How to plan a website structure

It’s a good idea to plan the structure of what you’re about to build in advance.

You’d never start building a house without a well-designed plan, would you?

Building a website is no different.

If the website structure is not planned ahead, you might have to spend precious time and money rethinking and rebuilding your online property. With all the risks that this process implies.

Here I’ll show you a rough draft of planning a website structure and share some advice along the way.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a website structure?

A website structure is a representation of the way your website content is organized.

If you have an online shop, it most probably has product categories and blog posts. An informational website usually has articles grouped around several main topics.

So the site structure will show the relations and hierarchy between the main and child pages of your website.

Wonder, how important that is?

Why do you need to plan website structure in advance?

There is a number of reasons to plan your website ahead, to name a few:

Better User experience. With a thought-out website structure, you make sure that your online visitor will easily find what they are looking for and possibly suggest even more useful content or items.

Better SEO performance. It’s also important to ensure web crawlers can effectively access all important pages. Website structure can help in internal linking planning, which groups topically related articles even more.

Getting ahead of the competition. When planning a website structure, an important step is a competitive research. This way you not only see how they’ve organized their websites but also find missed opportunities that you can use to your advantage.

Convinced?

Now let’s dive into the process itself.

What does a website structure planning process include?

There are a few essential steps that every website planning has:

  • keyword research
  • competition research
  • hierarchy planning
  • URL structure
  • internal linking
  • navigation structure

Let’s take a look at each.

1. Keyword research

Keyword research is the basis. It’ll help you structure your website from the homepage to individual posts.

You can start with your website’s general topic and find related searches. Then see if some keywords represent a sub-topic that can be researched even more.

If you’re planning an eCommerce website, you’ll think in terms of categories and subcategories for your products.

2. Competitive research

When you’re out of ideas from step 1 – turn to the actual SERP for more.

Start with your primary keyword(s) and note:

  • what websites are already ranking for that term
  • what structure do they use: categories, subcategories – anything you could apply to your website
  • if you have an SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush – check organic keywords and top pages for more information
  • note the URL structure
  • pay attention to what makes the navigation through the website easier or harder

Note that your SERP competitors are not only your direct competitors. If you’re planning an online shop and for some term see an informational article ranking – take note of it. It’s a good indicator a blog section might be of use.

3. Hierarchy planning

After this step, you’ll have your website structure ready.

With several site structure models available, the hierarchical is the most popular for medium- and large-sized websites.

hierarchical website structure

The main idea is to group your list of keywords into related topics and decide on the top-level pages (main categories), sub-topics or subcategories (including filters for online stores), and individual pages.

Ideally, any website page should be available within three clicks from the homepage.

To visualize your website structure, you can use any tool, from Google Sheets to online software, to create a hierarchical diagram, like Creately.

4. URL structure

Now as your website structure plan is ready, it’s time to think about your URL structure.

There are official Google recommendations on website URL structure. They suggest keeping URLs short, descriptive and using UTF-8 encoding for all languages.

Google doesn’t recommend having URLs that are using non-ASCII characters, long and unreadable, using underscore (_) instead of hyphens (-), and joining words together.

Other than that, it’s up to you how to structure your website URLs.

You can choose to keep them very short. For example:

  • your-domain.com/category-page/
  • your-domain.com/subcategory-page/
  • your-domain.com/individual-post-page/

Or make them so that the URL reflects the website structure:

  • your-domain.com/category-page/
  • your-domain.com/category-page/subcategory-page/
  • your-domain.com/category-page/subcategory-page/individual-post-page/

My personal preference is the second option. It makes analyzing the website by category easier.

The only note here would be product URLs for eCommerce websites.

If your product might be featured in several categories (for example, in its main category and additionally in “Bestsellers” and “On sale”), consider keeping the URL down to your-domain.com/product-name structure to avoid possible duplicate issues.

5. Internal linking

An internal link is a hyperlink to another page on your website (as opposed to an external link, which leads to a resource on another website).

Internal linking helps your website in several ways:

  • your site visitors may find additional information easier and interact with your website for a longer time
  • web crawlers will also find more pages faster and understand what your website is about
  • you’ll be able to create topical hubs, or silos, which is an effective way to build your website’s topical authority and rank higher

Internal linking should support your website structure in a way that:

  • top-level categories link to subcategories
  • subcategories link back to top-level categories
  • subcategories and individual posts can also interlink when applicable

6. Navigation structure

Now, this is very related to internal linking, but I’ve decided to make navigation a separate point.

It is important to decide what links will be in your global menu (top navigation), sidebar and footer.

Overall, the recommendation is to put your most important categories in the top navigation bar.

If you look at some of the online stores, you’ll notice that they are linking to not only top categories but also subcategories (using secondary menus).

farfetch top navigation menu structure with secondary menu linking to subcategories

The footer navigation menu will also typically include links to important website sections plus additional pages, that are less important to most visitors.

farfetch footer navigation menu structure

There are multiple ways you can organize and name your navigational links, so I suggest looking at this guide for more detailed information.


Hope you’ve found this information useful!

And if you need help with planning your website and its structure – reach out to me.