Maximizing Site Architecture for SEO

Using Silos to Establish Content Hierarchy & User-Experience Improvements

Despite the rapidly changing SEO landscape, there remain a few "constant" optimization practices that carry the potential to move your site up the search results pages and do so rapidly.

Few, however, are more influential than that of website architecture.

Every enterprise must address the business priorities and technical barriers or limitations of its website in relation to creating a successful search engine optimization campaign (as defined by unique visitor increases from competitive, high-converting search terms). The best practice guidance put forward by the search engines themselves almost always addresses how well websites are actually constructed and organized - making it noteworthy to every SEO professional (and designer/developer).

A better (more strategic and refined) site architecture has been proven time and again to create a more meaningful, engaging experience for users as they visit a digital property. And since users/visitors are the digital bread and butter of our enterprises, it is to those users we must turn to with optimized website architectures. But where do we begin?

When webmasters and SEOs make it easy for search engines to crawl their content, the rewards are immense including greater depth/coverage and speed of indexing of content and pages. In this edition of Website Magazine's Mastering Search column, let's address how to organize a website for maximum visibility - and usability - for website visitors.

You're likely well aware of the importance of a proper title, URL structure, and H1 usage (if not, make sure to check out Website Magazine's Mastering Search Channel online), but site architecture can often limit the potential of SEO.

Defining SEO-Friendly Architecture

Website silo architecture is simply the process of implementing a site-wide structure whereby each topic is housed in its own relevant section. The internal linking that naturally occurs (a key best practice for on-site SEO) pushes link equity back up to the primary / topic page or the "silo landing page."

Developing a Content Hierarchy

The most well-structured websites have their content organized by either taxonomy or common, shared characteristics (like a theme). This is best exemplified in the sites of Internet retailers. Products are grouped in a variety of ways based on the expectations of users, which may mean by brand name, by style or by category. It's important not to stop there, however. Content needs to be organized in a way that it melds with the broader site purpose. The way to do this, of course, is to separate the different types of products in an ordered fashion using a theme and silo-structured content hierarchy. This makes it easy for users to find information they need, without thinking about it. For example, a shoe retailer might group products by season.

These themed websites essentially just place related content into virtual "silos" of information where they are closely associated with other information within the silo. So how do you actually do that? Follow the architecture basics of successful websites and leverage the common, streamlined layout afforded by the following silo-based classification and organization system: Home > Category > Sub-Category > Topic > Content. If the pages of your website feature this type of navigation, you're doing it right.

It's actually much less complicated than you might think. Consider that your website is built in tiers or levels. The home or index page is a first tier (and the starting point for all SEO), and the category pages or "silos" contain keyword-specific landing pages. The benefit of creating website architecture of this type is that eventually, all the nested pages created within that silo will pass value in the form of a link back to the root category or silo page. For example, if we were optimizing for the keyword "Category 1" then each nested page within that silo should feature some variation of the keyword being optimized on an individual page linking back to the silo. Over time, SEOs can scale laterally with multiple silo landing pages for competitive keywords and markets.

Implementing silos on your website does not need to be difficult. In fact, if you have performed the necessary keyword research and considered the role CMS plays in SEO-friendly architecture, you are probably already on your way. Here are a few tips to help you further define your silos:

- Group content by keywords, using the top-performing keyword for the silo page.

- Link to the landing pages from the main navigation section of your website. This may be in a header navigation menu, part of a menu bar or (in some cases) in the sidebar to your site.

- Be sure to cross link your information within the same silo. This would include linking from common navigation menus for that silo and cross linking from within the main content section of each page (as long as the links are contextually relevant and would make sense to your readers).

Don't Forget, User Experience Matters

It is not uncommon for search marketers to prioritize architecture modifications based on the potential ranking benefit over that of the user experience. The problem is that user experience has a bit of a bad reputation in SEO circles as it's easy to get lost in the nuances of that undertaking, to the detriment of achieving high placement. In reality however, they remain one and the same. The objective really is to make it easy for users to move around your website quickly and easily. For this reason, it's important to feature both global navigation elements as well as breadcrumb navigation, and as a rule, make sure that users can access every section of your website - from any page they are on - within two to three clicks.

A Practical Action Plan for SEO Architecture

The whole concept of optimizing the architecture of a website for the purpose of improving rank position is, in reality, quite arbitrary. When you design with the user in mind, you can trust that you're also designing for the search engine. To develop an effective action plan for SEO architecture, we need only to turn to our analytics systems to determine the most popular pages. Very few websites receive most of their traffic to their homepage, but rather to individual pages that have been keyword-optimized and wellcited across the Web. Identifying these pages and ensuring these meet the guidelines for optimal user experience is the fastest path to optimizing the architecture of a website as these pages likely drive the majority of revenue

It's Time for Purpose-Driven SEO

The reason that websites are wire-framed initially (at the outset or beginning) is not only for Web designers to know what to include on a page, but also to give digital workers of all specialties - from SEO professionals to usability mavens - the opportunity to think through and plan the user experience while meeting or exceeding the expectations of the enterprise. Purpose-driven SEO architecture is essentially just executing the knowledge you have about the business's priorities and also the expectations of users. When you have a clear idea of what the goals are for each section of a website, you're one step closer to making it happen.