Having an organized website structure is incredibly essential for search engine optimization (SEO). Yet, it’s an often overlooked aspect by many SEOs.
While it may not seem like it, information architecture (IA) can improve your website’s discoverability through search engines and at the same time, ensure that your site has good user engagement.
In 2020, Google’s John Muller hinted that a hierarchical site architecture could provide Google with better indicators of what the pages on your website mean and how each page is related to and connected to the other.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
What is Information Architecture?
Call it website structure or site architecture, information architecture (IA) is how you label and structure the content on your website in order to ensure its optimal usability and discoverability.
It’s all about organizing the often complex sets of information in a website into a comprehensible and ordered structure.
When done right, IA helps users easily find information on your site and can have a substantial impact on website content organization and navigation.
When it comes to user experience, the information architecture of your website helps make information readily available and easily understood by your users in the most effective way.
Now that you know what information architecture is, it’s time to explore the impact of IA on your site’s SEO.
How Does Information Architecture Affect SEO?
Let’s face it.
Websites with an effective and organized site structure perform better and rank higher in search results.
Ask any SEO expert the secrets of making a website or web page visible to search engines organically and you’re sure to hear things like proper keyword usage, using alt texts in images, backlinking, etc.
While all these will help you rank higher in the SERPs (search engine results pages), the logical organization of content on your site can give you a real boost.
IA and SEO go hand in hand. They both help improve how users and search engines find their way around your website.
Great site architecture is about giving your users the most relevant content where they expect to find it without making it hard for them. For search engines, it helps crawlers easily find and index the different pages on your website.
Back to the question of the day: “how does information architecture affect SEO?”
1. Improves website crawlability
Simply put, crawlability is the ability for search engines to crawl through your website’s entire text content to figure out what your website is all about.
During this process, the search engine bots navigate through the different subpages and topics on your site to understand the website as a whole.
Good information architecture ensures that there are no dead ends when the bots crawl through your website.
For one thing, poor crawlability sends a negative signal to search engines like Google; that your website is hard to navigate. And because search engines try to make users’ searchers as painless as possible, they’ll simply not rank your site high in the SERPs.
Adding breadcrumbs, structured data, and schema to your website will help make your site easily crawlable.
Another tip is to ensure that you include internal links on every page of your website. This way, users and search bots can easily move from one part of your website to another, which improves both the user experience and searchability of your site.
Internal linking helps users and search engines to discover a page and also provides a better flow between content and pages on your website.
Here’s the thing, pages that are not linked are harder for search engines to crawl.
At times, improper internal linking can wreak havoc on your site structure. Try using keywords within your content and linking them to other relevant pieces of content across your site.
2. Enhances navigation & user experience
Truth is, no one wants to waste their time on a website where they’re unsure what to do or where to go next. If a user is unable to find the information they’re looking for, they’ll leave right away and this could only mean one thing: bad user experience.
It’s a no-brainer that bad user experience hurts SEO.
Once the search bots return negative user experience statistics to Google and other search engines, it’s an indication that the website may not be the most relevant or useful for a certain query.
If your site’s user experience is bad, visitors click almost immediately away from your website which increases your bounce rate. You’ll also notice a poor CTR (click-through rate) as users can’t figure out where to click next to get the information they need.
A good site structure ensures that your website has better CTRs, low bounce rates, and short load times, which helps you perform better in search results.
3. Reduces bounce rate
Bounce rate is the number of visitors to any given website who navigate away from the site after viewing a web page on the website.
When users visit a website, they’re looking for solutions to a specific problem they’re facing. If they can’t find it, they leave immediately and continue their search on other websites. Clicking away from a website almost immediately increases your bounce rate and is an indication to search engines that your website doesn’t offer useful information to the user.
Today, the goal of SEO experts is not limited to having just higher rankings but also to make sure visitors stay longer on a website and consume its content.
Good information architecture helps SEOs achieve this goal. When your website has a good structure (organized content), it makes it easier for users to find information and they get to stay longer on your website, thereby reducing your bounce rate.
And this is a good signal to search engines like Google to rate your site as relevant and rank you high in the SERPs.
4. Helps search engines display site links
For starters, site links are a list of the most-visited web pages of a website that appear along with the target page whenever a user searches for your website on search engines.
This is how a typical site link looks:
Having site links increases your brand’s reputation and improves trust among your customers. But it’s much more than that.
Sitelinks make it easy for users and search engines to navigate your website, direct users to the most useful information on your site, increases your CTR, and helps you dominate the SERPs.
And search engines often decide which links become part of site links on your website and your information architecture has a significant role to play here.
For one thing, good IA makes it easy for search engines to understand the structure of your website, and the search engine’s algorithm will reward your site with site links and increase your findability.
How to Create Better Site Structure with IA
When your information architecture is good, your SEO shines.
Here are some techniques you can use to create a better site structure and improve your website’s SEO-friendliness.
1. Define information relationships
Websites are created for users; when you create your website, you want to have an information architecture that is focused on users. The logical structure of your navigation and individual pages should be in line with the mental model of people who visit your site.
It’s vital to invest in user research and conduct several card sorting and tree-testing sessions to understand how users categorize information.
Properly-conducted user research will provide a lot of valuable insights for information architecture planning. Those insights can help you organize your content on individual pages and establish connections between pages to ensure users can find what they’re looking for efficiently.
When building your information architecture, you can create information relationships through cross-linking. Visitors may have what they are looking for in mind, but a proposal from you may be more helpful. Cross-links serve as proposals to get additional information related to what you have to offer.
2. Provide information in context
Information is best understood in context. When building your website content, provide all necessary information to make sure users can complete tasks without getting confused along the way.
For example, if you design an e-commerce website for skincare products, you can provide a section with frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the products. This way, you make your page more valuable for your visitors and reduce the interaction cost. This will present visitors with exact and extra information on what they are looking for.
3. Remove duplicate content
Duplicate content is no doubt harmful to SEO because Google interprets it as spam. When content is repeated often, it makes your visitors less happy and search engines too uncomfortable.
Duplicated information on your website is also known to annoy visitors and push them away from your site. The more they leave, the higher your bounce rate, and subsequently, the lower your rank.
It’s important to conduct a content audit and identify places where you have the same or similar content. Tools like Google’s Search Console, Copyscape, and Siteliner are useful for finding and eliminating duplicate content on your website.
It’s a good practice to create a site structure that will clearly define your website’s various page levels, priorities, categories, and hierarchies. Combine all related content onto a single page, and every time you want to create a new page, appraise it according to this structure.
Do you already have a page that serves the same purpose? Just don’t create another one. The lower the number of repeated information on your website, the more valuable your website becomes to visitors and search engines – they both play a great role in your ranking.
4. Flatten your website architecture
A flat architecture means that users or search engine crawlers can reach any page on your website in 3 clicks or less. “Flat” site architecture is better for SEO because it helps to minimize the number of clicks from the home page to important content on your site.
The three-click rule holds that a user of a website should be able to find any information with no more than three mouse clicks.
While industry experts often criticize this rule, one thing you should keep in mind is that search engines use site architecture to understand what pages are most important. A page that is just one click away from the home page is important. A page that is six or more clicks away is less important.
Truth is, the search engine bot may never even find a page that is ten clicks away from the homepage if you have low site link authority. The pages that are not seen will obviously not be ranked. You will only be lucky to have a visitor find that information. That’s the very patient visitors.
5. Build a sitemap
Sitemaps tell search engine bots where to find what on your website. Submitting an XML sitemap to search engines is an important part of information architecture.
It helps crawlers easily find information on your website and recommend it to users. Creating a sitemap is especially resourceful for content-heavy sites with so many different pages because sitemaps help search engines locate pages faster.
Here’s how to submit a sitemap:
- Decide which pages on your website should be crawled by search engines and determine the canonical version of each page.
- Decide which sitemap format you want to use for your website. You can create your sitemap manually or choose from a number of third-party tools to generate a unique sitemap for your site
- Make your sitemap available to search engines by adding it to your robots.txt file or submit it directly to search engine consoles.
Ready to Improve Your Information Architecture?
For decades, site architecture was overlooked as a factor affecting SEO.
Today, it’s evident that good information architecture has a significant role to play in your website’s SEO endeavors.
However, the idea is not to choose between good information architecture and SEO. It is to do both. And you need both to rank high in the SERPs.
While SEO will bring visitors to your site, your IA will keep them around and entice them to take action.
Over to you!
Is your information architecture hurting or helping your SEO? Let us know by leaving a comment below.