10 steps to a sound website structure
By Hannah Moss
It’s important to have a clear, simple website structure so your visitors can easily find what they’re looking for. Our in-depth guide to restructuring your website should give you all the tools you need.
If you’re planning a website restructure, this post is for you! Perhaps you’re launching new products or services. Or you’ve had valuable feedback from your customers. Or maybe you just feel it’s time for a change.
Whatever the reason, it’s important that your website is structured in a simple, sensible and user friendly way. A solid structure goes a long way to helping your SEO strategy (search engine optimisation). According to Yoast, “your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what the topic of your site is and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent.”
What’s the difference between a restructure and a redesign?
A website restructure takes into account the changing needs of your business and makes use of past website analytics to make changes.
A website redesign (which often takes place at the same time) focuses on the branding, design and layout of your website.
A restructure and a redesign are not the same thing and require different skills and techniques to implement.
How to tackle a website restructure
There are 2 very important ways to tackle a website restructure:
- Look back – use Google Analytics to see how your site is performing. Are people using your main navigation in the way that it’s laid out? If not, this is a clue that your navigation is not aligned with the needs of your audience.
- Look ahead – where is your business going? What products or services are you rolling out over the next 6 to 12 months?
A website restructure also has 2 important stages:
- Planning – deciding what to change and why.
- Implementation – this should only happen after the planning stage is complete and signed off.
We’ll take a look at these elements in the next section.
10 steps to a sound website structure
Here’s our in-depth guide to ensuring your website structure is both sound for your business and relevant for your audience.
1. Use your Google Analytics
Start by reviewing your site over different time periods, e.g. the last 12 months and the last 6 months.
These questions should help:
- What is the top content?
- Are people using your navigation in the order it’s laid out?
- Where are your visitors coming from?
- How long is the average visit?
- How many pages are viewed per visit?
- Do your visitors keep coming back?
- What is the overall site bounce rate?
2. Get off the computer
It’s a good idea to get up on your feet and away from your screen.
Use a whiteboard with markers or sticky notes. Write down the goals of your business and then physically map out your existing site structure. Sticky notes are great for this as you can move stuff around later.
Take as much space as you need – a whole wall if you can. You don’t want to feel limited by space.
3. Always put the customer first
Customer profiles are a great tool you can use to help steer the process here. Check out our post How to choose your blog topics for a closer look at creating customer profiles.
This is not about what Johnny in IT or Linda from HR wants, this is more about your audience and customers!
Print out your customer profiles and put them in the centre of the board. Keep asking yourself “What does this customer need or want from us? Can they quickly and easily find what they’re looking for?”
4. Don’t do it alone
This is really important – if you’re in your business then you’re too close to your business to view it objectively.
It’s good to go through this process with your colleagues or teammates if you can, but even more importantly, use someone outside the business as a sounding board. At Wildheart we have a few trusted customers and friends (mostly other industry professionals) who we regularly reach out to and ask for feedback.
The same applies – and is even more important – if you work on your own.
5. Work in stages
Start by mapping out where you are now, then where you see your business in 6 months’ and 12 months’ time. Any further than this and you’re in the realm of fantasy, so back it up!
Do you need an interim change from where you are now to where you’d like the business and website to be in 12 months? Make sure you capture this, even if you make changes later.
6. Use your phone
We recommend capturing each stage of your sessions with a modern smartphone or a good camera. Remember to free up enough space on your phone or camera before you start.
You can then share these images with stakeholders and others involved in the project, or just keep them for your own records if you’re working alone.
7. Sleep on it
Don’t rush it. You should allow a minimum of 2 weeks to allow the implications of the changes to sink in. Even if it’s just you in your business.
Ideally, this means several planning sessions with a few days in between. This is especially important if you’re doing the implementation yourself. Resist the urge to run in and start changing stuff around willy nilly without properly thinking it through!
8. Document it
Even if you have a small site you’ll want to document your changes using something like our content audit spreadsheet. This is where you capture all your important search engine data, such as page titles, URLs, focus keywords and, most importantly, your redirects. Complete the form at the end of this post for your free content audit template.
Redirect, redirect, redirect!
If you change any of your existing URLs to new ones, it’s very important to set up 301 redirects. These basically tell search engines to permanently redirect all existing links to your new URLs.
For example, when we renamed the URL of the Wildheart blog, we set up a redirect from https://wildheartmedia.com/content-marketing-blog to https://wildheartmedia.com/yoga-marketing-blog. It’s very easy to do this in the Redirects section of Yoast SEO for WordPress.
If you change a URL without a redirect then all internet links that should go to that page will end up with the dreaded ‘404 page not found’ error – eek!
You may not think this matters too much (maybe you don’t have many people linking to your blog), but you’d be wrong. Google’s very own crawler will also spot that a page that used to be there is suddenly gone and it will have a little tizzy! By setting your redirects you’re reassuring the Google crawler by saying “Don’t worry, we’ve just moved this page to over here”. The Google crawler likes things neat and tidy, so ignore it at your peril!
9. Implement it
Once you’ve captured all the pages and posts that you want to change, and you’ve worked out your redirects, then you’re finally ready to implement.
Before you go ahead and make the changes, ensure you’ve backed up your site first so that if anything goes wrong you can roll back to an earlier version. You don’t want to risk losing all that hard work!
10. Testing… testing…
All done? Well, not quite. The final step is to test all your changes, especially those redirects. And re-submit your sitemaps to Google Search Console, so the crawler is kept in the loop.
Everything working ok? Great, you’ve successfully restructured your website to make it easier for your audience to find what they’re looking for, and therefore better for the growth of your business.
To help you capture your important data and work out your redirects during your website restructure, sign up to our blog below and download our free content audit spreadsheet. Both ourselves and our clients find it an invaluable tool.
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