How to Visualize a Site Structure in 5 Simple Steps

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An A-to-Z Guide to Site Structure Visualizations

Let's admit to each other, all personal and professional differences aside, when we visit any website, we expect everything to be intuitive and logical.

What makes it possible is an efficient site structure geared towards better user experience and unhampered search engine crawling. In pursuit of these things, we have developed a new feature in WebSite Auditor that allows users to visualize a site structure to spot any possible problems at one glance and fix them right in the app.

Let me tell you this, the day we launched it, I passed my colleagues and saw that every one of them had these beautiful site structure graphs on their computers. The holy awe of exploration.

Can you imagine our surprise when a good deal of our users did not even come close to this kind of awe. I could not leave it as it was and decided to explain some things about the importance of being structured as well as to give some tips on using our Visualization feature.

Why does a nice site structure matter?

I will boil it down to a few bullet points:

  • Better user experience. The faster your visitors can find what they look for (and of course, if it is really the info they look for), the lower the bounce rates will be.
  • Better crawling. A strong logical site structure allows search engines to access, crawl, index, and return the pages of your site in a more efficient way.
  • SERP sitelinks. An efficient site structure can help you receive sitelinks in the SERPs. It means that users are able to navigate your site right from the search results page. Plus, it shows the most relevant information and occupies quite a deal of SERP space:

What is it: "a site with a perfect structure"?

How about more bullet points?

  • The one with a hierarchical structure.

    Where hierarchy is:

    • logical
    • with a fair amount of main categories and
    • with a balanced amount of subcategories
  • The one with a shallow structure.

    What is shallow anyway? It usually means three or fewer clicks to reach any page of the site. I know that it is not quite a case when you already have a huge site, but the fact is the fact — a shallow structure is more preferable to search engines and users than lengthy strings of clicks.

  • The one with an efficient internal linking structure.

    First of all, internal linking saves you in the situation when your site structure is far from shallow — it decreases click depth.

    Plus, when you create a new page, it is very handy to link to some of your older authoritative pages that will make your new piece of information more comprehensive and relevant. It is kind of natural clustering on a topic basis.

    Second, internal linking helps to evenly spread link juice between all your important pages. Link juice flow shows search engines which pages are worth their special attention.

What do you need to do before visualizing your site structure?

Before you go into some visualizing, you have to make sure that all your important pages are reachable for search engines and visible to visitors. Otherwise, you may make some strategic structural changes for the pages that cannot even be found.

Thus, check for:

  • Sitemap — just make sure that you have it and update it in line with your changes. Sitemaps show search engines around your website in a very hospitable way;
  • Links in Flash — links that are embedded in Flash can be inaccessible to search engines;
  • 'Nofollow' links — make sure that your internal linking structure does not contain any 'Nofollow' links, as such links get their portion of link juice, but they do not pass it to the pages they point to;
  • Links with Frames — Frames are a serious obstacle to Google and other search engines when they try to index your site;
  • Pages with duplicate content — pages with the same or similar content confuse search engines, so they virtually can index wrong pages and rank older pages over new ones. Plus, people can link to different versions of one and the same page. Thus, consider using canonicalization for proper indexing and page return in SERPs;
  • Alt attributes for images — help search engines understand what your images are about. It will make your content look more authoritative. Plus, it is a perfect opportunity to use keywords more and in a safe way.

How to visualize a site structure with WebSite Auditor? And what to do next.

Step 1. Visualization of an overall site structure.

Create a project for your site (or a part of your site) in WebSite Auditor or open an existing one, go to Site Structure > Visualization, and see what happens.

Once you have your graph, you can work in three modes:

1) The shortest connections between your nodes.

By default, the tool shows 1,000 pages (which can be adjusted up to 10,000 pages) that are arranged by Click Depth.

What pages are shown? The algo chooses the shortest connections between your top pages on the basis of the lowest Click Depth values and the highest Internal Page Rank values.

All the nodes' connections are shown as arrows (either one-way or two-way) that represent the exact state of relations between pages. It is also possible to drag any node to any place on the graph (to visualize a better picture) as well as zoom in and out.

In the column on your right, you can see the short statistics on the total number of your pages and links as well the list of all the pages' URLs that can be found on your website. When you click any URL in the statistics list, it is then highlighted on the graph.

2) The connections of a particular node.

Click on any node to reveal only its connections:

To return to the display of all connections, just click on any empty spot on the field.

3) All the existing connections.

Click on the Display all pages' connections button to do what this button promises — to display all the connections, not only the shortest ones limited by the Click Depth and Internal Page Rank values.

Please beware that the whole navigation of your site will be included into this graph, so if you do it for a large part of your site, it may look scary and confusing.

However, you may need it when you work on a meticulously narrowed part of your website (for example, a number of theme-related articles).

Pro tip: If you have a large website, it is better to visualize it part by part (e.g., main categories, a blog, etc.). This way you will create a better picture of your site and spot any problems with ease. Using the filter option (click on the funnel icon on the top right), you can either include only pages with specific words/symbols in the URL or exclude pages on the same basis.
It is also possible to create separate projects for specific categories of your site. Whatever option suits you.

Step 2. Analyze the Click Depth picture.

1) Look at your graph and check whether you have any orphan pages. These are shown as grey nodes that do not have any connections with others:

You may ask how we find such pages if they do not have any connections. A fair-enough question. We get them either from Google index (in this case there can be external links to this page but no internal ones — it needs to be fixed) or from XML sitemap (in this case it means that you haven't updated it for a while, and there is some old stuff you have to get rid of).

2) Pay attention to the colors of your nodes.

  • Blue nodes are pages with 3xx codes (redirects).

In case you see a number of blue nodes following one another, this is a redirect chain (like when you have your non-www version redirecting to http://www and then redirecting again to https://www). No matter how beautiful it looks, it needs to be fixed.

It is recommended to avoid redirect chains longer than 2 redirects, otherwise, your page won't be indexed, as Google bots do not follow more than 5 redirects. And, more to that, each of the unnesessary redirects will hamper the speed of your website.

  • Red nodes are pages with 4xx/5xx codes.

Monitor red nodes in your structure as they can point to a possible problem on a site. Try to fix broken links if there are any, as they can cause poor user experience and hurt your site. Plus, it is a waste of link juice.

3) Look for lengthy strings and check whether they are justified:

See long chains of nodes on the screenshot? They can appear in case of pagination, which can be totally ok for you. However, if many parts of your site are linked that way, this is a disaster (unless you are interested in hiding your content from everyone — then, sorry, good job!).

Pro tip: Note that you can hover on any node and reveal additional info:

Step 3. Analyze the Internal Page Rank picture.

Choose Internal Page Rank in a drop-down menu on the top right. Here the size of nodes reflects the value of Internal Page Rank — the importance and authority of a page within your site. The bigger the node, the higher the value.

Pro tip: Check out the additional information by hovering on a node. Pay attention to the value of Internal Page Rank:

At this point you may ask: 'What's the deal with that Page Rank? How is this graph supposed to help me?'

The thing is, the graph allows you to keep an eye on whether your main pages have that level of internal authority that they are supposed to have: homepage should have the highest Page Rank, main categories should have a higher value than their subcategories, etc. All these things are easily seen at one glance that you cast on your graph.

If you wonder how to change your Internal Page Rank values in case they are inadequate, here is just a few strategies for Internal Page Rank sculpting that you can use depending on your SEO goals:

  • Internal linking that helps your main pages rank higher for high-search-volume keywords

Let's take it for granted that your website is optimized for a number of high-search-volume, high-competition keywords, of a usually generic meaning (like 'winter fishing').

It is then obvious that the content of your homepage is optimized to rank high for such keywords, while other pages serve to provide additional but still useful information. Such pages can include contextual links that point to the homepage. It is important to use target keywords in anchor texts of such links.

This way, the homepage will have a lot more links pointing to it than any other less important page, which will amplify the average Page Rank of your site.

  • Internal linking targeted at mid-search-volume keywords

Mid-search-volume keywords are usually three-word keywords with a more specific meaning than high-search-volume ones (e.g., 'winter fishing equipment'). They usually belong to categories.

In this case, such category pages have the highest priority, so the contextual links (with target keywords in anchor texts) should point to them.

  • Internal linking targeted at low-search-volume keywords

Low-search-volume keywords are usually long-tail and with the highest conversion. When people search for them, they know exactly what they want. Such keywords may belong to the bottom level of a website, like individual blog posts or product listings.

If you hunt for such keywords, then most contextual links should point to such pages, and these pages should be properly interlinked.

Pro tip: Note that for each scenario you have to use anchor texts for contextual links consistently, i.e. use only variations and close synonyms of your target keywords.

Step 4. Analyze the Pageviews picture.

Connect your Google Analytics account. You can do it in Preferences > Google Analytics Account. Update your data in Site Structure > Pages and then in the Visualization dashboard rebuild your Pageviews graph.

Here the size of nodes reflects the value of Pageviews. The bigger the node, the higher the value.

Pro tip: Check out the additional information by hovering on a node. Pay attention to the value of Pageviews:

Why do you need this graph? That's obvious: you can see the traffic flow to certain pages at one glance! I think it is an extremely nice addition to your spreadsheets and GA tables.

The next thing to do is find your conversion pages on the graph and check whether your main traffic pages point to them. If not, adjust your structure to use each opportunity that your own site gives you.

Step 5. Manage your visualization graphs.

1) Edit your graphs in-app.

Once you understand what you can get from different kinds of visualizations, you can go on and apply the necessary changes in pursuit of a perfect site structure.

By clicking on any node, you enter the editing mode. Using the action buttons on the left, you can:

Add a page.

Remove the selected page from visualization. (Or just hit Delete on your keyboard).

Add Incoming Link. It is possible to add a few links at once.

Add Outgoing Link. It is possible to add a few links at once.

Create a Redirect Link.

Remove the selected link.

All the actions are accompanied by pop-up windows where it is possible to find pages you would like to add, link to, redirect to, create anchors to newly added pages, etc. as well as add some comments:

2) Customize your graph.

You can make your graph even handier for use by applying a personal touch:

Change the theme of a background (light or dark). Just an aesthetic thing☺

Mark the selected page. By adding text and color labels to some nodes, you will be able to tell your most important pages or pages that you work at. Note that when you first visualize your site structure, some of the nodes will be marked automatically. These are the pages with the lowest Click Depth and the highest Page Rank.

Pin nodes to a certain part of your screen. This way these nodes stay where you pinned them when you rebuild your graphs after some changes. You can still drag pinned nodes manually to the places you need to.

3) Recalculate the values after changes.

After you have made some changes, I think you will be genuinely interested how it influenced your site structure in terms of Click Depth and Page Rank values. Just click button to recalculate your values.

4) Color the visualization graph by tags.

In the course of your site audit in WebSite Auditor, you could add tags to some pages of a particular type. Or you may do so in the Pages dashboard: right-click on the needed page(s) and choose Add tags to selected record(s) .

Once you tagged pages, go to the Visualization dashboard, click the palette button , and set up specific colors for each of your tags. This way, it is possible to either highlight some pages of a particular topic (and reveal interlinking connections between them) or filter out unnecessary ones.

There are a number of scenarios when you may want to tag your pages. What comes to my mind at once:

  • Page Rank investigation

The pages within your site can work as an eco-system — each has its functions thus complementing each other. For example, by linking to the pages with lower Page Rank scores, pages with the highest external Page Rank can give an authority boost to the latter.

Go to Pages > InLink Rank, sort your pages by InLink Rank (which is an alternative to external Page Rank), pick the most prominent ones and the ones that need some boost, and tag them correspondingly.

In the Visualization dashboard, color these two groups by tags. Check what you spend your highest Page Rank on. Think whether it is possible to direct it to those pages that need some "ranking boost" help.

  • Topical clusters investigation

It's no secret that topical clustering is useful for your site. Why? By interlinking your posts on a particular subject, you are creating a field of expertise (that also solves the problem when your good content is buried under click depth). In this field of expertise, you may want some of the most prominent (or more up-to-date) posts to rank higher.

Here is what you can do: go to Pages, search for a particular topic that you know you have lots of quality content about, leave only the relevant pieces, and tag them appropriately. Then go to the Visualization dashboard and analyze the connections between the tagged pages.

For example, I tagged all the posts that we have on SERP, and (bugger!) they are not quite interlinked:

The strategies for topical interlinking:

  • Define the pillar of your cluster: the page with the most general information on the topic. Always make sure to link back to the pillar from more specific pages — it is like a homepage of your topical cluster.
  • Link from less to more specific content creating topical subclusters.
  • Within the subcluster, link from high ranking to lower ranking pages to increase the relevance of the former.
  • Give "similar posts" tips.
  • Use keyword-targeted anchor texts when linking internally to your other topically relevant pages. What I mean: do not use hyperlinked "click here", use "the latest survey on socks color preferences".

5) Export your changes as a to-do list.

Of course, the changes you make in-app are not automatically applied to your site. However, you can easily export them as a to-do list either for yourself or for your team/webmaster.

By clicking button at the bottom of your action panel, you can discard all the changes/the last change, or export a final list of changes in CSV:

What's more, by clicking the Export button in your dashboard, you can export all pages (or all links) in CSV. Or you'd better save PDF with the graph image and send it to your client. I'm sure he or she will print and hang it on the wall over their beds.

Pro warning: When you rebuild your project, the Changelist is not saved. So be careful, export your changes prior to rebuilding.

Why is it great to have a built-in visualization tool?

It is no secret, you can visualize your site structure separately with the help of such tools as Gephi, for example (and providing you have a spreadsheet with all your links).

Then, once your spreadsheets are loaded into Gephi, you will see the data represented as a random group of connected dots. After that, you will have to run a number of layout algorithms to get something close to an interactive picture of your site structure. Believe me, it is a sweaty piece of work!

So I should ask my last question here, why all the sweating if we already built in everything into WebSite Auditor's Visualization module? It only needs a few minutes to complete this task. You'd better see it for yourself!

I sincerely hope that now you can share our awe at this feature (at least partially, c'mon, guys!), and most importantly, by now you should realize how it's gonna help you reach this Zen kind of a site structure.

If you still have some questions or suggestions, I'm always there for you in the comments.

By: Valerie Niechai