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Siloing (Theming) a New Joomla 3 Website – Advanced SEO

Creating Virtual Silos that are Great for Users and for Search Engines

Why Siloing is Important

According to Bruce Clay: “Search engines award top keyword rankings to the site that proves that it is the best fit for the relevancy of a subject or theme that matches the user query”.

Google’s advice is:

"Make a website with good architecture; have a tree-like structure that includes a home page with well linked static links to the individual pages of your site. Make sure that the important pages are just one or two links from your home page (near the top of your website architecture) so that the PageRank is still relatively high there. This will allow your silo to purposefully pass the most PageRank from your home page (the page with the most PR and clout) to your most important landing pages."

Siloing your Joomla site isn’t the whole SEO story but I believe it’s a fundamental pre-requisite to creating a great user experience and a well optimized site. 
You can find out more about “How to build a website silo architecture” from http://www.bruceclay.com/eu/seo/silo.htm

A well themed site is based upon keywords so I’m going to assume that you have already done your competitor and keyword research and have a list of your main keywords ready so you know what you’re targeting.

Planning

A good place to start is with a site plan using a silo structure.  There are many options to producing a site plan.  I tend to use Excel’s Smart Art tools, as this can form part of a workbook containing my plan for URLs, Meta tags, 301 redirects, headings etc.  

Create a Hierarchical Site Map Showing Silos and Supporting Pages

This is not your full site page plan.  Only have your home page and major themes in your main navigation menu.  Put all the other pages somewhere else like the footer; pages such as About Us, Contact, Terms & Conditions etc.

Search engines consider links to be a strong signal of subject relevance.  Virtual silos use a drill-down cross-linking structure to create distinct subject categories.  In a virtual silo, each supporting page is linked to the category landing page and also linked to the other supporting pages for that theme.  Each Support Page should link to every other support page in the virtual silo - include navigation on the page link the pages together.  Essentially a category sitemap!

A minimum of 5 pages are needed to establish the theme and each must be named to re-inforce the subject matter.

To link 2 related pages in different silos, only link to category landing pages - this helps build the theme.  Linking from support page to support page in different silos will dilute the theme of both silos. If you have to link one support page to one in a different silo use the rel="nofollow" link attribute.

Here’s an example Site Map using Excel SmartArt


This is an example of a Chiropractor’s site theme with 2 Major Themes (silos), one of which has 4 sub-themes. This time I’m using a simple Excel table.


A Joomla Workflow Using CASh

C – Category – start by creating appropriate categories – in my example these are ‘Musculoskeletal Disorders’ and ‘Health & Therapy’. Although we’re not specifically using categories here to define the silos, as categories do NOT define the URL – using Categories helps if you have a lot of articles as you can use the filter function to find one more easily, or if you’re planning on using a Category Blog or Category List layout. I tend to use the same terms in my Categories as I do in the Silo, just to keep things simple and tidy.
A – Create your articles and assign them to the appropriate category.
Sh – Show your articles. Create a Menu link to display that article to the audience (For the purposes of Silos I’m using a Single Article structure with Single Article menu links).

The menu name that appears on your site doesn't have to be what appears in the code.  Use the Joomla Menu Alias to add appropriate keywords. In my example my menu names are ‘Pain Relief’ and ‘Specialities’ but their aliases are ‘musculoskeletal-disorders’ and ‘health-and-therapy’ respectively, which then becomes part of the URL.  Google will understand much more precisely what these terms mean and so what the site is all about.

In this case I’ve titled the Menu ‘Pain Relief’ and filled in the Alias myself rather than allowing Joomla to create the Alias automatically on save.  Note that the alias is all lower case with a hyphen separating the words.

The Joomla Alias – An Under Appreciated Opportunity

One of the great things about Joomla is the alias system.  Joomla Aliases are used to make search engine friendly URLs. This means that whilst you might have a short menu name like ‘Pain Relief’ you can use a much longer and keyword appropriate alias which will appear as part of your URL.  

For example: 
www.mychiro.co.uk/musculoskeletal-disorders.html and www.mychiro.co.uk/musculoskeletal-disorders/back-pain.html or www.mychiro.co.uk/musculoskeletal-disorders/neck-pain/whiplash for a sub silo.

This should be easily understood by Google and is much more relevant that using www.mychiro.co.uk/pain-relief which is far too generic to demonstrate to Google what the site is all about.

URL structure is of great value from a search perspective. Those page names that include a queried search term receive some benefit from proper, descriptive keywords in the URL. The URL should accurately predict the content of the page.

A Word of Warning – Changing the Alias changes the URL

If you change the menu alias on an existing site, the URL will change.  This means that anyone who has bookmarked that page will get a 404 error and Google may well have indexed that page.  404s are not good for users or for your ranking.  Make sure you use the Joomla Redirect Plugin to redirect the URL.  Or if you prefer you can use the .htaccess method of 301 redirects.

Joomla Redirect Plugin

Go to Extensions > Plugin Manager and do a search for ‘redirect’, then publish the plugin.


 
Try to visit the page name that is now defunct so that you generate a 404 error.  This will then appear in your Redirect list.
Go to the Components Menu > Redirect.

You should see the error; click it to open the redirect. (If not click the New button and fill in the old URL).
Fill in the new url with the new alias in the Destination URL box and Enable the redirect.  Fill in the full URL including the http://www.mysite.com/mynewalias.  Save and close.  That’s it…you’re done.


 

Breadcrumbs & Links within the Silo

As well as the menu alias being used in the URL to reinforce the silo, it’s also used in the breadcrumb trail.  Always use breadcrumbs on your site to reinforce the silo structure to the search engines and to help users.

Each silo support page should link to every other support page in that virtual silo.  It’s a good idea to include navigation on that page to link the pages together. Create silo specific menus and modules that only appear on that silo/theme's pages; in this case I’ve got one for Back Pain which links to all the other pages in that sub-silo.

To link 2 related pages in different silos, only link to Category Landing pages - this helps to build the theme. Linking from a support page to a support page in different silo will dilute the theme of both silos. If you have to link one support page to one if a different silo, use the ‘rel-nofollow’ attribute.  Also use the 'nofollow' attribute on other links on your site if you don't want to remove them altogether. It's usually a good idea to make links that are of no importance from an SEO perspective as nofollow. Such links will share the "juice" with links to more important pages, reducing the "juice" available to these other pages.


 
In the above example, I’m using a Breadcrumb and I’ve also created a specific Back Pain menu & module that only appears in the sidebar for the Back Pain silo pages.

I’ve repeated this for all the other silos and sub-silos.

Conclusion

Whilst creating a silo structure is not the full answer to a well optimized site, I do believe that it is a pre-requisite to a well organised and well optimized site that is great for both search engines and for users.

Joomla provides all the tools needed to create this silo structure and taking advantage of the Joomla menu alias feature is a little-known technique that can really help your SEO efforts.

You can also use the Joomla alias feature on Categories and Articles.  This would be beneficial if you were using a Category Blog or Category List layout in order to place keywords advantageously, although this isn’t what I use for a silo structure.

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