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 seomoz.org

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

Conclusion

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.

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