Your success in search rankings depends on many factors, the most significant among which are links and content quality. But for search engines to be able to assess the quality and authority of your e-commerce site, it has to be easy to use and well-structured.
For e-commerce, website structure defines how customers will interact with the store and how search engines will access its content. That’s why it’s essential to build a solid structure and optimize it from the user and SEO perspective.
In this post, we’re going to cover X aspects that will help you polish your site structure and optimize your store.
1. Keyword clustering
To build your store’s structure, you need to look at your catalog and target keywords you’re going to use to attract customers.
Take the list of your target keywords (if you don’t have one, conduct keyword research first) and divide it into groups based on the criteria you find useful.
For example, a store that sells curtains might have clusters based on material (“linen curtains,” “velvet curtains,” etc.), style (“curtains with valances,” “panel curtains”), or color (“white curtains,” “blue curtains,” etc.). Having these clusters will help cover all the different keyword variations and design helpful filtering options (so that customers can filter the results by material, style, color, etc.).
If you’re only starting a store, such keyword clustering will arm you with the understanding of what major sections you should have in the menu, what you can include as subsections, and what to use as search filters.
If you’re already running a site, keyword clustering might help you polish your e-commerce navigation.
2. Proper e-commerce navigation is everything
Once you know what are your categories and subcategories, you should design a user-friendly menu that will feature the most searched terms. You can have a menu on top of the page or on the side and set different behavior for it: it can display the categories by hover or by click.
Here’s an example of a header menu bar:
It looks clean and only has three sections: for men, women, and new arrivals. When a customer clicks on one of the sections, they see a full list of the most popular product categories plus featured collections.
Sometimes, stores don’t need that many items on the menu (if they’re selling only several types of products and don’t have a multi-level e-commerce website structure). Here’s what a super-short and simple menu might look like:
Besides a menu, you should think through some other navigation elements that are crucial for user experience:
- Header and footer.
Besides menu navigation included in the header, you can put other important links there: shipping information, return policy, your company’s store, etc. Usually, a header also features the cart icon and login button.
In the footer, you can put contact details, shipping and return information (it’s up to you whether to include it in a footer or in a header), locations of offline stores, size guides, care instructions, etc.—whatever makes sense for your business.
Breadcrumb navigation eases a customer’s way in-between categories and product pages. It’s a list of links that represents the path to a given page.
For instance, when a customer lands on a primer product page in a cosmetics shop, breadcrumbs will show the path from the homepage to the face care section to the primer subsection and to the particular product:
- Sorting and filtering options.
All the aspects of your store’s products that people search for can be incorporated into e-commerce filter navigation: gender, size, material, color, etc. Make it easy for users to see and combine those filters, and on top of them, provide a sorting feature so that customers can sort products by price, recency, or other parameters.
Bonus tip: Think about the order in which to show your products before a visitor applies any filters. You should put your best-sellers, promotional or seasonal items on top of the list, while it’s best to hide sold-out products or put them at the bottom. Apps like Nada (for Shopify) can help you automate that.
3. The importance of a sitemap
To help search engines discover all your pages and understand your store’s structure, you should have a properly formatted sitemap and submit it to Google.
Many e-commerce site builders—like Shopify—automatically create and update sitemap files. It’s both good and bad: good because it eliminates typical formatting errors, and bad because it doesn’t give you enough flexibility to manage what links to include in the sitemap. You can learn more about finding, editing, and submitting it from our post on Shopify sitemaps.
Here are your major considerations about a sitemap file:
- Your sitemap should include all the pages you want to be indexed (so that they can appear in the search results).
- Pages in a sitemap shouldn’t be blocked from indexing in robots.txt or by the meta robots tag. If you do block certain pages, don’t include them in the sitemap file.
- If your store has too many pages, it makes sense to create separate sitemaps and put links to all of them in the general sitemap file.
- It also makes sense to create a separate sitemap for images.
4. Clear URL structure
Your store’s URL structure should represent your general hierarchy. It should follow a path from the homepage to a category to a particular product.
The level of control you have over this depends on your CMS. For example, Shopify’s URL structure doesn’t give you much flexibility and might create unnecessary long slugs (slug is the final part of the URL). It always follows a hierarchy of collections and pages. So, if you create a collection to highlight sale items, it won’t be shown by yourstore.com/sale but will have the URL of yourstore.com/collections/sale. Or, if you have a contact page, it won’t be shown by yourstore.com/contacts but will have the URL of yourstore.com/pages/contacts.
For URLs to be SEO-friendly, they should be:
- As short as possible. The URL like yourstore.com/collections/sale/products/feminine-red-ditsy-floral-spring-midi-dress is not so good. The better one would be yourstore.com/sale/red-floral-midi-dress.
- Devoid of additional symbols and prepositions. yourstore.com/products/folding-chair-for-camping-mh500-173601 is not so good. Instead, use yourstore.com/products/camping-folding-chair.
5. What about images?
It’s also important to use descriptive names for image files on your store. They should reveal the content of the picture in a clear and readable way.
If you have custom product photography, files might come with default camera names like “IMG_124.” You should rename them to illustrate what’s shown in the image—for instance, “red christmas sweater.”
With e-commerce CMSs, you might have some limitations when it comes to file names. For example, when you’ve uploaded images to Shopify, their names can’t be changed. If you have messy file names, the only method to change that would be reuploading the files once again, with the names fixed prior to putting them to Shopify.
6. Don’t forget about internal linking
When you link out to your pages from other pages, you’re solidifying your store’s structure and helping search engines assess it. Avoid having orphan pages that have no links pointing to them or dead-end pages that don’t link out to anything else on the website.
However, there’s no point in linking for the sake of linking so take the following rules into consideration:
- Put relevant internal links. Naturally, your collection pages will contain links to products, but what can you do besides that? Writing blog posts can be a powerful and natural way to support your store with internal linking. If you’re selling gym gear, for example, write articles about different types of training and promote relevant products there.
- Use descriptive anchor texts. The text where you put the link (anchor text) should be clear and informative. For example, instead of linking the whole phrase “ultra-compact and lightweight camping chairs,” use only “camping chairs.”
- Link out to your cornerstone content. Define what are your most important pages and make them as easily accessible as possible. For instance, seasonal offers or special promotions should be integrated into your header or sidebar so that it’s visible at the first glance.
- Follow the rule of three clicks. Ideally, any page of your store should be accessed in no more than three clicks. This might be a challenge if you have an extensive catalog, but navigational elements such as breadcrumbs will help you deal with it.
- Don’t use nofollow. Earlier, the nofollow value of the rel attribute was used to distribute the link juice and give more power to chosen pages: the page marked with nofollow would give up its power to other pages. But now this value only wastes the link juice so it’s not recommended to use it.
Optimize your site structure at ease
If you follow all the best practices we’ve mentioned and approach your store’s structure with regard to its niche and content, then you’re guaranteeing your visitors a great experience and an easy way to find what they need. Plus, you’re establishing a solid search presence.
Bonus tip: You can check if search engines understand your e-commerce site structure well enough by looking at how your store looks like among the results. If you have relevant sitelinks (which means your search snippet includes the most popular sections and possibly a search bar)—congratulations, the e-commerce navigation and UX you’ve built are comprehensive to both search engines and people.
If you’re using Shopify to run your store, there are certain limitations to how you can optimize your Shopify site structure. If you’re facing some issues or want more flexibility, you can utilize tools like SEO apps or plugins to control your navigation, URL structure, sitemap, and other aspects.
For more things SEO, check out our guide to Shopify search engine optimization.