It is much easier for search engines to find and deliver a relevant document when it is focused and organized around a singular topic. That is the basic underlying theory of content silos. These categories of content can be made through linking practices, through file structures or both. Arranging your content in this way makes it easier for search engines to clearly see what’s relevant to user queries (as well as what’s not).
How Search Works
I’m sure that only the brightest engineers and mathematicians truly understand how Google’s algorithm works, but in terms of how it sees content, pages rank better when they’re more focused.
When you visit a search engine and type in a word or phrase, the engine tries to return the most relevant (single) document to you. For example, if you entered “stainless steel ball point pens,” the search engine wouldn’t display the home page of a pen manufacturer unless the page contained that specific phrase (even if the manufacturer in question was the most relevant company for the query).
Instead, the engine would return the most relevant web page (which could include a PDF) that was about that phrase. The page could be part of an entire website that had nothing to do with pens, and it would still show up (all else being equal) because it is relevant to the query.
When we create websites, we do our best to categorize content based on what we know. We might set things up based on how we run our business or organize the site based on what we think our customers would like.
Even if a site is organized well in terms of usability, it’s easy to overlook the bigger picture regarding the layout of the content and its theme. Some websites don’t feature an overall theme. Instead, they offer a clunky combination of content based on any number of variables. Subsections may not relate to the overall theme, and some content may be organized improperly when taking into account the overall theme of the site.
How to Make Content Silos
Content siloing is a method of applying an overarching theme to a website, which then flows down to related subsections. The purpose is to ensure that a site’s pages contain content relevant to the subjects that will allow it to rank well in search. Creating content silos is tedious (especially if you have to rip apart your entire site to do it, or if you have a number of different subject areas), but the concept is quite simple.
Step One: Determine Your Site’s Overall Theme
The first thing that needs to be done is to choose an overall theme for your website. You probably already have this, but if you are unclear or have a lot going on with your site in terms of content, note that it’s best to focus on one broad theme.
For instance, maybe your business performs furnace repair and installation, air-conditioning repair and installation and duct cleaning. All of that would fall within the HVAC realm. Another company might sell used and new auto parts, accessories and service. Those things could be placed under the broad umbrella of “auto parts and accessories.”
The idea here is not to create a home page with the broad topic areas, but to have a conceptual starting point. From here, you will make sub-categories (pages) that are extensions of the broad theme.
Step Two: Keyword Research
One of the main points of making content silos is to rank better in search. A crucial component of that is optimizing your pages for target keywords. Once you know what your broad theme is, you can go to work selecting target phrases that you want your individual pages to rank for.
This research isn’t an exact science; it’s more of a marketing art. It involves knowing something about your market and how they might look for your products or services online. You will want to choose words that have a high search volume, but not a lot of competition. You also want phrases that are branded, or that reflect any branded products or services you sell. You should also look out for keywords that convert well.
A great tool to use for your keyword research is Google’s Keyword Planner, which used to be known as the Keyword Tool. After Google changed it around, it works great for content siloing. The reason is because it will group keywords into categories for you (called AdGroups because they are meant for AdWords).
Even though these groups are meant for AdWords, they work in much the same way as advertisements on the search platform. When someone enters a query, you only want relevant ads appearing for it. The same is true for a page on your website. The painfully obvious fact is that if an ad pops up that has nothing to do with a keyword that someone used, they won’t click on the ad. The same is true for web pages, although in the case of organic results, Google won’t show web pages unless they are relevant to a query.
During this process, you should also take into account how people will search for the content found on your site. What words or phrases will they use? Understanding searcher intent and methods for finding content is key to being successful in marketing a website using search.
There are a variety of resources available to determine the keyword terms and phrases people are using to find your content. If you have your site configured in Google Webmaster Tools, you can see the keyword phrases that visitors have used to find your site. In Google Analytics or other tracking programs, you can view similar data. You might also run PPC campaigns through search that allow you to see which keyword phrases are most successful in creating conversions on your site.
Once you have a list of keywords that you want the pages of your site to rank for, prioritize them in a list. Choose words that are most relevant to the overall theme of your site and start there.
Step Three: Determine What Kind of Silo Can Be Created
There are some variables that come into play here, as well as a couple of different siloing methods. Content can be organized using physical silos or virtual silos. The method you use depends on your current situation.
A physical silo is one created using the file structure that makes up a website. Instead of organizing content on the website once it is already on the server, you can do it through the way files are structured on the server.
This method is accomplished through linking on a website. That is, a site’s categories are separated by the way they are linked together. Pages about specific topic areas may reside in the same folder on a server, but the way they are linked (as displayed to the visitor) is organized differently.
So, the method you choose is based mostly on practicality. For instance, some websites have hundreds or even thousands of pages. They are well established with many links across the web. Therefore, upending everything by moving and renaming files on a server is not practical. In cases like these, silos created using links may be a better idea.
Now you have your site’s theme, your target keywords and your siloing method. It’s time to make your content silos. Regardless of whether you are using a physical or virtual siloing method, your page-level optimization will be the same.
Each page on your site should be configured to target a specific keyword phrase along with its variants. For instance, if your target keyword phrase for one page of your site is “Logitech wireless mouse,” variants would be plural or reordered versions of the phrase.
The graphic below shows how each page of your site should be configured in terms of where your target keyword phrases should go.
While content silos are an advanced SEO topic, the concept is somewhat rudimentary for search. Engines look for the most relevant document to return for a query. That happens when you create a highly-focused document that does not deviate from the subject matter. The more focused you can make your web pages on their respective keyword phrases, the better they will rank in search.
What tips do you have for making content silos? Have you found that siloing your content helps you get more traffic from search engines?