Are you starting a new website project? Well, the first thing you should do is choose and develop your website structure.
If you still don’t have a basic idea of how you will present information on your site, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to organize it.
Website structures are the first step in building an amazing information architecture, something that separates great websites from great experiences.
You will want to invest time in selecting the right website structure now because it can help you in the future. Customer trends and needs can change quickly, and websites often need to be updated.
If you want to avoid the costly task of getting things done later, you’ll want to choose a structure that lasts over time.
Choosing her correctly from the start is the best way to do this; however, you should leave room for change over time.
The four types of website structures
If you’ve ever been tasked with developing a website from scratch , you probably already know how difficult it can be to know where to start.
Many novice designers may choose to start with a theme, but when you’re developing custom sites, and larger sites, a pre-built theme might not be right for them.
All sites have a basic organizational structure that falls into one of the four types below. These site structures (or a combination of them) can help you get started with organizing a site of any size.
These are possibly the most common types of website structures.
They start with a broad set of information (main pages) that filter down to more detailed information (subpages).
Sometimes these structures are called trees and are very similar to organizational charts of companies.
These types of structures are just like the name says – they lead visitors from one location to another through a sequence.
While a hierarchical structure can take site visitors down or through another main page, sequential structures only take the visitor backwards or forwards from one step to the next.
While this structure may be untraditional, in the early years of the Internet it was quite popular.
A matrix-like structure allows site visitors to choose where they would like to go next.
Rather than building a sequence, or limiting navigation to parent/child relationships, this framework provides many links under topic groups with those who land on the page choosing where they want to go next.
This dynamic website structuring approach integrates a database with search.
To build a site like this, you’ll need to think from the bottom up – carefully tagging your content’s metadata based on information architecture principles.
When done correctly, this structure produces a site where visitors can create experiences based on what they are looking for.
Why you should start with website structure
Now that you know a little about the four basic types of website structures, it’s time to discuss how using them can help you.
In addition to making organizing any website project easier, using site structures can also improve usability.
The process of creating a site structure forces a developer to think about how visitors will navigate a site. This is a big difference from merely reflecting on what will be placed on the site.
Whether you use a simple sequential model or build a complicated matrix, you’ll start by thinking how, rather than simply what.
Site structures explain how users navigate through a site. This impacts usability because so much of it is based on how easily site users can find their way through a site.
A highly usable website is easy to navigate (in addition to other factors). Website structures do not guarantee high usability, but they certainly help with that.
You can also use your site structure to create themes, which can be useful if you build the same types of site projects over and over again.
While you can work from your last site to do something similar quickly, it’s much easier to create a general theme that you can customize as needed.
Maybe you can even sell your themes online to novice designers who need help structuring their sites. Choosing the structure of your site, however, is the only way to start.
Site structures also benefit larger sites, as they often need special attention when it comes to navigation.
When there’s a lot of content to share, it’s incredibly easy to become overwhelming.
By choosing the most appropriate structure for your organization, you can reduce site visitors fatigue and help keep them on your site longer.
How to choose the best structure for your website
To put it simply, website structures help in developing better websites . So the next logical question for most people is: how do you know which framework to use?
Here’s when it gets a little more complicated. You start by understanding who you are building the site for.
Website structure and audience
As we mentioned above, certain sites can benefit from a mix of site structures based on their size alone.
However, you may also want to consider who will be reading the site (as well as how it will be used) when choosing the structure of your site.
For most users of the site, the hierarchical model works very well.
For this structure, information is sorted and presented in logical order.
One reason most people appreciate this type of organization is because it’s currently the most popular online model, making it easy to navigate simply because it’s familiar.
Simple hierarchies work great on mobile sites, where options are limited to a single page and a few links.
The trick to choosing a structure that will stand the test of time is to create one that is not too shallow or too deep. Too many (or too few) subtitles is a bad thing.
Sequential sites are often associated with educational sites, and this is not surprising, as this structure is based on the style used by print publications.
If you are presenting content that teaches naturally occurs in a logical order (such as alphabetical), or if you intend it to be given chronologically, a sequential structure is probably best.
It should also be obvious that the intended audience is one looking to learn a significant amount of information that is presented on multiple pages.
While sequential structures follow a clearly defined order and work best on smaller sites, there is room to customize them to the needs of larger sites.
Using some of the principles of hierarchical structures, developers can add digressions to this site structure.
These “subpages” leave room to add pages of supporting information without letting the site user stray from its purpose.
Nobody likes to click on a link only to get lost and not know how to get back (even if intentionally). Digressions let site visitors wander, but not too far.
Matrix and database
If there was one sentence to sum up this type of site structure, it would be: “Enter the matrix if you dare”.
Not only are array and database structures more difficult to organize effectively, they are also tricky to navigate if you don’t already know what you’re looking for.
The matrix and database structure are based on large amounts of information and present it as a web of data or as a simplified interface based on entries.
Those who like to use associative thought processes or don’t mind receiving a lot of information at once can take advantage of these types of setups.
In web design, a matrix is often seen as a collection of links to ideas, or a word cloud of topics that take visitors where they need to be.
Database projects rely on a search parameter and user-related information.
These types of sites can provide users with incredible amounts of data; therefore, care must be taken to consider how much is too much.
When there are a large number of topics to choose from, with little or no organization, or no related information can be found from a search, many people get overwhelmed and leave.
This likelihood of causing confusion and losing connections is the main reason why the matrix and database structure are reserved for smaller sites, those with readers who already have a great deal of education around the topic or organizations that can invest in filtering and advanced search.
Building your structure
Now that you know a little about site structures, you’re probably wondering what you should do next.
The short answer is: start building a sitemap.