BACK TO BASICS: SEO-Friendly Web Development ─ How Silos and the CMS Can Make or Break Your Site

BACK TO BASICS: SEO-Friendly Web Development ─ How Silos and the CMS
Can Make or Break Your Site

by Jessica Lee, September 27, 2011

It’s a problem we here at Bruce Clay, Inc. see time and time again in the Internet business community: poor information architecture and inefficient content management systems (CMS) are obstructing SEO. And while there are many aspects that go into a successful SEO-ready website, information architecture, or siloing, and a good CMS play a huge part in the way a site performs for the search engine, the way visitors interact with the site and the way site owners manage it.

The way the site is built, designed and organized can actually either totally boost search engine optimization or completely hinder it. The dream scenario in the SEO world (at least ours) is for a site to be built and designed within an SEO-friendly CMS, and the content neatly organized into silos to establish clear subject themes, which in turn creates a great user experience.

The power behind the one-two punch of a great CMS and a solid siloing structure is that both of these elements work with the search engines, not against them. This is just the thing that a site needs for rankings and traffic.

The Challenges and Opportunities of SEO-Ready Web Design

In the July SEO Newsletter, we talked Internet marketing optimization — the coming together of all the disciplines of online marketing to create a powerful website. SEO-ready Web design and development was just one component labeled as a crucial foundation for the Web marketing plan.

SEO-ready Web design makes SEO and conversions less expensive and more effective. This is due to the costs associated with trying to turn around a site that has poor performance due to an inefficient CMS and unorganized content, as well as the cost of the conversion.

Sites that aren’t set up for SEO success are almost undoubtedly working harder for rankings and conversions. If and when a conversion happens on that site, the cost is likely far higher due to the time and resources invested to obtain it.

In these cases, the investment is time and money that went into hitting the goal. It’s often more expensive to fix the site than it is to build SEO into the site from the beginning through a solid CMS and strategic siloing. The good news is, once some of these problems are addressed, a site can secure both quick and long-term wins that create a strong foundation for any Web marketing initiatives.

Why Siloing Content Matters in SEO

Siloing a site’s content helps you to improve the user experience and yield better rankings. Ever been to a website that made you dig for the information you were looking for? How about going to site that had only bits of information on a topic that left you doing more research elsewhere? These two problems create a poor user experience for the visitor, which is bad for business in more than one way:

  1. The time on the site that visitors spend on a site that doesn’t give them what they want is low. This means missed opportunities for a site to pull the visitor further down the conversion funnel.
  2. If the content isn’t organized in a certain manner, the search engines don’t always know what the site is about. Unorganized, shallow content doesn’t give the search engine much fuel to serve the site up for a given query.
  3. Poor user experience = a poor-quality site in the eyes of search engines like Google, and this can actually effect rankings. This is especially true with Google’s Panda algorithm, aimed at slashing these types of sites from the top results

The goal of organizing content in silos for SEO is to create enough content around a topic that not only gives the search engines what they need to understand what the site is, but also gives the visitors enough quality information on a topic so they don’t have to go searching elsewhere for more.

That leads us to the next point: siloing can improve rankings and traffic. When you satisfy both the search engines and the user, you can reap the rewards from search engines like Google. It’s a concept we repeat over and over in our communications here at Bruce Clay, Inc., but the fact is, what’s good for the user is good for Google.

Representatives of Google have reminded us on many occasions that Internet marketers should keep the needs of the end user in mind when designing strategy. As long as the experience is geared towards the user, a site will likely be rewarded by the search engine.

Think of siloing content as the ultimate way to communicate to the two primary audiences of a site: the search engine and the user. If done correctly, siloing can ensure a site is being found by its users for the products, services or information it provides, and that the users are engaging with it

Siloing Sounds Great, but How Does it Work?

Siloing content involves creating and organizing Web copy in a way that groups subject themes together. These subject silos, or categories, within the site are optimized by general (broad) and supporting (long-tail) keywords along with Meta information that tells the search engines what the topic and site is about.


Organize content in your site
by subject through silos

A content silo is made up of a landing page optimized with general, or broad-term keywords, and several pages “underneath” it to support that topic, each page optimized with supporting or long-tail keywords. These pages are connected through a directory on the site or through linking. The former gives a more rigid approach, while the latter, virtual siloing through linking, allows for more flexibility.

Keywords are carefully selected to match the words people use when searching for the products, services or information they seek. So, siloing is for the search engine, the user and the site owner’s benefit.

For example, a site that can properly communicate to the search engines what it is about through the use of keywords and Meta information will help the search engine to be able to serve that site up to the user who is looking for that information. In plain terms: rankings.

A search engine will often favor a page or silo for the purposes of ranking if it has enough quality content surrounding the keywords chosen for any individual page. This helps to position the site as a subject-matter authority in the search engines’ eyes. Merely having one or two pages of content on any given topic does not have the same effect as having a landing page with several supporting pages of content on a subject.

That said, siloing is just one component of how a search engine ranks sites. The foundation of what those silos are built on is another. This brings us to the concept of how a content management system comes into play.

How the Right Content Management System Supports SEO

Many people don’t realize just how important the right content management system (CMS) can be to an SEO campaign. A good CMS allows the search engines to crawl and index a site with ease, as well as gives the Web marketing team full control over key elements in SEO, such as Meta information, HTML code and URLs.

The ability for search engine spiders to crawl and index a site is crucial for SEO. If a spider can’t find its way to and through a page with ease, it won’t go to or be able to find the information it needs once there.

One example of “crawlability” is World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) compliance. W3C is a Web page coding standard that provides guidelines about different Web development techniques. There are some content management systems that can’t generate a W3C-compliant page. Search engine spiders like those from Google base a portion of their crawling abilities on the W3C standard. If a spider can’t crawl and index the site with ease, it won’t be a likely candidate for a user’s query.

Another important part of the crawling process is a spider’s ability to understand immediately what a Web page is about. Meta information goes hand-in-hand with the concept of siloing, and is one important way a Web page communicates with the spider. It may seem like a basic requirement of any CMS, yet many of them don’t allow the editing of core page elements such as Title and Heading tags and ALT attributes. If a spider doesn’t know what your page is about, it won’t be able to serve it up in the results for a user’s search query.

What’s more, some content management systems build strings of HTML code into a Web page that are messy and dilute the theme of a page. A spider prefers clean, straightforward code that presents all the important data upfront, such as the Meta information, without the hassle of trying to figure out what’s on the page by trying to sift through all the extra code, often called “code bloat.”

Even though it’s not uncommon for many websites to have these problems from their CMS, the key is to be more efficient and more relevant to the search engine spiders than your competition, while at the same time providing the information quickly to users. A good CMS can do just that.

Content management systems matters in terms of Web design as well. Some CMS have restraints or constrictions for design, so the question is: Does the design need to consider the CMS, or can the CMS accommodate any design? This is something that should be taken into consideration when choosing a CMS. Figuring out if a specific design idea can be implemented can help determine which CMS is used.

Another aspect of the CMS and its play in SEO is the URL control. Some content management systems generate URLs with long strings of characters that aren’t editable. This is not conducive to siloing content; part of siloing content lies in the directory structure, which is created by naming the URL. For example, would be an ideal illustration of a preferred URL, versus

An SEO-friendly CMS is not only about helping the search engine spider do its job, but also about being an efficient part of the Web marketing team. Other things to consider when thinking about a CMS is how it fits into a Web marketing strategy and how all the different tasks or team members must work within one system to accomplish the goal.

Oftentimes, there’s more than one teammate with varying skill sets and levels of knowledge that are all part of the Web strategy. Other times, it’s a one-person job to wear all the hats, and the CMS must provide a simple way to make SEO efficient.

“You have to think about all the tasks that go into updating a site that has SEO objectives, like editing content, adding video or images and creating new pages — especially owners of multiple sites,” says Mark Knowles, CEO of Pixelsilk, an SEO-friendly CMS.

He adds, “A good understanding of the Web strategy from the launch to the maintenance, plus knowing all the players involved in making the website a success helps drive the CMS decision. A good CMS will set all the players up for success, from the designers to the developers to the Web marketers and beyond.”

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