How to Plan a Website Structure for SEO – A Beginner’s Guide

Before you embark on the exciting phase of designing a new website for yourself or your client, it’s important to plan the website structure for it.

Here are the reasons why you want to do that before you proceed developing anything else:

  1. More website traffic. Over 50% of all website traffic comes from search according to BrightEdge (if you exclude direct traffic). So regardless of how beautiful the website is, or how easy it is to navigate, you’ll need to consider how people will find their way to it.
  2. Better user experience. Search Engine Optimization itself is an attempt to decode the algorithms of search engines and create websites according to what they will like. Search engines, on the other hand, are trying to set up algorithms to decode what the people who search will like. Thus, SEO is all about creating websites that will be found and appreciated by people who search, and that’s how your website structure plan will help you with user experience too.

By creating a plan for your website structure before you start designing, you make yourself think through the visitors’ behaviors and needs – all the way from searching for solutions to navigating the website itself.

What to include in your website structure plan

This article is intended to give you a hands-on guide on how to improve the websites you create. If you’re already an SEO expert, I’m sure you have your own methods that go beyond what we can cover here.

But for those who haven’t been planning website structures for SEO before, here’s what you need to cover:

  • Keyword analysis
  • Predicted behavior flow
  • Sitemap

Just going through the exercise of mapping out the keywords and pages that the visitors will be looking for will be half of the job done. The other half you’ll get from doing it right, or asking an expert to help you do it right.

Keyword analysis and landing pages

Now there are many ways to go about keyword research, so we’ll keep it fairly generic here with some links to where you can learn more.

First thing you need to do is to list the keywords that are most important to the website visitors. What would they be typing into search engines when they’re looking for the products and services offered by the company behind the website?

When you have a list of 50 or so keywords, you can start identifying which are the most important and which of them merit separate pages on the site.

Let’s take an example.

  • Page – Main keyword
  • Home – “Flower delivery kansas city”
  • Tulips – “buy tulips kansas city”
  • Contact – “open hours main street flowers”

Now that’s probably no surprise, and you would have designed all those pages anyway.

But did you think of adding a specific page for the keyword “same day flower delivery kansas city mo”?

Probably not, and it has search volume and is likely to bring you the kind of traffic that is ready to buy.

Moz analysis results - website structure
Searching for keyword volume and suggestions

Predicted behavior flow

When a visitor lands on a page, they don’t know what else there is to find on the site unless you show them. The information on the page itself is very important, and in some cases you’ll want them to take action to buy a product or fill out the form already there and then.

Most times, however, the visitor will browse through the site before taking action.

This gives an opportunity to guide visitors where you want them to go, by designing the menus, buttons and calls-to-action accordingly.

In addition, the most prominent links on your homepage will be seen by search engine algorithms as important. The “SEO juice” from your homepage will flow to other pages on your site, in thinner and thinner streams the further away they are. And Google really cares about the site structure.

Predicted behavior flow visualTherefore it’s useful to establish which pages are your “cornerstone pages” that you want to focus on. That could be 3-10 pages for a normal business site, or more if you have a list of products or services that each constitutes a landing page that visitors may find through search engines.

Visualize the sitemap

It’s useful to visualize a website structure in a sitemap. Now a sitemap can be just a list of pages, like you find with the sitemap.xml files that search engines read. But for the purpose of planning it’s good to prepare a visual representation, commonly seen as an outlined list or a breakdown chart (like an organization chart).

A visual representation of your sitemap will indicate how important each page will look to a search engine, based on how they are linked between each other.

While PowerPoint or Google Slides are quick to learn and probably already in your toolbox, there are dedicated services for creating more powerful sitemaps.

Slickplan is one example, that basically organizes your web project and allows you to navigate through a visual sitemap. You can add files to each page in there, or create simple drawings and add text. It even allows you to export text right into WordPress if you map the fields correctly.

A screenshot oа slickplan app.
A more simple tool is that I came across recently. It’s a more lightweight option focused on visualizing sitemaps, and it allows you to show what content sections you’ll have in the designs for each page.

A screenshot of Octopus app

Next step: web design

With a clear overview of what pages need to be created and how you anticipate that visitors will want to browse through them, your designer is much better prepared.

By combining the brand identity and target customer persona with the plan for the website structure, you ensure that the website project is set up to be both found and appreciated by visitors.

After you’ve completed the designs, your developer (or a white label development agency) will take over and bring the website to life.

Recommended reading

Yoast’s take on website structure
Best Site Structure in 2019 According to Google
Neil Patel on Website structures (oldie but goodie)

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