Site Architecture: How to Beat High-Authority Sites with Fewer Links Using proper SEO Silo Structure

Poor website architecture is like a messy Desktop.

It’s unbearable.

Messy Desktop

But you shouldn’t just try to organize your site and build tidy SEO silos for me.

You should do it for your rankings.

Site Growth Ahrefs
Growth of securitynerd.com, a well-structured, low DR site in a competitive niche.

Good site architecture will push your rankings up and allow you to compete with much stronger but less organized domains.

So if you want to learn how to organize your site, make it rank higher, and make your visitors (including me) happier, keep reading!

What is website architecture?

Website architecture or site architecture is the structure you use to organize your website. The structure refers to the website hierarchy of pages, categories, and sections and how the users and search crawlers navigate between your pages.

🤔 Why website architecture is important

1 – Rank Higher on Google

The main reason why you should care about website architecture is to improve your rankings on Google.

And it’s true, a great site architecture will make sure your pages rank better for your target keywords.

Even Google’s John Muller recommends people structure their website properly.

But how does good website structure achieve higher rankings exactly?

First, good site structure and page internal linking help search engine crawlers find and index your pages more efficiently.

Spiders Crawling Website
Good website architecture helps crawlers find your pages

If your pages are not well-linked, it will be harder for the crawlers to find them and give you more organic traffic.

Unlinked pages are harder to crawl, index and rank.

Crawling Difficulties
Unlinked pages are harder to crawl, index and rank

But good website structure is not just about indexability.

After all, your XML sitemap could fill the gap here.

Good website architecture gives context to search engines so they understand what your page is about in the context of your whole website.

For example:

Let’s imagine that you have a generalist sports site, and one of your pages is about the best tennis rackets for left-handed players.

You could just link to all your pages from your home page. But given that the scope of your site is quite large, it would probably be a mess and you may end up with thousands of links on your homepage.

This would be confusing both for search engines and users.

The best way to approach this is to break down your top-level topic by sports.

Site Structure (tenis)

Below each sport, you may have another level of category pages that breaks the topic down per item used in this sport.

Site Structure (rackets)

And then, below the racket level is where our “best tennis rackets for left-handed players” page would fit.

Site Structure (left Handed)

Google then understands EXACTLY how your web pages fit into the topic by looking into what the parent category pages are about.

Parent Pages Context

2 – Improve Authority Flow & Indexing

Another benefit of adopting a well-organized website architecture is that page rank flows better throughout your website.

This means that by the sheer fact that a page gains internal links logically and contextually, the PageRank coming from external links will flow to all the related pages and help them rank higher on Google.

Hub Effect On Rankings

An excellent example of great use of this principle would be the website security.org.

On their homepage, they highlight the 3 main fields they specialize in:

Secrurity.org Home

As you click on home security systems, you land on an article targeting that keyword but with a top navigation to the lower level.

In Post Navigation

Then that link sends you to a “best home security cameras”

Best Home Security Cameras

And as you scroll through this article, it has a classic comparison table that links you to individual reviews.

Roundup Review Table

And when you click on one of these links, you land on a detailed review of the product.

Ring Camera Review

This logical internal linking flow maximizes the external links they get on all the top pages so that the authority flows all the way down to single review pages.

This may explain why even though this last single review page only has 5 external referring domains, it gets more than 3,000 organic traffic, according to Ahrefs (that’s a lot!).

Security.org Stats

3 – Better user experience

And last but not least, logical information architecture and website layout make your site easier to navigate for the user.

This makes them more likely to explore it, convert, recommend it, and all the good things that come with a great user experience.

If you are part of those who believe Google uses these metrics to rank pages, this may also increase your rankings.

👍 Website architecture best practices

Now that we understand why website architecture is so important, let’s look at the core principles you should follow to achieve top SEO rankings through website architecture.

1 – Plan, Plan, Plan

The worst thing you can do for your website architecture is to randomly create pages and posts without thinking about where they fit in your site’s overall structure.

I know it because I’ve done it.

Here is how you can make sure you won’t live with regrets as I do:

1 – Do your keyword research and build an extensive list of keywords

The first step of the process is to do keyword research and build a big list of keywords you’d like to rank for.

I won’t go into the details here, but we recently did a live stream that shows how you can find your keywords:

Once you have your keywords, we like to use the free version of Dynalist.io to plan our SEO silos.

Dynalist is a minimalist app that will help you organize your ideas.

In the beginning, my list looks quite plain:

Dynalist 1

2 – Categorise your keywords and organize them like you would organize folders on your computer

Once you have completed your list, you need to start creating categories and subcategories for keywords that belong together.

Dynalist 3

3 – Do complementary keyword research

Once you have organized the keywords you already have, you can do complementary keyword research by zooming into each section.

For example, let’s expand the gear section.

Dynalist 4

4 – Do keyword research for your hub pages

Once you have expanded each section, it’s time to look for a relevant keyword for your hub pages.
For example, my “gear” page can target the keyword “best paintball gear”

Best Paintball Gear Kw Stats

It’s not the best keyword in terms of difficulty, but I have no doubt I can snag some long-tail traffic at least.

Plus, we’ve seen Google rank quality hub pages very well lately.

2 – Follow The 3 Clicks Rule

One of the core and most simple rules to follow when it comes to high-quality site structure is:

“All your important pages should be reachable within maximum 3 clicks from your Home Page.”

3 Clicks Rule

While this is not a “hard” rule and all your rankings will not drop if you slightly get past it, this is a good personal guideline to follow.

It keeps things simple for you, the site owner.

And it makes navigating your site easier for users and search engine crawlers.

So make sure your Dynalist goes a maximum of 3 levels below your homepage.

While it’s really easy to follow this rule at the beginning of the site, it’s much harder to stick with it as your site grows.

In our own experience, the sites where we followed this advice were much easier to grow.

This was because they were easier to do keyword research for, and so tended to do better.

A site that does an excellent job at this is none other than Apple.com.

When you arrive on their site, Apple makes you first chose a product category:

Apple.com

Then a product line:

Apple Top Navigation

And then the crucial 3rd click is the one where you make the decision to buy:

Iphone 12 Pro

And give them a whole bunch of money and complete the checkout:

Iphone 12pro Order

Simple, elegant, effective application of the 3 clicks theory.

3 – Create Custom Content Hubs

If you want link equity to flow efficiently through your website, you can unfortunately not rely on basic WordPress category pages to achieve that.

Why?

Because by default, they only link to 10 posts in a given category.

Wp Default Category Pages
These kinds of auto-generated archive pages are not great for internal linking or user experience.

Also, pagination is a nightmare in terms of link equity efficiency. It makes older content harder to reach both for users and search engine crawlers.

Wp Default Categories Pagination

Good luck applying the 3 click rule with these.

Imagine the posts between pages 4 and 83 here; how do they get link equity?

On top of that, because they have no unique content, these default category pages are deemed “low value” by Google.

This makes it hard for you to link build because, well, they’re not very attractive.

But your hub pages are one of the most valuable places to acquire links to because the links don’t just lift these pages up. They also lift all the pages below.

So for all these reasons, you should build custom content hubs.

content hub Concept ideas

1 – The list blog post hub (Authority Hacker)

List Post Hub

A simple way to build a hub is to use the list post format where each bullet point links to a lower-level page. It’s easy to build and a great page template you can easily build links to and rank for a competitive keyword.

Example: https://www.authorityhacker.com/best-niches-affiliate-marketing/

2 – The Glossary (WP Beginner)

Wpbeginner Glossary

A glossary can be a clever way to build a huge and valuable hub of pages on your site. Each term can have its own page and be optimized for long-tail variations of a short tail keyword.

Example: https://www.wpbeginner.com/glossary/

3 – The blog post with top navigation (Security.org)

Security.org hub page

Finally, you can also use normal blog posts as hubs and alter your page layout to show top-level navigation above the fold. This saves you from having to create extra pages and allows the user to go deeper into your site if it makes sense for them.

Example: https://www.security.org/digital-safety/

But how do you build these holy WordPress silos you say?

Glad you asked!

How To Build SEO Silos In WordPress: Step By Step.

If you are using posts and categories, unfortunately, WordPress does not offer an easy way to build custom category pages.

But there is still a way around it… Albeit it’s a bit dirty.

Step 1 – Build a page or post that will act as your new category page

So first, warm up your designer skills and put together a valuable hub page or post.

I recommend using a plugin like Generateblocks to put together an attractive layout.

I like to format these as a list of sections with a blurb related to it and a clear call to action to either convert on an offer (product choice) or go to the page deeper.

Hub Page

Note that I also link to the child page in the structure with an anchor text that includes my main keyword (Best paintball masks).

This helps increase the target keyword’s relevancy, and search engines know exactly what to rank the page for.

Step 2 – Redirect the default WordPress category page to your page or post.

Once your silo page is done and published, it’s time to replace the default WordPress category page with the post or page you just created.

For this, we will simply redirect it.

I like to use the built-in Rankmath redirection function for this:

Redirection

But if you are using a different SEO plugin, you can also use the excellent and free Redirection WordPress plugin.

Every time your category shows up in a breadcrumb or post grid, clicking it will direct people to your custom silo page.

Plus, as Google stopped dropping page rank through redirects, there are not many downsides to this solution other than maybe slightly slower load time due to the redirection.

If you are using pages to publish your content, you can either create hub pages and internal link them to each other using a flat URL structure.

You can also use the parent pages system and the excellent & free nested pages plugin for WordPress to quickly and easily rebuild your Dynalist in the pages section.

Nested Pages

Your URLs will then be nested, which means moving content around is a bit of a no-no since it would change its URLs, but that’s how you’d build the hard silos version of this.

Nested Urls

4 – Abuse Internal Linking

The final touch to your perfect website architecture will be your approach to internal linking in content.

We’ve established in the past that more relevant internal links highly correlate with high higher rankings by analyzing over 1 million of them.

Internal Linking Importance

Historically, when you have been reading about SEO silos, you probably read about the idea of “keeping link juice in the silo” and only internal linking pages that are in the same site section.

Self Contained Silos

We disagree with this.

We believe that, in content, as long as it contextually makes sense to link to another page of your site, you should do it.

Of course, that is assuming you built your silo/hub pages the way we described it above and that overall, it’s easy to navigate down the levels of your website.

If you learn by observation, you will notice that many successful sites do not respect this internal linking siloing rule inside their content.

The most popular of them is Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Internal Linking

But a more practical example is the folks over at security.org.

Not Self Contained Silos

But finding relevant internal link opportunities across your site can be a challenge, especially if your website is quite large.

But don’t worry, I have a tool for you that’s 100% free and will do a lot of the heavy lifting.

That tool is the free Ahrefs webmaster tools.

I know some of you are probably raising their eyebrows because Ahrefs is not known for its internal linking tool.

But if you go in their site audit tool

Ahrefs Site Audit

and select the “link opportunities report”

Ahrefs Internal Linking

You can then set the filtering as so:

Ahrefs Internal Linking Settings

The tool will then look at all the keywords the page ranks for (not just your one target keyword) and suggest pages mentioning these keywords to add internal links.

Ahrefs  Internal Link Opportunities

Then just click on the target page and add your internal link.

Gutenberg Link Creation

Voila! Finally, an easy way to deal with internal linking for your website! Alternatively, you could also consider using Link Whisper on your site (See what I did here? 🤫)

When it comes to anchor text, you are pretty unlikely to get hit with over-optimization penalties when it comes to internal links.

So don’t hesitate to use an anchor text that includes your target keywords.

🎯 Conclusion

Look, website architecture does not have to be complicated.

You just need to establish a hierarchical site structure and stick to it as you expand your website.

This predictability makes it easier for users and search engine crawlers to understand and navigate your website.

Follow these simple rules:

How To Achieve Top Website Architecture

Plan your website architecture, don’t just create pages on the fly
All important pages should be within 4 clicks of your homepage.
Build custom content hubs
Use internal links abundantly when it contextually makes sense.

If you want to hear more of us geeking out on site architecture, I recommend you watch this podcast I did with topic expert Kyle Roof on that subject:

🙋‍♀️ FAQ

How Important Really Is Site Architecture For My Rankings?

This is the million-dollar question: Is this worth the hassle?

How much higher will your site rank if you follow these recommendations?

As always in SEO, the answer is “it depends.”

For small websites with few pages and few links, site architecture will matter less when it comes to their rankings. You could probably just let WordPress do its thing without much consequences for your rankings.

However, when categories get big, a lot of pagination in archives starts to pop up. The link equity is not well distributed throughout the site.

Then yes, fixing your site architecture can have significant benefits for your SEO.

In my experience, it’s a good idea to make a reasonable attempt at a clean site structure when you get started.

But if the scope of your project is not very large, don’t sweat it if you break a few rules here or there.

What Tools Can I Use To Visualize My Site Architecture?

Internally, we use the free version of Dynalist.io to plan our sitemaps.

The vertical mind mapping and easy-to-collapse sections allow for quite a complex site mapping without hassle.

If you don’t like it, you can either default back to a more classic sitemap tool like Mindmeister.

Or you can go for something more elaborate like flowmapp.

What Is The Difference Between Silos, Hubs, And Categories?

They’re the same! That’s why I use them interchangeably in the content above.

It just depends on who you listen to and how guru hyped the website you are reading is, but the naming convention is quite fluid.

Be careful though, some people mean different things when using similar terms, so make sure you ask for a definition when talking to someone about it.

Should I Use Pages Or Blog Posts To Build My Silo Structure?

It’s up to you! In the eyes of Google, a web page is a web page, and they don’t really care if you used the page or blog post function inside WordPress.

I detail how to build your site architecture with either in the content above, so pick your poison but stay consistent once you have made a choice!

Should I Nest My URLs Or Not?

For those who are not sure what this means, nested URLs are when you have multiple subfolders showing the different levels of categorization inside your URL’s:

And you guessed it, the answer is: “it depends.”

The pros of building your site architecture this way are that it gives a very straightforward structure for both users and search crawlers (and you) to follow.

The cons are: you can’t change your mind on where your content goes in your website as changing the “hub” you put it in would change the URL.

For this reason, if you are a beginner, you are probably better off avoiding nested URLs.

If you are a pro, you know what you are doing, so up to you.

What Do I Do If A Given Page Belongs To 2 Hubs/Silos?

This is a tough one.

This situation will happen to you for sure.

For example, to take our paintball example back, let’s say you had a product review targeting the keyword “Tippman a 5 review”.

Should you put it under the /brand/tippman/ section or /paintball-guns/ section?

There is no perfect solution here; you just need to pick one and stick to it when similar situations occur.

The last thing you want is to have half of your product review under brands and the other half under paintball guns.

This is also why you should not limit your internal linking within the same hub.

It’s totally fine to link from /brand/tippman/ to the reviews even if they are hosted under /paintball-guns/.

Should I Change My URLs To Match What You’ve Been Teaching In This Post?

Generally no.

But again, it depends.

If you started your site last week, I would probably do it.

If you get any significant search traffic already, know that even if you correctly redirect the old URL to the new one, you are playing a bit of a Russian roulette game with your rankings.

This is why it’s usually not worth it, and you are better off living with your mistakes and making the most of what you have.

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