Is your information architecture costing your e-commerce web site millions?

Solid information architecture is a key ingredient in any successful SEO program, as it can help or hinder search engine crawlers.

If you need water and decide that drilling a hole in Hoover Dam is a good idea, you’ll be rewarded with a thin stream that lasts for a long time. But if you want a lot of water, why would you stop with just one hole?

I use this analogy whenever I speak to e-commerce firms about getting traffic through SEO. If you aren’t ranking on Google for all your profitable keywords, you’re going to be stuck with a trickle of traffic that represents just a fraction of your full potential.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could direct some of that unrealized traffic back to your website? Today, I’m going to talk about one way to help do that: by building out a logical and intuitive site architecture.

Get started on the right foot with site architecture

The few e-commerce companies that are highly successful invest time and expertise into planning their website structure correctly from the beginning. By laying the foundation for your information architecture on the firm ground of expert analysis based on your historic sales, revenue and conversion data, you’ll ensure that your SEO automatically grows stronger over time and remains immune to tectonic shifts from any future algorithm updates.

Become obsessed with serving customers well

The most profitable e-commerce web shops don’t have sites that mirror their marketing brochures or organizational structures. Online, customers don’t care about that.

They want answers — and they want them fast!

So a company selling bed sheets and curtains might have their site structured like this:

Bed sheets category:
Curtains category:
Within this structure, there can be sub-divisions for specific types:

Bedroom Curtains category:
Living Room Curtains category:

Someone looking for a curtain can be quickly directed to the best location, where they’ll find relevant information about curtains such as fabric, colors, designs, brands, sizes and more — which they can search or filter according to their requirements.

With customization of templates, enough information and content can be included in these category pages to make them complete “destinations” rather than just product dumps that display a long list of items with descriptions.

This kind of website structure is intuitive to users, helps deliver a delightful customer experience, and also has several natural SEO advantages:

– Each time you add a product to a sub-category, you’ll automatically build internal links back up the hierarchy to
a broader category page.
– The anchor text of these “automatic” links will be descriptive and optimized for that category.
– Every URL level becomes a destination, and it can be customized with content that’s appealing to searchers.
– Building deep links to specific category pages is simpler and more meaningful (such as whenever you’re asked for
advice on forums, or write an article on your blog, or for other link-building marketing activities).
– Design your information architecture for future growth.
– It’s important for e-commerce web shops to have information architectures that scale as you grow bigger.

If your site only shows up for the black, 64GB iPhone model, customers who are searching for a white, 32GB version won’t come to you. If a buyer searches for LED TVs, and your site ranks only for LCD TVs, you’ll lose sales.

Hoping that Google will figure out that you also sell these other things won’t work. Your information architecture must be designed to make that crystal-clear. And each category and sub-category should expand and develop as you add new products to it.

How you name these categories also matters, especially when labels you assign in your database are automatically pulled into your URL structure. I’ve detailed technical solutions to help with this in my previous piece on e-commerce SEO best practices.

Taking action: How to get the job done

What you can do to help develop an ideal information architecture on your e-commerce website will depend upon your role in the organization.

If you’re a decision-maker or business leader

Understand how search engines are now the first step for many buyers when researching any purchase; to make sales, your page must be in front of these prospective buyers right from that point.
Appreciate that customers don’t want to be controlled, but guided. Survey them to find out what they want. Then provide answers, information and support.

Realize that SEO isn’t a quick-fix solution to apply on a completed website. It begins with uncovering user intent, and then involves multiple steps that are woven into your site’s structure and information architecture.
If you’re involved in managing product databases

– Learn how the names you assign to categories impact URL structure.
– Study the effect this might have on sales and profit.
– Analyze historic data to select category titles for higher conversion rates.
– Review search volume data to help optimally name products and categories.
– Collaborate with an SEO consultant for the above. He or she will draw up lists of search terms based on keyword
analysis and help you draft unique descriptive text for products listed on the e-commerce store. This will boost
– your search rankings and attract more traffic.

If you’re a product information manager

– Know that you’re improving the experience for shoppers when you load product pages with information based on
keyword analysis by an SEO expert.
– Insist on being trained by your SEO consultant on the best way to incorporate keywords into your product

If you work in design or user experience

– Assess the effect of features like faceted navigation, JavaScript implementation, or lazy loading for pagination
on your sales conversion rate and search visibility.
– Decide whether cross-publishing similar content under different categories might be considered duplicate content,
and then make profit-maximizing choices.
– Evaluate the merits and drawbacks (from both the design and SEO perspective) of using breadcrumb navigation for
category/product pages, provisioning lengthy product titles, customizing category templates, including structured
data markup, integrating social media and (if you have brick-and-mortar locations) using local check-in services.

If you work on code, programming or server configuration

– Avoid issues with duplicate content through technical solutions like “rel=canonical” implementation.
– Optimize the website for fast loading.
– Work out an efficient system to handle variations in listed items, such as different sizes, colors or brands.
– Ensure that the site is optimized for mobile devices.
– Guard against critical problems that affect website performance.

If you’re a project manager

– Recognize the vital role of customer service and user reviews on search visibility, and by extension, your site’s
sales, revenue and profitability.
– Manage the flow of information to diverse teams working on different parts of the process, keeping them on track
and holding them accountable for completion of tasks.
– Work in concert with your SEO consultant to ensure that each group understands its role and gets all necessary
training to do their job well.

As you can see, there’s a role for everyone in implementing an optimized information architecture. With proper planning, a strong site architecture can ensure high search engine ranking for profitable keywords that can be sustained over the long term — and it can even keep on growing stronger automatically as your site develops and expands.

It all begins with laying the right foundation, and this requires close cooperation between all the teams involved, under the guidance of an SEO consultant who is experienced in e-commerce SEO. Only this will help fix profit leaks that can funnel extra dollars into your coffers year after year.