SEO Silos – How to design one

SEO Silos – How to design one

I’m going to be teaching you everything there is to know about SEO silos and website architecture. First, what is an SEO silo? This concept refers to a standardized structure of your website where certain pages will link to each other based on a thoughtful, standardized pattern, typically based on relevance. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, I’m going to be breaking this down very soon. But first, let’s talk about the benefits of planned site architecture.

The first benefit is topical relevance. When you have a page about protein powder and you have other pages on your website about protein powder linking to it, guess what? Google thinks you are more about protein powder. And when you make Google’s job easier, they rank you higher.

Second, you get more mileage out of your link building. Your homepage, for example, typically gets more backlinks externally than any other page on your website. A lot of people call this backlink value or link juice. With a well-planned SEO silo structure, you can ensure all of that link juice is distributed around to all the pages of your website, thus increasing their rankings.

Third, you can rank much easier for long-tail keywords. Because you successfully delivered that link juice to all the pages on your site, don’t be surprised if some of those pages start ranking without any external link building. People will link to informational articles like how to clean a fishing pole much more easily than they would a commercial article like buy fishing poles.

You can focus your external link building efforts on getting these easy-to-acquire links on the informational pages while still powering up your commercial pages through internal linking.  The key to good SEO siloing starts with foundational keyword research. You want to take your main foundational keyword topics, break them down into subtopics, break those down into subtopics, and then structure each page of your site based on this categorization.

Let’s explain this with an example. So if we take this example of a website called, let’s say its main keyword it would ever want to rank for is “best diets.” Let’s see how we can break this down with an example.

If we take a little time and do some research on Google itself or perhaps using a favorite keyword research tool, we can find that “best diets” could be broken down into various diet types. So we might have the keto diet, ketogenic diet, paleo diet, and vegan diet.

Then each of these topics can be broken down themselves. Let’s see how that looks. So for the keto diet, just doing a little research, we can find subtopics could be keto diet meal plan, keto diet supplements, keto diet apps. We can do the same for the paleo diet – paleo diet weight loss, paleo diet meal plan, paleo caveman diet. And for vegan, we can talk about vegan protein sources, vegan meal plan, and raw vegan.

What are we going to do after this? We’re going to break it down even further. I’m not illustrating the whole tree here, that would make the slide way too messy. But we can see that the keto diet meal plan is broken down into breakfast, keto diet meal plan for men and keto diet meal plan for women.  As you notice here, typically as you go higher in this chain, these are more commercial and more difficult keywords to rank for. And typically, as you go lower in the chain, these are more informational and typically easier, long-tail keywords to rank for.

Now, let’s get into the core of this article and talk about the real heart of SEO siloing, which is how you interlink these pages together. This is what truly defines the architectures, the various configurations of siloing. When I’m talking about internal linking, I’m referring completely to contextual links here. Contextual links are also called body links. These are links that you have in the middle of your article, in your paragraphs and sentences. I’m not referring to sidebar, nav bar, or footer linking. The links that really matter for siloing are your contextual links.

Here is configuration number one, I call this the top-down recycle SEO silo. In this configuration, we have the same architecture as before with all the keywords mapped out, but here is how we will do the interlinking:

We have our top page “best diets” that will link down to the keto diet page, paleo diet page, and vegan diet page. Remember these are contextual links found in the body of the article.

Then for the keto diet, that would break down by linking to the meal plan page, supplements page, and app page. And then the meal plan page will link down to breakfast, men, and women.  And then what happens is it links back up from the bottom of the silo all the way up to the top page.

Now let’s take a look here and see what would happen if we got an external link to any of these pages, starting with the best diets page. Let’s say we get an external link, meaning a link from another website, to this best diets page.  That link juice is going to flow down to all three of these top guys – keto, paleo, and vegan. It’s going to flow down to the meal plan, supplements, app, and down to the breakfast page for men and women. It’s easy to see, you just follow the lines.

[image of the solio at work]

And then it’s going to recycle back up to the top. As you can see here, there is a pretty good flow of link juice. Anytime you get a link anywhere on the site, it’s going to flow around to the various pages. Then every single page on the entire website is going to get a little piece of that link juice – that’s great.

What is the reason we do this flow back up to the top? Because what this is doing is called completing the loop. If we, for example, had a link going here, here, and then kind of dead-ended, well guess what? There would be no benefit after that point if we got a link directly externally to the breakfast page and it didn’t link out to anything else – that’s a dead end for that link juice and it goes nowhere.

How does it look in terms of topical relevance? The more links you have from similar content, the more topical relevance you would get from other pages on your website. Then Google thinks you’re more relevant to that topic.  For example, we look at the keto diet page – it only has one link from the best diets page. If we look at the meal plan page, it only has one link from the keto diet page. So the topical relevance in this configuration isn’t great at all.

Another reason I’m not a big fan of this configuration is typically, if you’re looking to get someone closer to the sale, you want to link the other direction completely. So someone comes into a long-tail keyword like “what’s a meal plan for the keto diet for men?” So they land on this page, we want to be able to link them up to stuff that’s more general and commercial in intent.

We want to be able to link here and then give them the keto diet page or maybe the app page or something like that, where you can spend money like the supplement page, for example. This configuration links in reverse and gets people further away from commercial keywords, so it doesn’t make me a fan of this one.

Let’s take a look at the next configuration. Configuration number two is called the reverse silo. This is one of the most popular silos. Let me describe the linking in this configuration:

First, we have the best diets page and this has a two-way link to the keto diet page, paleo diet page, and vegan diet page. So not only does the best diets page link to the keto diet, but the keto diet links back to it.

Then the pattern follows as such – the keto diet goes down to the meal plan, supplements, app, meal plan breakfast for men, for women.

What happens here when we get an external link, let’s say to the supplements page? The link juice is going to flow up to the keto diet page, which is going to flow to best diets, meal plan, supplement, and app. So we have full directionality of where this link juice can go – it can go up or down.

It also handles the consideration where we want to be able to link up in the direction more often because that’s typically more commercial where we can make more money.

It also has really good topical relevance – as you see the keto diet page is getting more links than before, whereas it only had a link from the best diets page before. It’s now getting links from the meal plan, supplements, and app pages. So overall, I really like this configuration.

Another reason I’m a fan of this configuration is that you can see here certain pages are only linking to each other if they are very close in relevance. Obviously meal plans have a lot to do with breakfast meal plans for men and women and the keto diet. So they’re very adjacent in what they link to, and that’s good for beginner websites when you really want to be tight on what you link to in order to establish topical relevance.

For beginner websites, you don’t want to have a keto diet meal plan linking to a paleo diet page – that’s going to confuse Google. So with this reverse silo, you’re linking very closely which kind of protects you from risk.

Configuration number three is called the serial silo, and I’m not talking about Captain Crunch here – I mean serial as in the opposite of parallel. Here is how it works:

We have best diets, it’s going to link down to the subtopic beneath it – so to the keto diet page. Keto diet will link over to paleo diet, which will link to vegan diet, and then back up to the best diet page. And we do that pattern again down here, and again down here.

What happens when we get a link here? Okay, so let’s pick one at random – we got a link to the breakfast page. So link juice will flow to the pages for men, for women, it’ll go up to meal plan, meal plan will go to supplements, app gets keto diet.  Overall the link juice is going to flow over the entire website – that’s great. But I have to tell you, I hate this configuration, I really don’t see much use for it at all.

Just take a look here – the best diets page is linking to the keto diet page and the app page is linking to the keto diet page – that’s great, it’s got two topical relevance links. But that’s not very much when it could be getting a lot more relevance.

Plus any page in the middle here, like keto diet or paleo diet, is only getting one topical relevance link and it’s not even very relevant – keto diet linking to paleo diet when they are literally different diets. Why would you want to link these together?  The only reason I see people doing this, and I still think it’s a mistake, is let’s imagine your keto diet page had 70 different subtopics. Do you really want 70 different external links leaving this page and going to the various pages underneath it? You might have to pick and choose.

I still don’t think doing a serial approach and only linking to one of them, and then having them link to each other, is the way to go about it. So please avoid this configuration, I’m not a fan.

Let’s look at configuration number four. This one I think I hate even more – this is what I call the “yellow silo” (not an official name, I just made it up). Here, every single page links to every single page on your website.

Obviously, I don’t need to map this out. If I get a link anywhere, that link is just going to flow around the entire thing.

The problem with this is you get a lot of non-topical relevance. I’m going to have vegan diet stuff linking to keto diet meal plans for women – it just doesn’t make sense.

On top of that, when every page links to every other page on your website, meaning there is absolute uniform spread of link juice, it means no single page has an advantage to rank over any other. And that’s silly because certain pages have more commercial intent, can make you more money, have more search volume – you want pages to have advantages over each other.

Configuration number five is what I call the priority silo. This is for advanced SEOs who really want to take control and optimize their internal linking.

I’ve identified two pages here marked in gold – one is keto diet, which typically has a lot of search volume and brings a lot of traffic. Another page here would be like keto diet supplements – this probably has affiliate links I could put on there and link out to my favorite keto supplements to make money.

How this linking configuration works for the priority silo is you start with the reverse silo as the basic foundation. But because I’ve identified these priority pages, I’m going to find other relevant pages on my site and interlink manually to these pages without any rigid structure. I’ll do the same for the supplements page.

Because we’ve already looked at the reverse silo, and this configuration has that as the basis, you know link juice is going to flow nicely here. But where this excels is in topical relevance.

We’ve found our priority pages and they have more internal links than other pages because they’re more important for us to rank. And they have exceedingly high topical relevance since they are getting multiple links, sometimes 5-6 links in a real configuration with tons of pages on a site – you could get up to 20-30 links.

If you look at some of the more successful websites, like Wirecutter and Gear Hungry, they internally link just like this. They over-link to speak, though not to the point of too much. But they prioritize and identify key pages, linking more to them.

So the question you probably have now is – which configuration is the best? Well, let’s take a look:

For beginners, I recommend the good old reverse silo. The reasons are it’s super easy to implement – you just identify your structure, map everything out, and link down and up. Also, as discussed, it has a great link juice flow with no orphaned pages. And there is decent topical relevance here – most pages are getting several links, especially the important ones.

For advanced SEOs, I recommend the priority silo. This is excellent for topical relevance and link juice flow. The only downside is more management is involved.

Now let’s jump into some FAQs:

Question 1: What is the difference between a hard silo and a soft silo? Have you heard these terms before?

First, soft silos are everything we’ve talked about so far – these are built through interlinking. One page linking internally to another page establishes a “soft silo” and the overall configuration defines the silo itself.

Hard silos are built through directory structures, like:

Interlinking is still necessary when you’re doing hard siloing – just making the directory structure doesn’t establish link flow or topical relevance. It’s an add-on that can be helpful for users to understand where they are on the site. It can also be useful in local SEO when breaking things down geographically. But focus on soft silos.

Question 2: What kind of anchor text should be used when sending internal links to a page, say 5 links to a keto diet page? How should I diversify the anchor text, if at all?

I’ve done a lot of SEO testing on this. We’ve tried 100% exact match anchor text, 80%, 60% – here are the results:

The best result was 100% varied target anchor texts going to any single page. By “varied” I mean using “keto diet”, “keto dieting”, “information about the keto diet” instead of “keto diet” repeatedly.

That said, one of my recommendations is maybe 80% varied target anchors and 20% miscellaneous like “click here”. That adds a buffer against over-optimization.

I’ve found it’s hard to over-optimize anchors internally, but if you spam “keto diet” repeatedly you could still over-optimize. So I recommend, especially if outsourcing, adding a buffer.

Question 3: How relevant do pages need to be when linking to them?

For new sites, I recommend being very tight on relevance – paleo should only link to paleo, etc. I’ve had new sites try to cross-link categories and nothing worked until I tightened things up. That helps Google understand topical relevance and rewards the site.

For established, authoritative sites you can relax more – look at sites like Wirecutter. Their pages don’t all link within the same niche. Once you’re established you can be more flexible.

Question 4: What is the most important page to link from?

Your homepage. Consider your homepage the best page on the internet to get a link from – it’s highly relevant to your site and gets lots of links. So when linking out from it, be selective – only link to your most important pages. You can’t link every page, so choose the ones that matter most.

Question 5: Are there any pitfalls to think about?

Two big ones:

First, sending exact match anchors repeatedly to a page can over-optimize it. I have a war story of tanking rankings on an affiliate site right before Christmas by doing this. Vary your internal anchors.

Second, not closing the loop. Remember if you link down but then don’t link back up you create a dead end where link juice goes stale. Always complete the loop.

In closing, despite the configurations the core goals of interlinking are:

  • Link to relevant pages
  • Link to pages you want to rank
  • Link even more to pages you really want to rank

Stick to those concepts and you’ll be in good shape. Happy ranking and leave a commit on what you think!

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