Pod Digital

The Definitive Guide to Ecommerce Website Architecture

an illustration of how site architecture works

Ecommerce site architecture is one of the most crucial aspects if a company is to make a success of things online. Ecommerce sites have absolutely no hope of reaching their potential through SEO if the site is hard to navigate, difficult to buy from and suffering from something of an organisational crisis.

Getting the architecture right as a whole is a necessary evil. Think of it in terms of a house: if the foundations are weak and flimsy, the whole thing will eventually crumble and come crashing down around your ears.

And, who wants that – especially when livelihoods are dependent upon it?

Let’s use a supermarket analogy, if a store is an absolute mess with products littered around in no logical order, the store won’t be functioning for too long. The same applies to your website; if it’s a mess, the search engines won’t want to come to you. If it takes too long to find what they’re looking for and they’ll move on to a sleeker, better-looking store.

This will have a knock-on effect for your customers too. Google isn’t a fan of websites that cannot put the right information in front of the right customer in a neat and intelligent format. This means you can’t rely on that ranking boost because Google doesn’t think you’re worthy of the higher reaches of the SERPS.

And let’s face it, if a customer does somehow find your website and it looks like the supermarket we discussed, they will leave and find a lovely new supermarket.

So, how do you create a website architecture that appeals to the search engines and potential customers?

Strong Website Structure Helps With…

a graphic asking if google loves your site


When Google pops around to crawl your website, it’s doing so to determine if your website meets a multitude of essential points. Critically though, they are looking to determine two things: firstly what is it looking at and how should it display this information when someone searches for related keywords.

A reliable site structure gives Google an understanding of what your site is all about and where it can find valuable information, including what parts of this information should be held in higher esteem and therefore display more prominently. A good site structure improves SEO by persuading Google that a pair of human eyes will be viewing the site and taking in all the information.

Preventing Page Cannibalisation

The very nature of ecommerce websites presents some difficult SEO challenges. That’s because, as we all know, Google gets confused by duplicated content, and if you have an ecommerce site that sells a product that’s even remotely similar – plastic water bottles for example. While it’s true that each product is different, it’s a difficult task to write anything that sounds unique.

The result is that Google will be at sixes and sevens; not knowing which page to rank. This is why you need to define which page is the most important, else you could literally be pitting your products up against each other.

So how do you determine which page to choose? Well, that would typically be category pages. For example, you may have a category page for your fictional plastic bottle company that are made entirely from recycled plastic – you would then optimise the category page for all your related keywords.
To avoid your products clashing with each rinse and repeat this process for every important category page.

Step 1: Help Users Find What They’re Looking For

home page with arrows pointing to menus and search bars

Keep things simple – good site architecture starts with concise and very, very obvious navigation.

Your customers are trying to buy from you, not perform brain surgery – so, make things super easy.

The following navigation features impact ecommerce SEO, and are absolutely crucial:

Main Menu – This is often a customer’s first port of call when they land on the site and is present on every page. Don’t cram tonnes of categories into here, it’s confusing and can look a little suspect when the search engines are crawling the site.

Additional Menus – Even moderate stores are too large to fit all the categories into the main menu, and obviously you’ll need to make sure your customers can find these also, which where additional drop downs come in. Keep these logical and straightforward too.

Search Functions – These are massively helpful, again even moderate stores have quite a selection of products, and if a customer can’t see what they’re looking for immediately the search bar can often be your saving grace and is probably their last attempt to find something before frustration sets in and they click the dreaded ‘back’ button.

Home Page Structure – The homepage is your hub and is the place most people will land first. Your home page should have everything necessary to push any customer in the direction they need to go. For example, if they’re looking for popular products, new products or a new promotion, you’ll need to ensure you show them this in a clean and simple way. According to HubSpot, 55% of your visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on your website. So, in effect, you’ve got just 15 seconds to convince over half of your users to stick around. Make it count.

Before you even begin to build your site architecture, ask yourself:

– What do our prospects ask before they arrive at the site?

– What information will they need to convince them to stay put?

While this research sounds difficult, it’s actually just common sense; think about what products or services you offer and get into the mindset of your customer: what would you look for and what would you need to see to purchase from a specific company?

Step 2: URL Structure 

This is something we’ve previously covered in detail over on our blog, ‘How to Boost Traffic & Conversion on Ecommerce Product Pages’, so we won’t go into too much detail.

URL structure should follow a natural flow. If your URL is all over the place, it helps no one – especially if your site is jammed packed with categories and products.

Below are the factors Google recommends when it comes to choosing URL structures:

– Construct URLs with logical, natural flow.

– Use hyphens rather than spaces of underscores

– Keep it below 70 characters where possible.

Step 3: Filtered Navigation

good example of a side bar filter for an ecommerce website

A typical ecommerce store can sell anywhere from dozens to thousands of products – all of which can come in various sizes, colours, materials and prices. Filtered navigation can help visitors traverse this barrage of information immeasurably.

Filtered navigation is precisely what it sounds like – an easy way for consumers to find the size, colour, material and price they are looking for with ease.

The only concern with this form of navigation is the fact it’s not always search engine friendly. If done incorrectly it can generate multiple URL combinations and duplicated pages. When numerous pages come to the party, it’s difficult for search engines to crawl and adequately index the correct pages.

Doing it right, means ecommerce websites should:

– Decide on URL parameters that are needed for bots to index each page efficiently.

– Decide which parameters will provide valuable information and ditch those that will cause duplication issues.

– Create configurable options for URLs that include additional parameters, e.g. rel = ‘nofollow’ internal links or robots.txt disallow.

Step 4: Breadcrumbsexample of breadcrumbs on the amazon website

Breadcrumbs are something we’ve covered quite a lot in our blogs as well, so you should know by now that, unfortunately, we’re not talking about food. Breadcrumbs, in website jargon, map the users journey deeper into the website. The term is taken from the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale. And while we all know that breadcrumbs spelt disaster for those guys, they are anything but a disaster for a website.

Using breadcrumbs:

– Reduces the number of clicks a user needs to navigate to a higher-level page.

– Improves the discoverability of the different sections and pages.

– Visually pinpoints the user’s location on the website.

– Generates natural internal site links.

– Offers a legitimate opportunity to get keywords onto a page.

Step 5: Pagination

To display products on your website, you have three options available to you: pagination, finger-numbing scrolling into infinity, or a ‘load more’ option. Most ecommerce website designs, utilise pagination as their go-to option.

Pagination allows you to isolate your website content into smaller, bite-size chunks, which gives users the ability to cut down on endless clicking and ping right to the set of products they want to see. Using rel=’next’ and rel=’prev’ tags teaches search engines that these pages are connected.

Step 6: Canonical Tags

Canonicals have one job – informing the search engines which pages they need to look at. Ecommerce websites often have multiple pages with similar content, which is a natural part of selling the same product in different variations, i.e. colour and materials. Inserting canonicals tells the search engines where to focus their energy and therefore search value.

They are mostly used for product pages, but it’s also a good idea to use them on product variations and pagination.

Learn The Road Before the Drive

man wearing a black blindfold while driving

Road mapping your vision for success starts with useful site architecture; otherwise, you’re running down a blind alley.

Too many businesses focus on the look and feel of the website before they’ve learnt the direction their site will travel in.

It’s like getting in the car for a long journey, starting the engine, pulling a scarf over your eyes and setting off – you’ll end up in a ditch sooner or later, so why take the risk?

At POD, we implement all the elements in this blog, before we begin to design the website because we believe that a shared vision of success is the only way to achieve your goals and ambitions.

So, before you begin your journey, give us a call and see how we can transform your ideas into real, bottom-line results.