The implementation of a solid website hierarchy strategy is fundamental to both an intuitive user experience as well as optimal search engine rankings for all sites. The term hierarchy can be broadly defined as how we categorise things in order of their perceived importance. We apply hierarchical structures to all manner of things, from the places we would like to visit to our favourite restaurants.
When visiting websites we follow the same principles in navigating our way around, perceiving the home page to be the most important page with all other pages cascading down in importance at each layer – for instance from product category down to individual product pages. Search engines like Google attempt to promote websites with logical website hierarchy structures in their search rankings to ensure their users have the best experience through their search results. Therefore it is in a webmasters best interests to apply website hierarchy best practices to maximise both user experience and search rankings.
The best practices when it comes to website hierarchy constantly change; therefore as an seo company we stay up-to-date with search engine news and updates and to some degree recommend that you do too. Since posting 88 search quality highlights in June, 2012, Google has gone ahead and implemented the majority of these factors into their organic search algorithms over the years, with two of these updates being critical to the relationship between website hierarchy and search rankings and thus becoming best practices.
The Google ‘freshness’ update aimed to improve the relevance of search results for searches looking for the most recent content. This had direct impacts on sites, which employed poor hierarchy conventions where pages of lower importance but were more recently updated began outranking their parent pages. For example, a new product page situated at www.wesellstuff.com/balls/product1.html would outrank the category page at www.wesellstuff.com/balls. Not only would the newer page outrank the parent page, it would actually replace it in relevant search results, and would subsequently drop in search rankings, as it is less relevant than the parent page.
The Google ‘snippets’ update began including the elements of website hierarchy within the display URL of search results. Websites with poor or non existent website hierarchy conventions not only didn’t look professional in search results, this loss in quality resulted in them being clicked less often and thus losing search rankings over time.
Therefore, webmasters must implement logical website hierarchical structures into their websites to ensure they avoid site ranking penalisation and are rewarded with improvements in both usability and search rankings. Often it’s the larger sites that more frequently have website hierarchy best practices implemented due to their breadth of pages available to categorise. However this does not mean that smaller sites cannot take advantage of the usability and SEO benefits of correct website hierarchy. The key is to break down your offerings into as many targeted offerings as possible, focusing on granularity backed up by search demand to maintain relevance. For instance, travel insurance can be diced into many sub-offerings, such as over 60s travel insurance, extreme sports travel insurance and so on. Whether you are going more granular or updating your website hierarchy to best practices, ensure to follow this SEO migration and mapping redirects guide to avoid any ranking loss.