Wednesday 29 January, 2020

The structure of any website is critical to its success. If a visitor struggles to find what they’re looking for they’ll leave. And they’ll leave fast!

If you’re planning the development of a new website think about the website structure first. This guide will help you to investigate how to create the optimum website structure for your new website.

What is a website’s structure and what is a site plan?

The website structure is the invisible interlinking web that knits the site together, i.e. the links between each page and the hierarchy of sections and pages within the website. A website plan visualises this structure and indicates how a visitor will navigate through the website. The plan may also indicate high level website functionality and content.

The website structure is not only used by visitors to navigate the website but it’s also used by search engine crawlers, such as Google’s own Googlebot, to map, database and rank website pages.

What are the benefits of creating a winning website structure and plan?

  • A visitor will be able to navigate seamlessly without frustration
  • They will easily find the pages relevant to their visit
  • Navigating back to the most important pages will be simple
  • Visitors will be more likely to visit a greater number of pages;
  • Seeing more opportunities to interact: enquiring, sharing and buying
  • Visitors will be more likely to stay on the website longer
  • Search engines will find, rank and list more pages in search results
  • Time spent planning the website structure will save time during the development stage
  • The website will efficiently scale as your business grows

What could happen if you get it wrong?

Fundamentally, visitors will not stay long. They will get frustrated:

  • missing the most important pages;
  • increasing the website bounce rate;
  • decreasing the number of pages visited;
  • failing to buy or enquire

Your website pages may even fail to be listed in search engines results pages.

I’ve included a FREE website plan template at the end of this article, but before you download it, be sure to read my 8 Steps to Website Structure Success.

How to create a well-structured website

Below we will investigate techniques and ideas that will help you create the optimum website structure. We’ll be using the Tonic Fusion website as an example.

Just as we would for any new website development, we designed an annotated structure tree for the Tonic Fusion website.

What are the critical success factors for our website structure?

  1. Create an immersive user experience without dead ends
  2. Make every page a maximum of 3 clicks away
  3. Create multiple entry points and ‘landing pages’
  4. Ensure the visitor is able to navigate with ease
  5. Provide clear navigation to sales and contact pages
  6. Create ‘local’ pages for St Albans and Hertfordshire-based business searches

Each visitor to our new website will want something different. Understanding visitor behaviour and how they will expect to navigate our website is essential to its success. We also want to attract a varied audience, including:

  • Potential new clients seeking a full-service digital marketing agency
  • Visitors looking for graphic design and branding services
  • Visitors looking for local web design and marketing experts near St Albans
  • Visitors seeking specific services such as SEO
  • Business owners searching for answers to technical and marketing questions
  • Visitors wanting to view examples of website design solutions
  • And even tyre kickers and competitors - if we can interest these guys and get them returning for more, we’ll know we’re doing something right!

Why not use the example above and list the critical success factors for your own website.

What’s the best software to use to create a website structure and site plan?

There’s a variety of tools at your disposal to create a website structure plan. You can even use your go-to software package such as PowerPoint, Word, Pages or Illustrator.

Here are a few inexpensive software packages designed to create structure diagrams, perfect for website plans:

How to create a website structure plan

Website Structure - Step 1 - Research & Discovery

Whether you’re creating an all new website or redeveloping an existing website, the planning, research and discovery phases are essential. Tasks to consider include:

  • Learn from what’s already out there - competitor websites, high ranking websites, well-structured sites
  • Undertake keyword research - this will help you to identify what visitors will want to see when they get to your site
  • Investigate the structure of good quality websites that you visit regularly – what is it about the structure that draws you back?
  • Write down the objectives and critical success factors for your website
  • If you’re redesigning an old website, analyse existing web site statistics and Analytics
  • Talk to your team including key stakeholders - what do they want from the new website?

Website Structure - Step 2 - Market Research

If possible, ask your potential visitors and customers what they’re looking for from a website like yours. What pages they expect to see? How much content and what type of content will give them the confidence in your business, products and services.

For the new Tonic Fusion Website structure and design, our potential customers wanted to understand our services, they wanted proof that we could provide the right quality designs and they wanted confirmation of authority. They were keen to see that we knew what we were talking about, rather than just talking the talk. Local businesses in St Albans were keen to understand our skill levels.

Website Structure - Step 3 - Keyword Research

Evaluate your keyword research before placing pages on the plan. ‘Keyword research’ is a topic that I’ll be covering in more detail in a future article, so here is just a brief overview of search volumes:

Here are a few examples of monthly UK keyword research results that were taken into consideration for the new Tonic Fusion Website Structure:

  1. Web design agency – 9,900
  2. SEO expert – 1,900
  3. Digital marketing agency – 5,400
  4. Graphic design agency – 1,300
  5. Web developer – 8,100
  6. Web design company – 2,400
  7. SEO consultant – 2,400

Here are a few tools you can use for research:

  1. Google search
  2. Google AdWords
  3. SEMrush

Website Structure - Step 4 - Brainstorm the Page List

We recommend using tools that you are the familiar with (e.g. Microsoft Excel) to list the pages that will make up your website. Don’t forget to list the sections and categories too.

Your keyword research will have provided statistics on the keywords that visitors will be using and expecting to see. You can use these statistics to create a list of possible pages and page content. It’s also important to utilise the market research results and knowledge gained in the research and discovery phase.

Helpful hints:

  • Think outside the box - get as many ideas down as possible. You can then undertake additional keyword research to test any off-the-wall thinking
  • Don’t think sales, sales, sales - in fact, for the majority of the brainstorming time, hide the sales pages on a separate spreadsheet tab. Concentrate 80% of your efforts on listing valuable content pages and ideas aimed at engaging your audience

Once you’ve completed your list of potential pages, start to categorise and prioritise the pages and content (indicated on the spreadsheet above with colour coding). You can also strip out the non-starter ideas.

Website Structure - Step 5 - Defining the Primary Navigation

What are the primary links that are going to make up your core, top level navigation? Using the categorisation and page priorities you can define your top-level navigation.

The top-level navigation should be concise, it should be easy to understand and communicate what a visitor can expect to find after clicking the link.

There’s no hard and fast rule to the number of links that make up the top-level navigation. But don’t add too many. Seven links is a good average. If your list is more than 10, start to prioritise and reduce.

Website Structure - Step 6 - Second & Third Level Navigation

As visitors move deeper into your website the website tree opens up, presenting routes to navigate to additional content. The more content you want the website to include, the more thought that needs to go into getting the site structure right.

Helpful hints:

  • Make sure your website structure is flexible and scalable
  • A 50-60 page website may only need Primary and Secondary navigation
  • Don’t forget to add regulatory pages: Contact, T&Cs, Privacy Policy etc.

Website Structure - Step 7 - Categorisation & Content Linking

Strategic interlinking between categories, sub-sections and pages will provide a greater number of page views. It will also reduce website bounce rates.

Think about linking content, blog and resource pages to services. If you have them, you should also consider linking team bio pages to services and articles.

Clever interlinking can also be automated, taking some of the hard work out of day-to-day website updates. We often build link automation into sites - it can become a really effective tool.

Website Structure - Step 8 - The Website Plan Diagram

You’re now ready to create your website plan. Boot up your preferred software package (we used iOS and Mac Pages in the example presented below) and start constructing your new website plan.

One of the critical success factors of any website structure and plan is the review process. Ask all stakeholders to review the plan, take on their feedback and make changes if necessary.

You can also send your website plan to me and I can provide feedback.

You can download a FREE website structure template below. Select a file format:

FREE Website Structure Template in Mac OS Pages
FREE Website Structure Template in Microsoft Word

FREE Website Structure Template PDF


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