Increasing your sites search engine rankings is the name of the game when it comes to internet marketing.
There are numerous techniques you can you can use to do this, some of them being white hat, and far too many being black hat.
A technique that I have been hearing a lot about recently which veers towards the white hat camp is siloing.
(Siloing probably isn’t a real word, but work with me on this one!).
Siloing isn’t actually new, it has been around for a decade or so, but seems never to have hit it off with the large majority of online marketers.
What the heck is it?
This rather weird term describes a method of structuring your website to help search bots find the right data and most importantly, the right similar data.
The theory goes that most websites are like a jar of different coloured marbles (or jelly beans) with each colour representing a certain theme or topic within the site.
When a search bot crawls your site, it might find a specific topic, but right next to it is a completely different topic, and next to that is an even different topic.
This jumbled mess of articles doesn’t help the search engine in finding out what your site is all about; in fact it might end up muddying the waters and making you appear to be less of an authority on the subject you want to appear to be an authority on.
Can you find all of the yellow ones?
Ideally, your site should just be a jar containing a single colour bean, but no website is really like that, especially authority sites.
What siloing allows, in theory, is a way to create many internal jars of each colour bean, one colour representing a theme of articles.
This allows the search engines to find closely related topics and thus add more weight to your site being about that topic.
Courtesy of Lee Haywood
Siloing for Dummies
If you have followed me so far, then I need to let you know that the rest of this article is a little complex but at the same time a little dumbed down. Often turning a WordPress site into a silo site requires dealing with code. This is something I’m not going to cover, so think of this article as more of an overview.
Feel free to check out Google for further reading as there’s a fair amount of literature on the subject.
Structure is king
The key aspect of siloing is giving your site a specific structure which facilitates the segmentation of content. This is of course aimed at the search bots but is many ways can also be beneficial to human visitors.
NOTE: It is generally recommended to use this structure with new sites. It can be done with existing sites but can be much more work as you need to change underlying aspects of the sites structure.
A bad silo example
Let’s take an example website that shows poor siloing.
It has a few pages in the navigation and all the posts are displayed in a long, jumbled list.
Basically it’s a typical blog.
A better silo example
Using a siloing technique you would make greater use of WordPress categories and child categories.
Your posts would go into an appropriate category .
The navigation will contain category links, which you may already use.
These links will not lead you directly to posts. Instead a custom coded page awaits the visitor. This page will contain the following:
- A category description – this helps with SEO and also gives your visitors an idea about what’s in the category.
- Child category list – the page is the main category (e.g. SEO) but all child categories will be listed here too (e.g. On Site SEO, Off site SEO).
- Featured posts – some sticky featured posts from the main category.
- Other posts – the rest of the posts from this category.
When the user clicks the child category links, it could either go to another page similar to this (which could then have grandchildren categories) or to a list of posts for that child category.
The main issue with this structure is that it requires you to edit your themes code to get it right. This is fairly complicated so you would either need a developers assistance, use one of the various silo styled plugins or themes or manually do it.
The plugins are OK, but there is nothing currently that will do everything out of the box for you.
The manual process is relatively easy but has a catch – it’s manual! There is no setting and forgetting, so every time you update something you need to check on the manually made pages and possibly update.
You could simplify it by using just categories and keeping in mind the linking techniques (see below) and this would create a very simplified silo structure. You probably wouldn’t get the full benefit that siloing can offer, but it’s a much easier thing to implement.
Structure built for SEO
The whole point of building a structure like this is to compartmentalize the topics into a block of related articles.
It’s important to make sure that topics within a silo (category) are interlinked, so that the search bots and visitors can bounce around the related topics.
However, it’s also important to make sure that cross silo links are minimized as much as possible.
Ideally you don’t want any cross silo links, but the reality is that this isn’t possible and in fact can be harmful from a user experience point of view. I find it best to simply be natural, if a topic in one silo would benefit from being linked to another silo’s article, then do it. Just cut out the unnecessary links.
Unnecessary links could be anything on the page that links away from the silo’s articles. Some users of the silo technique go as far as using AJAX and iframes to mask links that the bots would visit. They still need those links though as human visitors would kind of like to use them.
Creating silos comes down to keywords, after all it is an SEO tactic. Finding the right keywords for your site and grouping them into the correct silos is an arduous task but is the most important part of the whole process.
If you already have an existing site, then checking what keywords are pulling in traffic and what aren’t is the first step. After that it’s a case of grouping the content into the appropriate categories and sub categories. It’s also about being harsh and removing any content that is either not applicable to a silo or is simply dead weight and not pulling in any traffic.
Important note – while I am not going to discuss the details, it is an important SEO aspect that you use redirects on any moved or removed articles and content otherwise Google et al may penalize you for too many 404 pages.
The Bottom Line
Siloing is an interesting technique to use on websites to improve SEO and I personally think that taking parts of siloing can be useful to any site out there. For example, having a strong underlying structure based on categories is something I and many others like me have done for a long time.
Same thing with trying (trying!) to keep a site structured around specific keywords.
What siloing is trying to achieve is to bring all of those aspects together along with a few additional ones (the interlinking within a silo but not outside of it for instance) and meld them into a powerful SEO technique.
Siloing is not for everyone though as it can involve a chunk of coding on your site. There is also a lot of preparation (never a bad thing) and can be a pain to implement on an existing site.
Still, if you are looking for ways to legitimately improve upon your sites SEO, siloing is something to look into, even if you only take away parts of the technique.