Site structure is a hugely important, but often overlooked, part of SEO. In this guide I share why site structure is so important and how to optimize your blog’s site structure for SEO.
The chances are that you know your blog like the back of your hand. If you want to read a particular post or look at all the blog posts in a category, you can probably find what you are looking for in a matter of seconds. But the same is not necessarily true for your readers.
Having a good site structure helps your readers find what they are looking for more easily and keeps them on your site longer. Conversely if your site structure is a jumbly mess, your readers are likely to struggle to find what they are looking for and leave.
Not only does having a good site structure helps your readers have a better experience on your site, it also helps search engines crawl your site more efficiently and understand your site better. For this reason, having a good site structure is a crucial part of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and critical to the success of your blog.
Site structure covers things like tags and categories, your menu bar, internal linking, orphaned content, cornerstone content and breadcrumbs. We will cover each of these things in this article. But first, why is having a good site structure is so important for your blog?
(Note: If you are new to SEO, you might find it helpful to read my beginner’s guide to SEO first before reading this article.)
Why site structure is so important
Put simply, the better your site structure, the better your chance of ranking in search engine results. Site structure is critical for SEO success as it helps both your readers AND search engines understand and navigate your site more easily.
How site structure helps readers…
A good site structure helps your readers understand what your blog is all about. It helps them find what they are looking for on your website AND it encourages them to stay longer on your site. In other words, site structure means your readers have a better UX (User eXperience).
UX is a hugely important part of SEO because search engines want to give their users the best results. As I have said before, being the best result is the way you get to number 1 in search results. Part of being that best result is giving your readers a great UX. And a huge part of delivering a great UX is having a well organised, clear and helpful site structure.
How site structure helps search engines…
Not only does having a good site structure help your readers navigate your site more easily, it also helps search engines to find and index your content more quickly and efficiently.
Having a clear site structure also helps search engines understand your content better. The way you structure your site tells search engines what your site is mainly about and where to find the most important content on your site. It also helps you avoid things like duplicate content, poor quality content and content with no links from elsewhere on your site (orphaned content).
Key elements of site structure
Tags and Categories
Tags and categories are different ways to organise your website. Collectively they are called ‘taxonomies’. These taxonomies help both readers and search engines understand the topics your blog covers and helps them find related articles.
Categories are the big main topics you blog about – a bit like chapters in a book. In an ideal world, you should have between 4 and 8 main categories on your site. Each piece of content must fit into one of these main categories.
What’s more, each category should be about the same size. A good rule of thumb is that no category should be more than twice as big as any other category.
Categories can be sub-divided into sub-categories. You don’t HAVE to do this, but if you think that it would make things clearer and more helpful for your readers, then you probably should!
Another good reason for creating sub-categories is if one of your main categories starts to get too big – you can then split that category into subcategories.
Tags are a different way of categorising your content. Unlike categories, you don’t HAVE to use tags. And unlike categories, they are not hierarchical – you can’t have sub-tags!
Whereas I said categories are a bit like the chapters of a book, tags are more like the index page. The point of tags is to group content together that falls into multiple categories.
So, for example, say you have a food blog and your categories are ‘starters’, ‘mains’ and ‘desserts’. Your tags might be things like ‘vegetarian’, ‘vegan’, ‘gluten-free’ and ‘dairy-free’. They could also be things like ‘Mexican’, ‘Italian’, ‘Greek’ and ‘Spanish’.
One mistake people make is assuming that tags are keywords and that by stuffing in as many tags as possible they are going to increase the chances of getting found in search engines.
Sadly, the opposite is true.
If you create lots and lots of tags, you are creating lots and lots of what search engines see as ‘thin content’ pages. Because for every tag you create, a brand new ‘tag archive’ page is created on your site. These are pages that are not very useful to anyone. (If you are an established blogger, think of all those tags that you have that have just one post in them – not great UX!)
What’s worse is that these ‘thin content’ pages are not optimized (unless you have gone in and optimized each and every one – see below for how to do that). These tag archives are essentially diluting your overall SEO. In fact, some bloggers may find they have more tag archive pages than blog posts!
In an ideal world you would have just a few tags, and each tag archive page would be beautifully optimized for search engines. Done correctly, tags can be incredibly powerful for SEO and even rank in their own right in search engine results.
However, we live in the real world and most bloggers have hundreds – if not thousands of unoptimized ‘thin content’ tag archives. If this is you, I have good news – there’s a quick fix!
Head over to my guide to setting up the Yoast SEO plugin correctly and scroll down to the SEARCH APPEARANCE section and number 4 TAXONOMIES. There I show you how to no-index your tags.
Remember you don’t HAVE to use tags, so it doesn’t matter if they are no-indexed. But the benefit of no-indexing your tags is HUGE. You now don’t have a load of un-optimized, ‘thin content’ pages being indexed by search engines and crowding out your ‘real’ content. But you do still have the ability to link to tags and manually index individual tags that you HAVE optimized and DO want to rank in search engines.
Tag and category archives
Every time you create a new category, subcategory or tag. You create a new archive page. On these archive pages you will find all the posts in that category or tag.
For example, on Productive Blogging I have a category ‘SEO tips’. If you navigate to www.productiveblogging.com/category/SEO-tips, you will find all the blog posts in the SEO tips category.
Similarly, if you navigate to www.productiveblogging.com/tag/siteground you will find all the posts I have tagged ‘siteground’.
By default, these archive pages are just a list or grid of posts – no title, no introduction, nothing to help a reader who stumbles across that page to know what on earth they are looking at! Definitely not a great UX.
For best UX, you need to provide your readers with a title and introduction to help the understand what that category (or tag) is all about. What’s more, just like individual posts, these tag and category archive pages need to be optimized for search engines.
How to optimize tag and category archives for search engines
To optimize tags and categories archives for search engines, navigate to POSTS => CATEGORIES and click EDIT on your first category.
Write something that will explain to readers what they are looking at and what kind of posts they should expect to find in that category. If you have a lot of posts in that category, you may like to highlight some of the most popular posts. If it’s quite a technical category, it might be a good idea to tell your reader which posts to start with. If you have a product or a free opt-in relating to this category, this would be a great place to highlight it!
The next thing to do is to go to the Yoast meta box, at the bottom of the page, and write a short meta description for your category (this is what you want search engines to show in the search results).
You might also like to change the SEO title. By default, it will be ‘YOUR CATEGORY NAME Archives’ – which I don’t think looks that great in search results, so I change mine to something more attractive and with better keywords.
For example, I changed my SEO Tips category title from ‘SEO Tips Archives’ to ‘SEO for Bloggers’. Not only does this look better in search results but it is also a better keyword – no-one is going to be typing ‘SEO Tips Archive’ into Google, but tons of my target audience for this category (bloggers who want to know more about SEO) will be typing in ‘SEO for bloggers’. Your category archive titles are BIG opportunities to rank for your most important keywords, so use them wisely!
How to use your menu bar to improve site structure
Another place to help readers and search bots understand your site structure is in how you use your menu bar (or bars).
Depending on your theme, you will have one or more menu bars. Use these wisely. This is a real opportunity to showcase to both your readers AND search bots which content is the most important content on your website.
And this is a good reason why you don’t want to have more than about 8 main categories – because in an ideal world you would feature each of your main categories on your menu bar. If you have 127 categories, they won’t all fit!
You want to make sure your menu bars are clear and direct your audience to your most important content, but you also want to avoid your menus looking cluttered and overwhelming.
READ MORE => How to choose the right theme for your blog
Put simply, cornerstone content is the most important articles on your website – the posts you want to rank highest for in search engines.
You should write cornerstone articles about the keywords you most want to rank for. Typically, you should write one piece of cornerstone content for each of your main categories.
And crucially, these cornerstone articles should be the content on your site with the most internal links pointing TO them. Every time you write an article on your blog, you should ensure there is a link pointing to the most relevant cornerstone article.
Cornerstone content is super important for your SEO because it helps Google understand about your site structure. And, in particular, which is the most important content on your website.
If you write lots of blog posts on similar subjects, you need to tell Google which one is most important. If you don’t, you will end up competing against yourself in search results. But by using cornerstone content properly, including correct internal linking (more on that below), you are telling Google which article is the most important on that topic.
Cornerstone content also helps you rank better for hard-to-rank search terms. By writing a cornerstone article incorporating those competitive search terms, you have a better chance of being visible when people search for that topic.
Cornerstone content also helps establish your site as an authority in your niche. This gives more credibility to the rest of your blog, both in the eyes of your readers AND search engines.
If your blog is seen as authoritative in your field, you will find other websites will link back to your content, giving you valuable backlinks that will also boost your blog in search engine results.
Organising your site, using categories, tags, clear menus and great cornerstone content, is good – but it’s not enough. To really cement your site structure and make it crystal clear to search engines which is your most important content, you need to have a good internal linking structure.
Internal links are the links you put in your blog posts (and pages) which link to other posts and pages on YOUR WEBSITE.
Internal links help your READERS discover related content that may well be of interest to them. It also gives them somewhere to go if they need additional clarification on a topic.
Internal linking also helps SEARCH ENGINES better understand the structure of your site: which articles are related, and which is the most important content on your site.
If one of your blog posts has a lot of links pointing TO it from other posts and pages on your website, Google will see this post as MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than a blog post that has only one or two links (or no links at all!) pointing to it, and this will affect how it is treated in the algorithm.
If your internal linking structure is a bit of a mishmash, Google won’t be able to understand which is your most important content or how blog posts are related to each other and this will have a negative effect on your SEO.
If you have an established site this might sound like a lot of work! Don’t worry, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. In practice, there are really five key things you need to do.
The first is to make sure every piece of content on your website has at least one internal link pointing TO it (see the section below on ‘orphaned content’).
The second is to write cornerstone articles for each of your main categories and ensure every piece of content links back to the most relevant cornerstone article.
The third is to make sure your cornerstone articles link to each other.
The fourth is to make sure that, going forward, whenever you write a new blog post you include relevant links TO other blog posts on your website (including the most relevant cornerstone article) AND you include links FROM other articles back to your new blog post.
And finally, you need to make sure that it is always your cornerstone articles which have the most internal links pointing TO them on your site. Avoid allowing any other piece of content to collect more internal links pointing TO it than any of your cornerstones.
Orphaned content is content on your website that has NO internal links pointing to it. This makes it difficult for search engines and readers to find it.
Remember Google uses links to find content on the web. If there are no links pointing TO a blog post, Google will have a hard job finding it. Because it has no links pointing to it, search engines will also conclude that it is unimportant, and so it will not rank highly in search results.
If you follow the action points in the last section, this will not happen to any of your NEW content going forward. However, if you have an established blog, it is likely that you will have lots of old orphaned content on your website.
Fortunately, Yoast have a fab tool to help you identify your orphaned content. Simply go to the Yoast SEO plugin (marked as SEO on the LH side of your WP dashboard) and to the sub-menu TOOLS. Click the grey button marked TEXT LINK COUNTER.
Once you have done this, on the post overview page (POSTS => ALL POSTS), you will see two columns with icons featuring arrows. The first column is the number of links IN that post (arrow pointing outwards), the second column is the number of links pointing TO that post (arrow pointing inwards).
If you click on the icons, you can sort these columns into ascending or descending order. If you click on the number of links pointing TO the post (arrow pointing INWARDS) and sort this column in ASCENDING order you can see which posts have ZERO links pointing to them. This is your orphaned content.
If you don’t see the Yoast SEO text link counter columns in your posts overview page, go to screen options at the top RH of the posts overview page and make sure ‘# links in post’ and ‘# internal links to’ are checked.
You will need to go into each of these orphaned posts and work out how to link TO them from other content on your website. You want to get to the point where you have NO orphaned content on your website.
Updating, deleting and no-indexing content
Another hugely important part of site structure is ensuring you are regularly updating, deleting or no-indexing or old content. Google wants to give its customers the best possible results, and so it wants to send its searchers to well-maintained websites.
If your site is full of posts and pages that are old, out-of-date, irrelevant or poor quality, this will have a BIG negative effect on your SEO and so your search engine traffic. Conversely, if your site only has good quality, up-to-date posts, search engines will see your site as a high quality, well maintained blog and this will boost your blog in the search rankings.
The first step is to identify your out-of-date/poor quality blog posts. Start by looking at your analytics to see which of your blog posts are getting little or no traffic. Also look at your oldest blog posts. Create a list of blog posts you need to tackle.
Next decide on the most appropriate course of action for each blog post. You have three choices: update, delete or no-index.
Where possible you should look to update and improve old content rather than deleting or no-indexing it. When you update a post, you should be considering things such as:
- Adding better quality photos and/or graphics
- Improving and updating the writing
- Adding in more sub-headings, bullets and examples
- Making sentences and paragraphs shorter
- Adding in relevant internal links to and from the post
- Fully optimizing the post for search engines (using the Yoast SEO plugin to help you)
There will almost certainly be some content that is of no value whatsoever and cannot be salvaged. In this case it is fine to simply delete this content. There are many myths circling the blogosphere and one of them is that it is somehow ‘bad’ to delete content.
In fact, the opposite is true – if you delete old/poor quality content, search engines will see this as a sign of a well-maintained site, and you will get a lot of SEO benefit from regularly removing poor quality content from your website.
Your third option is to no-index content. You should do this if you have content on your website that you want to keep because it is of benefit to your readers in some way, but don’t want search engines to take into account for indexing. This means search engines will effectively ‘ignore’ this content.
To no-index an individual blog post, go to the editing screen for that post and scroll down to the Yoast meta box. Click the gear icon on the left-hand side. Where it says, ‘Allow search engines to show this post in search results?’, choose NO.
Breadcrumbs help your readers to navigate your site more easily and helps them to understand where on your website they are when they land on a random blog post.
Breadcrumbs usually appear immediately above your blog post and look like this…
You can see from this picture that a reader landing on this post about cornerstone content knows that this blog post fits in the category ‘Blog Content’. They can click on this category to see more blog posts on this topic.
This is hugely helpful to readers and so is a real benefit to UX and therefore SEO in general.
Breadcrumbs also help search engines determine the structure of your site more easily – so a double benefit for SEO!
Google loves breadcrumbs – in fact Google loves breadcrumbs so much, it even uses breadcrumbs in its search results page.
Breadcrumbs in search results give searchers an easy-to-understand overview of where the post sits in your site – and this in turn makes your search result more enticing to users.
Using breadcrumbs also reduces your bounce rate, since breadcrumbs guide readers to other parts of your site.
How to add breadcrumbs to your site
To add breadcrumbs to your blog, follow the instructions in my guide to setting Yoast up properly. In this guide, go to SEARCH APPEARANCE and scroll down to section 6 BREADCRUMBS TAB.
If you have a Genesis Framework* theme, you will need to go to GENESIS => THEME SETTINGS => BREADCRUMBS and enable breadcrumbs on single posts. (I would not advise enabling breadcrumbs anywhere else unless you have a good reason to.)
Maintaining your site structure
Sorting out your site structure is not a one-off job! It should be part of your regular blog maintenance. As you add more blog posts and as your blog grows (and potentially changes priorities or direction), so you should adapt your site structure, so it continues to be helpful to readers and search engines! Here are the things you should focus on…
Updating tags and categories
It is inevitable that, as your blog grows, your tags and categories will need to change. If you start to write about new topics, you will need a new category. If you stop writing about a category and delete posts, you may need to delete a category. If a category gets too large, you may want to consider creating subcategories under that category. Whenever you create a new category (or subcategory), you should always remember to optimize your category archive page.
Similarly, with tags, you should keep on top of them and make sure they don’t get out of control. Periodically review your tags (POSTS => TAGS) and remove any that no longer have any merit. You should also always delete any tags which only have 1 blog posts in them. Tags are for joining content on a similar topic together – a tag of 1 post is of no benefit to anyone! If you are choosing to have your tags indexed, make sure that all your tag category pages are optimized.
Updating your menus
As your blog grows and your priorities change, so too should your menus. Make sure your menu bars are always directing your readers and search engines to the pages and categories that are most important on your blog.
Deleting or updating old content
Part of keeping your site structure neat and tidy is ensuring all your posts and pages are up-to-date, of high quality and fully optimized. Make it a regular habit to audit your content and update, delete or no-index poor quality or out of date content.
Pay most attention to your cornerstone content – this should be your best content and so you should always keep it up to date and of the highest quality.
Regularly checking for orphaned content
Ideally you should get into a habit of always linking TO a new blog post from other articles from your website every time you press publish. But it is also a good idea to check periodically to see if you have any orphaned content that you’ve missed
Regularly checking your internal linking structure
It is also inevitable that, as you add new blog posts or delete old ones, your internal linking structure will change. Regularly check to make sure every piece of content links back to the most relevant cornerstone article and that your cornerstone articles are the blog posts which have the most links pointing TO them.
How to optimize your blog’s site structure for SEO
As we have seen, site structure is a hugely important part of SEO – helping both readers and search engines understand what your blog is about and ensuring they can easily navigate their way around your site and find what they are looking for. Use this guide to check, improve and maintain your site structure and you will see the benefit in increased search engine traffic and happier, more loyal readers who will be motivated to share your blog content, click on your affiliate links and buy your products!
SEO Jargon Buster
Want to understand SEO better but confused by the terminology? Then you need my SEO Jargon Buster!
Want to know more about SEO?
If you’ve enjoyed this post you may like to read more about search engine optimization. Here are some of my most popular posts on this topic…
- A beginner’s guide to SEO for bloggers
- 17 SEO mistakes to avoid
- How to do keyword research for bloggers
- How to write the perfect blog post for search engines (and your readers!)
- SEO Jumpstart – A jargon free SEO course for bloggers!
I’d love to help if you have any questions about this topic. Let me know in the comments below or over in my Productive Blogging Community.
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