Poor site architecture can cause a myriad of problems that lead to confusion for visitors and search engines alike. The larger your site is, and the more diverse your content is, the more important great site architecture becomes.

In this lesson we will take a look at some common site architecture problems.

The Problem: One of the most common site architecture problems occurs when visitors must go through 4, 5 or 6+ clicks in order to navigate to the pages they are looking for. People are impatient with websites and going through this many clicks is just too much to ask of most visitors. This problem is especially egregious if the website is slow to load or if each page features a lot of content. Studies have shown that clicks bleed visitors. This means the more clicks between your landing page and the desired content, the less likely a visitor will oblige.

How to fix the Too Many Clicks problem: The real problem here is poor navigation. By restructuring your navigation to make it easier for people to get deeper into your website, you can help your visitors skip lots of those clicks. Ideally, a visitor to your site should be able to navigate from any page on your site to any other page on your site in no more than 3 clicks.

The Problem: This is when the URL structure of pages on your site do not take advantage of proper categorization. For example, every page on the site has a URL that is just one layer deep:


There are typically three groups of websites that end up with a site architecture that is completely flat.
  1. Very small websites. If a website is super small it may not have enough content to support a good categorization structure. The problem is that these sites have almost no chance of ranking well in Google because they just won’t be considered substantial enough to be authoritative resources on a give topic. Therefore thin sites are not deserving of top rankings.

  2. Brand new sites with inexperienced webmasters: A highly optimized site architecture strategy isn’t something that comes naturally and intuitively to many people. Therefore, a flat URL structure is a very easy mistake to make when people begin publishing webpages.

  3. Websites that first made the error of building a site architecture and navigation that forced visitors to go through too many clicks, and then overcorrect the problem with an overly flat architecture.

The problem here is that a completely flat architecture robs your site of its opportunity to communicate relevance to search engines through proper categorization. It also makes it very difficult to keep track of your content once your site starts to get bigger than a few dozen pages.

How to fix the Flat Architecture problem: This is a big focus of this course and we will discuss this in more depth and detail as we go… but, the key here is to make sure that the URL structure of your webpages reflect a good category and sub-category structure that groups relevant content, and that you offer great navigation to help visitors quickly find what they are looking for.

The Problem: Poor navigation can take many forms. For instance, with the “Too Many Clicks” example above, if your site navigation forces people through a very confined click path, by not offering visitors the ability to skip past a category and go straight to the sub-category they are interested in.

Another navigation problem occurs when people go crazy with drop down navigation that includes multiple levels of expandable sub-navigation drop downs. These can be tricky for some users to navigate based on the browser or device. It can be very frustrating if you have to navigate your mouse carefully down and to the side and down again and to the side again, only to accidentally move off the menu and the whole thing disappears. Also, this type of navigation may not work well on touchscreen devices. Other times these types of menus may present design problems by inadvertently covering up or conflicting with other page elements.

How to fix the Poor Navigation problem: Optimum site navigation is something that must be considered on a case-by-case basis. The considerations at play should be the size and complexity of the site, and the ideal conversion paths that you want your visitors to go down. However, here are a few ideas:

For relatively small sites: For many small sites simply adding drop down menus, as opposed to static menus is a great solution. Items within the drop down can even have a second layer of expandable drop down. But, it is rarely advisable to go beyond two levels of expandable drop down for the reasons mentioned above.

For larger sites: Big drop down menus also called “Super Menus” or “Mega Menus” can provide users a great way to quickly explore lots of categories and sub-categories without suffering through multiple clicks and page loads. The key here is to remember that you should try to keep the total number of links (including menu links) on a single page to no more than around 100. Here is a link to a great article featuring 61 examples of Mega Menus in the wild: http://superdit.com/2011/03/22/61-big-drop-down-menu-examples/

Sub Navigation Menus: Sub Navigation menus should be thought of as specialization menus. They are not global, meaning that they don’t appear site-wide. Sub-navigation menus appear on every page in a specific section, typically in either the right or left sidebar, and help visitors easily navigate to every (or at least the most important) pages within that section. Therefore your global header navigation can be focused on the major categories or sections of your site, and the sub-navigation can then help visitors easily jump multiple levels deeper from there.

The Problem: It is easy to forget that just because you put up a webpage, does not necessarily/automatically build out navigation to that page. You have to make sure that every page of your site is appropriately linked to from other pages of your site so that visitors and search engines will be able to easily find the page.

How to fix the Hidden Content problem: This problem is best addressed through cross-pollination. We will be discussing cross-pollination later in this course in the section on Cross Pollination and Convergence. But, the idea is that you should always remember to cross link new content with text links from within existing content. That means going into existing pages and looking for keywords that you can turn into links to your new content. Also, consider building out content suggestion features that will automatically suggest new, related or popular content to visitors.

The Problem: Duplicate content is a serious problem that can be an absolute rankings killer. Duplicate content means that the same word for word content is appearing on multiple pages throughout your site. This is a problem because if other people want to link to your content, some people may point to one URL, while other people will point to another. So, instead of one page getting all of the backlinks and effectively moving up the Google rankings, those links are spread across multiple pages and your content will have a much harder time getting good search engine rankings. Another problem is that search engines will index the same content on multiple pages and not be sure which page should rank highly. Your content will not be seen as unique and worthy of top rankings and this will severely limit your ability to drive traffic.

Duplicate content can take many forms, however the following are the most common:

1. The same page being published multiple times with slightly different URL structure:

  • http://website.com/
  • http://www.website.com/
  • http://www.website.com/index.php/
  • http://www.website.com/default.html/
  • http://www.website.com/default.asp/

2. Duplicate Page Titles

3. Duplicate Meta Descriptions

4. Publishing the same content to multiple categories within the site. This is very common with blog posts on blogs that utilize both categories and tags. Tags are simply a method of categorizing content and many people have a tendency to use the same large sets of tags when publishing similar content. What ends up happening is that there are multiple tags/categories that feature the same set of posts, which creates a duplicate content problem. This is compounded when sites are set up to actually publish the post multiple times utilizing every category and tag as part of the URL for that post. For example:

  • http://website.com/category-1/123-post/
  • http://website.com/category-2/123-post/
  • http://website.com/tag/topic-1/123-post/
  • http://website.com/tag/topic-2/123-post/
  • http://website.com/tag/topic-3/123-post/

In this example the same post has been published under 5 different categories, with 5 different URL structures. That is duplicate content.

5. Publishing the same word for word content that can be found on a page that was previously published on another website.

How to fix the Duplicate Content problem:

Problem 1 can be addressed through the site’s .htacess file, setting up automatic rewrite rules to redirect visitors to the chosen default URL structure.

Set a canonical tag to identify the desired URL variation that should get credit for all links and show up in search engine results.

Problems 2 and 3 can be addressed through well organized SEO planning.

Problem 4 can be addressed by establishing either categories or tags, and never assigning a single post to more than one or two categories. This may allow for some duplicate content, however the use of a canonical tag will still let search engines know which version of the page should get the link credit.

Problem 5 can be addressed by never simply scraping or aggregating content from other websites without adding value of some kind.

The Problem: More and more Internet users are accessing the web through mobile devices. Challenges with a wide array of smaller screen sizes, along with the challenges of slower connection speeds, are very important to properly deal with if your site is to have any chance of appealing to this growing (and soon to be dominant) user segment. If a user gets to your website and sees a page layout that was designed for a desktop experience, one that forces them to pinch in and scroll around the screen, they will bounce. If your page takes more than a few seconds to load, they will bounce. It is critical to realize that the most popular web related mobile activities are email, social network use and reading news stories. Therefore, if your website will be using email marketing, social network strategies or content marketing (and if you’re taking this course you will be doing those things…) then you must have a site that is optimized for mobile.

>How to address mobile:

There are two ways that you can address mobile.

Responsive Design: By far the most popular and recommended option is to utilize responsive design throughout your website. Responsive design takes advantage of Media Queries and CSS3. In this technique your website tells the browser to use different CSS (different page layout and styling) based on the width of the browser window. The effect is that the layout of the page will automatically change to best suit the device it is being viewed on. The biggest benefit here is that you don’t have to manage a separate mobile version of your site and all of the addition efforts that come along with managing a second website. You have just one URL for every page on your site (not a second mobile page) and that can be a really big deal when it comes to link building.

The one challenge to consider with Responsive design is if you wish to load different content on Mobile vs. Desktop. For instance, you may include advertising or videos or a lot of images on your full screen version, and you may want to eliminate those from the mobile version to clean up the layout and speed up the page loading time. Or, you may want to offer a different navigation design for mobile. In this case you would want to use dynamic content where certain parts of the page would be included or eliminated based on the CSS that is being used.

Mobile Version: Some companies who may want to show completely different content on the mobile version of their site may still choose to go with a separate mobile version of their site (honestly it is very difficult for me to see any advantages here). This is not recommended because it causes significant additional work to keep both websites in sync. However, from an SEO perspective there is a much bigger problem… let’s say someone finds your website on their mobile device, likes your content, shares your link, others take that link and share it, and now you have a bunch of link building to the mobile version of your site that is not helping the desktop version rank any better in the search results. There is no getting around the link building issue. But, some people do still choose to go this route. If this is the case for your company, make sure that you at least redirect non-mobile visitors to the non-mobile version, and mobile visitors to the mobile versions (this is a very common problem that people overlook).

Doesn't That Just Make Perfect Sense?

Now that we have identified some of the most common, real world site architecture issues... Let's get a bit philosophical to make sure that you understand the principals that can guide your organic site architecture growth.

Next In the next lesson we will compare and contrast the user experience of two similar booths at a Farmers Market, and gain some invaluable wisdom about creating a functional user experience on your website... I know, it sounds strange, but it's true! So, let's jump in and get a lesson in