Search engines award top keyword rankings to the site that proves that it the best fit for the relevancy of a subject or theme that matches the user query. As a result the primary goal of SEO is to improve the website so that the site is about more than targeted keyword phrases – it is about the themes matching those keywords.
More often than not, a website is a disjointed array of unrelated information with no clear central theme. Such a site suffers in search engine rankings for sought after keywords. Siloing a website will serve to clarify your website’s subject relevance and will lay the groundwork for high keyword rankings. It is a core building block for search engine optimization and is normally an advanced topic.
The term siloing originated as a way to identify the concept of grouping related information into distinct sections within a website. Much like the chapters in a book, a silo represents a group of themed or subject-specific content on your site. The reason this grouping is such a high SEO priority is that search engines award “keyword” relevancy within their index based on the page and then the rest of the site with the most supporting relevant content. Well ranked websites are founded upon the concept that a website should physically be organized like a doctoral dissertation. A dissertation has a clearly identified title, abstract, table of contents, then content laid out to reinforce the overall theme of the dissertation as a whole, all with references and footnotes supporting the subject.
Often, there are great websites hidden from widespread search engine results (SERPs) exposure because they lack an organic search engine optimization strategy or their strategy does not include enough attention to clear subject relevance or siloing. In this document you will find a strategy for improving the clarity of a website’s overall theme through siloing with the intent to improve keyword rankings.
Siloing of a website requires a multi-step process of planning and implementation.
Step 1: Begin the process of siloing by determining your website theme. Answer questions including:
- What subject themes are currently ranking for your website?
- What subject themes are legitimately relevant for your website?
- How would a user search for your content (main search queries)?
- How can you implement clear subject themes?
Step 2: Consider whether you can implement a physical silo through the site’s directory structure and apply if possible. As an alternative, we will later discuss virtual silos where navigation and linking determine the theme.
Step 3: Carefully examine the link structure implemented throughout the site, applying linking techniques between pages that reinforce site themes.
Step 4: Publish relevant, expert-quality content that includes targeted keyword phrases within appropriate silos.
Determining Website Theme
Google’s mission as stated on the company information page is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google uses an algorithm to predictably measure subject relevance in order to award rankings. By studying search results and high-ranking pages, it’s possible to learn about the ranking factors of the algorithm and how to make a site the most relevant. There are many characteristics of a website that demonstrate subject matter expertise, beginning with a clear understanding of theme and subject relevance.
In order to rank for keywords within Google, Yahoo and Bing, a site must provide information that is organized in a clear structure and language that search engines understand. When a site’s information has been stripped away from its design and layout, will it be the most relevant of all similarly themed sites? If so then you have a high likelihood of achieving high rankings and will attract customers researching and shopping for products and services in turn.
Siloing is not all there is to ranking, but without it the on-page relevancy battle is lost.
The on-page process of achieving high rankings begins by having a clear understanding of a website’s subject themes. When speaking at conferences and in training, Bruce Clay often explains the importance of creating subject themes, or silos, by using the analogy that most websites are like a jar of marbles. He states that a search engine can only decipher meaning when the subjects are clear and distinct. Take a look at the picture of a jar of marbles below and contemplate how search engines will classify the “theme” of this jar?
Figure 1: Jar of Mixed Marbles
In the jar above we see Green Marbles, Red Marbles, and Yellow Marbles mixed together with no order or emphasis. It would be reasonable to assume that search engines would classify the subject as a jar of marbles.
If we then separate out each group of colored marbles into separate jars, they would be classified as a jar of Green Marbles, a jar of Red Marbles and a jar of Yellow Marbles.
Figure 2: Jars of Seperated Marbles
However, if we wanted to include all three marbles in a single jar, we could create distinct groupings within the jar that would allow the subject themes to remain separate as Green Marbles, Red Marbles, Yellow Marbles as well as the generic term “marbles.”
Figure 1: Jar of Siloed Marbles
The first mixed up jar of marbles (figure 1) is a non-siloed websites. The three separate jars represent separate sites (figure 2) and the last jar equates to one site with topics separated into theme-specific categories, or silos (figure 3). The goal for a site that wants to rank for more than a single generic term is to selectively decide what the site is and is not about. Rankings can be damaged in two common ways: 1) either by including irrelevant content or 2) having too little content about a subject. Avoid these mistakes by knowing the focus for the site and avoiding irrelevant subject matter.
What Subject Themes is Currently Ranking for Your Website?
The best place to start to identify the relevant themes for a site is to examine the historical traffic data of the website. The first thing to do is to examine the data from the following sources:
- Web analytics evaluations
- PPC programs
- Tracked keyword phrases
Each of these sources of information will provide the history of who visits the website and why. It won’t directly explain why the site isn’t ranked for desired keywords, but it will help evaluate which themes of the site the search engines recognize.
Web Analytics Evaluation
Other clues to the words that your current site may be relevant for is to evaluate the words that your company bids on with Pay-Per-Click programs offered by all major search engines. Often companies will bid on words that they would like to be relevant for within the organic search arena but for one reason or another they have not yet received organic rankings. It is also useful to look at pages with high Quality Scores and see what they are about.
Tracked Keyword Phrases
The last and most accessible method of discovering your website’s most important subject themes is to ask people within your company which keywords are most important. Often in interviewing the president, marketing or sales managers, you will get an idea of what the company is trying to rank for in organic search results. These generally match the content, so it would be useful validate the expectations against the reality of the site.
After creating a list of 10-100 keyword terms that appear to be most relevant to your company’s product and/or services, then it is time to begin keyword research. During the process of keyword research, the first goal is to grow the keyword list as large as possible. Cover as many relevant subjects, even those only somewhat connected to the website’s subject themes. Use keyword discovery tools to identify every possible synonym even remotely related to the site’s subject matter.
For SEOToolSet® users, after you have created as large a list as possible, enter all of your keywords and keyword phrases into the Keyword List Bulk Loader and specify a name for this keyword list. (You can set up multiple keyword lists.) Next, run a Ranking Monitor for your selected keyword list(s). You can click the Activity column to see the words sorted from the highest query activity to the least searched terms. You can use this information to identify the words that have a too low activity (usually anything less than 100 searches per day unless it’s a very targeted and relevant term) and possibly remove them from your list by choosing Manage Keywords. You can look at the Pages and Engines columns of the Ranking Monitor to see the keywords you currently rank for across the search engines.
After answering the question of where the site currently ranks, you will have identified two major factors: 1) you will know what you are ranked for and 2) you will know what you are not ranked for in the search engines. The next challenge will be to understand what subjects your site is legitimately relevant for and how to understand why you have your current rankings.
What Subject Themes are Legitimately Relevant for Your Website?
There is potentially a wide margin between what is possible, what the current reality is, and how a business is affected by these realities. Wisdom lies in knowing how to determine what a site is truly about after stripping away all the visual components. Skill lies in identifying non-ranking subject themes with the potential for better rankings and recognition of relevance by search engines.
A great place to begin is to run a Single Page Analyzer (SPA) within the SEOToolSet. (Those not subscribed to the SEOToolSet can use the free tool on our Free SEO Tools page at www.seotools.com.) The SPA will reveal the common word usage characteristics such as density, distribution and frequency of the keyword phrases used throughout the page.
By running the main pages of the site through this tool, you can begin to identify if the major themes are used throughout the page in the Meta tags, Headings, ALT attributes and body content. If your terms seem to be absent, make a note that the keyword usage is too low for that page. Evaluate how often a phrase is repeated in each major page element and make notes of frequency, including commonly repeated phrases and infrequently repeated phrases. Are all the terms concentrated in the top of the pages? If so make a note that the distribution could stand to be more spread out.
Multiple Page Analyzer
After evaluating if pages throughout your site contain rich keyword densities, compare findings of your site to the densities, distributions and frequencies of keywords of the top 10 competitors for your major keyword terms. Select the SEOToolSet Ranking Monitor, scroll to the Research Summary, enter the first keyword phrase and press the Submit button. This process will select 10 of the highest ranking sites for that term across all the major search engines. Clicking on the link at the bottom of the report and following the instructions explained in the SEOToolSet you will receive a report that summarizes why high ranking sites are ranked but more importantly you receive a footprint of the common characteristics of the top sites. Using this data you establish recommendations for bringing your own pages to the same characteristics level.
Search Engine Index Tools
The last test is to evaluate each major engine by using advanced search parameters. While each engine has its own individual syntax, for the sake of simplicity the engine referenced here will be Google. Take a moment to learn about all the ways you can filter search engine results through Google’s “site:” command and the “link:” command. Currently, the two most relevant factors of rankings in Google are how many pages a site has about a subject and how many inbound inks from other sites reference the site or specific pages. Use these tools to then research why competitor sites rank. Create a graph that documents the contrast between your site and the competition.
How Can You Implement Clear Subject Themes?
You now know what keywords the site is ranked for, which subjects the site is considered to be relevant for, and a good indication of why your competition ranks the way they do. At this point, you first want to make your site as good as the competition. Then you must make your site better than the competition. You want the search engines to see you as first among equals – the most relevant resource on the Web. It is important at this point to identify the gaps in your silos: areas that are relevant but which are not yet supported by obvious content on the site.
Is it worth the work to write any content to rank for a subject that the site is not really about? What about the likely possibility that diluting the site content will be seen as less relevant for more important terms? It is important that you make these choices now and consider the ramifications of each theme-based keyword phrase decision.
- Published in SEO
Now that you know how to structure your website’s internal linking, it’s time to turn your focus outward. In this SEO tutorial step, you learn how to get those all-important external links to your website (and use two free tools in the process).
Links have been the lifeblood of search engine optimization for a long time. Ever since Google cofounder Larry Page invented PageRank back in the late ’90s, links have been a primary way search engines determine rankings. Still today, getting quality inbound links from other websites (a.k.a., “backlinks”) is a crucial SEO ingredient — if they are obtained naturally, safely within search engine guidelines.
In this lesson, you’ll get to use two free SEO link tools that will help you identify links, AND you’ll learn:
- Why high-quality backlinks are so valuable
- How to develop a link earning rather than link building strategy
- What kind of backlink to avoid
- How to attract links that increase your site’s link popularity and rankings
What Are Backlinks?
Backlinks are incoming links (excluding ads) that point from another website back to your own. Evaluating a site’s backlinks (or inbound links, or external links) helps search engines determine the site’s popularity, authority, and relative importance on the web.
It’s about Link Popularity
In Google’s PageRank algorithm, each hyperlink to a web page acts like a vote of confidence for that page, similar to a popularity contest. It’s expected that websites will naturally recommend high-quality resources to their readers, and that’s the simple concept behind PageRank (as well as the link measurements used by other search engines). For example, a site about fishing would link to a site where someone can get a fishing license; a site about stamp collecting might link to the U.S. Postal Service; and a marketing blogger might link to this SEO tutorial. Every keyword topic is like its own popularity contest, and the top spots in search engine results pages (SERPs) go to the most-linked-to websites on that topic. Er, not exactly …
Actually, It’s about Authority, Trust and Relevance
Unlike a popularity contest, the PageRank system doesn’t give every backlink an equal vote. In fact, some backlinks can even have a negative impact on your website’s ability to rank. In an effort to stop sites from trying to manipulate PageRank and game the system, search engines analyze links and penalize sites suspected to have unnatural backlink profiles. In the next lesson, you’ll find out more about search engine guidelines and avoiding Google penalties in particular. But for now, suffice it to say there are:
- Good backlinks: These links come from authority websites in your field, experts who write about your topic, or non-spammy sites that have content that relates to your site’s subject.
- Bad backlinks: Links from unrelated websites (for instance, a dog training website linking to an insurance brokerage) don’t do you any good and could look unnatural.
- Ugly backlinks: Links coming from link farms, spam sites, sites known to sell links, or low-quality content (such as pages with lists of random links and no text) can put your site in hot water.
In order to rank well in search engines for both broad keywords (e.g., peanut butter) and longer, more specific keyword phrases (e.g., organic crunchy peanut butter), your website must have enough clearly organized supporting content to appear relevant for those terms. Search engines look closely at your site structure to determine your site’s main topics and whether there is enough keyword-supporting content.
Think about how farmers organize their harvests of wheat, barley, oats, and so forth. Farmers care for the integrity of their product by storing each specific type of grain in a separate silo. If wheat, barley and oats were all mixed together, the product would have less value, marketable only as generic “grain.”
Siloing a website means grouping related pages together, either structurally or through linking, to establish the site’s keyword-based themes. Much like farmers use separate silos to store different types of grain, webmasters can silo a website to distinguish its various content themes and make it clear to search engines what the site is about.
Siloing your site improves the relevancy of your web pages for your desired search terms. Links are strategically used within theme-focused sections of the site — and PageRank (i.e., linking value) gets passed between closely related pages and landing pages, reinforcing the themes. Rather than allowing the website to be viewed as a disorganized mixture with no keyword focus, a silo strategy reveals what the site is really about and helps position your website as an expert source for a given topic.
Search engines tend to award the top keyword rankings to sites with clear website structure and subject matter relevancy matching a user query. That doesn’t mean pages filled with exact keyword phrases. Especially in the era of Google’s Panda algorithm, which rewards quality content, you want to build your website around themes based on keywords, not just the keyword phrases themselves. Siloing that themed content is essential to SEO. Without further ado, here’s the nitty-gritty of siloing.
What Is Physical Siloing?
There are two ways to silo a website — physical siloing through the directory structure and virtual siloing through the linking structure. Let’s discuss physical siloing first.
The URL address of a web page can give users and bots important clues about the page. For instance, the URL below reveals that the page focuses on some kind of cordless, hammer, power tool by Makita:
When you use the physical URL directory structure of a website like a filing cabinet to organize related pages, you are creating physical silos. Each theme of the site has a group of pages saved together under one folder dedicated to that specific category (e.g., “cordless”), and within that category are subfolders for the different subcategories (e.g., “hammers”). Each file has its place in a distinct category, with no two files ever getting filed into both categories, only one or the other. (SEO Tip: You don’t want the same page contents to be indexed under more than one URL.)
To have a physical silo structure, create a directory structure that aligns with the various themes covered within your website.
What Is Virtual Siloing?
Virtual siloing involves using the internal link structure of a site (i.e., how pages link to other pages) to:
- Connect groups of related pages together.
- Separate unrelated pages.
- Strengthen the primary landing pages of each silo.
While physical siloing requires theme-related pages to be located within the same directory of a site, a virtual silo is held together by hypertext links between theme-related pages. In fact, connecting related pages virtually through text links can be effective even in the absence of physical silos, because the search engine spiders crawl a site’s contents by following its links. Virtual siloing is powerful.
By linking between pages that are tightly related in topic and theme, you are consolidating that theme-relevance to a section of your site. A site hierarchy, with top-level landing pages and support pages for each SEO silo, emerges based on linking patterns alone. For example, rather than interlinking between all of the pages haphazardly, our example power tools website could use virtual siloing to show that it has three distinct, keyword-relevant content themes for cordless, electric, and gas-powered tools:
Support pages always link up to their silo landing page (indicated by the lines connecting all the blue pages together, for instance). Cross-links between silos should be avoided except to silo top landing pages (indicated by the larger rectangles in the example diagrams). Since random links between silos would weaken the theming, no subpage within a silo should link to a subpage in another silo. The diagram below shows appropriate and inappropriate internal linking for a siloed website:
Careful linking within your site shows the relationships between pages, reveals your website’s topic structure, and strengthens the keyword relevance of your main landing pages, which are the ones you want to show up in search results. Virtual siloing leads to the accumulation of PageRank on the top-level landing page of each silo, which becomes the most relevant page on your site for keywords related to that theme. This is how siloing leads to better search engine rankings.
We recommend using the virtual silo approach reinforced by the physical silo approach when possible, for maximum effectiveness.