Ecommerce SEO | Site Architecture & Internal Linking

There are three main purposes of your site architecture – to help users find what they want as efficiently as possible, to flow link equity to key pages throughout the site, and to aid search engines in discovering all of your pages.


Helping Users Accomplish Their Goal

Making it easy for users to find what they’re looking for is no small feat. While this is distinct from SEO, it is important and should be a main consideration when working on the site architecture.

Balance is critical. You don’t want to build a site architecture for SEO that either confuses or inhibits users. At the same time, you want to make sure you don’t build something that is awesome for users but is prohibits the flow of link equity to important pages or doesn’t help interior pages get indexed.

To determine the proper site architecture from a user perspective, you should utilize multiple research strategies to understand the ideal path of a user.

To start with, review your analytics data. In Google Analytics, the “Behavior Flow”, “Site Search”, “All Pages”, and “In Page Analytics” are all useful starting points. The goal here is to understand what pages consumers are trying to get to. With e-commerce sites, a frequent large problem is confusing taxonomies – things aren’t categorized the way that customers expect.

User Flow GA Report

If you want to understand what users are expecting, there is no real substitute for sitting down and watching your customers navigate your site. You can learn insights from both people who are return customers and people who have never seen your site before.

Heat mapping software is another favorite tool for understanding what people are trying to do on your site. Crazy Egg and Hot Jar both have very capable heat mapping features. While traditional analytics software packages can provide insights into user interactions, heat maps tend to provide a clearer picture of how your users are navigating your site.

While heat maps scale well and tell you what is happening, the data does not tell you the why behind the actions. This is another reason you should spend time sitting down with your customers to understand what they need to buy from you.

To get qualitative feedback to use for shaping your categorical structure and navigation, you can try tools such as User Testing and Feedback Army.

To truly understand how users and engaging with your site and why, you will need to use a mixture of the methods outlined above. You will have to synthesize data from multiple research points to understand how your site architecture should be structured.


Content Discovery

In order for search engines to index your site well, you should have a clickable path to every page you want indexed.

While Google uses a several different tools for indexation (xml sitemaps, social shares, etc), having a crawlable site with a clickable path to all pages that should be indexed is the foundation of all content discovery efforts.

This means your links must be in HTML and should not be in technologies like JavaScript or Flash. Though Google has made advances in their ability to understand content in these technologies, it shouldn’t be relied upon for your site architecture. Though Google has made significant advances in its crawling abilities, Bing is not nearly as strong as Google in its ability to handle JavaScript. In order to ensure maximum discovery from Google and Bing, make sure your links are delivered in HTML.


Passing Link Equity

Typically most link equity will be concentrated on the homepage. As such, it is critical that there is a clickable path down to all pages on the site – this will flow link equity from the top of the site down to all of the other pages.

As equity flows from one page to another, the amount of equity is reduced at each level. The diagram below shows the dilution of link equity throughout the different layers of the site.

flow of link equity


For this reason we typically want all important pages to be within three clicks of the homepage, such as:

> Category Page > Sub Category Page > Product

>Category Page > Pagination Page > Product


Internal Linking Structures

There are two primary linking structures for ecommerce site – vertical (or intra-category linking) and horizontal (or inter-category) linking. Intra-category linking structures link to other categories (or products from other categories) while inter-category linking structures link to other sub category pages or products within the same category.

Linking structures2


Integrating both types of linking structures is important to maximize the amount of link equity passed around the site, enabling optimal organic performance.

Intra-category linking is often achieved through automated structures such as:

  • Related products
  • Recently viewed products
  • Top rated products
  • Related brands
  • Similar categories
  • “You might also be interested in”
  • “Other people who viewed this product bought”

Inter-category linking is typically accomplished through navigation menus, but can also be done through the use of automated structures such as:

  • “You might also be interested in”
  • Related categories

Additionally, it is important to look for ways to integrate links from the content side of your site back to product and category pages. While your navigation will automatically generate links from all pages on your site, content pages included, it is important to look for additional ways to integrate links to additional pages.


Action Items

  • Review inter-category linking for opportunities
  • Review intra-category linking for opportunities
  • Develop updated internal linking strategy