When a website goes into development most of the attention is usually paid to the design elements. That's obviously the most important thing, right? The images, the layout, the colors, the navigation, how the user will interact with the site? These are all important elements to consider and necessary for developing a site that provides the best usability experience for your visitors. But what often doesn't get enough attention is the site's directory structure.

When I talk of a site's directory structure I refer to both the file directory and internal link structures. They are two very different things, but in reality they should often mirror each other very closely, but not always perfectly.

Three directory structure types

There are two commonly, yet improperly, implemented directory structures. The first is the flat directory structure.

Overly-Flat Directory Structure
Page URL example:
http://www.site.com/page.html

Many might argue that this is the ideal directory structure but I disagree. Granted, if you have a very small site then a perfectly flat structure like this is the way to go. But once you're dealing with a site that has more than a dozen or so pages, it's time for a little organization.

A flat structure like this gives equal weight to all your site pages in a navigational context. The search engines don't see any hierarchy of importance, nor do the visitors get a sense of any kind of page categorization (though this can be implemented visually on the site). The problem is that once your site starts to grow a bit each page really isn't as important as every other and you need a file structure that accounts for that.

This is where your file directory structure best mimics your visual structure if you've implemented visual separations in your site categories. But before I get to that in more detail, let's look at the other improperly implemented directory structure. Instead of being too flat, this one has too many folders and sub-folders, and creates a more vertical directory structure than is necessary.

Overly-Vertical Directory Structure
Page URL example:
http://www.site.com/dir1/dir2/dir3/dir4/dir5/dir6/page.html

I'm all for staying organized but this is a bit too ADD, even for me. The problem here is that the pages on the lowest level are so far away from the the home page that you're burying them, making them near impossible for the user and even the search engine to find.

That's not to say the search engines won't find them all eventually, but you're not making it easy being so many clicks away from the home page. There are some instances where this can't be helped, especially for very deep sites, but most e-commerce site's don't need to have products more than four clicks away from the home page.

If you already have your directory structure set up this way it may not be a good idea to go and change it. Instead, rework your navigation so that while the physical file structure may appear to be pretty deep, the internal link structure flattens it out a bit, much more like my ideal directory structure below.

Ideal Directory Structure
Page URL examples:
http://www.site.com/dir/page.html
http://www.site.com/dir1/dir2/page.html

In this example every page is two clicks away from the home page. This is a simplification, and not feasible in all circumstances but feasible enough for many websites. Implementing a relatively flat directory structure such as this ensures that good pages are not buried and are easy enough for the user to find starting from the home page.

By setting up your directory structure this way you're also communicating the value of each of these pages. Buy not burying them under piles of directories and visitor click, the search engines understand that these pages are to be weighted as being more important than the others.

Proper Implementation

Before we leave this topic, I want provide just a little bit more information on how to properly implement your directories and sub-directories. By creating directories to group similarly themed pages (i.e. backpacks go in one folder, wheeled bags in another) you have the opportunity to add additional keywords into your URLs. You also have the opportunity to junk up your URLs by going overboard, creating a spammy looking site, so be careful not to do that!

Here is a good implementation of the ideal directory structure above:

Using Keywords in Your Directory Names
Page URL examples:
http://www.site.com/keyword1/page.html
http://www.site.com/keyword1/keyword2/page.html

Here is a real life example of using keywords in the directory names in a way that makes good sense:

http://www.site.com/batteries/motorcycle/sYTX9-BS.html
http://www.site.com/battery-chargers/8-volt/BM12108E.html

You can see by this implementation that we're not "stuffing" keywords into these directories, but using them in a way that makes sense both to the search engines and the visitors. But before you get all directory happy, here is an example of what you don't want to do:

Spamming Keywords in Your Directory Names
Page URL examples:
http://www.site.com/keyword1/page1.html
http://www.site.com/keyword2/page2.html
http://www.site.com/keyword2/keyword3/page3.html

I've seen sites that create a directory for every single page on the site. Don't do that. Directory folders should contain a number of pages that all pertain to a particular topic of the site. If you have pages that don't pertain to any particular topic then put those pages in the root folder, keeping in mind that not every page needs to be in directory folder.

Implementing a sound directory structure will help, not only with basic organization but with establishing the site's overall hierarchy. A good hierarchal structure can play a significant role in how well your site gets spidered and pages re-indexed in the search engines.


June 5, 2008





Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(26)

http://www.searchengineguide.com/stoney-degeyter/how-to-create-a-directory-structure-sear.php

Whoops on the first post....

So this:

http://www.site.com/battery-chargers/8-volt/BM12108E.html

is not the same as this:

http://www.site.com/keyword2/keyword3/page3.html

????

Jaan, I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Did I say they weren't the same? Please elaborate.

Right Stoney I am confused. You say this is a good idea:

http://www.site.com/battery-chargers/8-volt/BM12108E.html

then this is a bad idea:

http://www.site.com/keyword2/keyword3/page3.html

Looks the same to me.

Jaan, you have to use that illustration in context. The context here is that there is that there is a directory for every single page on the site. One folder, one page; another folder, another page. Whereas proper architecture is when there are many pages to a folder/directory.

I understand. I think i was taking it to literal.

Spot on. If I have a website about the animal kingdom I would start with URLs such as http://www.site.com/reptiles/snakes/snaketype.html
but there is no need to go all the way down to:
http://www.site.com/reptiles/snakes/big-snakes/phythons/africa/rockpython/african-rock-python.html

Okay, so perhaps at time it's worth going a bit deeper but if you only have 2 pages on snakes, no need to go far too deep.

Spot on. If I have a website about the animal kingdom I would start with URLs such as http://www.site.com/reptiles/snakes/snaketype.html
but there is no need to go all the way down to:
http://www.site.com/reptiles/snakes/big-snakes/phythons/africa/rockpython/african-rock-python.html

Okay, so perhaps at time it's worth going a bit deeper but if you only have 2 pages on snakes, no need to go far too deep.

Interesting idea suggesting we use keyword directory structure, but watching out for going to deep. I think you need to do what makes sense, and is easiest to manage.

I'm a webmaster for www.paysimple.com and I can into a site that was built with most files in the root/ I'm interested in re-building the directory structure but I'm affread of loosing hard earned page rank on the files that I move into a directory. Does anyone know of a way to re-structure a site without hurting page rank?

Thanks,
Josh

@ Josh: I would suggest that you move the files, set up a 301 redirect to pass the link love onto the new page. While you will most likely lose a little of the PageRank by properly structuring your pages and directories you can reap greater benefits in the future.

Ok, sounds good. If I do all of the re-directs with the .htaccess file, is there any kind of limit to the amount of redirects I should do? Maybe it does not matter if I have 100 redirects I'm just not sure.

Thanks

Josh, I've only ran across limits in redirects when I was on a GoDaddy server. Avoid them and you should be fine.

Thanks for the great article! I understand the that pages shouldn't be buried deep in a directory structure now, but what about the elements of the pages, like images? If my images are nestled five directories deep, will my page rank be affected?

For example, I have this directory structure:

vacation-rental-properties >> us-arizona-phoenix >> villa-sol.htm

But the villa-sol.htm page has images that are heavily nested like this:

images >> properties >> us >> arizona >> phoenix >> villa-sol >> image01.jpg, image02.jpg...

Would this be a problem or am I okay as long as the html page isn't buried too deep?

Thanks for any help!


That typically won't be a problem at all.

Great article!

What are your thoughts about sites that have brand > model.

The question is would it be better to build a directory with more directories or pages?

Option A (assumes there will be no pages i.e. domain.com/Brand/Model1/page.html)

domain.com/Brand/Model1/
domain.com/Brand/Model2/
domain.com/Brand/Model3/

Option B

domain.com/Brand/model1.html
domain.com/Brand/model2.html
domain.com/Brand/model3.html

Thanks!

I'm not a big fan of the Model1/ format at all. I like there to be individual pages.

Thanks ;)

What do recommend for Wordpress users? I've been searching hi and low for a siloing an theming plugin for the latest version of Wordpress 2.7.1-- I've seen a lot of "add ons" and lists of plugins ( for example: http://www.sitepronews.com/archives/articles/2008/0208.html ) to create the same siloing and theming...

But nothing that's all-in-one, like: http://www.memwg.com/seo-siloing-wordpress-plugin/

** The primary purpose of the Wordpress plugin is to create category landing pages-- essentially converting Wordpress' dynamic pages into static pages with links to all the postings in a given category.

Also what about a virtual linking structure? I've heard for best results -- use both directory and virtua. Any thoughts on that?

Dear Stoney deGeyter,
can you check my website structure please,
www magarena dot com, i don't know why google indexing only 350 pages from all 2400 ... Before 2 years when the site was started google indexed all 2400 pages, and after 2 month 85% was deindexed.

Hi Alex, If you are interested in a site audit you can contact me via our website www.polepositionmarketing.com. This is a service we provide.

Any chance you could make some broad statements about international web site(s) and how to tackle the issues of multiple IP Addresses, multiple languages, redirects, avoiding duplicate content(SEO aware), cookie preservation across sub-domains and of course the logistics of authoring and maintainng the sites? We have all these requirements and the SE ranking is #1 priority closely followed by user experience. My perspective is the website developer.

@ JWH - I don't think you have to keep different IP addresses between sites unless you plan on spamming or running multiple sites that all do the same thing. For different languages I'd go the sub-domain route that way they can all pull benefit from each other. With the different languages you should not have to worry about duplicate content.

The light bulb has finally been lit. Thanks for the informative article. I have been researching my competitors sites, and wondering why they have inbound links from their own websites, and I have none. Question- Answered.

Thanks for the article Stoney! I have a question: Does how you name the directory matter? Example, should you name it /furry-animal/ ? or /furry animal/? or /furry_animal/? etc... Does google view /furry-animal/ as a phrase or one word "furry-animal" or does it view it as two words "furry" and "animal"? And if you use a space in between the words (/furry animal/) does the %20 in code (/furry%20animal/) throw google off from an SEO stand point?

Thanks

You have explained this very clearly, i think i will follow your idea for domain.co.uk/keyword/townname.html as like you say Google will treat all those pages within the folder as being of equal importance.

Cheers
Mike

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