How & Why to Plan Website Structure [3 Essential Tips]

By Elliot Olson

By Elliot Olson

Lead Web Designer + Digital Strategist

Wondering how to plan a website structure? You’re in the right place!

When we design websites for clients, one of our first steps is planning their website structure. A thoughtful structure is crucial for success, whether we’re redesigning their existing site or building a new site.

You may be asking, What is a website structure? And why is a website structure so important?

Website structure refers to your site’s organization and navigation.

The structure determines how visitors navigate through your website. There are four main types of website structure:

  1. Hierarchical
  2. Linear
  3. Matrix
  4. Database

 

Website structure | studio anansi

Website Structure #1 — Hierarchical

For many websites, information is organized hierarchically. Content is tree-like in structure, with pages narrowing in focus from general to specific.

For example, imagine that Joshua visits your ecommerce website to buy a pair of shoes. From the general category of shoes, he narrows the choices by clicking on the “sneakers” category. Then, he clicks on a specific sneaker brand that he likes. When he finds the right pair, he clicks to add them to his cart and checkout.

In this example, Joshua has navigated through a hierarchical structure of content. He went from a big category (shoes) to progressively more narrow categories (sneakers, and eventually one specific brand).

At this point, Joshua is ready to purchase his new sneakers. He’s about to experience a new type of website structure.

 

Website structure | studio anansi

Website Structure #2 — Linear

Also called “sequential,” linear website structure directs visitors through a step-by-step path. This structure is oftentimes seen for e-commerce checkouts and sales pages.

Continuing with the Joshua example, he’s ready to purchase his new shoes. After he clicks to checkout, the site directs him to a page where he inputs his shipping information. Next, the site calcuclates his shipping costs and shows him the total for his purchase. After he inputs his billing information, he clicks “Confirm order” and views a confirmation page.

 

Website structure | studio anansi

Website Structure #3 — Matrix

Matrix website structure is less organized than hierarchical and linear. Content is very “free flowing,” with links in multiple directions. Wikipedia is a great example of a matrix structure. It allows readers to click links between pages and categories depending on their interests.

For example, let’s say Caitlin visits your spa’s website to learn about skincare. She clicks through articles based on whatever grabs her interest, reading everything from product reviews to tutorials. It’s easy for her to click to a new topic, and there isn’t a clear process guiding her from “intro” to “expert” information.

 

Website structure | studio anansi

Website Structure #4 — Database

A database structure is based on repeating types of information, such as articles or events. Websites using a database structure typically include a way for visitors to search content. Websites such as Medium.com use a database structure to deliver articles to readers.

Caitlin is still on your spa’s website, but now she uses the search feature to look up one specific skincare service. Thanks to your organized categories and tags, she finds articles that quickly answer her questions.

As you many have noticed, websites can incorporate multiple types of structure.

In the Joshua example, he went from finding the right shoes (hierarchical) to checking out (linear).

Caitlin went from clicking through articles based on her interests (matrix) to searching for one specific topic (database).

Your website may include 2+ structures. Like other business sites, you may have…

  • Hierarchically-structured services and products
  • A linear checkout flow
  • Articles (or blog posts) in a database

No matter how many or which types of site structures you use, it’s important to map them early in the website design process.

With a strong grasp of the structures, your website designer will be able to craft the right website for your business from the beginning.

And how will that structure help your website thrive online?

Strategic, well-planned website structure improves your user experience, search engine optimization, and conversions.

Website structure improves your search engine optimization (SEO).

Organizing your content logically allows you to plan keywords, content clusters, and backlinks. With a clear picture of your website structure, it is much easier to strategically target specific words and phrases.

As a result, search engines like Google better understand your site and can connect you with more relevant searches.

Thoughtful structure improve user experience (UX).

Once visitors arrive on your website, you need to meet their expectations. 40% of website visitors will leave a poorly-organized website. Effective website structure is looks at both the present and the future. It thinks from the viewpoint of your ideal audience. The content structure anticipates their questions and provides answers in a clear flow of information.

Structured website content boosts your conversion rate.

A website without structure and organization is harder to navigate. It’s less intuitive and puts up more barriers between the customer and the site’s goals.

On the other hand, structure means you attract more visitors and delight them with easy answers + clear navigation. For example, check out our case study of how intuitive structure and user-centered design increased online activity 379% for a social services organization.

In short, effective website planning means more conversions — aka increased sales, email signups, etc.

At this point, you’re convinced.

You want to plan a website structure that improves your SEO, impresses your visitors, and boosts your conversion rate.

So what are the steps to plan an effective website structure?

An effective website structure considers your goals, ideal audience, and distinguishing business characteristics.

There are many, many steps in the website design process. Here are three of the most important steps we undertake when planning client websites.

  1. Articular goals and success metrics — the what
  2. Dig into ideal audience — the who
  3. Identify unique business characteristics — the why

Step #1 — Start with your goals and ways to measure success.

This is the “what.”

What are you trying to accomplish with your website? What needs to happen for your website to be a success?

Every business should know its goals and how its website contributes to filling those goals. Maybe your website sells physical products. Or maybe you want people to sign up for a new webinar.

Whatever your goals, you need to be clear about your objectives and how you measure success. Only by knowing your goals can we work backward and design the right website for your biz.

Step #2 — Understand your ideal audience.

This is the “who.”

Who is your ideal website visitor? How did they find you? What questions do they have? How can your website deliver answers at the right time?

Structuring content and guiding visitors through your website means knowing your ideal audience and designing for their experience. These components are so important that we’ve made them central to our signature future planning website design process.

Step #3 — Incorporate your distinguishing business characteristics.

This is the “why.”

Why do people choose your business and prefer your website over the competition?

Your website needs to stand out and impress your visitors. Fortunately, you already have all the necessary ingredients! You probably know why clients choose you over any competition.

If not look back at your reviews and feedback from past customers and clients. Pick up on common threads — these are the unique distinctions that your website should make clear and compelling through intuitive content structuring.

Website Structure FAQ

What is good website structure?

“Good” website structure is subjective. The best structure depends on your website. For example, an e-commerce website will be very different from an article archive. There’s no definite rule here — the correct structure is determined by your audience, goals, and business characteristics.

How should I organize my website?

Website organization is complex, but there’s an easy way to get started. When we design websites for clients, our first step is planning the different structures that fit their business. You can begin by looking at your website goals and examining if your content fits best in a hierarchical, linear, matrix, or database structure.

Which is the best type of website structure for SEO?

Many experts agree that hierarchical website structures are best for SEO. Unlike matrix and database structures, hierarchical websites are organized in logical flows of information. Search engines such as Google are easily able to crawl this clearly organized content.

Ready for a more strategic website? Enquire now for our current availability.

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