It takes about 50 milliseconds (that’s 0.05 seconds) for a user to form an opinion about your website. That opinion determines whether a user will stay or visit a competitor. People are heavily influenced by the visual aesthetic of a website, but a lot of beautiful “well-designed” sites are just plain confusing and hard to use. Content is randomly linked and unorganized with a user journey full of dead ends. It’s not only frustrating for users but it makes it difficult for Google to index.
This blog will walk you through some strategies to improve your website structure and the overall user journey of your site. These tips will help you improve your search rankings and increase the number of users who stay on your site.
What is Website Structure?
Website structure refers to how information is organized, the way it is designed, and how the pages, categories, and navigation connect. Further, site structure also provides an outline of your pages, posts, and categories, while creating a hierarchy of your content. When Google (or any search engine) looks at your site, it uses your navigation, categories, and pages to create a directory for your site. It’s no different from the directory in an office building or your local mall.
This structure also has an impact on your user’s journey. What choices people make, the links they click, and the content they look at. The site structure plays a role in making the choices clear and easy to find but it’s up to you to create clear steps, calls to action, and compelling content to keep users engaged. In a nutshell, a good site structure groups content and makes pages easy to reach in as few clicks as possible.
Why Is Website Structure Important?
The structure is the starting point or foundation of your website. Sites constantly grow and change over time. If the foundation is full of cracks, as the site grows those cracks will grow. If Google thinks a site is disorganized and full of holes, they will pay less attention to it.
Google handles over 8.5 billion searches a day. That’s around 228 million searches per hour. 93% of your website traffic will discover you through a search engine. If your site is jumbled and full of cracks, it makes it harder for people to find you. Having a solid website foundation is crucial, so do not miss the step of developing a sound website structure from the beginning.
Common Website Structure Mistakes
Maintaining a decent site structure can be a challenge. Avoid these common mistakes:
Mistake #1: Only Prioritizing Beautiful Design
Don’t get me wrong, the aesthetic of your website is extremely important. But, does it matter how beautiful a website is if nobody can find it? Chances are when someone searches in Google, they will be directed to an ugly, but well-structured site over a beautiful disorganized one.
Mistake #2: Be Overly Creative with Your Page Titles and Navigation Links
Get inside the mind of the user on this one. How does the user search for things online? The best approach is to take all the guesswork out of it. Give your page a recognizable name.
Page titles are used for a reason, people type in these terms when they search. Simple, common, recognizable terms are typically the best approach.
Mistake #3: Hiding Important Pages in Your Navigation
If the navigation is the directory to your site, why hide it from people? If you want people to find your services page, make sure it gets a top spot in your navigation. You want your most important pages at the front of the line.
Mistake #4: Using Categories and Tags Incorrectly
Categories and tags are a great way to organize content and funnel users to specific items. However, if you give all your posts the same category, then the whole filtering and funneling idea won’t work. The user will see all the same items no matter what category they choose.
Mistake #5: Neglecting a Call-to-Action or Value Proposition
If you want someone to buy a product you need a button that says, “buy now.” The assumption is that once someone lands on your site they will take the time to gradually read everything and explore your site in its entirety at a nice leisurely pace. On average users will leave a site in 10–20 seconds. If your pages have a clear call to action or value proposition you can hold a user’s attention for several minutes. Let me say that again, even if you do everything right, you will only hold a user’s attention for several minutes.
Ways to Improve Your Current Site Structure
Nailing down the best structure for your website takes time, but it’s worth the reward. Here are a few ways you can improve your website structure today:
Audit Your Current Website
Before implementing any changes to your site structure jump into the mind of your user. Find out how people and Google are already using your site. The great news, there is data and science to help.
Session recording software to see what users actually do on your site
Once you have all the data use it. Make data-driven decisions, not emotional ones. I know your neighbor thinks you should call your blog “The Ramblings of a Railwayman”, but what does the data say?
Utilize Heat Maps and User Journey
Heat maps are an amazing tool to have in your pocket. They allow you to visualize how users interact with your site. Heat maps will show you where users look, and how far they scroll. They also record people using your site. There are several options out there, but my favorites are Hotjar and Microsoft Clarity.
Improve Your Navigation
The website menu should include links to your most important content. Simplify the choices and organize things with the user in mind. Don’t hide your important pages. If I was looking for a contact page, would I look for it somewhere in the about section?
Change Where Your Links Appear in Posts and Pages
Treat links like a funnel and don’t overuse them. It’s important to pay attention to where you put your links. If the user sees a link in the first paragraph of a page, it signals that the rest of the content is not that important. Taking the time to read an article chances are they would be interested in something similar. If I am reading an article about Why Dogs Are Superior to Cats, a link to an article about bulldozers might not make the most sense.
Watch Someone Use Your Website (And Take Notes)
I have designed and built more websites than I can count. I know the rules, and it seems as if I can structure a website following all of the best practices with my eyes closed. Even with the rules followed and boxes checked I always truly learn how successful or unsuccessful the structure is when I watch a stranger use the site for the first time.
It is important to be a fly on the wall, you do not want to direct or influence in any way. You don’t get to show or explain to the public how to use your website so don’t do it now. Simply sit back, look relaxed on the outside, and take notes.
Thanks for taking the time to better understand the importance of the user journey and your website structure. Apply any of these strategies, and over time, your website’s foundation will get stronger. You will see added SEO benefits for your content and, just as importantly, you will funnel people towards the most important content on your website.
Keep in mind, that every six months or so you should review how people are using your site. Making sure that your website structure is easy to navigate, and your content is relevant is a great way to increase your revenue and the amount of time people spend on your site. As always, the BrandCraft team is here to help in any way we can.Contact us to see if we’re a good fit.