main pages and subpages. Your hierarchy should be logical and balanced, and you should avoid drawing more than seven main categories.
- Match URLs to the hierarchy. Your URL structure matters as much as the links on your pages, and to get the most SEO from your URLs, you should ensure each page has a URL that follows the site’s planned pattern and includes appropriate keyword phrases.
- Keep important pages shallow. A shallow website is a good thing. You want users to be able to reach any page with three or fewer clicks, which means you don’t need a deep hierarchy that buries your important information.
- Use internal links logically. Every page on your website should have links to and from other pages on your website. Not only does this help make your website shallow; it helps search engines determine the most important pages.
- List main pages on your website header. Subpages can appear on drop-down menus or other effects, but your visitors only need access to your main categories when your structure is good.