Building a successful ecommerce business isn’t about having great content delivery, checkout functionalities or top-knotch SEO practices. Although these elements are important, none of them will result in scalability and growth if your online store doesn’t have a solid foundation — and a solid foundation comes from the right ecommerce website architecture.
The best online stores are the ones that create a memorable customer experience, but while that experience may be enhanced by one-click checkout or personalization tools, the most important thing is that your e-commerce website is running smoothly.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the most common types of commerce architectures, their advantages and how to optimize your website and drive more traffic. Keep reading to learn how the right platform and architecture can help you meet your business needs and objectives.
There are several different types of ecommerce architectures to choose from, but here we’ll highlight three of the most common types, how they function and what advantages they hold for your business.
A two-tier architecture refers to two components of your ecommerce business that function on two sides of the architecture. The first is the client side, which is where the user interface runs, and the second is the server side, which holds database data.
Furthermore, there are two web applications that run on each side of the architecture: the business logic and the customer-side application. The business application logic may run on either side of the architecture, while the client processes function on the opposite side, which allows the entire application to work more efficiently for the end user.
The customer-side application typically runs on the client computer to gather data from the customer and communicate it back to the database server, thus creating a consistent interaction between the two tiers.
Although the simplicity of the two-tier architecture might work for some businesses, others may need more functionality. This is why the three-tier ecommerce architecture includes the same components as the two-tier but with one additional tier: the business side.
Although they work together to form the overall architecture, each of the three layers — the presentation layer, the business layer and the data layer — operates as a separate module on a separate server.
Compared to the two-tier architecture, the three-tier approach is better suited for gathering data and improving decision-making processes. Let’s go a bit further and see how each one functions.
Just as it sounds, the presentation layer is the part that is presented to the customer. It is the user interface and communication layer of the architecture, where the customer interacts with the website on the frontend, and the application collects data and processes requests from the backend.
The business layer, also known as the application or service layer, is at the center of the application. It uses business logic, a specific set of business rules, to gather and process information, and it can also add, delete or change information in the data layer.
For example, the business layer would be in charge of tracking user preferences as customers navigate the website, view products and make purchases. So, the next time the customer logs into the website, the business layer has already saved the user’s preferred shipping and payment methods so they don't have to re-enter them in the future.
The data tier, also known as the database layer, is the final layer used to store data and process requests. This information may be stored using a relational database management system such as LINQ or SQL.
For smaller and/or newer ecommerce businesses, an out-of-the-box ecommerce solution may be a better fit. This kind of architecture uses Software as a Service (SaaS), which hosts software and data in the cloud and is accessible from various web browsers.
With full product catalog and backend functionality, SaaS allows you to get your site up and running in no time, since the provider is in charge of maintenance, hosting and site performance.
Additionally, a SaaS architecture allows merchants to quickly upgrade their website to the newest version since updates happen in real time. Therefore, merchants don’t have to deal with the hassle of modifying their existing settings each time the platform updates.
In case you want more information about different types of ecommerce architectures, here’s a helpful webinar from Amazon that dives into seven steps for selecting the right architecture for your business.
Other than simply forming the structure of your website, a strong ecommerce architecture holds a number of other advantages that are bound to help you scale your business.
Ultimately, the goal of your ecommerce business is to attract more customers and drive more sales — and one of the most effective ways to achieve this is by creating a seamless customer experience.
According to a report by Linnworks, 76% of consumers say convenience is a top priority when choosing a retailer, while nine out of ten customers will select an online store that provides a seamless shopping experience.
Customers want to be able to navigate your online store quickly and easily, all the way from browsing the homepage to putting items in their shopping cart. And a solid ecommerce architecture is a sure way to create that smooth shopping experience.
One of the key ranking factors for search engine optimization is site architecture, since the structure helps search engines discover and index all pages on your site.
Without a clear structure, especially if your ecommerce site is large and complex, you may run the risk of leaving some pages unindexed. This is why it’s so crucial to create and provide a sitemap, which gives search engines a visual representation of the pages on your website and their hierarchy.
According to an article by Medium, there are two mandatory and one highly recommended (but use case-specific) diagram that every ecommerce architecture should have. Below we’ll dive deeper into each one and its purpose.
An enterprise architecture diagram lays out all systems that play into your ecommerce architecture and how each of them are connected. However, the diagram does not show the relationship between systems nor should it contain multiple connections between the same systems — rather, the diagram should display a single line connecting each system, which represents a sort of data exchange.
Furthermore, the enterprise architecture diagram includes third parties and the primary functionalities of each system, which help explain the role that each entity plays in your architecture.
Below is an example template to give you a clearer idea of how the diagram works.
While the enterprise architecture diagram only displays a single line between entities, showing which ones are connected, the data flow diagram goes more in depth by detailing what those connections actually are. For example, the diagram might display who is a data receiver versus data provider, what is the data format and whether there is a middleware between system entities.
Most importantly, this diagram should define what specific data is being sent and by which feature.
Medium gives the example of sending newsletter subscription data to a CRM system through API manager. In this case, you’d need to show this connection in your diagram and use annotations — like the ones in the diagram below — to explain why “newsletter subscription” will have web services and batch connections.
Lastly, the enterprise middleware usage architecture diagram helps clarify the types of systems in your architecture and their connections, so that the design of the end product will match the software quality attributes.
This diagram will outline clouds, third-party entities, VPNs as well as public and private networks, as shown in the diagram below.
Now that we’ve established the benefits and key components of building a solid ecommerce architecture, let’s jump into how to make your site visible to your customers through SEO practices.
While the structure of your website is a crucial SEO factor, don’t forget that keywords play a big role, too. Keywords can be single words or short phrases that inform your page’s content and help connect your target audience to your site.
To determine target keywords, try using a free tool such as Google Keyword Planner or Ubersuggest, which provide suggestions based on your seed keyword. When deciding which keywords to use, it might be best to choose the ones with a higher search volume and lower competition.
Using lots of target keywords is step one, but don’t stop there. Now it’s time to organize your keywords into categories.
Proper keyword planning can be extremely helpful in maintaining efficiency, especially as your list of keywords grows. Maintaining a list of search terms and phrases according to category and product name will greatly simplify the process when you’re on the hunt for the best keyword.
Before setting out to build your website’s structure, take some time to actually plan it out. This will help you to visualize your site and all of its components rather than stepping blindly into the process.
Feel free to map your plan by hand or electronically — just make sure to include the main pages so you can get a clear picture of what it will look like. For example, you can group together minor ones like category pages and product pages, but highlight more important pages like the homepage, About Us page and Contact page.
Next, map out what links will connect each page, including automated links in your product pages. In the end, you should have a visual overview of your entire website, giving you a clear picture of the shopper journey from start to finish.
It’s one thing to have good keywords, but it’s another to know where to put them.
Once you have your target keywords, you can strategically place them throughout your website, beginning with your product page.
Using the “Dash Method,” you can link keywords together using dashes in between each term (ex: instead of “womensshoes,” you would insert “womens-shoes”). Just remember that links can only be up to 70 characters — any more might be too complex for the search engine, which might hurt your ranking.
Integrating keywords into your navigation menu is another great way to optimize your site and create keyword-rich links for every product page. And if a particular page contains lots of internal links, this is a good sign to your search engine that the page holds high-value content, which means high SEO value.
Before weaving keywords into your navigation links, you’ll first need to determine whether you want a straight or threaded navigation. A straight navigation simply displays each product category on its own, while a threaded navigation includes subcategories, like the example below from Black Diamond Equipment.
Lastly, be strategic about which keywords you choose. You don’t want to overload your navigation menu with keywords and risk over-optimizing, so try to keep those keywords simple — you’ll be able to include more specific ones within each product page.
Part of creating an effective shopping experience is ensuring that your online store is highly navigable, allowing customers to seamlessly move from one page to the next. When customers are searching for a specific product or trying to make a purchase, they expect to have user-friendly links to help them along the way.
Not only that, but internal linking also informs search engines about the specifics of your website’s content. As a result, you’ll be able to integrate keywords into the anchor text of your internal links, which will help Google match that keyword to a specific page on your site.
According to Statista, the most common website SEO issue is duplicate content, and unsurprisingly, search engines don’t favor websites with lots of it.
The most common example of duplicate content is product pages, which are often copied and pasted and only edited for the product name, description and image.
However, by using canonical tags — which tell Google that a specific URL is the master copy of a page — you can prevent duplicate content and maintain your ranking.
Whether you’re a seasoned ecommerce merchant or are just starting on your digital transformation, the importance of a strong ecommerce architecture rings true regardless.
Before investing in the design, marketing and other details of your ecommerce store, you need to lay a solid foundation for your website’s structure and function — because, let’s face it, no one is going to stay on your website anyway if it’s too difficult to navigate or your links aren’t functioning properly.
In the end, customers will choose the site that is easily navigable and provides a smooth experience. With the right ecommerce architecture, you’ll be able to meet these expectations and many more.