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Using Keyword Research for Optimized Site Architecture

Site architecture and keyword research go hand-in-hand. Like, almost literally. If they were a couple, they’d be the kind that made you nauseous. You know, the newlywed ones that share a soda one sip at a time. And to get the most out of your site’s traffic, your site must be laid out correctly. Site architecture’s fingers have to interlock with keyword research’s or you’re going to be leaking a lot of SEO juice in places you didn’t know you had pores. Obscure and unsavory imagery aside, there is a simple way to explain site architecture and its relationship with solid keyword research, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do in this article. Read on to find out how to combine keyword research with site architecture to supercharge the SEO of your site. First, we’ll cover the important aspects of site architecture, then we’ll move on to how to apply keyword research to it properly.

Now, this is covering just the basic principles of site architecture, especially as it relates to small business website design, and doesn't take internal linking structures and other factors into account. This is simply a strategy for correct site layout.

Site Architecture: Flat Hierarchy

The term “flat site architecture” gets thrown around a lot, but it means essentially this: you want all of your content to be as close to your homepage as possible. The general SEO rule of thumb is to keep it within four clicks or steps. The detail pages in the image are as far as you want to go. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Easy navigation: If your content is buried behind several levels of navigation, nobody is going to be able to find it from the homepage. You've got to serve the user’s needs.
  • Crawlability: If your architecture is scattered around behind multiple navigation levels, the bots will be less able to locate and index your content.
  • SEO juice flow: Your homepage—as the URL is likely your root domain ( or—will be the hub of all of your authority. All of the SEO juice that your site receives will be reflected on your homepage. And, therefore, you want your pages to be as close to your homepage as possible to receive the maximum amount of SEO benefit. The more steps you add between a page and your homepage, the less juice gets there. Think of it like Saito in Inception. The more dream levels they add, the worse he does.

That means that the most valuable keywords in your niche should be as near to the homepage as possible. The length and complexity of the keyword phrase will vary depending on which niche you’re targeting, but the keywords with the highest traffic that most accurately describe the page’s focus should be on the pages closest to your homepage. Make sense? Good! On we go.

Keyword Research for Site Architecture

When you’re selecting keywords to target on your site, conventional wisdom suggests that you should take high-traffic, low-competition phrases. These phrases are one-in-a-million in most niches, and searching for them will rob you of valuable time you could be spending, yknow, creating more content or building links. I’m not saying disregard advanced keyword research, just be sure you’re getting a good return on your time investment.

To maximize your site architecture, place the keywords that most accurately describe your service with the highest traffic numbers at the top of your hierarchy. This means you’re not targeting “ochre steampunk Livestrong bracelets wichita kansas” on your first category page. Cast the net a little wider when you’re higher in the architecture; target “Livestrong bracelets” in the top few pages and work your way down to “steampunk” and color denominations (PS: if anyone can get me a steampunk Livestrong bracelet, I will be your friend forever).

Programs and strategies abound that tell you that you shouldn't target highly competitive phrases, because you’ll never rank for them. I may be excessively optimistic, but this seems like a very shortsighted strategy. If you’re not targeting the phrases with the highest value for your niche (what site that sells any type of Livestrong bracelets wouldn't want to rank for the basic phrase?), you’re never going to rank for them. There are a few reasons you should target high-value, high-competition phrases anyway:

  • Long-term business benefit: If you want your online business to go anywhere, it’s likely you’re going to be working on it for a long time. Invest your time in a worthwhile phrase. If you want to be a nationwide company, don’t limit yourself to a geo-specific phrase high in your architecture.
  • You’ll only hit what you’re aiming at: If you never attempt to target the high-value phrases, you’re never going to get traffic from them. Aim high, and you’ll at least reap some long-tail benefit from them.
  • Long-tail traffic: Long-tail phrases are often modified fat-head queries. In essence, if the searcher is looking for Livestrong bracelets and doesn’t find what they want on that first page, they start adding qualifiers. “Livestrong bracelets” becomes “ochre Livestrong bracelets” which becomes “ochre steampunk Livestrong bracelets.” That’s how long-tail traffic finds your site. If you’re not using “Livestrong bracelets” high in your architecture, you’re going to have a harder time ranking for the subsequent long-tail queries as well.

If you’re not constructing your site around the highest-value keywords in your niche, you’re selling your site short of traffic it could be receiving, both immediately and in the long run. Here are your takeaways:

  • Keep all of your site’s pages as close to the homepage as possible.
  • Place the highest-traffic keywords high in your architecture; don’t worry too much about competition.