By Deborah Kurfiss, Umbrella Content Marketing Director on Sep 1, 2023
Today, the most important calling card for most businesses is its website. It’s where users go to find information, get support, and often buy products and services. What are its critical components? Content, branding and design are all important, but the underpinning for everything is good website architecture.
Website architecture lays the foundation for a site’s performance, user experience and overall success. It includes navigation, hierarchy of pages, how pages fit with each other and how they are strategically linked.
The last thing you want is customers floundering about on your client’s website, unable to find what they need. Good architecture enables you to lead people easily to what’s important to them, giving them a positive experience. You could have the most fabulous content in the world, but it’s not going to do any good if people can’t find it.
Without good website architecture, people become frustrated trying to find where they need to go. That frustration usually translates into high bounce rates, bounce rate being the percentage of people who leave a site after only visiting one page. People don’t have patience to dig around looking for what they want. This is a big reason that the average bounce rate is between 41% and 55%, If a website isn’t easy to use and navigate, you’re going to lose your audience and lose them quickly.
But it’s not like people leave a frustrating site and come back later.Today’s customers expect a positive website experience, and if they don’t get one, 88% of them never return to that site. A good user experience is pivotal to increasing customer engagement and sales for many businesses today.
In addition to giving a positive user experience, good website architecture is a key factor in increasing site rankings on Google and other search engines. It helps search engines find your client’s site and crawl it for relevant information. A site without good website architecture is going to get terrible search engine rankings if search engines find the site at all.
Google has made it clear that their top priority for their search results pages is serving up websites that are helpful to users and give them positive experiences. And a very big part of that involves customers quickly and effortlessly finding what they need on a website. After all, people use Google to find sites that provide them with the information they need.
Good website architecture does not just happen. Below are some of the most important strategic best practices.
You need to know what your client’s competition is doing, but that doesn’t mean you should copy them mindlessly. Use the good, discard the bad and make improvements where you can. But bear in mind that if there are some very big players in your client’s field, there’s a good chance that your client’s prospects may already be familiar with those sites and how they are organized.
You don’t want to recreate the wheel when developing website architecture. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for visitors to use the site while also gently leading them to where your client wants them to go. So if you think your client’s audience is already familiar and comfortable with the architecture from a big player website, you may want to follow it where that makes sense.
Keep your top level navigation simple and intuitive. If you crowd too many items into your top level navigation, you are only going to confuse your audience. They might miss what they want to find all together, because people tend to look quickly.
Under each top level menu item, put submenu items that are logically related. Don’t try to be too clever.
Uniformity and consistency applies to everything about your client’s website not just navigation. When people visit a site, they expect navigation to be in the same place and work the same way as they travel through the site. Colors and formatting can suggest different parts or levels of the site, but should be part of a harmonious whole. Users should be able to recognize and become comfortable with patterns throughout the site.
Of course you won’t list all your pages in top level navigation, but users should be able to reach any page within four clicks from the home page. Fewer clicks are even better.
For example, if your client company is large, their blog might be listed as a submenu item under the top level navigation Resources. Clicking on “Blog” will take visitor to a page that features recent blog posts. From that page they can typically click on one of those recent posts, do a search for an older post or click directly on links to pages that contain older posts.
A pillar page is a parent pages, and cluster pages are related child pages linked to their pillar. Organizing your website content into pillars and clusters makes it easier to for users to find a wealth of information. It’s also great for SEO, because it does the same for search engines.
A primary article about a topic is pillar content. It usually gives an overview and is longer than a lot of other content in order to touch on most of the issues of the topic. It’s typically the first place people go when people are trying to find information on the topic.
Cluster content is content that’s shorter and covers a more specific aspect of the pillar content in more depth. This organization enables users to easily find information in as much detail as they want.
Users can use pillar content to get a good overview on a topic. Once they have that understanding, they can easily explore cluster content for specifics. This helps increase user engagement, increase the time users spend on a site and reduce bounce rate.
It’s important to link a cluster article with its related pillar as well as other cluster articles on the same general topic. These links help indicate the hierarchy of the content to search engines and increase the authority of the pillar pages and the linked cluster pages.
Search engines are programmed to prioritize websites that have complete content that is well-linked for relevance. When you construct a network of pillar and cluster content, it enables you to expand the keywords you use, which of course also boosts SEO.
In other words, linked pillar and cluster content is great for SEO and increasing traffic, and helps visitors enjoy a positive experience once they get to your client’s site.
Though the initial setup of a website is important, good website architecture isn’t entirely a one-time thing. As you write and post pages, keep your URLs short and on-point using keywords. A page’s URL is one of the ways you notify search engines what the page is about in addition to title tag, description and the actual content.
People themselves should also be able to glance at a URL and get a pretty good idea what a page is about. Don’t fill your URLs with irrelevant numbers and gibberish.
A sitemap is your client’s website’s roadmap for search engines and users. It lists all the pages on your website that can be crawled and indexed. Having a sitemap is super crucial for your website’s architecture, and there are two main types: HTML and XML.
Create the HTML sitemap for the website’s visitors. It’s styled just like the rest of your website and usually includes a list of all the pages. Imagine that despite all your efforts, someone can’t easily find the page they’re looking for. They can just head to the HTML sitemap to see a complete list.
On the flip side, we have the XML sitemap. This is for search engines rather than human visitors. An XML sitemap guides search engine crawlers, showing them which pages exist on your site and how they’re connected. And who doesn’t want to invite Google in to see what you’ve got?
There is a lot to building an effective website today that engages visitors, makes information easy to find, is search engine friendly and motivates conversions. It takes strategy as well as coding skills. Consider contacting Umbrella for a free consultation about white label web development and design services. Complete this form or call Umbrella at (866) 760-2638.
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