Having a successful eCommerce store for both customers and search engines depends heavily on having a solid website structure. If you don’t, everything you don’t want to happen to your eCommerce site will—you’ll see drops in your online rankings, site traffic and ultimately sales.
When I say site structure, or what some SEO folks also say as information architecture, I’m referring to how content is organized on your site. You need a sensible and instinctive site structure; a site that’s easy for search engines and people to navigate through. The easier it is for search engines like Google to find your content, the better spot your site will have on a search engine results page.
Section 1: What is the best structure for an eCommerce site?
Before doing any kind of SEO-related work, you need to do some research and craft a well-thought out plan. In terms of planning the best site structure, keyword research is key.
Unfortunately, most eCommerce shops don’t consider keyword research when they think about their site structure. Instead, store owners ask these three questions:
- What are my competitors doing with their website structure?
- What products or services do we offer?
- How do people use our site? (Or maybe how would they use our site to navigate to our different products?)
Based off the answers to these questions, they then create their category and subcategory pages. But, this process designs a site structure that isn’t optimized for search engines.
[Screenshot from veestro.com]
What you really want is a simpler structure rather than a deep site architecture. The latter requires your customers making several clicks to find what they’re looking for, as well as making navigation more difficult for search engines, while a simpler structure is better for SEO purposes.
Section 2: Why should eCommerce sites consider site structure?
You need customers to make money and stay in business—but finding new customers is hard, especially when search engines can’t find your store. If search engines can’t find you, online shoppers won’t find you.
Today’s shoppers do online research before making a purchase, 81% of shoppers to be exact, with 60% of online shoppers beginning their hunt with a search engine. And online sales contributed 42% of sales growth in 2016 in the U.S. retail market. Web sales in 2016 were $394.86 billion, a 15.6% increase from 2015 and the biggest annual growth rate since 2013.
Still not enough to convince you that SEO is important to the profitability of your eCommerce site? According to a recent survey, organic search is the main driver of site traffic, driving 51% of visitors. Another study found that when you do your SEO part to rank first in Google for your keywords, you’ll make $4.76 for every $1 you spend with your SEO efforts. SEO isn’t just an effective way to find new and more customers; it’s a cost-effective way to improve your bottom line for the long haul.
The above picture is a great example of how to better your site structure by relevancy. It also stresses the importance to plan your site navigation based on your site’s home page, which is usually the most visited page of every eCommerce site.
Users need to be able to easily navigate through your site, but search engines likewise need to easily know what pages are more important on your site, especially Google that expects your site structure to be set up based on relevancy.
This is where doing your keyword research comes in handy. You want the the right focus keyword(s) used on your homepage and product pages to ensure each page is optimized.
Another way to more easily convey your site content is with simple URLs. Long, confusing URLs make it harder for search engines to crawl your site and visitors to link to your content. Keep your URLs concise and use relevant words that give people and search engines more clear information about your page.
Section 3. What are the steps for creating a great architecture?
Now that you know what kind of site structure you need and why this is so important to business success, here are the six steps to structure your eCommerce store for search engines.
Step 1: Do keyword research to get familiar with how consumers search for products online.
Use SEMrush or Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner tool to familiarize yourself with consumer search insights and to find relevant keywords that aren’t too broad or competitive. If you sell green tea products, it’s probably not best to use “tea” or “green tea” as a keyword since both are broad and competitive. Consider using “organic Matcha green tea” or “organic green tea powder” instead.
These tools will give you insights to create a main navigation that outlines the main categories of your site.
Step 2: Create a header that lists your main navigation pages.
Next, focus on your site’s header. Your header should be at the top of your site and clearly list out your site’s main pages.
Having more than your main categories will be too distracting and overcrowd your header. Some headers will have dropdown menus, which to humans are appealing, but they don’t have any positive SEO effects.
Step 3: Create your site navigation in HTML or CSS.
Step 4: Use a clean URL structure.
I briefly mentioned URLs in the second section of this article, but it’s important enough to talk about again. Like with keeping the coding simple, keep your URLs simple. You can clean up your current URL structure by:
- Adding targeted keywords.
- Using lower-case letters only.
- Trimming any unnecessary parameters.
- Avoiding using session IDs.
- Shortening any lengthy URLs.
Step 5: Implement pagination.
You may personally think infinite scrolling provides you with better user experience—but really, it’s just wrong for usability and negatively affects your site’s search results.
So what can you do instead? Implement pagination. Pagination lets your website divide its content into shorter sections. Add “rel=”next” and rel=”prev” links to indicate which pages are in a series, which then helps search engines better understand the relationship between your site pages.
Google also suggests specifying a view all page since many online searches want to see an entire category or article on one page. You can simply add a rel=”canonical’ link to any component page so that Google knows a view all version is what you want showing in the search results.
Step 6: Cross-link your top pages.
Internally linking is well-known amongst SEO gurus, but for new eCommerce business owners, it may not have crossed your mind.
What you want to do with cross-linking is effectively guide a visitor from one site page to another. The benefits of cross-linking your top pages include:
- Improved navigation numbers.
- Giving site visitors more chances to engage with your site.
- Increased rankings for specific keywords.
- Allowing search engines to more efficiently crawl your site.
For even more SEO tips, check out our SEO guide to rankings for Google.