eCommerce site architecture is one of the most important facets of every online store. eCommerce websites can’t garner eCommerce SEO success without correctly handling navigation, internal linking, and other organizational aspects of site architecture. The right site architecture is necessary if you want to achieve your full SEO potential. When your site is properly organized, it makes it easier for search engines to find and rank your content by decreasing the amount of time search bots have to spend looking for valuable information.
You also make it easier for consumers to navigate your site, which is what most businesses are concerned about. When considering your information architecture, here are a few points you should focus on to create an SEO and user-friendly site architecture.
Navigation is crucial to success—good eCommerce site architecture begins with clear, easy-to-maneuver navigation. Critical features of a good eCommerce site navigation that also have a positive impact on SEO include:
- Main menu: This is the first thing an online shopper usually sees, on your homepage and every page. Don’t stuff too many items or categories on your main menu. A good rule of thumb is keeping it around 10.
- Secondary menus: In most eCommerce cases, all your categories don’t fit into your main menu bar. To still get your other categories included, use secondary drop-down menus or pull-outs. Best practice is to keep these simple as well.
- Search function: Some sites don’t include a search function. Speaking as an avid online shopper—if you have more than just a few products and don’t already have a search function, like in the top right corner of your site, include it. Consumers appreciate it and it helps keep consumers on your site longer.
- Home page layout: The homepage is the main center of eCommerce navigation. It should include everything needed to get a customer wherever they want to go, while also informing visitors about new products, upcoming sales, free shipping, etc. Your home page is your first impression to first-time visitors. That 5-10 seconds they spend skimming it will either give them the information and nudge to stay and shop or leave your site.
Before building your site architecture, ask yourself these questions:
- What do consumers ask before getting to our site?
- What information do they need once they’re on our site?
And don’t forget to include keywords in your navigation, especially your menus. Example, Pottery Barn would far be off using Baby Bedding instead of Toddler Bedding in the secondary navigation menu based off search volume alone.
URL structure should follow your site’s navigation. When your URL structure is a disorganized mess, it’s a huge pain in the neck to consumers, especially when you have tons of product pages and categories.
You want simple, clean URL structures. Here’s what Google recommends to keep a simple URL structure:
- Construct URLs logically
- Use hyphens rather than spaces or underscores
- Keep it short (less than 70 characters if possible)
- Don’t use session IDs or price range for filtered results (see the faceted navigation section for more details in this)
Other tips are adding targeted keywords, using lowercase letters only, and ditching parameters when possible. If you need to include parameters in your URL structure then use canonical tags. See the canonical tags section for details.
A good example of this is Home Depot. Instead of layering on subdirectory after subdirectory into their URL structure for such as (homedepot.com/decor/furniture/bedroom/dressers), they condense the URL down to a more simple URL. The URL in the screenshot below is – http://www.homedepot.com/b/Decor-Furniture-Bedroom-Furniture-Dressers/N-5yc1vZc7pw
You’ll need to find a URL structure that works with your eCommerce platform and that can be managed by your dev team.
As an eCommerce store owner, you may sell dozens to hundreds of products varying in size, color, material, and price. You want your website to give visitors the right information and best experience. Faceted navigation can help with this.
Faceted navigation is simple filtering, or offering an easier way for consumers to find products based off material, price, etc. This system lets consumers easily navigate to their desired group of products.
The main concern with faceted navigation is it’s not always search-friendly. If it isn’t done right, it creates numerous URL combinations and duplicate pages. When there are numerous pages of content all with similar or identical content, Search engines can’t efficiently crawl or accurately index pages of your website.
To do it right, Google suggests new eCommerce sites should:
- Decide what URL parameters are needed for search engines to crawl each page
- Determine which parameters will be valuable to consumers and which ones will just cause duplication along with unneeded crawling and indexing
- Implement configuration options for URLs that have unneeded parameters, i.e. rel=”nofollow” internal links or robots.txt disallow
- Add logic to how the URL parameters appear
- Improve indexing of individual pages and paginated content.
A example of good eCommerce site architecture using effective faceted navigation is REI’s site. REI has implemented facets in a way that not only helps users but is SEO friendly. Instead of searching through 5 pages of climbing rope, users can instead narrow their search by diameter, length, color and more to find what they’re looking for.
[Screenshot from REI]
The filtering creates some lengthy URLs, which are not good for SEO. Example URL for the screenshot above is https://www.rei.com/c/single-ropes?r=category%3Aclimbing%7Cclimbing-ropes%7Csingle-ropes%3Bdry-treatment%3ADry%20Core&origin=web&ir=category%3Asingle-ropes&fx=stores%3Anull – and very messy. However, each filter has a canonical tag to this page: https://www.rei.com/c/single-ropes – much better.
If your eCommerce site is already up and running, these best practices still apply when using faceted navigation. Check out LemonStand’s Meyer theme for another good example of this in action.
Besides the little but still annoying mess you leave behind after making a sandwich, breadcrumbs in website terms are a secondary navigation theme that show a user’s location on a website. This term actually comes from the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” And although breadcrumbs didn’t help Hansel and Gretel, navigation breadcrumbs will help your website and an important element of eCommerce site architecture.
Some think breadcrumb navigation is unnecessary, but breadcrumbs do wonders for an eCommerce site by enhancing user experience and providing SEO benefits. Here are some benefits of breadcrumbs:
- Reduces the number of actions a visitor has to take to get to a higher-level page
- Improves the findability of a website’s sections and pages
- Visually indicates a user’s location within the website’s hierarchy
- Generates internal links on the site
- Gets keywords on a page.
To display products on a site, you have three options: pagination, infinite scrolling, or a “Load More” button. In the eCommerce industry, pagination is the most popular of the three to load new items.
[Screenshot from Nordstrom]
Pagination lets you separate your website content into smaller sections, and these links give website visitors more control to jump to the set of results they want. To help the search engines understand the connection between these pages, add rel=”next”, rel=”prev” tags to them.
Canonical tags, also referred to as canonical URLs, have one basic job—telling Google which pages they need to pay attention to. When you have pages with similar content, like when a shopping cart creates a new URL due to comments or reviews, inserting a canonical tag indicates the page you want indexed and given the search value.
To let Google know which URLs you prefer, indicate those URLs with the rel=”canonical” link element. If you have a page that can be reached in several ways, choose one as your canonical destination, and then use 301 redirects for those other URLs.
eCommerce stores most often use canonical tags with product pages, but you can also use them with product variations and pagination.
Internal linking helps guide consumers from one page of your website to another. It benefits consumers by giving them more options to engage with your site. Internal links also help search engines crawl your site, and increases your chance to rank for specific keywords.
You can use internal links on just about any page, i.e. home page, blog posts, category pages, and product pages. The latter is the most necessary for eCommerce sites. Internal linking can also be used with breadcrumb navigation and showing related or similar products.
Design Your eCommerce Site Architecture First
Setting up your online retail business for success starts with a well laid out eCommerce site architecture. Unfortunately, many businesses design and build a site first and then try to optimize their eCommerce site architecture for SEO best practices after the fact. By starting with the elements mentioned above, you will avoid the headache of restructuring and building the site a second time.