SEO 101: Content Silos. What is this, Farmville?

I’m taking a break from running the Diablo III beta into the ground (thanks again Kristi! Hope you liked your chocolate chip cheesecake!) to write a post for you that’s actually based on an original idea for once.

There’s a metaphor I like to use when I explain content silos to clients. If you’ve ever written an academic paper, you know that you probably have one big idea you are trying to get across. You also know what it’s not enough to just write down your opinion and hope your professor likes it. You have to provide lots of supporting arguments and citations as to why your position is the correct one. Sentences add up to paragraphs, which add up to sections, which add up to chapters, which add up to “the overall idea you’re trying to convey”. Then, you have supporting citations from other experts supporting your position that show that you are a subject matter expert.

SEO works sort of the same way. The “silo” term is a good way to think about things (if you know what a silo is and what it looks like) but I propose instead using the idea of the academic paper. If you want to rank a site for the word “shoes”, you’re going to need lots of supporting content showing why you should outrank everyone else for shoes. But you can’t just write 10,000 pages of content all focused on the keyword “shoes”. You have to create an argument for the search engine. A good way to start would be to separate all the different kinds of shoes into categories. Perhaps “men’s shoes” vs. “women’s shoes” or “casual shoes” vs. “dress shoes”. This is the first siloing of your content, and whatever way you choose to distinguish between categories at the highest level will be your largest silos.

From there, you’ve got to break things down further. So, within the “women’s shoes” category, maybe you break that down into “women’s casual shoes” and “women’s dress shoes”. Within “casual shoes” you further breakdown the category, maybe by activity- athletic shoes vs. everyday wear shoes. Within “athletic shoes” you have “basketball shoes”, “soccer cleats”, “tennis shoes”, “bowling shoes”, and so on, and so forth. THEN, within each product category, you further separate. Perhaps within “basketball shoes” you break it down by Brand. Then you further break it down by style. Then by color. This is how you get to the most granular level, the product page.

It’s very important that the navigational structure on the site reflects this “siloing”. Try to think like a search engine bot and realize that if a bot comes to a site called “”- they expect to see text, images and video- content- about “shoes”. So if you take all of your products and throw them into one directory called “products”- the spiders expect to see “shoe” text and instead they see “product” text. It’s the same reason why you shouldn’t use “click here” as an anchor text- unless you sell a product called “click here”. Google expects Users to expect to see content related to the URL when they click through, and the bots will penalize you if what’s under the link doesn’t match the text of the link.

Much like sentences turn into paragraphs that turn into sections that turn into theses, individual pages turn into navigational categories that signify the main points of the site. That’s why it’s so important to define the idea of your site first- if you aren’t organized in your offerings, you won’t be organized in your navigation, and your content won’t get found by the robots, won’t get indexed, and won’t get paid any attention.  Design your site like you’d write a paper, and the link juice will follow!

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