In this internal architecture SEO guide, we are going to examine how large websites can scale their organic traffic by simply connecting all of their webpages 3 clicks away from their homepage.

We will investigate one of the leading property websites in the UK, and attempt to unveil how they scale up their organic traffic.

We will also look into how some of the largest publishing websites that create on average 200 new articles a day with topics, yet to be searched can implement a scalable internal linking solution.

Before we get into this, I want to give you insight into the reason why I decided to write about this subject in the first place.

Introduction

On one of the websites I work on, I was asked by the CEO if they should remove all links on the homepage?

You are probably thinking, what kind of crazy person could ever dream of such Armageddon?

But most people, especially C-level people are not thinking about solutions with our secret ninja SEO glasses. They are thinking about customers, revenue and more sales. E.g. when a report shows them that 76% of website visitors that use the internal search bar convert 50% better than those who do not use it.

Of course this would give premise to the question, why not remove all distractions and help people convert faster?

However, this is the homepage, and predominantly on any site, most branded traffic comes to the homepage.

And as we know, branded traffic almost always has a higher conversion rate!

Not only that, with this particular clients website, there was a shift towards mobile traffic.

They were also not taking into consideration that their website was not responsive.

The majority of their traffic was coming through their mdot with only the search box available to the user on mobile.

Obviously, the first thing I said, like anyone who wears the SEO ninja glasses, is, “If you remove navigation links, you are essentially hindering search engines ability to discover it’s most important pages outside the homepage”.

But then, a clever UX consultant said:

“But what about the Mobile First Index?”

I heard that Google is now crawling with a mobile first index & doesn’t seem to have a problem with not finding their content?

(Pause, deep breath. Refrain from strangling UX consultant.)

This is because:

Google will crawl the mobile website & with the mobile user agent and discover the canonical (Desktop) with a separate URL structure website. It will continue to do so until it can 100% rely on the mobile version only.

Which I later confirmed with my back up hero…

John Mu Google Tweet

Right, so what does this little tale tell you?

Don’t get mad when someone quotes an industry article from an expert SEO who wears pyjamas.

Instead, try and understand how search works even at a high level.

Google prefers to crawl mobile because the internet has moved to mobile. We know this. But we also need to understand how Google might be able to discover all of our content.

Especially now with the mobile-first index. We need to consider how we build SEO strategies to best accommodate this.

And yes we also know users are going to spend less time navigating around your website to find what they are looking for.

But people use search engines to find what they are looking for, and, people are not always brand loyal. Especially if they know exactly what they are searching for.

This is where building out Internal architecture SEO strategy comes into play.

It helps you scale up non brand organic traffic.

Let’s dive in:

What does the architecture of a 3-Click Website Architecture look like?

3-Click Website Architecture

Original Source: https://zyppy.com/site-architecture-SEO/

As shown above, what we are looking to achieve with any website internal architecture is a 3 click framework.

Think about website architecture in three levels from the homepage, using modifiers to connect each level, e.g:

Home

> Level 1 Modifier

> Level 2 Modifier

> Level 3 Modifier

Generally, the first step of any SEO strategy is to perform keyword research.

However, I am going to challenge your status quo thinking and think about keyword research from a website architecture point of view and think about keyword modifiers.

Let’s break down the above example using a property website’s internal architecture.

Property Website Internal Architecture SEO Example

A great example of a property website that has their website architecture built out for SEO is Zoopla

(Note: I do not work for or know anyone who works at Zoopla)

Property Website HTML Sitemap Optimisation

Let’s start off by having a look at Zoopla’s HTML sitemap.

Zoopla HTML Sitemap

As shown above, the HTML sitemap located in their footer.

They have broken down their HTML sitemap based on location.

If we click London located under England, we can see a further HTML sitemap which open’s out a third modifier, in this case bedroom number (modifier 3) as well as defined areas of London:

Zoopla London HTML Sitemap

If we then open up their East London html sitemap:

Zoopla East London HTML Sitemap

Without evening opening up a keyword research tool, we can assume that the main keyword combinations are;

[Property Listing Type] for sale in [Location]OR[Post Code]

[Bedroom number] property for sale in [Location]

Zoopla Keyword Search Volume

Inputting “property for sale” into Ahrefs keyword explorer, we can see above, without having to expand out the 123,086 other keyword combinations, the main keyword combinations have been confirmed above.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer

Another really useful feature of their tool in how they show their clickstream data and the organic opportunity with 88% of users, clicking on organic listings. They also group their keyword volume by country at a glance.

Meaning that, if we were scaling this website out globally, we would need to confirm if we have chosen the right main keyword combination. As the United States, is it true the bigger country has less global volume?

Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty

We can now see that “houses for sale” is the biggest seed keyword in the United States, but also, we can see the organic opportunity has reduced with 35% of no click searches and a greater proportion of ads on the SERPs.

Just to confirm, that “You say tomato, I say tomahto” and we don’t call the whole thing off, we can use the tool to view the SERP to see in the UK.

We want to check if Google can interpret “property for sale” and houses for sale” as the same thing;

SERP Overview

And it can.

Just to note:

(I’m not endorsed by Ahrefs, I am just a massive fan and use their tool for quick keyword research and competitor analysis on a daily basis)

Now, having a HTML sitemap optimisation strategy in place might mean that you have connected all levels of your website.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that we have achieved the goal of the 3-click website architecture.

This is where the bridge page HTML sitemap play comes in.

Bridge Page HTML Sitemap Optimisation for Internal Website Architecture

#HTML sitemaps can also be used as bridge pages.

Let me explain.

There are two parts to a large property website; the search box for humans:

Zoopla Search Box

And then the link block for search engines:

Search Engines

Both of these are found on the house for sale landing page.

However, when we expand out London here, we can see that they are using a bridge page in the form of a HTML sitemap to connect all of the locations and property types in inner and outer London.

Breadcrumbs are also used to connect the page back to the main property for sale page.

Zoopla Website Breadcrumbs

And if we look at that cluttered image above, we can see there is one more final refinement. A HTML sitemap page used to bridge both areas and postcodes for the inner London location pages such as East London above;

Zoopla Areas and Postcodes

Link blocks on property website landing pages

Link blocks on landing pages are probably the most used internal link building strategy on large websites.

Sticking with the Zoopla property website example each property listing page uses two link blocks. See the Alderbrook property listing page below.

  1. Number of Rooms Link Block

Zoopla Rooms Link Block

This page connects its children room type + number of rooms pages;

Example; “1 bedroom house for sale” https://www.zoopla.co.uk/for-sale/houses/1-bedroom/aldersbrook/

And then as shown below, landing page link blocks for search engines with the main property type in that location

Zoopla Narrow Property Search

Room Type in Location URL example example;

https://www.zoopla.co.uk/for-sale/flats/aldersbrook/

Which are again, the key modifiers with this location.

All of the above examples which were shown above for scaling properties for sale can be found on the Zoopla website for renting, commercial, new homes and even overseas properties.

What does all of this tell us?

When working with large websites, forget about keywords. And manual landing page optimisation. Instead, think about the 3-click website architecture. And how can we scale this?

Break this up into one question:

What are their relationships? How can you group them and what are the key modifiers?

Now let’s look at other examples outside the property space.

Let’s look at publishing websites, using the following principles of Internal Architecture SEO.

  • HTML sitemap optimisation
  • Landing Page Link Blocks
  • Contextual Internal linking

Publishing Website Internal Architecture SEO Examples

Publishing websites are some of the largest and most authoritative websites online. A lot of the time they get away with poor SEO. This is due to their trustworthiness and freshness of in-demand content created daily.

In my current role, I work in house at a large publishing group, and per day, there could be anywhere from 150-200 new articles created and published per website.

For the most part, new topics surface into the news every day.

How do you organise that amount of new never been searched before content and still achieve that 3 click website architecture?

By following the steps as illustrated above with the property website.

But this time, with the publishing website example, we know that the modifiers in the news are generally grouped by the Who, What and Where.

Google Trends

See above realtime search trends for Ireland grouped by the Who, What and Where.

Let’s take the first example above;

“Kilkee” – Where

“Cliff Jumping” – What

And the third story;

“Simon Mignolet”, “Liverpool F.C” – Who 

Clicking into the story when comprehensively written explains the “Why” and the “How”.

This is where HTML sitemap optimisation comes into play.

Publishing Website HTML Sitemap Optimisation

The Guardian does a great job of this by organising their articles with their topic html sitemap.

The Guardian Topic HTML Sitemap

The topic HTML sitemap is organised by alphanumeric order (1-9, A-Z).

Each of these pages dynamically updates with new topics added daily, with some letters even holding as much as 500 topics per letter;

The Guardian Subjects

And with some of these topics having over 15k articles per topic, thew pagination as shown below will not suffice to connect these articles.

The Guardian Pagination

Which is no surprise when using free website crawler SEOlyser the majority of their content is 5 levels deep.

SEOlyser Website Crawler

Still, if we compare that an Irish news website, Independent.ie, that does not use topics, pagination, or breadcrumbs, we can see that content goes deeper and deeper away from the homepage.

Independent Website Crawl

Interestingly, when we compare that crawl with that of its sister publishing website in Northern Ireland, The Belfast Telegraph, that does make use breadcrumbs, we see far fewer pages going past a depth of level 4.

Belfast Telegraph Website Crawl

Disclaimer: I am employed by INM, and have started to work on the SEO for the Independent.ie and Belfast Telegraph, as well as all of its classified websites in the group.

What does this show us for publishing website internal architecture optimisation?

The Guardian’s HTML sitemap, linked on their footer connects all of their published topics together.

They also use breadcrumbs, pagination and contextual linking to connect all the pages together.

The contextual topic links they use are automated. See example below;

Contextual Topic Links

Which is why when compared to the Daily Mail (which does not use an automated internal linking system to their topic pages), the Guardian, for “World Cup” search visibility, had consistently better performance.

Search Visibility

Read more on the benefits of internal links and hub pages.

Large Publishing Website Bridge Page HTML Sitemap Optimisation

When it comes to large publishing websites, that have hundreds if not thousands of topics, these can quickly scale out of proportion if not handled correctly.

So much so that generally on publishing websites, navigational links get removed from the top-level menu.

As a result, this orphans a lot of content.

Independent Navigational Links

For example, looking at the top level navigation of the Independent.ie, only 184 of the total 716 sections created are linked to from the homepage.

Which leaves 74% of the website and articles orphaned. Not surprisingly that articles that linked to from the top-level navigation drive on average 96% more impressions.

This is where the idea of content silos or bridge page optimisation comes into play;

Content Silos

Image source: 15 Site Architecture Tips for Performance SEO: Master Guide

If we look at how the Guardian structure their content silos with football, we can understand how they have applied a similar logic.

Level 1 – https://www.theguardian.com/football (Top Level Menu Navigation Link)

The Guardian Top Level Menu

They have broken out their Football section into the “modifiers” that people search for within football;

  • Live Scores
  • Tables
  • Fixtures
  • Results
  • Competitions
  • Clubs

Football Clubs, when you expand it out creates a bridge page HTML sitemap organised by the “Who” and the “What” modifiers as discussed above;

The Guardian HTML Sitemap

Instead of orphaning content, just because, say “Luton Town” may not be in the news.

When working with large publishing websites that create new content at scale, grouping content by topic and utilising bridge pages or “content silos” can be a great way to connect and organise a massive publisher website.

With HTML sitemaps categorised by date as shown below by the Times HTML sitemap a great way to connect all articles in the archive.

The Times HTML Sitemap

Both examples above are effective ways to group, organise and connect webpage on massive publisher websites. And a critical component from preventing orphaned webpages.

Key Takeaways

Use Internal linking to scale up webpage connectivity for search engines to discover and give importance to your pages. And don’t rely on XML sitemaps only.

John Mu Tweet

Via @Johnmu, Webmaster trend analyst at Google on Twitter.

XML sitemaps & RSS feeds are one of the best ways to inform Google and other search engines, about both the total amount and updates of articles or pages on your website.

However, when it comes to internal linking, as John Mu has said above, sitemaps do not replace these.

  • Consider building out a HTML sitemap optimisation strategy
  • Consider including further HTML sitemaps as bridge pages.
  • Think about either leveraging automated contextual linking logic or creating landing page link blocks to connect other parts of the website.

Let me know on Twitter (@dansmull) if you know of more ways to scale organic traffic with internal link building strategies or generally ways that you have found to improve a website’s internal architecture for SEO.

Further reading;

Dan Smullen

Dan Smullen is a technical SEO Specialist working as head of SEO at INM. By day, you can find him crawling, fixing and helping companies turn their customers search into found. In the evening he is Chloe’s Dad & Ciara’s Husband. At the weekend he is a massive craft beer & BBQ aficionado despite the Irish weather!

All articles by Dan Smullen »

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