Site structure is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of SEO. Whether you’re redesigning a new website, or your looking for an SEO boost, creating a site structure can be a tricky task for e-commerce websites no matter how big the website is. In this article, I share my thoughts on how to best optimize your website structure to rank well in Google search engine results.
The Basics of E-Commerce Site Structure
Before we go any further, here is a list of common pages that typically exist on an
- Category Pages – high-level department pages that are common on very big sites
- Subcategory Pages – pages underneath the category pages that help navigate users to browse pages
- Browse Pages – these are pages that focus on one/product or service
- Product (PDP) pages – these are the individual products or services you offer
Here is where these pages are located within the structure of an e-commerce website:
If you’ve browsed any e-commerce website, it will loosely follow this structure – mainly because it provides the best user experience for e-commerce websites.
It brings plenty of SEO benefits too. It provides better site crawling for Google bot and other crawlers, meaning better and faster indexing of pages on your website. It also is great to flow “page authority” from your strongest page (your homepage) down to your weakest pages (PDP pages). Pages like category pages get more authority because they are one step away from the homepage, and they are internally linked to from other pages on the site, including the pages below it.
Determining Your Site Structure
When determining your site structure, it’s best to keep your site structure “shallow”. What that means is fewer levels and more pages within each level. Try to keep every page at least 2-3 clicks from your homepage. Here’s a visual comparison of “shallow” structure vs. a “narrow structure”:
Shallow structures provide better authority flow to pages. If you follow a “narrow” structure, you risk burying more important SEO pages down in your website – and when that happens, you’re not putting that page in the best position to rank well.
Scale # of Pages to Your Domain Authority
The idea of link juice is that page authority can flow from one page to another. With sites that are high domain authority, a larger site with a lot of pages makes sense because, with good internal linking, there’s more authority to flow through more pages. With smaller businesses, particularly with newer websites, a site’s authority won’t be as high. In that case, a smaller, simpler site structure will be best because it won’t dilute the authority. Keep in mind: as your business grows, you can create a bigger site structure.
Select Your “Category Pages”
Obviously, category pages play a major role in UX. They are the first step in helping users navigate to what they want to find. But in terms of SEO, your category pages ideally should have a high amount of search volume among all of your pages. Remember, category pages are listed on your header navigation, meaning it will be linked to a lot.
Determine how “Subcategory” Pages Factor into Navigation
As mentioned, you should try to keep the number of “levels” in your navigation to a minimum – especially if you’re a smaller website. Subcategory pages can have a lot to do with this. You should try to understand if you (1) need subcategory pages and (2) how many levels of subcategory pages are needed. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Search Intent: for searchers, if they type in a keyword, would they expect to see a product, or would they expect to see a page that helps them navigate to other products.
- Navigation: for those that rely on navigation, does it make sense to have a category page and then a subcategory page?
Search intent is something to keep in mind for SEO – this is matching what the intent of a search is to what the user is expecting to see upon arriving
Determining Your Head Navigation
The header navigation is important because it is included, and therefore linked to by just about every page. As mentioned, category pages will be included in your header navigation – but in addition to that, you should consider your drop down menus in the top navigation. Obviously, there are UX factors that should be involved when determining drop down top navigation, but here’s what to look for in SEO pages.
Determine Your “Money” Pages
“SEO Money pages” could be a category, sub-category or browse page. These pages should be linked to as much as possible from other pages on your website. Here are questions to ask to determine which pages are your “SEO money pages”:
- Pages that have high search volume
- Pages that incorporate access to a lot of products/service
- Pages that have high purchase rates or bring in a lot of revenue
Include “Money” Pages in Top Navigation & Demote Pages With No SEO Value
This sample sitemap below illustrates a more expansive sitemap, where pages are cross-linked from other category page paths and deep-linked from parent pages in the same page path.
With cross-linking and deep-linking, we get
If you remove the pages in the top diagram not linked to the homepage, then we have our total “top navigation”. You’ll see the “header navigation” (the category pages) and the “money” pages established are in the header drop down.
You can see we have a mix of popular browse pages, subcategory pages and, of course, category pages. To bring this idea to life, we can use Dick’s Sporting Goods as an example. They practice a shallow site structure by including many browse pages in their top navigation’s fly-out menu.
When you click on some of these pages, you’ll learn how category/subcategory pages work. In this example, I clicked on “men’s footwear” (a subcategory page), and then clicked on “men’s cleats” which was a browse page.
I encourage you to click around to see how the category, subcategory and browse pages are laid out on their site.
Try it for Yourself:
It’s important for SEO to consider your site structure, but it’s also just as important to balance this with your site’s user experience. Every change you make to your navigation should be supported by user flow data from Google Analytics or other platforms. As long as these changes make sense for both UX and SEO, you’ll see an increase in keyword rankings and SEO traffic to your e-commerce website.
Hopefully these tips are helpful in designing or redesigning your website! Feel free to reach out with questions or comments on this. Happy to help.