Want to drive organic traffic and create a better user experience? Learn the art of building Physical and Virtual SEO Silos. How-tos, tips, best practices and a hella resource section.
Imagine your web pages literally guiding users and search engines through a perfectly structured content hierarchy. Sound inviting? Then you may want to give SEO silos some thought.
SEO silos are website architecture that revolutionizes content visibility and user experience. And in this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the benefits of physical and virtual SEO silos and take you through the steps of building them.
We’ll give you the low-down on best practices, and share tools and resources to get you started and keep you going. By the end of this post, you’ll be fully prepared to create a streamlined content architecture that boosts your search rankings and delivers top-level user engagement.
Ready to unleash the power of SEO silos on your site?
Let’s dive in!
What Are SEO Silos?
SEO silos are content groupings organized by theme and structured with a clear hierarchy. Physical SEO silos are created using website page categories; Virtual silos are created with strategically chosen keywords and internal linking. The effect is the same… better search results, higher topical authority, and streamlined user navigation.
Building Physical SEO Silos
Physical SEO Silos Defined
Physical SEO silos are groupings of content formed with categories you create on a website page-builder.
Every SEO silo is based on themes, or topics, and every silo is built with hierarchy. Accordingly, a physical silo is structured with top-level categories encompassing broader themes, and subcategories more specific.
Each silo is a tightly related, self-contained entity.
Advantages of Physical SEO Silos
Physical SEO silos offer numerous benefits—
- Clear topical focus for each siloed content section.
- Visitors experience ease of navigation and intuitive access to related content.
- Every physical silo is optimized for target keywords, which promotes topical authority for your website domain.
- Strategic internal linking within the silo enhances the flow of link equity and simplifies indexing of your website.
Bottom line— site owners, users and search engines alike love SEO silos.
Creating Physical SEO Silos
Physical silos make perfect SEO sense AND they’re super-easily built in three steps—
1. Identify Top-Level Categories
Start by pinpointing the overarching themes of your website, using the following questions as a guide—
- What areas of expertise do you provide?
- What topics do you want to rank for?
- What are the broadest topics in these niches?
Precise categorization matters, so be very clear on these questions. You’ll be dealing with lots of ideas, so work with hierarchy already in mind. Broad themes at the top, descending into increasingly-specific subcategories.
2. Create a Topic-Tree With Subcategories
With your top-level categories decided on, the next step is to create subcategories. In essence, you’re creating topic trees. Broadest at the top, narrower focus as you move down. And to help the process, this simple question should get you going—
- What are the subtopics people will be asking about?
If you’re an e-commerce site like Rei.com, a top-level category like Climb will have subcategories like Climbing Shoes, Climbing Harnesses, Climbing Ropes, and Climbing Clothing.
Build your topic tree, listing your subtopics from the top, drilling down as specifically as needed. For example, within Climbing Clothing, REI.com lists Men’s Rock, Women’s Mountaineering and Climbing Gloves.
3. Build Your Physical SEO Silos
By now, you’ve probably concluded that REI.com has a physical SEO silo for Climb. And within that silo are subcategories like Climbing Clothing and Women’s Mountaineering.
You can build your physical SEO silos in much the same way.
Take your topic trees, and starting with the broadest (parent) categories, you’ll physically create silo categories using your website page builder. Here’s a step-by-step guide for doing it in WordPress—
- From your WordPress dashboard, navigate to the Posts section.
- Click on Categories to add Physical SEO silo categories.
- Enter the category name.
- If you’re creating a subcategory, be sure to add its parent category.
- Slugs and descriptions are optional.
- Save the category and repeat as needed.
- If you’re siloing existing content, go to each post and assign your new physical silo categories to it.
- As new content is created, do the same.
- Modify your custom-designed menus to reflect your silo structure.
A Few Friendly Reminders
The goals of SEO silos are logical, relevant organization (for the search engines) and ease of navigation (for your visitors).
In that spirit, keep clarity, simplicity and theme at the forefront as you structure your categories. And be sure your content fits naturally in its silo and helps develop the silo theme.
Now, let’s shift our focus to virtual silos, and how they complement physical silos in an SEO strategy.
Implementing Virtual SEO Silos
Virtual SEO Silos Defined
Virtual SEO silos are content groupings that exist independently of page categories. They’re like threads, weaving through your website, connecting content regardless of what categories they’re grouped into.
Virtual silos are thematically built around target keywords, and their structure relies on the internal links that connect the content pages optimized for those keywords.
In other words, virtual silos rely on keywords, not category labels, to mark their thematic identity. It’s keywords, and internal linking, that makes the virtual silo work.
These same virtual silos, in turn, guide search engines through your website, making it easier for them to understand your content and index it accurately.
Advantages of Virtual SEO Silos
Virtual silos add to the SEO firepower of physical silos. Here’s how—
- Content Organization Flexibility: Virtual silos can thematically connect content regardless of the physical silo they belong to.
- Enhanced Indexation and Crawlability: Linking patterns between pages demonstrate logical connections that results in more accurate indexing.
- Better User Experience: Virtual SEO silos connect relevant content across categories, which allows for more intuitive navigation for users.
- Strategic Optimization Opportunities: Virtual silos are built around keyword strategy, so any content piece in a virtual silo will be optimized for that keyword, increasing the number of rankable content pages on a site.
- Amplified Internal Linking Authority: Virtual SEO silos are built on robust internal linking, which boosts the flow of link equity from larger, broader, pillar posts down to shorter posts based on long-tail keywords.
The UX and SEO boost from virtual silos is significant. In the sections to follow, we’ll guide you through building them and explore the benefits of using both on your website.
Creating Virtual SEO Silos
Implementing virtual SEO silos will require you to become adept with keyword research, keyword mapping, and internal linking best practices. We’ll begin with the first stage of crafting virtual SEO silos, Keyword Research and Mapping.
1. Keyword Research & Mapping
The goal of keyword research is to find target keywords relevant to your niche or industry. Here’s how—
• Identify Target Keywords: Use tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, SEMRush, Ahrefs, Wordstream, and Answer the Public to uncover high-volume (and long-tail) keywords that align with your silo topics.
• Analyze Search Intent: What are people looking for? And why? Knowing how to examine the search intent behind your target keywords is an invaluable skill because it will sync your keywords to the right silo category.
• Group Keywords into Silos: Arrange your keywords into thematic clusters that mirror your silo categories. Create keyword groupings for each known topic or subtopic within your silo structure.
• Allocate Keywords to Content: After grouping keywords into silos, assign them to relevant content in each category, and then, integrate those keywords into the titles, headings, body text, and metadata of the content pages.
• Evaluate Competition and Search Volume: Use the tools mentioned above to gauge the competitiveness of your keyword sets. Take keyword difficulty and search volume metrics into account and aim to balance keyword attractiveness with ranking feasibility.
When it comes to building virtual SEO silos, you can’t overestimate the importance of keyword research. Don’t shortcut this phase.
And because search trends evolve, make a point of regularly updating your keyword strategy.
Let’s move on to the next critical virtual silo element…
2. Internal Linking
Smart internal linking between related silo content improves user navigation, boosts search engine crawlability, and amplifies the topical relevance of your content.
Here’s a 4-step method to getting it right—
• Pinpoint Your Pillar Posts: Each virtual silo has a Pillar Post that acts as a thematic anchor article. This will be the most comprehensive of any in the silo, an Ultimate Guide based on short-tailed keywords.
• Link from Pillar Posts to Sub-pages: Use contextual anchor text within the pillar post to link to related sub-pages in the silo. This indicates your silo hierarchy to search engines and asserts the relevance of the linked sub-pages.
• Interlink Related Sub-pages: Build links between the topically connected sub-pages in your silos. This amplifies the silo’s topical authority.
• Regularly Update Internal Links: As your content grows and new pages join the mix, routinely review and update your internal linking so it continues to reflect your SEO silos. WordPress plugins Link Whisper and Internal Link Juicer facilitate smart linking and identify optimization opportunities.
Along with keyword research-mapping, the strength of your virtual SEO silos ride on intelligent internal linking. Don’t skimp on this phase either.
In the coming sections, we’ll get into the value of integrating physical and virtual silos. But first, here’s a little more on what you need to know about anchor text.
Getting Anchor Text Right
People talk about it a lot, so let’s get clear about anchor text, and doing it well.
Look at the paragraph that came before this text box. By using anchor text as, well, my anchor text, you should expect to be sent to a page telling you more about anchor text.
Which, I guarantee, you will. Which brings us to 2 fundamentals worth remembering—
A.) Anchor text should relate closely to the subject (or title) of what you’re linking to.
B.) Anchor text should imply contextually where you’re being sent if you click on the link. In this case, a blog post penned by the folks at Semrush.com, detailing 8 types of anchor text and how to use them.
It’s a read well worth your time, but I digress. Two examples, before we move things along? Good anchor text is specific, relevant and obvious, like this–
Please, do not use click here-style anchor text. Anchor text is like subheads… they WILL catch the attention of article scanners. Give them a reason for staying.
Integrating Physical and Virtual SEO Silos
Smart technical SEOs know that combining physical and virtual SEO silos maximizes their impact. Here’s why—
Better User Experience & Navigation
Once your physical and virtual silos are built, you’ll use your SEO silo designs to custom-build your menus and URLs. And when you activate your website’s breadcrumbs feature, they’ll follow your silo structure automatically.
The result is effortless navigation that helps users find what they’re looking for, and encourages them to dig deeper and discover more.
Laser Focus on Keyword Strategy
When you implement SEO silos, you’re making a full-time commitment to keyword strategy. You’ll be researching keywords that align with your content strategy, get respectable search volume, and bear a reasonable degree of ranking difficulty.
There’s a payoff for all of that, especially when you implement both forms of SEO silos.
Why? Well, physical silo categories will be optimized with specific target keywords. And those same keywords will optimize the content and metadata in those silos.
Virtual silos are constructed whole cloth from keyword strategy, and the internal links connecting content in those silos will use many of the same keywords.
None of this goes unnoticed by the search engines, who reward keyword focus with authority recognition.
If you’re in the silo business, you’re truly in the keyword business. And that’s a good place to be.
The Power of Strategic Internal Linking
Internal links serve multiple purposes—
- They help users discover other content of interest.
- They facilitate navigation throughout your site.
- They distribute link equity down and throughout the silo.
- They set up contextual relationships between pages and enhance search crawlability.
- They guide users along predefined conversion paths, where purposeful content flow uses strategic calls-to-action to move users from informational to transactional pages.
Either of the SEO silos will use a few of these capabilities. But leverage both and you’re multiplying the power of internal linking.
What is Contextual Relevance?
Contextual relevance is the connection between content and the context in which it’s presented.
In the case of SEO silos, contextual relevance is the practice of grouping only content that’s relevant to (and further develops) the intent of the topic. Which is why knowing the purpose of your content makes your SEO silos more powerful. It makes contextually relevant grouping easier for you, and it makes more content available to users who want to dive deeper into specific topics and explore them at different angles.
Bringing It All Together
A Quick Process Wrap-up
We’ve covered a lot, so here’s a quick, all-in-one guide to getting everything from your SEO silos—
- Get the concepts down: Master the concept of SEO Silos, their benefits, and WHY it makes sense for your site.
- Conduct keyword research: Build your niche-relevant keyword groupings. Tools like Google Keyword Planner, Semrush, Ahrefs, and Wordstream are great for finding rank-feasible, high-volume short-tail keywords.
- Design your physical silo structure: Use your keyword research to design your physical silo structures. Identify themes first, then pinpoint the categories and subcategories within those themes.
- Build your virtual SEO silos: From broad-to-narrow, group keywords in each silo category to map your virtual silos. Use tools like Answer the Public to find long-tail keywords that support the Pillar posts at the top of your virtual silos.
- Create physical silos in your page-builder: In WordPress or your chosen CMS, build categories and subcategories that mirror your physical silos. Assign existing and new content to each category as appropriate.
- Optimize content within silos: Incorporate relevant keywords into the titles, headings, body text, and meta tags of all silo content. Quality-check your content for comprehensiveness, structure, and user value.
- Establish internal linking: Link category pages to subcategory pages within silos. Link between relevant pages across silos.
- Monitor performance, continuously refine and optimize: Monitor the performance of your silos, using the tools listed in the Resources section below. Track pertinent Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like organic traffic, keyword rankings, engagement metrics, and conversion rates. Refine your silo structure accordingly. Revise your content as needed.
- Stay current: Follow SEO trends and engage with the SEO community through forums, blogs, and Technical SEOs.
By following these steps, even a neophyte SEO can leverage physical and virtual silos for SEO success. But be patient— SEO is an ongoing process. Always learning, always monitoring, always adapting and refining.
Best Practices for SEO Silos
Create a Clear Hierarchy
Efficient content organization is the foundation of SEO silos. And a funnel-shaped category-to-subcategory model simplifies this process.
Begin with top-level categories representing broad thematic topics. From there, you’ll progressively move to more focused articles (often targeting long-tail keywords).
Avoid Content Overlap
Content that overlaps multiple physical SEO silos muddles search engines and negates the purpose of SEO silos. So, a few easy guidelines…
Each content piece in one silo, snugly within its category and subcategory, easily found, easily read.
If your content fits more silos than one, pick the one that aligns best, and create internal links to the silos you picked over.
Manually tag your content to avoid content overlap, and use content audits to spot duplication.
Internal Linking Strategies
Use Anchor Text Intelligently
Avoid the generic learn more or click here links, opting instead for descriptive, keyword-rich anchor text that sets context and genuinely represents the linked content, like—
Explore effective cardio exercises
View our organic gardening resources.
Link for Content Value & Hierarchy
Link to pages offering the deepest, most comprehensive treatment of the topic at hand.
Additionally, set your silo hierarchy by linking from broader category pages to narrower subcategory pages within the silo.
Don’t Overdo It
Internal links are critical to virtual silo structure, but avoid saturating your pages with them. Integrate your links naturally, and use them to offer value to users.
Contextual links are hyperlinks nestled within your text that jump readers to related content that goes beyond the scope of your article.
External OR internal, contextual links add depth and development to the topic at hand. External links share authority with other sites and invite the same to your content piece. And internal links, as you know by now, ties related content together for the benefit of navigation and search indexing.
It’s a win-win, so look for opportunities to weave contextual links into your content.
Use Your Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs are a nondescript navigational banner positioned below the main header. Moving from home page to current page, they give users a sense of where they are on your site and quick access to broader categories if desired.
Breadcrumbs, though, are not always an automatic navigational feature.
In WordPress, for example, you’ll need either a theme that supports breadcrumb navigation, or a plugin like Yoast SEO (or Breadcrumb NavXT or Rank Math) that allows you to install, activate, and customize the display of breadcrumbs on your website.
Lots of options, and these articles will get you going—
Customize Your Menus
As you build your SEO silos, your menus and URLs should reflect the navigational efficiencies your silo architecture offers.
You can learn about site navigation and URL modifications before or after building your SEO silos. But make sure your navigation systems are updated.
Your users will love you for it.
Audit & Update Your Links
Perform regular audits of your internal links to ensure they are still relevant and functioning properly.
Additionally, if you restructure your silos or change the organization of your content, make sure to update your internal links to maintain a consistent and optimized silo structure.
Content Management Systems
- WordPress: WordPress is the most widely-used CMS known, and plugins like Yoast SEO, Rank Math, LinkWhisper, Internal Link Juicer, and All in One SEO Pack are great for silo structure, content management, and SEO optimization.
- Drupal: A highly customizable CMS that offers advanced content categorization, tagging, and taxonomy for complex SEO silos.
- Joomla: Another popular WordPress alternative, Joomla offers robust category and tagging functionalities.
Content Collaboration & Silo Organization
- GatherContent is a content collaboration platform that streamlines content creation and management within a silo structure.
- Contentful is a headless CMS offering a flexible content organization infrastructure ideally suited for complex SEO silos.
- Siteimprove is all-in-one digital marketing software that assists in content categorization, inventory and auditing.
Maintenance & Update Tools
- Content tagging makes organizing even the largest content libraries effortless. WordPress plugins like TaxoPress and Advanced Custom Fields are ideal tools.
- Modifications to your silo structure are inevitable, and so are URL changes. Use your 301 redirects to smooth out transitions and preserve link integrity. Lots of excellent Redirect plugins for WordPress including Redirection.
Organic Traffic to Siloed Pages
Organic search traffic reveals the visibility of your SEO silos. Track this metric with—
- Google Analytics: Create custom, segmented reports for organic traffic to specific siloed pages.
- Google Search Console: Access Performance reports to monitor impressions, clicks, and average search results of your siloed pages. Analyze data by-page or compare across silos.
- SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz: These all-in-one SEO suites give detailed insights into organic search visibility and ranking performance of specific pages within your silos.
Conversion & Engagement Metrics
Conversion rates and engagement metrics are great KPIs for gauging SEO silo effectiveness. Here are a few useful tools—
- Analyze conversion rates on specific siloed pages using Google Analytics’ metrics like e-commerce purchase, conversion, and average engagement time per session.
- Optimize user experience with Heatmap and User Behavior Tools. Hotjar, Crazy Egg, and Mouseflow provide heatmaps, session recordings, and user behavior insights on how users engage your siloed pages,
- A/B Testing Tools like Optimizely, VWO, and Google Optimize let you test different variations of page layouts to optimize conversion rates and other engagement metrics.
- Form Analytics tools like Hubspot, Zuko (formerly Formisimo) and ContentSquare (formerly ClickTale) analyze form interactions, drop-off rates, and form submission data which can guide your optimizations.
SEO Silos—The UX & Organic Traffic Difference
And THAT is SEO silos. How to build them, and how to be sure they do what they’re built for—
Create a better user experience. And make your pages more visible in search.
You may have gathered that building SEO silos IS work. We won’t deny that, but hopefully, this guide has given you what you need to get started.
And for that, we suggest you do what any other silo builder does— build it one course at a time.
Start with your themes. Go deep with keyword research. Create your categories, your subcategories, and link your silos together. Bring your content out, and decide which of the silos they’ll go to.
It’s one stage followed by the other, but the payoff is clear—
Content that’s easily discovered by the reader, and easily indexed by the search engines. Both of which will get you to page 1.
See you there.
Questions? Clarifications? Feel free to drop me a line. Check out our blog page for examples to model your own work on. You can shoot over to our portfolio page for inspiration too. And if you prefer to have an agency do it for you, read about our content writing and SEO services here.
In the meantime, Best of Luck. And Be Well.