SEO 101: How Your Website’s Structure Affects its SEO

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When it comes to SEO training, most of the resources out there are quick to extol the benefits of both on-site optimization (typically, including your target keywords in key areas across your website) and off-site SEO (as in the case of external link building activities).

Site construction - courtesy © Maxim_Kazmin -

Site construction – courtesy © Maxim_Kazmin –

However, many of these introductory guides gloss over a subject that’s just as important to your website’s natural search success—its underlying structure. In fact, there are a number of different ways your website’s structure can influence its overall SEO authority, so be sure to brush up on the following site structure elements to make your website is as search-friendly as possible.

Element #1: Site Navigation

At first glance, website navigation might seem like one of those things that happens organically. That is, you don’t plan out where you’ll place every page on your website; categories and hierarchies simply start to form on their own as the size and breadth of your website grows.

When it comes to SEO, though, this is a huge mistake! The structure of your website plays a tremendous role in its overall SEO authority, and the specific navigation elements you put into place deserve plenty of attention in this process.

Your first site navigation consideration should be to avoid using navigation types that make it difficult for the search engines to crawl through your pages. Particularly, steer clear of navigation structures that are built entirely in Flash or JavaScript. While these formats might look flashy to your visitors, they’re nearly impossible for the search engine spiders to parse and crawl.

Instead, stick with navigation schemes based in XHTML and CSS (or, if you must, images that use appropriate keywords in their ALT tags). These navigation structures are more easily read by the search engine spiders, making it more likely that your pages will be crawled, indexed, and displayed in the SERPs, where appropriate.

But beyond the initial setup of your website’s navigation structure, you’ll also want to pay attention to your website’s depth.

When it comes to websites, “depth” refers to the number of clicks needed to reach any page on your site from your home page. From an SEO perspective, a shallow website (that is, one that requires three or fewer clicks to reach every page) is far more preferable than a deep website (which requires lengthy strings of clicks to see every page on your site).

As an added bonus, don’t forget that shallow navigation structures improve your website’s usability, making it far less likely that visitors will give up trying to find the content they were looking for in your buried pages. This decreases your website’s bounce rate and may improve your overall average time on site, both of which are factors that are suspected to play a further role in SEO rankings.

Element #2: Internal Linking

Of course, if your website is large, controlling the depth of your website through your site’s navigation structure alone isn’t entirely feasible. If you have 100 total pages, for example, you’d need more than 30 separate categories to make all of your pages accessible within three clicks using navigation structures alone, which would almost certainly bog down your site’s appearance and functionality.

So, while structuring your navigation paths correctly from the start can help to improve your website’s SEO performance, you can also decrease your site’s depth through the use of internal linking.

In the world of SEO, there are two types of backlinks:

  • External backlinks, which are links that point to your website from an entirely separate site, and
  • Internal backlinks, which consist of connections between individual pages within your website.

Creating internal links between the pages on your website offers a number of different SEO advantages:

  • As mentioned above, internal links decrease the number of clicks required to access each page on your website, allowing the search engines to use their crawl budgets more effectively.
  • Internal links offer opportunities to use keyword-rich anchor texts throughout your pages (though you should be careful to only create internal links to relevant, useful pages, instead of using this as an opportunity to create keyword-stuffed links).
  • Internal links improve the user experience on your website by providing readers with additional materials that may pique their interests. As a result, both average time on site and average pages per visit go up, leading to potential SEO and conversion rate benefits.

Fortunately, unlike plotting out your website’s entire navigation structure, getting started with an internal linking plan is easy. Whenever you add a new page, article, or blog post to your website, take a second to see if the readers who are accessing this new content might be interested in other topics you’ve covered elsewhere on your site.

If you do find opportunities to recommend related pieces, create internal links within your new content that point to these other website pages.

Again, keep in mind that, though there is some benefit to creating internal links that utilize keyword-optimized anchor text, this shouldn’t be your primary pursuit. Keep the focus on serving up interesting content to your readers, and don’t be afraid to skip internal linking on new content pieces altogether if you’d have to stretch to make other articles seem relevant.

Element #3: URL Structure

One final website structure element to consider is how your individual page URLs are built. As you might expect, there’s a potential SEO benefit to be had from integrating your company’s target keywords into this vital navigation area.

The specific steps you’ll need to take to set up an SEO-friendly URL structure depend on whether your site runs on HTML or a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla or Magento.

HTML websites

If you run an HTML-oriented website, your page URLs will be built according to the file names of every new HTML file you create and upload to your site.

For example, if you use a desktop website editing program like Dreamweaver to create a new article and save your file as “my-new-article.html,” the full URL of your article once uploaded to the root domain of your website will be “”

Now, in this example, odds are you aren’t trying to get your website ranked for the keyword phrase “my new article.” So, instead of using generic file names, take the time to label each file with a descriptive name that includes your target keyword.

Be sure to separate multiple words with dashes, rather than underscores, as the search engine spiders may interpret words separated by underscores as a single word (as in, the file name “apple_pie” might be read as “applepie” to the search engines in some cases).

CMS websites

Typically, most CMS websites make it easy to create search-optimized page URLs, though you may need to tweak a few settings to get the greatest SEO benefit possible.

For example, in the case of WordPress, you’ll need to first navigate to the “Permalinks” section of the “Settings” area within your dashboard and select a link structure option that includes your post title within the full URL assigned to each post. If you don’t take this action, your URLs will—by default—include the numbers and codes created for each new post by WordPress’s standard settings.

According to the default WordPress settings, a new post URL structure could look like this:

By selecting the “Post name” option within the “Permalinks” panel, this URL would be transformed to:

This second variation is both more appealing to readers (leading to higher rates of engagement on your website) and confers the SEO advantage of being able to include your target keywords in your URLs.

If you’re using a CMS other than WordPress, consult the Help section of your chosen platform for complete instructions on how to set up SEO-friendly URLs on your website.

Even if you’ve already built your website without these elements in mind, it’s still very possible to go back and make the changes needed to ensure that your website qualifies for full consideration by the search engines and their automated spider programs.

Try correcting one element, or even one element on one single page, at a time. With consistent effort, you’ll see substantial SEO benefits as the result of your site structure changes.

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their... Read Full Bio
Sujan Patel
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  • Stephen Orsini

    Nice article – one correction, in WordPress – changing the permalinks option to %postname% will not give you the .html extension.

    • Adam Buchanan

      I would argue that the extension (.html) doesn’t matter. It’s more important to have relevant file names.

    • Amol

      Yes! wordpress will not give .html extension

      • kalyan

        Yes, WP will not create an .html extension by default with a Post Name permalink. But you can set it like. %postname%.html and your url will be automatically. 🙂


        You can get a .html or .anything with wordpress, just use the following permalink :



  • MediathatSells

    Thanks Mr. Patel for this pithy update on SEO and site structure. But, can you tell us how to plot and integrate a site with its blog?

    • Amol

      It need some coding and design as well ,you just need to have same design like your blog to site and with same headers it will give same design effect,then you can use another subdomain for that and link it to the blog.

  • Adam Buchanan


    “This decreases your website’s bounce rate and may improve your overall average time on site, both of which are factors that are suspected to play a further role in SEO rankings.”

    The depth of your site won’t do anything to help bounce rate. If your deepest page is 6 clicks from the home page, it will do nothing for bounce rate if you make it 3 clicks deep. However, the recommendation of having a shallow site is spot on for overall usability and crawlability.

  • Scott McKirahan

    Excellent article. Too few people write about on-page SEO and I have found it to be a far more important ranking factor then most people would lead you to believe.

    I was a bit confused by something in Section #2. You say, “If you have 100 total pages, for example, you’d need more than 30 separate categories to make all of your pages accessible within three clicks using navigation structures alone.” What if I have five categories with 10 products/articles in them? They are still accessible within three clicks, aren’t they?

  • Keyword Name Removed

    Well said Sujan,
    Site structure is definitely a thing to consider while working for the ranking of your website.
    There is no use of highly elaborative website if users cannot understand what actually is happening when they go through the website.
    They click on the home link of some page and are redirected to the home of that particular category will only leave them in dilemma and they eventually will leave the page.
    This affects the CTR rate and bounce rate of your website and eventually the ranking in SERP.
    So, it’d be better to create a simple user-friendly site instead of creating a technically sophisticated confusing site, which visitors cannot even understand.

  • Jem

    Alt is an attribute, not a tag.

    • Alan Bleiweiss

      LOL I thought I was the only one on the planet who tried to remind / educate people on this. Everywhere I look, people refer to the alternate text ATTRIBUTE as a tag. 🙂

  • Dana Perez

    This is a good article and very helpful especially to start-up business. Keep it up and post more to guide those still struggling to make it better in SEO.

  • Tan

    sanjul, very well written and explained. Too many people are obsessed with back links and not correcting their on page seo issues. They dismiss the most important aspect of seo.

  • Hector

    Useful but basic. Used to seeing much more insightful post from you Sujan. However, a good elementary read.

    • Ben Lacey

      Something doesn’t have to be complex for it to be effective. A lot of people overlook the basics. and its good to focus on small changes that have the biggest impact.

  • Lyndon NA (theAutocrat)

    I wish people wou;dn’t use the term “SEF URL”.
    Most SEs (inc. G) have not had issues with parameter based URLs for years.

    Further, depending on setup, you may find that things like google can extract more from Param=Value URLs that pure text ones.


    Yes, they can see the “value”, but the parameters provide that little more context in many cases.
    The reality is, what many refer to SEF are actually either UserFriendly or StuffedForSearchEngine URLs.

    Depth of URL shouldn’t really be an issue.
    You have to remember that it’s a matter of horses for courses.
    Yes, you should keep your user in mind – but depending on the audience, to what they are willing to do – and if the content is worth it, if the navigation is clear, then having 4 or 5 tiers shouldn’t be an issue.
    (the key concept of less depth for SEO is less Internal PR Flow depletion.)

    People should also consider other things – such as prominence and placement of the links. The nearer the top/start, the more often it is encountered etc. can influence things.
    And don’t forget sub-navigation methods – such as breadcrumbs, sibling and child links, pagination etc.
    These can all play a part as well.

    Final thought for internal links- don’t bopther with “nofollow”.
    PR Siloing died years ago (within a year of it first starting with nofollow) – all you do is hinder the natural crawling and PR Flow through your site.
    (If you don’t want something crawled, use robots.txt – butter to let it be crawled and not indexed, so use noindex)

  • Keyword Name Removed

    Great article Sujan, you always comes up with good piece of information which really helps me in understanding the concept of SEO. Internal linking and URL structure are crucial factors, these things play an important role in SEO of website.

  • Roman Aluisy

    You should also consider adding a Blog to your website that is updated weekly with SEO content.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    It’s important to make sure you don’t have any lonely pages that are floating in space on your site. Most sites probably has a few and don’t even realize it. If someone were to land on that page how would they make it over to the rest of your site? And sometimes those pages are skipped by the search engines entirely!

  • Simon T

    Thanks for your article. For people on the newer side of SEO I’d like to add the importance of using something like Google Analytics to see which pages your visitors land and what he bounce rate is. If you have a website that consists of 40 pages and unique visitors are only landing on a 2 or 3 pages its a good indication you haven’t optimised other pages well. Start the process of optimising the most important pages first for your conversion funnel other and work your way through your site.
    Cheers, S

  • Emma

    Great article .. especially for those who ar new in this field

  • Vikram Singh.

    Nice article Sujan, It’s really good tips which really helps me in understanding the concept of SEO. Keep posting !

  • Neo

    I guess I’m the only dissenting voice here. Navigation is important purely for it being intuitive for a visitor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it written anywhere… but vertical navigation is far easier for visitors to read and remember then horizontal navigation. Just stack some words and see if they are easier to remember than the same words laid in a row. Horizontal navigation often has the visitor wondering what link/button he just clicked on . You don’t get that with vertical navigation.

    A sitemap is all a search engine needs to know what all the pages of your site are. When someone searches for something, Google delivers them to the internal page on the site that they have indexed through the sitemap. Coded navigation/javascript is not a player at all. So Google is really interested in first finding the page through a sitemap, and then indexing the content on that page. If Google sees the content reflected in the header, title tag, and file name it definitely helps bring in the longtail buying customer. So “my-new-article.html” might be far more effective than dropping in a generic keyword which delivers an untargeted visitor.

  • John Cashman

    Who in their right mind would ever publish an HTML website? That’s jus t begging for trouble.

    • Neo

      “Who in their right mind would ever publish an HTML website? That’s jus t begging for trouble.”

      I’ll bite. Are you suggesting using something like WordPress or some other dynamically produced website (PHP)? And what kind of trouble do you see with an “HTML website?” Mobile phone capability?

  • Russ Roberts

    Good, basic information for newbies such as I. Every little bit helps.

  • Matt Coffy

    Exceptional post as always, Sujan, thanks for sharing with us your knowledge and insights. It’s really pretty easy to lose track of what can give value to your SEO especially since there are so many that you might miss some “low hanging fruits”. Everybody could use a little brush up once in a while and I’m glad that you’ve reminded me with these basics. Cheers!

  • Ron

    I’m always pleased to read the comments from all of you. Usually just as valuable as the articles!

    I’m a big fan of front loading URLs with keywords, along with specific information which may be important to the website visitor. In my experience, whether you’re using CMS or not, ou can have it both ways.


  • Bijoy

    Nice article .. especially for those who ar new in this field.

  • Daniel Law

    Excellent in-depth article. People new to SEO should take note and apply.

  • Sanket Patel

    Making a perfect website structure does a matter for SEO. There are many factors affecting to make perfect website structure, like navigation with shallow structure, A perfect content , the way you represent the information and most important thing is the design of website.

  • Peter Fry

    Is it not more important now to optimise a Google Place listing rather than a website?

  • Brian Jake Tolosa


    I’m new to SEO, Can i Ask this question?
    How would it affect my site ranking if i have scattered my website URL to every website i created?
    For example: Every site i create have a link in the footer created by: or designed by: then link to my website ?

  • savan

    Very Excellent article
    my website has very low traffic this article will help me..

  • Tushar

    Thanks for illustrating so deeply. Definitely, if you want enough traffic generation to your site it must be appeared in the first page of google search result and then only you have a chance to have plenty visitors to visit your site otherwise the PR of your site won’t ever be increased.