On Page Depth, Flat Architecture, Googlebot Discovery and S…

How important is flat architecture to a website?  What about page depth, which is how many pages deep any page is from the homepage, and how it impacts pages based on that depth?  And what about how a website structure impacts new content?  John Mueller from Google addressed this in a recent Google webmaster office hours with advice from Google’s point of view and what site owners can do to make Googlebot understand content and a website better, in quite a lengthy disccussion.

The question was concern about adding additional directory depth being utilized to split a company’s different locations into their own subdirectory, and if the use of additional directories would have a negative impact over using fewer ones, and whether the depth of those product pages could hit a point where the depth could negatively impact the rankings for those pages.

On the plus side, especially for larger sites with millions of pages, Google doesn’t necessarily look specifically at how deep a page is in terms of directories.  For those who have been doing SEO since its infancy, the number of directories deep a page was used to have an impact, but as websites and SEO evolved, it was less important.

In general, both of these setups would work, so I don’t see any big advantage in having the URLs in separate subdirectories even further down.  From our point of view, we don’t count the slashes in the URL, so if you put it into /stores/ and then /stores/location/ and that’s how you want to kind of keep your website on your server, that’s perfectly fine.

What is important is page depth – how many clicks it takes to get to a page from the homepage.  On a basic level, Google gives lower priority to pages the longer it takes to actually get to a page from the homepage, since generally, a site is making sure its most important and highest priority pages can be accessed with only one or two clicks from the homepage.  If it takes eight clicks to get to a page from the homepage, that page is probably much less important to the overall site.

What does matter for us a little bit is how easy it is to actually find the content there.  So especially if your homepage is generally the strongest page on your website and from the homepage it takes multiple clicks to actually get tot one of these stores and that makes it a lot harder for us to understand that these stores are pretty important.

On the other hand, if it’s one click from the homepage to one of these stores, then that tells us that these stores are probably pretty relevant and that probably we should be giving them a little bit of weight in the search results as well.

So it’s more a matter of like how many links you have to click through to actually get to that content, rather than what the URL structure itself looks like.

Someone questioned whether this means that a flat architect structure would be more beneficial than the traditional subdirectory style that many sites use and many CMS use as default.

From just the URL itself, it doesn’t matter either way.  But with regards to making it easier to understand the context of these pages and how important they are, I think flat architecture definitely tells us a little bit more,.  But it’s still something where you have to be careful not to overdo it.  So if you link to all of your pages from the homepage, then like they’re all on there, so it’s not something where you’d have much value from that, so you still kind of need some structure or some context around those pages.

But if you have a handful of pages that are really important for you, then that will be perfect to link from the homepage.

He also discusses new content and how prominent link placement from the site’s homepage can help those newer pages in the search results, when Googlebot is able to crawl and recognize the importance of those pages based on where the links to the new content are from.

What also makes a big difference for us is especially of the homepage is really important for your website is that newer content is also linked pretty high within the structure of your website, so maybe even on your homepage.  So what a lot of sites have is this sidebar where it’s like new articles or new products or like products that are on sale or something like that, anything that you want to kind of push a little bit in the search results, that definitely helps us there.

So if there’s something new or something that changed on your website that you think is important then make sure it’s linked from the homepage somehow.

Next he was asked whether it was recommended that new content should be linked from the homepage or whether a link from another page on the site, such as a category page that gets lots of traffic from search, would work just as well.

I think that’s perfectly fine to link to it from different locations.  That’s kind of the organic way you set up a website, so I would totally do that.  If it’s something that’s important for your website, then make sure that it’s really obviously important within your website, so that regardless where Googlebot goes, they can see well this is really critical content, this is something I need to focus on right away.

Why else does this matter?  From a user experience point of view, you don’t want to make your visitors have to hunt around to find a page they are looking for.  While sometimes this can be compensated by having a very good site search tool on the site, not everyone will use a search box on a site and will continue to click around.  And bounce rate tends to be higher on sites that visitors find difficult to navigate to what they want.

Google also has a help document on creating URLs and a URL structure for websites.


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Jennifer Slegg is a longtime speaker and expert in search engine marketing, working in the industry for almost 20 years. When she isn’t sitting at her desk writing and working, she can be found grabbing a latte at her local Starbucks or planning her next trip to Disneyland. She regularly speaks at Pubcon, SMX, State of Search, Brighton SEO and more, and has been presenting at conferences for over a decade.

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