For many of us, the desire to organize is strong because this is how we make sense of things and tackle complex problems. Nevertheless, when it comes to optimal website architecture, organization is often a hindrance. Not so long ago, it was common practise to have directories nested five levels deep and even deeper. Over time, however, the web development community realised that this led to unnecessary steps — or “clicks” in web developer language — for users to reach the desired content. And according to the search engines, more clicks equals less importance.
In fact, the web development community generally now agrees that it should take no more than three clicks to reach any destination within an entire website. This is the core tenet behind the concept of flat website architecture, but there is much more to do it than that. And the true beauty of flat website architecture is that is not simply beneficial for SEO purposes. It has real value for our visitors as well because it makes our content more accessible, and on the Internet, accessibility is king.
So for the modern web developer the important question is, is my website architecture flat enough, for both SEO and site visitors? The first step toward answering yes to that question is ensuring that all webpages are within three clicks of the homepage. Doing so ensures ease of access, and it ensures that you distribute page rank throughout the site.
It is also important that you not force users to use unnecessary clicks. Optimally, every page should be no more than 3 clicks away from the homepage. If a page is further away, ask yourself why. If you don’t have a strong answer, especially if you’ve placed it in its current location simply for directory organisation, then move it closer. Get rid of all those unnecessary folders. Always think of level as an indication of importance. The site’s most important content should be no more than one click away.
As you’re achieving flat website architecture, a common problem that crops up is too many links on a single page. While this is not the issue with search engines that it once was, it is still an indicator of an inferior user experience. As a rule of thumb, have less than one-hundred links, internal and external combined, on a single page. Use hierarchal linking and cross links for organization without resorting to nested directories. There are plenty of tools for analysing and managing such hierarchies.
When working toward a flat architecture, you should also be very aware of link accuracy. Broken and incorrect internal and external links diminish the user experience, and they can have a significant negative effect on search engine optimization. Also, use Google Webmaster Tools or a similar resource; generate a report of pages that are generating 404 errors on inbound links. You may not be able to correct those links, but you can replace the 404 with valuable content or a suitable redirection.
The next step is to ensure that the website does not have an issue with duplicate content. To do this, simply run a “site:yoursite.com” query using Google. As part of the result, Google will display the total number of results. Is that result too high? Well, if you have a result count that is double or more the number of actual pages, then yes, that’s too much. It is an indication of duplicate content. Look for the usual culprits, such as session ids and analytics.
Once you’ve achieved flat website architecture, that is really just the beginning of the journey, and this is where many websites get themselves into trouble. We must maintain our site’s structure, and to do that we must monitor our site index and crawling, and we must perform regular check-ups on the common problem areas. This level of diligence will pay significant dividends long term, and it will allow us to maintain high search engine ranking even as we continue to expand our website.
Bird and Co Creative are a graphic and web design company based in Bromsgrove