There are many ways to organize your content. Much depends on your goals and the way you want users to navigate your site and discover content. An e-commerce site’s architecture will be different from an affiliate site looking for SEO traffic. Even different affiliate and content marketing sites may have different optimal architectures depending on the amount of content and breadth of topics.
For more information like this article visit our Affiliate SEO page.
Let’s look at a good starting point for small to medium niche sites that want to optimize for SEO traffic …
What is a Silo in SEO
The simplest way to look at silos is an organized place for all content that covers the same topic. Organized content helps users understand and navigate your site. A silo structure also helps Google crawl your website while staying within the context of a topic. Internal linking is the primary tool used to achieve a silo by creating closed loops where each piece of content links to at least one other in the topic cluster. You always want to avoid orphan pages. These are posts that have no links to them.
Why use Silos
The primary goal for silos to show Google your depth of coverage with a certain topic. From an SEO standpoint Google wants to rank articles and sites higher that are authorities on a topic. A silo helps Google understand what your site is about. It is also useful from a user experience point of view. Particularly if you use breadcrumbs or file names that have the topic in the path.
Without any silos your website would just be a flat set of posts that would all be mixed at the same level. It would be hard for users or Google to understand where your expertise is and what the topical relevance of a specific post was.
Hard Silo vs. Soft Silo
A hard silo is when the url or slug contains the information about the topic. Typically this is the head keyword. If you were creating a silo about toasters the pathname may be:
This is done in WordPress by putting all of them in the toaster category and setting permalink style to include the category name.
A soft silo will have all of the posts in a single area. So in the above example it might be:
Google does not care too much about your pathnames and you do risk over-optimizing keywords by adding the url to the place where keywords are found, particularly in larger sites. So hard silos have no special SEO advantage. Google cares most about how the documents are linked together. There may be some benefit from a user experience standpoint to see the category names as a hard silo does. One issue with hard silos though is that if you decide to change your categories you will need to redirect all of the old posts to the new category structure. A better solution from a future-proofing standpoint would be to use breadcrumbs.
Breadcrumbs are a way to show the user the organization of your site when viewing a page or post. You can add breadcrumbs with many different tools and themes. An SEO tool like Yoast lets you add breadcrumbs either as a site-wide setting or selectively with shortcodes.
What is topical relevance
When a user searches in Google or Bing the search engine needs to understand what the query is asking for. Google wants to provide the most relevant content for a particular query. If a user searches for robots Google wants to understand if the user is interested in a smart mechanical man or an intelligent agent from a software perspective.
Typically I will have a structure that looks like this:
Homepage -> topic-pillar-page -> topic-posts.
This creates a cluster of content. In many cases there will be additional sub-pillar pages that add more organization as a silo grows. The pillar page is designed to have complete coverage of the topic. It should be the definitive piece of content available anywhere about your topic. This page is often fairly lengthy and certainly almost always longer than the typical 1000 -1500 word post. You want this post to show the depth of your coverage of the topic.
Sub-pillars are used to add additional details about a subtopic that you will be covering in your content cluster. In the case of our example site you may have many more posts about stringed instruments than brass or woodwinds. So you break the silo down to include clusters of content on guitars and ukuleles. This helps to show Google that you are both a guitar and ukulele expert.
Internal Linking and Silos
Whether you use a hard silo or a soft silo you need to create internal linking that shows Google the topical relevance of your topic cluster and site. File/path names are never enough, even if you include the category name in the slug as with hard silos.
To create the silo, you want internal links from:
- home page to the pillar page
- pillar page sub-pillar-page (if used)
- pillar page to each post (if no sub-pillar page)
- sub-pillar page to each post (if used)
- Each post links back to the pillar page or its sub-pillar page
This creates a closed loop for the topic and defines the silo.
Unless you are a huge site with lots of broad authority it is best to not link outside the pillar. So if a pillar page is the parent, and the post children, you only want to link between that parent:child relationship. You don’t want to link to posts in another silo that have a different “parent”. If you need to reference another silo it is best to link to the pillar pages. But even that should be done sparingly to keep the topic and structure consistent by linking only to other content in the silo. So, to strain the analogy, you may want to link to an uncle but never a cousin.
Anchor text is the text that is seen by the user for a link. This typically contains the head keyword when creating silos. But even with internal linking you want to be careful to not over-optimize the anchor text. If you have 100 posts with the same parent/pillar page you would want to be careful about using the exact same anchor text. Best to mix it up a bit. Anchor text types include:
- exact match — The main keyword you are targeting
- partial match — The main keyword and additional text
- miscellaneous — “Click here”, etc.
- URL — display the actual URL
We are only concerned about internal links in the body of the post text for creating silos. Though some SEO practitioners keep the silo so pure as to not have links to other silos in the sidebar. This can be accomplished with a free tool like widget logic which will allow you to have only related posts (via their category) in a sidebar. You simply have a separate related posts widget for each category and widget logic will insert the correct one.
Backlinks and Silos
An additional advantage to a good silo architecture is that it helps distribute the effect of backlinks. When you get a backlink to an article that has no internal links the impact of the link equity or “link juice” stays just with that page. If however you have linked the article that receives the backlink to other content in the silo then some of the benefit of the link passes to the linked document.
Best Money Pages
Some pages just bring in more money. There may be a number of reasons for this:
- They appeal to a wider part of your audience
- they have more profitable products,
- they have existed longer and have had more time to rank
- You were early with the product and beat your competitors to them
- They have better backlinks.
For these pages it is a good idea to send additional internal links. If another page in the silo received a good backlink, definitely send an internal link from the page with the backlink to the strong money page.
If you have a page ranking well and getting a lot of traffic send an internal link from the popular page to the good money page. This will help power up these profitable pages. Do be extra careful with anchor text when doing this and mix it up.
I will use the best keyword in the anchor from the pillar pages and posts with backlinks and good traffic and other anchor texts from more generic posts in the silo. But the last thing you want is to over-optimize your best performing pages.
Silos are a key concept for content marketers and affiliate sites. Silos create a better user experience by organizing your content and making it easier for visitors to navigate. If your traffic is dependent on SEO search you need every advantage you can find to outrank your competitors. Silos let Google and other search engines crawl your site in a contextual way. This allow you to build topical relevance and establish your authority in a topic.
Soft silos are my preferred method. You establish the silo via consistent strategic linking. Like hard silos you still can, and should, add categories to your posts. But by not using the category in the link, you have the flexibility to change categories in the future and not need to redirect old posts with the original category in its pathname.
So get organized and create silos. Your users and Google will thank you.