Case Study: Determining Site Architecture From Keyword Research

As SEOs, we understand the value of keyword research - not only is it used to identify terms and phrases that a site should target, but it could even help to predict market demands and trends.  However, one of the most challenging aspects of keyword research is what happens after thousands of keywords and their search volumes has been collected.  How do you build structure out of all this data?  And also, how do you determine which keywords to optimize the site for?

Keyword Hierarchy

In theory, the optimal site structure is to create a keyword hierarchy, where head terms would be optimized on category pages and long-tail keywords for detail or deep sub-category pages (depending on the complexity of the site).

Site Architecture

Site Architecture Hierarchy Example Courtesy of

Case Study: Health Site

As for practice, recently, one of our clients wanted keyword research to be conducted on a newly launched site and there were several facts to consider.  For one, the site continuously generated new content, so optimizing every page for specifically targeted keywords was out of the question.  The magnitude of the work on our end would be enormous and a manual process of optimizing each article for our client would be incredibly time-consuming and not scalable.  In addition, the site itself wasn’t meant to be tailored to a specific niche, but to a general assortment of related categories under a broad umbrella term (in this case, health). Again, conducting research for all potential health-related keywords would be overwhelming and not efficient.

The live site had an existing navigation in place that was optimized for head terms, such as “Nutrition.”  After selecting on “Nutrition,” you would then land on a page of nutrition articles and an additional left-hand navigation that included sub-categories, such as “Recipes.”

Keyword Research Site Architecture

Site architecture for "Nutrition" head term: existing Category & Sub-Category pages

Although hugely competitive, “Nutrition” and “Recipes” were both keywords that we wanted to optimize for as head terms because they were pertinent to the site and made sense on the site’s navigation.  These terms also had the possibility of attracting a huge amount of search traffic.

Optimizing for Long-Tail Keywords

Ultimately, due to the broad and competitive nature of the keywords that were currently being optimized, as well as referencing our initial keyword research, the only way we could optimize for longer-tail and a greater volume of keywords was to create deep sub-category sections.  By referring back to our initial keyword research, sections such as “Recipes” could include high-volume, but less competitive terms, like “Low Calorie Recipes.”  In addition, as the site continues to increase the amount of content that it produces, a more structured site architecture would help to organize the content and allow users to find the exact information that they were looking for.

Keyword Research Data

Data from Keyword Research for "Nutrition" head term

Example of Site Architecture

For this simplified example, only the data above and the search volumes were used, although in reality, other factors would have probably been taken into account, such as the competitiveness or the general trends of different keywords.  In this case, some potential deeper sub-category pages were identified such as, “Low Calorie Recipes.” By classifying different high-volume keywords, an eventual architectural structure started to develop.  Below is a sample of what the site architecture of the site could potentially look like based on optimizing the site for some of the long-tail keywords from our initial research.  Each deep sub-category page would contain additional unique articles related to that category.  For instance, the deep sub-category page “Low Calorie Recipes” may contain articles for “Low Calorie Chicken Recipes” or “Low Calorie Dessert Recipes.”

Keyword Research Site Architecture

Site architecture for "Nutrition" head term: Sub-Category and Deep Sub-Category pages


There are a multitude of other factors to consider when deciding on the architecture of a site, especially for more complex sites, such as ecommerce or directories, where there might be thousands of almost identical product or listing pages.  For these types of scenarios, perhaps determining site architecture from keyword research may not be the best strategy.  This type of approach may be better suited for static sites or sites that continuously produce unique content.

In general, when deciding on the structural architecture of a site, consider the overall vision for the site and the end user that you’re targeting.  Although, keyword optimization is important, ultimately the user experience is even more crucial.  Deciding on a categorization strategy could help scale massive quantities of content for a site, while maintaining a comprehensive navigational system for the site.

Stephanie Chang

Stephanie Chang

Stephanie helped open Distilled’s New York office in June 2011 after working for a year at a New York-based full-service agency. She oversaw the SEO and social media execution for a variety of clients including B2B, B2C, e-commerce and international...   read more

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  1. Steph,

    Excellent first post at Distilled! This is exactly the approach I used when creating a niche fitness website (boxing) over the past few months. Not only does KW research help you understand what is most important to your users in the niche, but it can help create a proper tree-structure website architecture. The reason I love this is because each page is designated a very specific theme (i.e. - You aren't trying to rank for 500 different type of 'recipe' keywords on your Recipes sub-category page - but you've allowed the KW research to help guide deeper, relevant details pages "low calorie recipes") - this allows SEO's to optimize all page elements in alignment with that theme.

    I look forward to your next post. :)

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  2. This is the truth Steph! It is great this client came to you to design the architecture of their site, this will go a long way with improving their SEO. SEO inspired site architecture is almost a must for a content machine like your site. It's almost like Bruce Clay "siloing" and it makes perfect sense here to break the subcategory pages as related to their category as possible. It is a shame most people tend to just throw categories together without regard to being organized and crawable for spiders and users, though it is worse for static business sites than for news type sites.

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    • Actually, the client came to us with a general idea on what keywords they wanted to target and we decided to take it one step further and demonstrate how they could implement it on their site. True, though similar to Bruce Clay's siloing, I don't think our suggestions to the client were anywhere as granular as his solutions.

  3. Great post Stephanie,

    This kind of approach to architecture makes great sense from an SEO point of view and allows you to concentrate on the keywords that show intent and will bring the right kind of traffic to your site.

    It also allows you to rank for the long tail whist you work on giving the site the power that it needs to rank for more competitive terms.

    Great, to the point actionable post - looking forward to more from you!

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  4. Some real food for thought here... Always nice to find new awesome blogs that talk in detail about SEO :)

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  5. It seems like everything under the Recipes sub cat could have easily fit underneath the Healthy Eating sub cat, and same goes for some of the other deep sub cat pages.

    How did you determine where to put the deep sub cat pages? And why did you list all of those seemingly "healthy recipe" related deep sub cat pages underneath a very general sub cat of Recipes?

    It's difficult stuff to figure out, I know, which is why I'm curious to find out your process for working through this sort of issue.

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    • The purpose of the diagrams was to provide the client with a vision of what their site could look like. I actually kept all of the site's existing sub-category pages, but you're correct and "Healthy Recipes" might have been a better sub-category page. For this particular site, "Healthy Eating" actually does not mesh well with "Recipes" because it contained articles about various topics, such as the science of eating and the science of dieting, whereas the "Recipes" sub-category was literally a list of different recipes. It is difficult to figure out site architecture, but in general it's about working with the client and helping them decide what works best for their site. There are so many things to consider when developing site architecture, but it's very important to consider the user experience, as well as the potential of the site in terms of target audience and traffic among others.

  6. How in the world did i miss this?? Steph, you are one badass mammajamma - nice work here. I also agree that the Healthy Recipes and Healthy Eating categories should be separate. Main reason for me would be so that i could set up a separate RSS feed for my recipes category and if i keep it 100% on-topic to recipes, i've increased my odds for better subscription and syndication rate (links & traffic ahoy!)

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  7. Wow, great article Steph! I recently did a keyword research project, also for a Health website. Working in Excel and pivot tables is the best time saver ever! Not only does it help you decide on which keywords to go with under each, but then you get market demand data for specific sections. I typically categorize them, then run a lookup report matching keywords in their GA visits data. It's one handy trick I've learnt :)

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    • Hi Jackson, That actually is a fantastic idea. Thanks for sharing! Yes, Excel and pivot tables are definitely amazing...I actually can't imagine doing SEO without them.

  8. I am currently in the process of restructuring my website to help with keyword hierarchy which will hopefully result in better search engine rankings. This post will come in handy. Many Thanks :)

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  9. Kim

    Hi Stephanie,

    The way you have presented the Keyword Map data to make it easy for the clients to understand is fantastic.

    We will definitely incorporate this into our proposals moving forward.

    Thanks Again

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