A large part of search engine optimization (SEO) actually revolves around the structure of a website. Most people don’t know it, but how a site is constructed and how its links interact with one another and other aspects of site can profoundly affect both human readability and the ability of web crawlers to properly index a site. The silo technique is one way of organizing a site’s structure so as to ensure great SEO and easy usability.
The term “silo” refers to the organization of website content and links into distinct categories. Each silo is its own category, that then links to content within specific sub-categories. By keeping content organized, search engines have a clear path from one subject to the next that allows them to easily index the content on a site.
Website Silo Design
In silo design (a.k.a. “siloing”), a site follows a very strict internal linking structure that connects subcategories with larger categories above them. The technique and linking pattern are critical to achieving high search engine results page (SERP) ranking. If done correctly, there should be substantially fewer cross links for a web spider to crawl on a silo site than a standard site (sometimes there are 90% fewer cross links).
The key to silo design is good planning, which will be covered shortly. To understand why that planning is necessary, it is helpful to explore an example of a silo design. In a standard website, you click on a navigation bar and get a drop-down menu which contains links to content. With a silo website, when you click on a navigation item you are directed to that topic (and possibly some content), with a new navigation menu. The new menu contains links to all of the subcategories within the category you are currently viewing. Every time you click a link on a silo site, the navigation bar should display anything that is in the subcategory for that link. In short, silo designs keep a site highly organized and control the flow information to keep users and web spiders within categories.
One way to help you think about silos is to think of each silo as a jar of marbles. If you have a jar full of randomly colored marbles, then finding just one, say green, is somewhat difficult. If, however, you have several jars and one of them is labeled “green marbles,” then you can more easily find what you are looking for as well as content related to it. The jars are your silos and the marbles are your content. If you put those jars in a box, then you can think of the box as your site. Now everything is neatly contained and easy to find.
Another word for “siloing” or organizing a site using the silo approach is “theming.” When you theme a site, you need to start by knowing what keywords you want to target. These keywords then become your categories and the topics around which you create silos.
Once you have your themes figured out, you can start organizing your content into a hierarchy based on keywords. Consider the example of Belgian chocolate and let’s say that you have ten pieces of content that deal with Belgian chocolate in some way. Now imagine that Google is ranking your site. If you have chosen to have Belgian chocolate as a theme, then each of the ten pages will be connected to one another and interlinked under a single supporting keyword. Google can now easily rank your content and index your site.
Keywords and SEO
It might already be obvious, but siloing is a way of structuring a webpage so that all of your other SEO techniques can be more effective. So, siloing isn’t effective without further SEO, but your SEO won’t be as effective without siloing. Thus, siloing occupies a kind of middle ground where it both is and isn’t an SEO technique. Regardless of how you categorize siloing, proper keyword analysis, which is definitely an SEO technique, is necessary if you want to theme your website properly.
Finding great keywords is all about data mining. You can use web analytics from your own website, pay-per-click programs from a search engine, or you can straight up ask people for insight. Once you know your keywords, then you need to understand both what your site ranks well in and what it does not rank well in. You can use this information to make your site more relevant by constructing silos to improve your rank in both categories.
One way to really boost your site’s organization is to have physical or directory silos. This means that subcategories are contained within directories to create a hierarchy that reinforces your silos. You should think of your directory structure as a file system, which is what it is, that you would physically look through to find something of interest. Name the directories, using keywords, such that the name tells you exactly what you will find when you open the file.
In most cases, multiple levels are necessary to keep a hierarchy organized. That means that files will have sub-files, which may or may not also have sub-files before you finally get to the content. Most sites do well with a directory structure that is no more than three folders deep. You want to balance the number of directories you have against the cross links that connect content within a directory. Too little content in a file means too few cross links for search engines to rank or for users to peruse easily.
A site that is built from silos should have links that include the silos. This makes sense given that your directory structure should also reflect your silo structure. A silo link should look like the following generic link where there is one silo, two sub-silos, and finally the content.
If you follow the silo link architecture, then setting up menus is easy. Using the link above, you would have a menu for silo, sub-silo1, and sub-silo2. The menu for the silo would contain all sub-silos in the silo that have a hierarchy of one. For instance, a silo dealing with cars might contain sub-silos like full-size, compact, sub-compact, etc. The sub-silo for compact might then have a menu for each company that makes compact cars. The sub-silo for, say, Ford would then have links to a piece of content for each of the compact cars made by Ford.
Structure Before Function
Siloing is a case of putting structure ahead of function. The structure of your site informs its function and provides a foundation on which to build everything else, including your SEO strategy. Siloing can not only make your site easier for users and web spiders to peruse, it can make it easier for you to build and maintain as well.