Probably the most common question that any search engine optimization professional gets asked is How do I get my site to the top of Google?

Unfortunately thats a poor question for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it doesnt take into account determining what keywords you should be trying to rank for. Secondly, some keywords arent worth the effort. Thirdly, you probably haven't done the research to determine whether those keywords are going to bring you traffic or convert well. And fourthly, youre putting the cart before the horse " youve got things the wrong way round. You need to sort out your website structure first.

Get your website structure sorted before embarking on an SEO campaign

According to my 26-Week Internet Marketing Plan there are 4 essential phases in any comprehensive online marketing campaign. I call the first of these phases website structure. Effective website structure ensures that you conduct adequate market research, and that your website mirrors your overall business strategy. It also makes sure that youre using the right keywords in the right places, and that your site appeals to both visitors and search engines.

Good website structure gets you to consider your visitor call-to-action, and encourages you to capture customer data and gain permission to keep in touch with them. It aims to improve your conversion rates and assists with your website visitor analysis.

Lets look at what I consider to be the 6 essential elements of effective website structure and explore what to do to implement them

1) Market Research & Business Strategy

Make a list of all of your competitors websites. List of their products, services and review their sites ease of use. Benchmark your site against your competitors and make a list of how your site can be better.

Ensure that all the important revenue-generating aspects of your existing business are replicated online " and brainstorm how automation and partnerships can augment your existing business model.

2) Keyword Research

Keyword phrases are the phrases that people type into search engines to try and find the type of service or product that you're offering, not the phrases that you think people are going to type in. This means that youre going to have to do some unbiased historical research in order to choose the keyword phrases that are right for your business.

Use the Google External Keywords tool and Wordtracker to help you find keywords which work for your business. Try to incorporate more competitive phrases inside long-tail phrases and make a list of related keyword phrases to incorporate on the same page.

3) Site Structure

Your site structure needs to appeal to both website visitors and search engines. You have to demonstrate a logical relationship between your web pages to search engines. This way they will be able to extract a greater impression that your site is about a particular umbrella topic.

Actual website visitors need to quickly understand the purpose of your site too " and good site structure ensures that both visitors and search engines can quickly and easily determine what your site is about; and quickly and easily navigate through your site.

An important element of your site structure is choosing the right content management system and hosting service. For the vast majority of websites WordPress is an excellent choice as your CMS. Make sure you choose a host which offers one-click WordPress install and has a decent customer service reputation.

4) Data Capture & Marketing Funnel

There are so many different ways of growing a database of customers. However, although its very much in vogue to grow a community on a social media site, unless you collect your own database of email addresses, youre not building long-term direct control over your marketing destiny.

When you do grow your own email database what youre doing is reducing your reliance on other forms of internet marketing " it wont matter so much if your search engine rankings slip in the future and you dont run the risk of being closed down by a third party operator.

I talk about data capture, because its not just about capturing email addresses. Depending on your business, mobile telephone numbers or addresses may be much more important. Invest in a good email subscription and contact management service like MailChimp.

5) Conversion Rates

Far too often there is too much focus on driving more visitors to your website, and not nearly enough on maximizing conversion rates. One of the most significant benefits of increasing your sites conversion rates is that it increases your average visitor value. And this opens your business up to the possibility of being able to afford to pay for many more visitors.

In the past, conversion rates didnt matter so much as traffic was so cheap to obtain. There was a lot less competition for organic and pay per click visits, which meant that conversion rates werent as good as they could have been then it wasnt a major issue.

However, now that there are many more sites online, its important to be able to maximize the impact of as much of the traffic you get as possible. To do this you need to start split testing, and Google Website Optimizer is the place to start.

6) Visitor Tracking

It's essential to insert visitor tracking code on your website at the very beginning " before you carry out lots of internet marketing activities. You need to know where your visitors are coming from and what theyre doing when theyre on your site. And you need historical data. Install visitor tracking code as soon as you can otherwise you wont be able to analyze the effectiveness of your marketing in the future.

There are quite a few visitor tracking options available, but Google Analytics will do for most. Its easy to sign-up; you just need a Google account. Make sure you insert the code on your site as soon as possible " you can only get stats from the date that you insert the code.

Thats just a summary of what I consider to be the 6 essential elements of effective website structure. Hopefully it gives you an idea of how I go about setting up a website from an optimized website structure perspective.