Illustration by Tridib Das
Designers by nature are focused on creating products and experiences that create delight. Beyond and in pursuit of that goal, there are other considerations to be made, particularly if you’re designing a website or landing page. One thing to consider is the structure of your site, both the information architecture and design layout.
A website’s structure can be defined as the structural projection of an informational space that provides intuitive content access. In particular, a website’s structure is important when designing a systematic approach to the process of developing proper navigation.
For instance, assume that you run a store that sells books and albums, but they’re all piled together in one place. In order to find something to purchase, your customers have to go through every book or album to find what they need. More than likely, your customer is going to leave your store and never come back. Customers (and your users) prefer stores (and websites) that are properly organized. One tool you can use to organize information on your site is a proper structure.
What is a website structure, and why is it needed?
A website’s structure helps to form understandable, discoverable, and predictable patterns. A proper website structure helps the site’s visitors find information easily though consistency. Users feel satisfied when they find information quickly, and a solid and relatable structure is essential to the usability of the website. In fact, UX designers can solve broader issues in UI design and usability through good website structuring.
Good website structure is necessary for grouping and cataloging content. When considering potential architectures, designers can typically choose from either a top-down or bottom-up approach based on their users’ needs and business goals.
- Top-down approach – A top-down approach focuses first on general categories of the content. Designers can logically divide the content by gradually breaking it up into categories. This can help inform the taxonomy or hierarchical structure of the website.
- Bottom-up approach – The bottom-up approach is, as you can probably tell, the opposite of the top-down approach. Where the top-down approach focuses on cataloging content into categories, the bottom-up approach focuses first on creating a structure based on the content that is available for the website by grouping the elements into categories of the lowest level first and in turn grouping these categories into higher level ones.
Is there an ideal site structure?
As UX designers, we look for the most ideal site structure when designing a new site based on the needs and business goals of our users. The ideal website structure can be looked at like a pyramid. It consists of a home page, categories, subcategories, and individual posts and pages.
- Home page – The home page is at the top of the pyramid. It acts as a hub for the visitors of your site. Designers should link to critical or popular pages from the home page. In doing so, designers will be able to more easily guide users to the most important pages.
- Categories – Categorization is a valuable part of a website’s structure. Designers can help users make decisions faster and easier with good categorization. Designers can use categories to reduce the amount of time spent considering a decision
- Subcategories – These play a major role in defining a website’s structure. For example, online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon have a nearly unfathomable number of pages. It would be easy for a user to get lost in the information provided. Subcategories provide a structured methodology for browsing and categorizing information in a meaningful manner, especially for websites with complex data.
- Individual posts and pages – Individual posts and pages are the basic elements of a website. Designers should focus on how to create a meaningful information hierarchy within every page, so the user has less to consider when it comes to consuming content.
Types of website structures
There are four main types of website structures. Having a proper understanding of website structures makes it easier for designers to create a meaningful website information architecture. Let’s look into them one by one.
The hierarchical model is one of the most common types of site architecture. The hierarchical model is often used in web applications that contain a large amount of data. The hierarchical model is similar to a tree in that it has a trunk (like a homepage) that branches out into categories and pages. Sites like CNN.com and BBC.co.uk are great examples of the hierarchical model.
Sequential models are popular when leading users through a sequence like onboarding or new account creation when the user is taken through the process step-by-step. UX designers can use this model to create flows for a process. Individual pages on wikiHow.com are strong examples of pages designed with sequence in mind.
The matrix model is one of the oldest site structure types on the internet. This model is unique and non-traditional in its behavior. A matrix-type structure gives users options to choose where they want to go next. These types of sites are best navigated via search or internal links. Wikipedia is a great example of the matrix model.
A database model is a dynamic approach to the website structure. To build a website structure like this, designers should think about the bottom-up approach by considering a page’s metadata and adhering to strong information architecture and taxonomic best practices. Medium.com and its posts and pages are a great example of a database model.
Why you should start with the site structure
By considering the user’s needs first when beginning a design, UX designers can create a website structure that helps the user rather than standing in their way. A good structure adds to usability and can help improve the site’s overall user experience. Plainly put, a website’s structure helps the designer create delightful user experiences through improved discoverability and intuitiveness.