The structure of a website can be so basic that it’s actually overlooked and not seen as anything important. When in fact, it couldn’t be more important! Your website structure will be fundamental to your online success. Hopefully, our beginner’s guide will equip you with everything you need to know to get your structure right from the start.
Where do I Start? – ‘Think’ Before You ‘Do’
Before you start creating pages on your website and randomly assembling them as you go, you need to think about what the end product needs to be first. So, clear your mind of any thoughts and ideas you may have buzzing around and start from the beginning. Ignore everything. And breathe… Now, you are going to start by asking yourself one question:
What would my customers expect?
Your customers are expecting simplicity. It’s all well and good having a website that looks slick, professional and has some really cool features, but if it isn’t REALLY easy for a prospective customer to find the information that they are looking for, then it’s all pointless.
Regardless of the industry, you are operating in, visitors to your website want something. Whether it be a product or just some information, they want it and they don’t want to hang about. This is what you need to bear in mind when it comes to establishing the structure of your site. If your visitors want simplicity (which I guarantee you they will), then don’t over complicate things. Otherwise, they will be on and off your site before you can say “bumbledom”… What a great word by the way.
It is easy to get so caught up in the ideas phase of building your website, that you actually lose focus on the most important purpose of them all; meeting the needs of your customer.
Consider your visitor’s purpose
Not everyone will arrive at your site ready to buy straight away. Some might just want to find contact details for you, others may have questions about the services you offer and some may just want to find out a bit more about your company. Your website needs to be structured in a way that all of these visitors, with their very different intentions, are only ever 1 or 2 clicks away from finding what they are looking for. Furthermore, you have only got about 7 seconds to achieve that.
The 7-Second Rule
“Why do I only have 7 seconds? That is like, no time at all!” – You have 7 seconds because that is now the average attention span for a human. Ridiculous, isn’t it? But unfortunately, it’s true. So, if a visitor comes to your website and they can’t find what they need after 7 seconds, they’re probably going to go elsewhere.
That may sound like an impossible job, but it really isn’t. As long as you remember to keep it simple, you will be fine. Anyhow, now you know what you have got to achieve with your website structure, here’s how to get started with the ‘doing’ part.
Planning Your Website Structure
The best thing to do before you physically begin developing your website is to plan out the structure. You can do this using word processing software, a whiteboard or even just pen and paper. Basically, if you can draw some kind of diagram with it, it will do.
Now, bearing in mind the varying intentions of your website visitors that we discussed above and the products/services your business offers, you will need to lay out the hierarchy of your website. Generally speaking, the hierarchy of every website will look remarkably similar. The vast majority will comprise two main components: Categories and Sub-Categories. Once you have read to the end of this post and had a go at planning out your website structure, it should end up looking something like this:
Categories and Sub-Categories
Only you can do this part. No one else knows your business better than you do. You need to break down all of the content that you have/want to have on your site into categories and sub-categories; this goes for both pages and blog posts. Remember what I said earlier about your visitors arriving at your site with different intentions? Well, this is where your categories come in.
You use categories to filter your visitors through your website. What you need to remember, is that your categories are the very base level of the filtration process. This means that they can’t be too specific. Ideally, you should have no less than 2 categories, but no more than about 7. If you draw up a plan for your website structure and you end up with 10 categories, then the chances are, you haven’t dumbed your categories down enough. Unless if you are eBay, Amazon, Asos or such like, then you can get away with it.
Let’s take a look at our website as an example, Admittedly, ours is very simple and not all of you will have the benefit of being able to categorise your website content with such ease. But the principle is the same. We blog about 5 different topics: Web Development, Search Engine Optimisation, Pay-Per-Click Advertising, Social Media and Email Marketing. So, there we have our 5 categories to filter out our website visitors straight away.
If you really struggle to establish what the best categories will be for your business, then you can always look at a few competitor’s sites for some inspiration. Obviously, don’t copy their layout. You want to be different to your competitors, from the USPs of your product/services all the way through to the way your website looks. But there is nothing wrong with a bit of competitor analysis to help you with idea generation.
You may have noticed from the ideal site structure we showed you, that both of the categories on that diagram had 3 sub-categories each. This isn’t a coincidence. People love symmetry and balance. So, try and plan a consistent theme for your sub-categories. If one of your categories is totting up over 7 or 8 sub-categories and another has only got 2 or 3, then you may want to reconsider the way you are categorising your content.
It’s best practice to have your categories displayed as the menu options near the top of your website. This is the first place your visitors will look to identify where the information is that they are looking for. You can then set up each of your sub-categories as a drop-down option from the main category on the menu. This method makes it nice and easy for the vast majority of your website’s visitors to get to the page they are looking for in just one click.
As an example this time, we will look at a business that provides a platform for people to buy and sell all-things-tech. Let’s call it, Tom’s TechTrader. The two categories on tomstechtrader.com are Buy and Sell. These will be the first two options in the menu at the top. Both of these categories will then share identical sub-categories: Phones, Tablets, TVs, Game Consoles, Laptops and Accessories.
Seen as there has been a lot of heavy reading this far, let’s mix it up a bit and see if you are a natural when it comes to structuring your URLs by doing a really quick test. Or, if you’re not in the mood, you can skip straight to finding out how to structure your URLs.
Going back to Toms TechTrader as an example again; when Tom set up the website, he needed to make a decision on what the URL structure would look like going forward. Now, we’re not going to tell you which option he chose. We’re going to give you a scenario and you can choose which URL structure you think would be best. Good luck!
A visitor to tomstechtrader.com clicks on the ‘Buy’ option at the top of the homepage. That visitor then selects the ‘Phones’ option and they specify that they are looking to buy a ‘Samsung Galaxy S8’ by clicking on the respective link. Which of the following URLs do you think should be displayed in the address bar?
If you did that little test, you probably now know what to expect. But, we want to make sure you are all on the same page.
So, now that you have got your categories and sub-categories laid out (hypothetically speaking), it’s time to identify what your URL structure should look like. We will keep it short and sweet in this beginners guide because just like you and your website, we don’t want to over complicate things.
When it comes to setting up the URL structure for pages on your website, you just have to think logically. The URL for any page should essentially show the path that a visitor will have/would have taken to get to that page (I say ‘would have’, in case they arrived at your site directly on that page, instead of your homepage). So, the URL will generally follow this format: domain-name.co.uk/category/sub-category. If there are more pages that link off from your sub-categories then the chain in your URL might be even longer. But again, you don’t need to go silly with this. Google likes, short, simple and logical URLs wherever possible.
Obviously, there are some cases where the URL structure can get quite long and it’s completely acceptable. The most common example here would be an e-commerce clothing site. It is actually very common for e-commerce sites such as these to have lengthy URLs. Just think, if you are looking at a sale on a website for some men’s jeans in black and size 32, then the page you finish on might have a URL that looks something like this: examplesite.co.uk/sale/mens/jeans/black/size-32.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. That is the moral of the website structure story really. Make life easy for both your prospective customers and the search engines crawling your website. The cleaner and simpler your website structure, the better.
There is more to site structure than just categorising your content and structuring your URLs correctly. However, as far as a beginners guide to website structure goes; we believe this is all you need to know! You can look at taking your website structure to the next level once you have got your beautifully simple website up and running.