When people think of SEO they think of keywords, but your site’s information architecture (IA) – also known as site structure or taxonomy – is also an important element in how search engines read and understand your site.
Site structure is more important than you think. A bad IA can not only hinder user experience (UX), but can also hinder a search engine’s ability to understand your business and deliver your content to the right searchers.
Here are five IA mistakes that can damage your site’s search rankings:
- All of your products or services on one page
Let’s start with the most common killer: putting all of your products or services on one page. Just say NO to the “Our Products & Services” page.
Why is this? It’s because search engines wants to send searchers to the best answer for their query. So, using the example above, when someone looks up “rebar threading”, a search engine is going to give the highest rank to a page that is clearly about rebar threading.
Putting all of your products or services on one page makes the concept of the page way too muddled for a search engine to understand. When there are too many ideas on one page, a search engine can’t assign a primary “topic” or idea to that page.
Nobody searches Google for “services” or “products”, so get specific. Create a separate page for every single product and service that you offer and optimize each page thoroughly for keywords related to its primary topic (product or service).
SEO TIP: Create a separate page for every product and service that your company offers.
- Unclear or corporate language used in folder structure
I worked with a large financial firm as a client who had a news and information website for small business owners. Rather than using traditional titles for their nav categories, they organized the site under Start (for “starting your business”), Run (for “run your business”) and Grow (for “grow your business.”In the discussion phases, I’m sure this sounded like a clever way to organize your website, but it’s horrible from an SEO standpoint. Neither a search engine nor a customer will be able to understand a URL structured like this: financialwebsite.com/run/small-business-bookkeeping-secrets.This type of site structure presumes that a visitor has entered your website through the homepage and then decided to follow the structured path that you have created for them. The truth is that most visitors will not come through your homepage; they will come in through lower-level pages that are found through links, social media and search.
That being the case, you want a visitor or web crawler to be able to look at any page’s URL and understand the structure of the site and how that relates to your business. Using the previous example, a better URL might be: financialwebsite.com/blog/accounting/small-business-bookkeeping-secrets.
- Subdomains instead of subfolders
Subdomains do have a place and purpose. Creating a subdomain on your website for a completely separate brand or concept is infinitely better than creating multiple separate websites/domains (which can actually be harmful to SEO).For example, Amazon’s charitable site is https://smile.amazon.com/. Amazon put this in a subdomain to separate the charity concept from the main site. By keeping it in the amazon.com domain, however, the main site still benefits from the links to that subdomain. This would not have happened if they had built a new domain called something like amazoncares.com.Other instances when subdomains are valid options include temporary promotions. Sometimes you may want to create a sort of microsite and host it on “contest.website.com” so that it can be easily removed when the contest is over.
That said, subdomains should rarely be your go-to. Typically, a subfolder (or subdirectory) structure is much better for users and for SEO.
One reason is usability/UX. When you host related content on two subdomains, you will likely be jumping users back and forth between them, because there is not enough separation in business units to justify the subdomain.
So if you have widgets.boltco.com and sprockets.boltco.com, a customer who needs widgets and sprockets will have to jump in and out of subdomains, which likely have separate navigation structures. This is a poor use of subdomains and your brand and customers would be better served by using subfolders like boltco.com/products/widgets and boltco.com/products/sprockets.
The second problem with subdomains is that there is a danger that a search engine will view a subdomain as a totally separate website. Andy Eliason of SEO.com wrote a good article about SEO and subdomains that looks much more deeply into the issues. He notes:
“ When you separate your website and blog, it creates two separate entities that need your attention. And now, with things like “time on site” and “bounce rate” contributing to your website rankings, you can’t let users spend their time on pages that Google sees as a different domain
“What this means in practical terms is that:
Any pages on your subdomain won’t add to your total indexed pages for a site. Google is looking at how much you expand and enrich your content, and splitting your blog will make it appear as though your website is totally static while the subdomain is getting more attention.
All the inbound links that well written blogs naturally attract will not contribute any value to your website. So all your work won’t contribute to your rankings like it could.”
- Too many items off of root domain
A clear, hierarchical folder structure helps a search crawler make sense of your business via your website. I have run across many websites that lack a clearly defined path through the website.For example, Accenture offers a service under their “technology consulting” banner called “blockchain financial services.” The logical folder structure and URL for this would be https://www.accenture.com/us-en/services/technology-consulting/ blockchain-financial-services.This structure would allow a web crawler to, in essence, say, “I understand that this business provides services. One section of services involves technology consulting. This page addresses one of those technology consulting services, specifically blockchain offering for financial services.”
On their site, however, the URL is https://www.accenture.com/us-en/service-blockchain-financial-services. there is no clear path for a search crawler or user to follow to better understand this business.
Ricoh USA had the same issue. Prior to our work together, Ricoh used URLs like this: https://www.ricoh-usa.com/en/products/pd/docuware/_/R-DWCL10-PS1. After the “products” level, there is no further structure to build context.
Let’s compare this to Ricoh USA’s revised folder structure:
https://www.ricoh-usa.com/en/products/pd/software/document-management/workflow-management/docuware/_/R-DWCL10-PS1. This new structure is much more informative and sensible for a crawler or a human and creates a much richer description of the page.
SEO Tip: A deeper folder structure helps search crawlers understand your website. Another bonus feature of a good folder structure is that users know that they can step back one level in the URL structure to see a broader category. It’s good UX.
Parallax/one page sites
Woof! Parallax scrolling sites are a stake in the heart of your SEO. The worst of the worst.
While they have decreased in popularity, I can personally attest to the fact that these sites are still being developed, by major agencies no less!
Much like cramming all of your products and services into one page, a parallax site looks like one big page to a search crawler. Therefore, it is going to be hard for a site like this to rank for anything; there are simply too many ideas crammed into one page. Build your website in a traditional structure to avoid killing search.
Structure Your Site for Success
Good information architecture will go a long way in building human and machine understanding of your site and your business. SEO isn’t just words; you have to pay attention to every element of your website to ensure success in search. Start your SEO house with a solid foundation: a site structure that supports, informs and encourages crawl.