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Tom Howlett

How to Determine the Strengths and Weaknesses of Your Website’s Architecture

16th Jan 2012 Analytics, Usability | No Comments


ArchitectureThe architecture of a website is an integral part of creating a quality site that is user and search engine friendly. You should consider the architecture from the very beginning, identifying how the user and search engine will navigate your pages. Users want a clean, simple to use interface and to be able to easily find what they are looking for. Search engines like to experience concise and well structured code, a clear navigation and pages where the subject is easily identifiable.

You may find yourself in a position where you already have website and the architecture was not given as much attention as it should have. Or maybe website best practises and trends have moved on and you want to focus on improving or modernising the current version. This post aims to talk you through ways to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your current website architecture and focuses on the best practises.

The Navigation

One of the most important elements of your website, a simple and well thought out navigation enables users to easily find their way around the website which then means that they are much more likely to stay. The navigation should also be well placed, usually along the top or on the left hand side of the website.

The main navigation should contain a link to all the top level pages on the site (typically the important pages); this will help users easily navigate to any of these pages to find what they are looking for. The top level navigation usually includes links to the following pages (depending on the type and focus of the site):

  • Home page
  • Main service/product pages
  • About page
  • Blog (if it exists)
  • Contact page

If your website contains more pages than you can physically fit on the main navigation, you will then need to involve the use of drop down menus or sub navigations on certain pages (product pages are a good example of this).

A Sitemap page is a good page to have on the site. Linked from each page, this page contains a list of each important page of the website (sometimes all pages when your site has up to 100 pages, many more would seem excessive). This provides a good way for users to find specific pages and to improve the chances of each page being indexed within the search engines. This also solves the problem of the 3-click rule, ensuring no page is more than three clicks from the Home page.

To help you develop your navigation or to spot potential issues within your navigation, it is recommended that you consider the following:

  • Is your main navigation prominently placed and easy to use?
  • Does it contain links to all the top level and important pages?
  • Would a user be able to easily find the information they are looking for by using the navigation, even if they may have to use a sub-navigation eventually?
  • Does your site have a Sitemap page and would it benefit from having one?

The Pages

Start by looking at the pages that exist on the site, if you are building a new website think about the pages you want to include. It is best not to complicate things, so identify the different sections of your website. These could be separated by topic or product type or similar. Think of the website as a tier, you have the top level pages including the Home page, the About Us page and possibly a Blog. You will then have your category pages followed by child pages (for example a category page could be ‘Men’s Trainers’, a child page within that category could include ‘Men’s Nike Trainers’ or similar).

To identify issues with the way your current pages are structured, ask yourself whether the current navigation is clear enough for a user to find their way around easily. Is there a clear structure to the website and is the pattern used for designing the layout of the navigation used for each of the categories? Are there any pages that are more than three clicks away from the Home page (a website guideline for best practise, this is not always possible but should be kept to a minimum).

If you feel as though the structure of your website needs improving, follow these steps (also a useful guide if you are building a new website):

  • Write down a list of current pages and/or pages you want included.
  • Identify the top level pages which are likely to be linked to from each page.
  • Identify category pages if applicable.
  • Try and fit the child pages underneath the category pages.

A good way to determine the category and child pages you might need is to perform keyword research within the different areas and form a structure based on that. This will help identify relevant and achievable keywords to target on each of your pages right from the start so you can begin to build upon this base.

Page Content

Each individual page should contain unique content which is relevant to the target keywords. On top of this, careful consideration should be taken when deciding what other pages you are going to link to from each page. Firstly you will probably want to link to the top level pages within the main navigation which should appear on each page of the site. Here are some other important considerations and best practises:

  • The top level pages should provide an easy route to the main category pages.
  • Sometimes websites will link to popular product/service pages from a top level page (even the Home page).
  • When someone is navigating a ‘category’, it is often good to link to all the other pages in the category or at least all the relevant pages.
  • You could link to closely related products or services on child pages. For example a Blog could link to related posts and an Ecommerce site could link to similar products.
  • A Sitemap page should be developed to contain a list of the pages and categories of the site to make it easy for browsing.
  • Avoid duplication if your site is likely to have a number of pages with very similar content, try and fit the information in one page. An example would be an Ecommerce website with very similar products or same products of a different colour. In this example it would be better to have one page that contains all of the possible colour options.
  • For larger sites it is a good idea to provide a way for a user to backtrack. This could take the form of breadcrumb links where a user can return to the category page they were at before. Alternatively you could have filterable results which can revert to the previous options.

Identifying Weak Pages

How can you identify weak pages if you already have a live site and are looking to make improvements? Here are some different methods:

If you have Google Analytics, you are able to identify weak pages using the Bounce Rate statistics or pages that do not generate much in terms of visitors. Once you have a list of pages consider the following:

  • Would users have trouble finding the page?
  • Check whether the page is indexed from within the search engines.
  • Does the page do what it says on the tin? Meaning does the navigation and page Meta suggest the page is about something it is not?
  • Does the page in question contain too much information, meaning that a user might have trouble finding the what they’re looking for? It would be better to have more pages to spread the information across if this is the case.

Check to see if each page is indexed within the search engines. If a page is not being indexed, check the following:

  • This could be an issue with the Robots.txt file, blocking the problem page so it is worth checking this first and foremost.
  • If it isn’t the above it could be a problem where the page is quite deep within the site structure, so deep that the search engine bots haven’t crawled the page. If this may be the case, try bringing the page forward from within the page structure of the site and think about improving the overall structure (see navigation tips above).

If you are targeting low competition or even long tail keywords and seeing low ranking positions, this could identify a problem if you feel you should rank for those terms. Here are some things you can check to help with this issue:

  • Make sure the page is linked to within the main navigation or a sub-navigation.
  • Improve the number of links to the page from within the site. This could include naturally occurring text within the content of other pages or links to ‘similar pages’ etc.
  • Ensure the page includes a reasonable level of quality, unique content which is relevant to the target keywords on the page.

Structure and Layout

The structure and layout of the site is a key element to keeping visitors on the site and creating a positive user experience. Firstly you want to identify a visual identity for the website and use this for all pages on the site, this will ensure that a visitor won’t return to the site and feel like they might be in the wrong place.

The site logo and main navigation should be in a prominent position ‘above the fold’. Typically the logo doubles up as a link which takes users back to the Home page of the site for a better experience.

The navigation for the website usually lies across the top of the page or down the left hand side. Although this is not essential and may not work with certain website designs, we recommend following this method as it creates a much more natural browsing experience.

The content of the page should fit within a set area on each page, changing this too much can disrupt the flow of the site. Try creating an area of the same thickness that is used for the main content and text areas.

The text used on each page should be consistent; it is recommended that the same font and size is used throughout for each element.

Site footer is a good place to contain links to important pages and usually the Sitemap page. This can help users to find certain pages and important information such as the site terms and conditions and privacy policy for example.

Call to Action’s

The calls to action on the site are an important consideration when developing or evaluating a website. Whatever the subject of the website, there is always a primary goal for it to achieve its primary purpose; whether that is to get visitors to purchase something, subscribe, register or become a regular visitor. Each call to action should be prominently placed, clear and persuasive.

For best practise, place the call to action above the fold. You will want to catch the attention of a visitor without them having to scroll down the page first; this will prevent losing any potential customers.

Split Testing

For each of the elements discussed, split testing can enable you to compare various layouts and options side by side to find the better performer. This helps you establish what you can improve upon. Using an Analytics package such as Google Analytics will help you measure values such as the number of visitors, the bounce rate, the amount of time spent on the site and more for split testing.

I would like to stress that some of the recommendations may not be relevant for all websites as this post attempts to give an introduction/overview on website architecture, not specific to any type of site.

Image Source

Architectural plans and blueprints in office via BigStock

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Tom Howlett About the author

Tom Howlett

If you’re looking for information on Link Building then read Tom Howlett’s posts. Tom has a specialist insight into link building strategies designed to improve website’s visibility and ranking. He will help you become a master in finding new link sources.

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