1. Site Structure is Key
Ok, ok, I am guilty right away of being overly generic. However, this is something I don’t think a lot of blogs emphasize enough. What matters in terms of site structure, however, is how you’re setting yourself up for link building, your internal linking structure, site crawl, and user navigation.
A site structure that doesn’t reflect those needs will inevitably need to be restructured to leverage its full capacity to bring in organic traffic. Here are some things to keep in mind about ecommerce and why a strategic site structure is imperative:
- Products and category pages do not often get backlinks
- A cornerstone content approach is often needed for ecommerce category pages
- Ecommerce is highly, highly competitive
- Keywords for product pages are basically predetermined
In short, site structure is central to user experience (UX), conversion rate optimization (CRO), and search engine optimization (SEO), and it is useful in compensating for the disposition of ecommerce SEO.
So, here’s what you can do.
Put Your Category Pages in the Main Navigation
Your main navigation should include category pages. By placing them there, these pages will get higher priority due to their position in the sitemap and site structure.
This also positions your products in an optimal position in terms of click depth, which cannot be any better unless you put your product pages directly into the menu – which is feasible if your online store is smaller.
Use Subcategory Pages to Target Subtopic Keywords
Once you have your category pages in place, you can start choosing the subcategory pages, which will give you the opportunity to go after longer-tailed keywords. For example, you may sell clothing, shoes, and accessories. Under shoes, for example, you can use the subcategories formal, athletic, and casual. These should be placed underneath the appropriate main category pages in the main navigation. That may look like something like this:
Parent categories (i.e. shoes) are often the most competitive keywords because they are head terms, so subcategory pages will be where you’ll probably get your first traction in terms of SEO wins. I will talk later about how the internal links play a role in site crawl and how they contribute to the siloed structure you can see the beginnings of in the menu (see the color differences in Figure 1).
However, for now I will say that the subcategories will provide the link equity support in and through the internal links that I will suggest should be placed in the subcategory pages and should point to the category pages. You will want your link equity pool where it is most needed, i.e. at the category page level.
Strategically Place Category-Level Navigation to Improve User Experience (UX)
The categories and subcategories should be assembled into a panel of sorts so that it creates a clickable menu or glossary – or, day I say “index”? – and placed in optimal positions in your website to help shoppers navigate your products with ease.
In the end, where you’ll place your categorical-based navigation is dependent on your website and your preferences. However, my suggestions include these locations:
- Your front page
- Category pages (where you’ll want to place subcategory-level navigation)
By improving UX, your SEO and conversion rate will be helped in virtue of the users
- Staying on your website longer
- Clicking through to category pages (which will help lower bounce rate)
The beauty of what has been suggested so far is that it is already the beginnings of a siloed structure. If you refer to Figure 1 again, you’ll notice the color differentiation between the columns of pages. Those colors indicate the topical differences between the columns.
Although this is a beginning, this is just that, a beginning.
There are 3 types of silos (or 3 aspects of a silo):
- A navigational silo that’s built into the navigation. This is the one already outlined.
- Crawl silo – This is a topical silo you can create by the use of backlinks that are reflective of the topical relationship(s) between pages.
- Physical silo – The structure of the topic is reflected in the URL structure.
These silos should not be understood as separate; rather, they work together to help the user navigate the website, as well as Googlebot.
Since the navigational silo has been explained (you set it up in how you set up your navigation), let’s elucidate the other two silos/aspect of silos.
Put simply: try to make the crawl path of your website topic-oriented. You can control this by internally linking from pages and posts within a silo in such a way that it reflects the hierarchical structure of the topic.
This may be best explained visually.
With this distribution, pages targeting more competitive keywords receive link equity from the structure. You can call this a “cornerstone” internal linking approach that pools the link equity where needed.
Here is a helpful metaphor from a Yoast blog post about the subject:
“The following metaphor might help you understand this principle: imagine you’re looking at a map of a state or country. Small towns and big cities will all be interconnected somehow. But the big cities will have many more roads leading towards them than the small towns. Those cities are our cornerstones, receiving the most links. The small towns are your posts on more specific topics. There are some roads (links) leading to them, but not as many as to the big cities.”
Once you get this implemented into the pages in the main navigation, when you mention anything in the main structure (topically) in your blog posts, make sure to link to the most relevant page within that structure. Make it a point to do this.
A physical silo is also something that needs to be accounted for when crafting silos into your site structure.
This is accomplished by reflecting the topical structure into your url/permalink structure.
For example, a physical silo for a real estate website based in Central Oregon may look like this: