Before we get into the hard facts, let’s take a look at the overall goal of your website. If you’re a dentist and you decide to take your practice online, what’s your ultimate goal? To acquire more patients. Sound simple? It can be, but it will involve some work on your SEO Consultant/Agency’s side. It can be done. That’s why dentists all over the world are taking advantage of an online presence. SEO works. But why is your website’s structure so important in the grand scheme of your website? Your user may be able to find your website, but they need to be able to dig deeper if they so desire. This is how you develop trust with your users, and it allows qualified users to turn into patients on their terms.
Why Your Website Structure Matters
Say you were going to build your own dental practice from the ground up. You’ll most likely start with plans, permits, and blueprints. Next, you start to build. Once the building is finished, you decorate the inside, adding your professional touch to the interior. Then you invite patients to your practice.
A website is similar to constructing a brick and mortar building. You need to plan it, acquire the necessary pieces to construct it, build it, and then promote it.
The structure of your website is the foundation of how users find the content/information on your website. With a good hierarchy throughout your site, it is easier for search engines to index your webpages.
What A Good Structure Looks Like
Your dental website needs to make sense in its organization just as much as in its content. The words you use are equally important to how you organize the pages on your site.
Below is an example of a hierarchy map. Your website should have a similar structure to this. Start with the homepage, which includes your top level navigation (the 3-7 items in your menu). The first level is your first drop-down tier of menu items. The second tier of the drop-down menu items follow. And then the third tier. It’s recommended that you don’t make the user click more than three times to find the deepest information of any one topic on your site.
Tier 0: Home and main navigation.
Tier 1: First level of drop-down menu items.
Tier 2: Second level of drop-down menu items.
Tier 3: Third level of drop-down menu items.SOURCE: http://moz.com/learn/seo/internal-link
Benefits of Good Site Structure
The image below shows the result of site links on the Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP). If your site is setup correctly, you gain an advantage when users are searching for you.
Sitelinks are a huge advantage when it comes to SEO. They increase brand reputation, user trust, and shorten the conversion process. Sitelinks also increase navigability, offer relevant options to the user, and help you increase Click-through rate (CTR) to your site. Another big bonus is SERP domination. You have more than one link on the SERP while your competitors have one, maybe two.
If you do not structure your site correctly, you won’t be awarded sitelinks from search engines. Not having site links could be costing you traffic and qualified users, so it’s best to ensure your site is technically sound.
How do you get sitelinks? It’s not something you can apply for with search engines. The process starts with your website. You’ll need to build a structurally sound website. The search engines will reward your site if they deem it viable for sitelinks.
Easier for Search Engines To Crawl
The main focus for any website should be the user. It’s the reason you have an online presence, to attract more users and invite them to be patients at your practice. Although this is your primary focus, it doesn’t hurt to make it easier for search engines to crawl your site. One way to make it easier for crawlers is to create a hierarchy on your website that’s clear and concise. A sitemap helps in this regard.
Bots/Crawlers index webpages, so when users query the database the search engine is able to provide relevant information to them. Your site structure could determine how much of your site the bots actually crawl and store in their database for users. This is huge when it comes to SEO. The more relevant your content to the user’s query, the more likely they’ll find your website in the SERPs.
It’s often argued that without a solid site structure and organization, you won’t succeed with SEO.
Five Elements To Creating A Better Website Structure
Before you begin building a site, plan out the hierarchy. You can do this on a whiteboard, a spreadsheet, or a piece of paper. As long as you have an idea of how your site structure will look before you begin, you’re on the right track.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the idea of hierarchy. It’s simply a way to organize your content and information to fit the needs and expectations of your users and the search engines. This process also allows for better URL structure, which also helps users and search engines find and identify your web pages.
Take note that your hierarchy should not be complicated. It’s simply a logical system that denotes the topic and how deep into that topic you’re going contextually. For example, a homepage navigation item can read: Services. The drop down menu under this item can read: Cosmetic Dentistry. And the menu items under this can read: Teeth Whitening, Veneers, Crowns, etc. As you get deeper into your site, the content should become more specific.
Services = General
Cosmetic Dentistry = broad
Teeth Whitening = specific
Keep this in mind when creating your own website structure. It will help keep your site depth at a minimum while providing the most value to your user.
The URL structure quickly follows the structure of the website hierarchy. The subfolders of the root domain should match the actual hierarchy of your website. See the image below to understand again how the site should look in general when it comes to organization and depth:
Say your homepage URL is this: www.YourDentalWebsite.com
You want to make sure your URL structure follows the site structure. Any page that is not the homepage needs to be a sub folder (unless otherwise suggested or recommended, which can occur, but that’s a whole other conversation on subdomains, etc. We’ll stick with sub folders for now).
A single click deep into your dental website should result in the following URL structure:
Two clicks deep should look something like this:
For the final level and three clicks, it should look like this:
The organization of your URLs helps users and search engines. The user can easily see which page they’re on and where it’s placed in the website. Search engines are able to logically find the content on any of your pages, no matter how deep they go.
Shallow Depth Navigation (3 levels or less)
If you take a look at the chart shown above, you can track the URL from the top level at the homepage all the way to the third level to teeth whitening. Also, notice that this path is at the maximum of three clicks. Home is 0. Services is 1. Cosmetic Dentistry is 2. Teeth Whitening is 3. This path meets user experience expectations and is no more than three clicks deep from the homepage. This suggestion comes directly from the following Search Engine Journal article.
Header Navigation Menu
Create your navigation in your header with as few main topics as you can. The less choice for the user the better. For dentists, you’ll most likely use the following: Our Office, Services, Patient Information, Blog, Contact.
Remember that the main navigation can be tailored to fit your services and marketing efforts. If you’re a dentist that wants to highlight your restorative dental services, this topic can be a main item on the homepage navigation, so it’s easier to find for the user.
Your homepage navigation is completely up to you, but the general rule is to keep it between 3-7 topics. Anything less and you run the risk of being too broad. Anything more, and your user becomes overwhelmed with options.
Also, make sure that if you do use a menu list in your footer, that it matches the order of your header menu list. This creates consistency in the user’s mind, which increases user experience.
Internal Links That Make Sense
If you’ve followed the guidelines so far, you should have a bare bones structure. It needs some muscle on it, connecting the internal pages to one another in a proper fashion, so that users can find information on your site naturally and effectively.
Internal links should follow the same strategy as your site’s overall hierarchy. A Cosmetic Dentistry page should link down to one of its children pages: teeth whitening, crowns, veneers, etc. But the children pages should never link back to the parent pages.
Here’s why: The more specific the topic, the more likely a user is ready to take an action. They’re looking for an answer to a question or more information. To link back to general information can frustrate the user when they want more specific details.
Also, you can link across internal pages horizontally, if it makes sense. For example, if a user finds the crowns page, and an alternative to crowns as a cosmetic procedure is veneers, you can link across to that procedure. This is a horizontal move for the user, and it makes sense if they’re searching your site for specifics on how to cosmetically enhance their teeth.
However, if you link from the crowns page to the root canal page, it probably won’t make much sense to the user, and it will frustrate them.
A safe way of linking internal pages to one another is to make sure the anchor text references the content you’re linking to.
For example, if I’m linking the following text: A less invasive cosmetic procedure like veneers… The link should lead to the veneer page. Not the cosmetic dentistry page, not the services page, not the homepage. It needs to direct the user to the page referenced in the text, which is veneers.
Keep your user and yourself in mind. What makes most sense to you as a consumer/patient will most likely be the answer to your question. However, if you’re unsure, ask an expert.
One of the most overlooked aspects when it comes to websites is the structure. The form tends to be placed higher than the function, and it shows with most sites. Their SEO suffers because search engines and users have a hard time navigating their site. If you want to get ahead of your competitors and give your users the best experience possible, consider website structure first and the design second.