Once you’ve chosen the platform and CMS for your eCommerce website, the architecture is the first obstacle you’ll need to overcome as you start to build up the foundations.
Because of this, you must design a well thought out, long-lasting structure that gives you the best possible opportunity of ranking successfully in search engine results.
The purpose of this article is to help provide insight into what makes a successful eCommerce website architecture, regardless of whether you sell 50 or 5000 products online.
For tips on where to look to improve your already existing eCommerce website, check out our blog on identifying site structure weaknesses.
What is website architecture?
A website’s architecture is the logical structure built out that allows for the navigation of the website. The architecture should be designed to best benefit customers’ user journey whilst also allowing search engine bots to crawl the website efficiently.
As architecture is the fundamental building blocks of the website, it has significant importance for SEO. A well thought out website structure can open up great opportunities for optimisation.
On the other hand, producing a poor-quality structure can cause long-lasting issues and limit the website’s potential organic visibility in SERPs.
There are different aspects of the architecture of a website that should be considered. Each of the following will be explored and analysed in this article.
- URL folder structure
- Internal linking
Why is it important to have good architecture?
A website’s architecture can be the first major point of failure when building a website; if it is not done correctly the first time, then you’re already fighting an uphill battle.
This is because making changes to a site’s architecture can be very time consuming, meaning less time can be spent on activities to further improve the site’s content and technical quality.
Having poor architecture can also heavily limit the potential organic performance of the site.
If you choose a structure that limits the number of categories you sell, then it becomes more difficult to optimise and target for them in the future. For this reason, I’d advise producing an architecture with a longevity of 4-5 years in mind.
When developing a structure, the layout must be considered for both customers and search engine crawlers as they have different requirements for successful architecture.
Website architecture for users
For customers, it’s quite simple; if you were to land on a website and see no clear way of navigating the website, you’re likely going to leave and find another site that does work.
This also applies to if a customer lands on a page deep within the website (such as a product page) but cannot browse the rest of the website easily.
For a structure to be successful for customers, you need to think about how users will expect to navigate the site and ask yourself questions relevant to the industry you are in.
For example, if you are building a fashion eCommerce site, you may consider splitting the website structure by men & women. This model has been successful for large eCommerce clothing sites.
If what your website sells is more niche, you should be more inclined to divide your site through specific categories.
The folder structure you use has no impact on organic rankings but should follow the categories you decide and be presented in a simple format that allows customers to understand where on the website they currently are.
A sign of a successful structure is if a customer can navigate their way through a website straight to the item they are looking for.
Not being able to do this can frustrate customers and cause them to leave the site, potentially to a competitor. Successful navigation will go a long way to avoiding this, as users should be able to find the exact category they are looking for.
It can sometimes be difficult to tell where and why customers are leaving your website. By reviewing web-page bounce rates and session duration times within Google Analytics, you begin to understand how people are interacting with the website.
This can also be achieved with behaviour analytics tools such as HotJar that allow you to monitor user interactions and receive feedback.
Website architecture for search engine crawlers
With search engines, there are you need to consider efficiency and contextual relevance for successful architecture.
Search engine spiders crawl millions of websites a day which comes at a serious cost to the search engines. For this reason, bots assign a crawl budget to a website before crawling it, and once the budget is exceeded, the bot moves on to the next website.
Having a poor internal site structure that doesn’t link to pages (making them orphaned and inaccessible) or links to pages unnecessarily can result in crawl budget being wasted. Furthermore, this can lead to pages not being crawled and indexed, thereby limiting the performance of the site.
In addition to ensuring the architecture is efficient for crawlers, you also need to ensure you have a logical internal linking structure that can help them better understand each page’s importance and relevance to the website.
Like with customers, search engines can understand that the deeper a page is within the website, the less important it is to the whole site.
Furthermore, the links you include in the websites main navigation act as strong signals to search engine crawlers to help them understand the importance of the categories.
Therefore you should choose your top-level category pages wisely and carry out keyword research to ensure these pages target the queries that will match the user intent you are looking for.
Supporting content in the architecture
Half a decade ago, you may have got away with simply having your commercial pages in your eCommerce websites architecture.
However, with the continued development of search engines algorithms and a larger focus on providing customers with a greater overall experience in recent years, having access to supporting content on your website has significant value.
To achieve the best possible organic performance for your eCommerce website, some form of non-commercial supporting content should be included within the architecture.
Firstly, there are two primary benefits for producing supporting content: it allows for a wider range of keywords to be targeted, resulting in additional organic traffic.
Secondly, it shows to search engines that your website is trying to offer customers the best possible overall experience. You are offering informative content, and products customers wish to buy.
Good examples of supporting content include buying guides, blogs on special events and regular business updates.
With architecture being one of the fundamental building blocks of an eCommerce website, it is essential for a successful growth campaign that it is thoroughly planned and considered prior to being implemented. Architecture should be considered for both search engine crawlers as well as users in order to maximise crawl efficiency and user experience.
Once established, architecture changes can require significant resource and be very time consuming over a prolonged period to amend.
It is for this reason that the longevity of the architecture should be one of the largest considerations to prevent issues in the future which as a result will offer more time to focus on other areas for website optimisation.