The best site structure for your website, according to Google

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Sophie Monks

Senior Social Specialist

This is John Mueller, he is a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google.

He is the connection between Google’s internal search and engineering teams with the “real” world outside of Google. In a recent Webmaster Hangout, Mueller touched upon site structure and the importance of a meaningful site architecture as a powerful way to tell Google what your site is about.

Contrary to popular belief, site structures are an important technical SEO consideration, and it’s likely that your website falls into one of three site structures.

  1. Flat Site Structure
  2. Theme Pyramid
  3. Fluid Site Architecture

What is a Flat Site Structure?

Essentially, a flat site structure is a website without categories or folders. All pages are one click away from the home page, otherwise known as the root where your main page exists. This means that URL discovery is only possible via a sitemap.

flat site structure

This was a non-mainstream method that worked for certain search engines almost two decades ago. Yet, it’s still a common site structure.

Ok, so what is a Theme Pyramid?

This is our expectation for good site architecture.

It’s where a vague site topic narrows down to more specific topics. Usually found in eCommerce websites, it’s when ‘Accessories’ narrows down to ‘Belts’ or ‘Sunglasses’.

pyramid theme structure

The top of the pyramid is most often the homepage and the bottom – consisting of many pages – are very specific topics, usually long tail keywords.

And, Fluid Site Architecture?

What is deemed a “fluid” architecture is a combination of both Flat and Pyramid structures. It is when websites use topics (or categories) with no meanings that can be ignored by Google.

For example, instead of using /blog/tasteless-trendjacking-of-tragedies/ the structure would use a single letter to denote a topic and would instead be /b/tasteless-trendjacking-of-tragedies/. Google will ignore the /b/ and focus on the URL instead, creating a likeness to a Flat Site Structure.

Whether your website fits into one of these categories or not, the best practice tech SEO for site structure remains the same. And semantic relatedness is the way to go.

Mueller stated:

“In general, I’d be careful to avoid setting up a situation where normal website navigation doesn’t work. So, we should be able to crawl from one URL to any other URL on your website just by following the links on the page. If that’s not possible then we lose a lot of context.

So, if we’re only seeing these URLs through your sitemap file then we don’t really know how these URLs are related to each other and it makes it really hard for us to be able to understand how relevant is this piece of content in the context of your website.”

In short, Google depend on a Pyramid Theme site structure to know how the URLs relate to each other to understand how relevant a piece of content is in the context of your website.

So, what is meant by ‘semantic relatedness’?

Adam, Senior Technical SEO at Liberty has built a bespoke tool that calculates what’s known as semantic relatedness between topics. That’s the relevancy between pages that is required for better search optimisation. The more relative pages are with one another, Google will better understand the context of a website for correct indexing.

We look at semantic relatedness as a series of nodes and edges, whereby a node is an entity (i.e. a topic) and an edge is a relationship between entities.

nodes and edges

So, by thinking in terms of nodes and edges it is obvious why a traditional hierarchical site structure (Pyramid Theme) works for Google, because meaning relationships between categories and pages becomes clearer when visualised in this way.

What we’re able to achieve, however, are weighted nodes and edges that shows the strength of relationships between entities. What we’ve aptly named “Adam’s Tool”, can uncover the weight of semantic relatedness of a current site structure, and make suggestions for greater optimisation using related search terms.

semantic relatedness graph

This is an example pulled from Adam’s Tool, whereby the size of the nodes dictates the semantic relatedness between entities.

Semantic Relatedness, Meaning and Context

Mueller’s comments indicate that Google prefer and better understand websites when they’re organised semantically, with category/topics using meaningful names to help underpin the context of the pages contained within.

What we’re able to do, is show you the strength of semantic relatedness between those category/topic pages and make confident recommendations for greater optimisation.

Want to know if your site structure is up to scratch? Drop our Cardiff SEO agency a line or checkout our SEO services!

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Sophie Monks

Senior Social Specialist

Sophie has over 6 years of experience in the social media and content space, working in both in-house organisations and agencies. She has worked with exciting established brands in her time such as Campari, Aperol Spritz, Oppo Ice Cream and PayPal Australia. She enjoys the content creation process – from mapping out the shot and…

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