Marie Turner is one of Amara’s resident SEO experts and is also part of the IBA team. Completely clued up on what your blog needs to do to keep the Google gods happy, here are her top site structure tips to make sure your website has the perfect set up…
I’m Marie and I am one of the SEOs here at Amara, and I’m a blogger too and I have my own food blog over here. I’ve been working in digital marketing for well over 5 years now – mostly in content advertising and promotion. I spoke recently at Brighton SEO about ecommerce SEO – which you can listen to here. As well as being an SEO, I also help run the IBAs each year alongside the rest of the team.
SEO is one of those things even experienced marketers get overwhelmed with, wrongly. I like to think SEOs are “website librarians”. We make sure every page is neatly ordered and placed where the people who want to read it can find it most.
I often get asked (and wonder myself), what the best site structure for blogs is, and why the way we structure sites is so important to getting loads of organic visits (visits from search engines like Google). So I decided to look at re-ordering my site, to see how best to do it.
Search engines like Google send “crawlers” around websites to see what pages are the most relevant for search queries, and good site structure is a HUGE part of this. Allowing these “crawlers” to get around your site as quickly and effectively as possible means you’ll likely see an increase in visits to your site. You’ll also be able to build links much more effectively into your domain if your site and URL structure is neat and tidy.
I am guessing as a blogger you’ll also use a CMS like WordPress like me. We SEOs love to use WordPress.org for blogs as it’s so much easier to optimise your site.
1. Planning your site structure
So how do you go about organising your site structure? And how easy is it?
Well that depends on how big your site is, and how many layers you have. I always like to visually plan a structure in a pyramid before I go ahead and create or reorder everything for a website. Here’s a plan I used for my blog, Try This Recipe:
Key things to remember when planning:
- Keep your site shallow. For your blog; your domain, a few very relevant categories about your subject with posts underneath are enough. You don’t need categories upon sub-categories – and it makes your site much harder for search engines to read and harder for your readers to navigate your site.
- Keep your categories more or less the same size with the same amount of posts in each. A great way to keep on top of this is to use a content planner. Plan a piece of content in each category regularly, and that way you’ll rank for each too. I often see blogs that have LOADS of posts in one category, and another category they clearly neglect and don’t enjoy writing about. Got a category with 1 post from ages ago but it’s still in your main navigation? Bin it and expand your other successful categories.
Keep it simple. You’ll be working to this structure from now on. And when your blog has a lot of content, it’ll be harder to re-order it all then.
2. Once you have your plan, think about internal linking
Internal linking is a buzz-phrase that basically means the links that go between all your categories and pages. It helps search engines tell which pages are the most important on your site, and these are more likely to get ranked. Take a look at your pyramid plan, and have a think about the below:
- Make sure each page at the top of the pyramid links to your categories and main-focus content. You want to make sure your main content categories and focus pages are accessible for your readers as soon as they hit your home page – and this helps those crawlers, too!
- Link pages that are closely-related. This is not only so your readers will stay on your site for longer. You’ll be more likely to rank better for these too because authority (link equity) passes through internal links.
- The more relevant internal links you have, the more you’ll be able to pass authority around your site. So if one of your posts ranks really highly, you can spread some of that authority around with internal links.
3. What are the best categories to have for my site?
Categories help search engines to contextualise your site (understand your site’s purpose and where it fits with the rest of your niche). I have 3 very specific categories on my blog: Sunday Roast Recipes, Easy Baking, and Weeknight Dinner recipes. Why those 3? Well these are the recipes I enjoy writing about the most. I have also made my categories really specific because I know I’m competing on SERPs with the likes of BBC Good Food who will dominate generic recipe categories. I’ll likely expand on these categories and more later on in the year.
You’ll notice they’re all recipe categories. This is because my site is a recipe site, and I don’t write posts about restaurant and travel reviews on my blog. The closer the subjects that your categories are, the better search engines will be able to tell what your site is about and what it should rank you for.
At Amara we have a similar category situation: main categories are all in the main navigation bar, and then product pages are underneath those. SO it doesn’t matter how big or small your site it, the same basic rules apply.
Look at the pages/posts of your site that get the most traffic, or are the ones you enjoy writing the most, and arrange your categories around those. Rename them on your plan and work out where you can link internally.
4. What on earth are taxonomies?
Here we go – library talk! If you’re using a site builder like WordPress, these are the tags you can add to pages that are the key themes of posts. And these work a little bit like categories, but they don’t have a hierarchy. Search engines use these alongside your categories to determine what your posts are about.
- Come up with a concise list of tags you can use for each post. It’s best just to use the general overarching theme, and your keywords if you’re using those in your post.
- Keep the number of tags to a maximum of 6-7. Anything more than that is unnecessary.
- Make sure your tags are relevant to your topic.
5. Don’t chop and change URLs without redirecting them
Any pages that you change a URL for, you’ll need to redirect it to another page that’s a similar topic, or back to its category. This is because if you get rid of a URL or change it, all the links and traffic you had to that post will be lost and it’ll send an error message – “404 Not found”. Search engines don’t want to serve up pages that have 404 errors because they’re trying to help people find answers to their questions, problems, content… etc. Make sure you’re site is being useful! And don’t get rid of any pages that are getting lots of traffic.
Key thing to remember when redirecting:
- Try not to put redirects on redirects. So if you redirect a page that’s already redirected, you’re making your load time slower, and you’re making it really hard for crawlers to crawl around your site.
6. URL Structure
I’ve seen a wide variety of URL structures in the blogging world, but the most common one I come across is this: https://www.domain.com/2018/08/11/post-name-here and https://www.domain.com/category/name-of-category/post-name-here. What’s wrong with these structures?
As you can see, there are 2-3 random subfolders in here, and subfolders are categories. As I mentioned earlier, the least categories you have, the better, and they need to be relevant to your topic.
It also takes a little more time to load, and having a fast site speed is really important too. Make sure you read Alina’s 5 quick steps to speed up your site, too. (Alina is a regular on the SEO speaking circuit and she’s also my boss – She has a cool SEO blog and podcast right here)
We’re not saying here that if you don’t have these structures you won’t rank at all in search engines. Remember what we’re doing here: Search Engine Optimisation. We’re optimising our sites for search engines, so anything to make it easier for search engine bots to crawl your site the better.
An ideal situation would be:
It’s super important to make sure that your readers are able to tell what your post is about when they’re given a URL, and this comes in really handy when getting links back to your site. Microsoft conducted a study to see if users actually care about long, junky URLs or not a while back. Turns out short and better looking links get up to 25% more views!
The image below is from Moz and it’s the best explanation I’ve seen for URL structures:
The more categories you have, the longer it takes for crawlers to crawl your site, and it make it harder for search engines to tell what your site is about.
You can change this by changing your permalinks – but be warned! Make sure you 301 redirect any old URLs that you want to change to the new URLs. It’s best to have a list of these if there are a fair few. WordPress has a great plugin called YoastSEO which can help you do this really easily.
It’s also a good idea to keep your URLs short. Remove any stop-words (a, if, the, etc.) where you can to keep them a short as possible. This encourages users to click and share your links.
If you have a site that has multiple pages on a single page, make sure you add a canonical tag into the page code. This tells google to only crawl the first page. My homepage has pagination, and so do some of my categories, so I’ve added canonical tags into these. A bit like we do here at Amara on some of our huge product pages:
This is because if you don’t have a canonical tag, search engines will assume you have duplicate content due to the title cards of your posts on your page. Search engines are trying to give people valuable content that they need, so they won’t give them two or more of the same article or topic from your site on a search result. This is also called “cannibalisation” – and can stop you ranking for that topic altogether and it can cost you lots of views as a result.
8. Site map
Once you’ve re-ordered your site structure you’ll need to create a new site map and upload this to your blog and to Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, etc. In fact, each time you change your site structure, you’ll need to re-do your site map. This is so search engines know where to send their crawlers around your site structure. And if you haven’t got one yet, here’s a handy guide here on how to do this for Google and it’s pretty much the same for most other search engines.
Sorting your site structure can seem like a boring job, but an increase in visits and helping your users navigate your site certainly isn’t boring.
And if you’re getting stuck – just as me a question here in the comments, or tweet me, and I’ll see if I can help.