Optimizing a site for search involves a lot of tasks, but one of the most misunderstood is the practice of organizing content into logical segments under a main umbrella. Writing under a main umbrella not only helps users find content more easily but it helps Google and other search engines organize and find content more efficiently. After all, Google’s mission is to organize the information on the web.
This is a concept that people in the web marketing world might throw around without fully understanding what it means. Its development has been attributed to Bruce Clay (who coined the term “content silos”; however, it is not clear whether he was the first to use it or not.
Basically, organizing content under a main umbrella means organizing information on webpages so that they are tightly themed. In other words, the pages are only about one topic, and have a core target keyword on them (along with some variants) that help solidify the theme of the page. Those pages should be related to the main theme of the entire website (sub-categories of it).
All web sites are made up of documents. There can be many components to a single website. When a user enters a query into a search engine, it looks for the most relevant document in its index, and returns it to the user. When content on a page is scattered, disjointed and/or unorganized, the search engine has hard time telling what the page is about.
Conversely, if the page is very tightly themed and clearly about one single topic (that is relevant to the user’s query), the search engine can easily tell that the document is relevant as a whole to the user’s query. Search engines look for documents that are most relevant (among other variables) and serve them to users. The video below talks about some of these concepts and how a search engine uses information about a document to determine its relevance.
Step One: Determine your website theme
The first thing you need to do is determine the main theme of your website. Depending on how many different practice areas your firm has, this could be more or less difficult. The following tips can help you solidify your overall theme:
• Use webmaster tools or Google Analytics to see what keyword terms you are already ranking for
• List all of your firm’s practice areas, and from that, come up with a list of core subject areas that your website can be about
• Look at your current clients. How would they look for your services online? What phrases would they use?
• You can also use a free website page analyzer to determine which terms are used commonly on your pages
The result of this exercise should be to come up with a clear set of subject themes that you can then generate a list of keywords to rank for. If you already have pages optimized for certain keywords, you can use this same method to go back and make sure you did it right.
Gathering a list of keywords that you know are being used by your market is just part of the first step. You should then dig a little deeper. Find out how many times searchers are using them on a monthly basis. Look at how many competitors are using the same phrases on their websites, and pay attention to how those sites shape up to yours.
A very important thing to determine early on is searcher intent. What do people generally mean when they type in the phrase? Here, it helps to look for longer, more specific phrases as opposed to shorter, more general ones. For example, someone typing in the word “attorney” could be looking for any number of things (many of which could have little to do with the services you offer). They could be looking for information on what an attorney is, or maybe even how to spell the word attorney correctly. The more specific the keyword phrase, the more it reveals about searcher intent.
A good thing to do is ask your current clients how they would search for your services online. Do a survey of past clients using Survey Monkey1 or one of the other platforms out there. You will be surprised at how forthcoming people are.
Step Two: Determine how your content will be organized on your website through linking and navigation (a virtual umbrella).
It is good to accomplish this before changing or building new pages on your site. Think of it as your blueprint for what your site will look like. You cannot start building a structure without a blueprint or some kind of plan.
Establishing a Clear Theme
Consider the topics of your site carefully. You should establish one overarching theme in addition to sub-topics that are natural outgrowths of that theme. This main theme and the sub-themes should all be core content areas for the site. Once you decide what those will be, you should avoid adding other information that is irrelevant to those topic areas. For example a personal injury lawyer who has categories about car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, etc should avoid adding a page to the information architecture about how they do photography on the side.
There could be other topics on the fringes of your core themes, but adding them may dilute the site as a whole from being relevant for queries related to the main theme. The example below shows what the main theme and content umbrella might look like for a personal injury website2.
The important part is that you get this step right. After you build or rearrange a site, it is far more difficult to go back in and change things as opposed to having it on paper in front of you.
There are two ways you can organize content under a main umbrella on your site – the method just described, which is known as a virtual umbrella, and then writing under a physical umbrella.
Visual Content Umbrella: This refers to organizing content by the way pages are linked to one another, and not necessarily because they are contained in the same directory. In our example above, if the personal injury umbrella page were the landing page, and all the sub-topic pages were linked to it (and they were not contained in the same physical directory), that would be a virtual organization method.
The main thing to remember about the virtual approach is that pages do not need to be in the same directory in order to be under the main umbrella in their correct category. The virtual umbrella is achieved mainly through linking. As long as you have supporting pages linked to main category pages and interlinked with one another, you will be able to achieve this successfully.
Physical Umbrella: Conversely, a physical umbrella is one created by the way a file structure for a website is organized. Physical content umbrellas still use links (and they should), but the actual files that make the web pages are contained in appropriate directories depending on what category they belong to in the overall theme of the site.
For websites that are already in place, making a physical umbrella is not always practical or ideal. If you are building a new site, however, you should use this method to organize your content from the start. The image at right is an example of what the personal injury physical content umbrella might look like.
Step 3: Publish Great Content under your main umbrella.
Finally, you should be putting out really useful, well-researched or otherwise great content3 that fits within the categories you have outlined for your site. This should be simple once you have everything organized.
Stay within the bounds of your categories and specific pages. Ideally, you should choose one target keyword and its variants per page of your website. If you find you have more to say on a subject, or that you are getting off into another content area, create another page for what you want to say.
There is no magic to using these concepts on your blog. A blog post page is the same thing as a web page. You should follow the same principles and make a blog post about one topic area. Do not worry about things like keyword density too much because as long as it is clear to users that the post is about one particular topic, it will be clear to search engines, as well.
Like we mentioned before, Google’s mission and the mission of other search engines is to organize information. Information in the physical world is extremely hard to organize when it is scattered in a dozen different places and the virtual world is no different. Following a logical pattern for organizing information based on its relationship to other content is a foundational element of making a site perform well in search.