A couple of years ago structuring a site around keyword themes was all the rage in the SEO community. It was going to be the way to rank a site and if you didn’t use thm well good luck to you. Today you don’t see many people talking about building your site around keyword themes, but they are still used and it’s a good idea. If the idea of themes is new to you read on.
What Are Keyword Themes?
The concept of keyword themes, or theme pyramids as they are sometimes called, is pretty straight forward. Think of your site with a hierarchal structure. Your home page sits at the top and beneath your home page are perhaps four main categories that comprise the second level of your site. Each of your main categories has several subcategories on the third level and possibly these subcategories have a fourth level of pages beneath them.
Your content might then be structured around a set of keywords that form a theme. Maybe your site is about sports. You may then chose a domain with the word sports in it and your home page would focus on the very generic keywords sports or athletics. From your home page you might then link to sections on baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. Each still about sports, but now a little more specific even if still somewhat generic.
At the third level of structure your baseball section might have pages or subsections on baseball teams, baseball players, baseball standings, baseball statistics. Taking it another level down your baseball standings subsection could have pages on National League baseball standings and American League baseball standings. Each level down, the theme or pyramid becomes a little more specific and a little more focused on longer tail phrases.
The sports example above still has keywords and phrases on the general side, but the number of results returned for each keyphrase gets a little smaller as you work your way down another level. There are a lot less results for ‘american league baseball standings’ than there are for ‘baseball.’
How Do Themes Help Your Site?
First and most importantly themes can help your visitors find things on your site. On this site I presently have a main navigation link for ‘Services,’ but it’s not immediately evident what those services might be until you look around the site a little. Two of the services offered are for ‘Web Design’ and ‘Search Engine Optimization.’ It might then be better to have navigation links for ‘Web Design’ and ‘SEO’ instead of grouping them together under ‘Services.’ Since visitors to this site might be interested in one more than the other the more specific links could help them find their way around easier. Since people are searching for keywords, organizing your site around those keywords could help your visitors navigate the site quicker and easier.
Theming can also help with optimization. You’ll notice with themes your broadest keywords sit at the top of the pyramid on your home page. These will be the hardest phrases to rank for, but your home page will probably garner the most links. As you move down the pyramid you might get less links, but the phrases become less competitive and so less backlinks are required to rank for those phrases. It also becomes easy to get your entire phrase into your url even while keeping the file and folder names shorter. In the example above one url might be. www.sportsstuff.com/baseball/standings/american-league.html. The entire phrase ‘american league baseball standings’ is right there even if slightly out of order. All of your baseball pages will end up with the word baseball as part of the url. This may not be overly important to the algorithm until you consider that other sites will often link to your using your url as anchor text. Theming then can help increase the keywords in your anchor text.
Another advantage is through your internal links. Typically you’ll link more between the pages in a given section than across sections. On your AL standings page it’s more likely you’ll link to the standings for the National League than to any hockey standings. Since the pages in a given section are built around a given main keyword it can help improve the relevance of the links and improve the rank the pages on both sides of the link.
As you write any page of your site you will naturally use words that also occur on the pages around it, the pages it links to, and the pages it gets links from, which strengthen the theme for that section and ultimately for the site as a whole. Having a strong theme can help your site be seen as an authority site and authority sites get a lot of love from search engines. Authority status is far more than just your site structure, but having a site that is about something does play a part.
As I mentioned above your home page will end up with your most generic keywords, but there’s no reason they need to be the most generic keywords out there. Perhaps when building the site in the example above you decide it’s going to be too difficult or take too long to gain visibility for a term like ‘sports.’ You might instead decide to focus the site on baseball (and possibly create a site for each of the four sports) and be able to start with keywords that are a little more specific on your home page. If you do create all those different sites you could possibly connect them inside a sports network of sites.
Why you don’t see much talk about keyword themes anymore I don’t know. I think in part it’s because they weren’t quite the magic pill many assumed they would be, but more because I think it’s become so ingrained in site development that the topic is often overlooked. Building your site around a pyramid of keyword phrases is a good approach in my opinion. I wouldn’t necessarily redo your site just to theme it more, but with the next site you do start why not structure the information around keywords. Don’t force things into themes if they don’t belong, but keep them in mind. And remember the approach is simple. Start with the most general and most competitive keywords on your home page at the top of the theme pyramid and then as you work your way down each level make the keywords more and more specific so your deepest pages are focused on long tail phrases.
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I just think that developing your content with keyword themes depends on your site structure.
Generally, your site structure already has the main keywords (services, benefits, products, television/sony/, etc). You simply need to structure your site well to have the pyramid keyword theme.
But of course, if you know about keyword themes, you can optimize your content and site structure a bit futher to gain the benefit of a properly structured site with quality content.
I definitely wouldn’t try to force a theme onto a site. And I agree your site structure will generally include your themes. But there might be ways to use a theme more and even help visitors in the balance. Take the link for ‘services’ I currently use here. Is ‘services’ really a keyword for this site. I think of it more as a modifer for keyphrases like ‘web design’ and ‘search engine optimizaion.’ Yes I will stil use the word services on the site, but I would prefer to have sections specifically about ‘web design’ and ‘seo.’ That should help to keep those section more focused on the main keyphrase and I think it will help visitors find their way to what they want a little faster.
I think it may also help a search engine determine what your site is about. At the moment Google sees this site more about hosting than either design or seo. Admittedly it’s in there in the domain and does mention hosting on every page with links to the various plans. But I also think it has to do with the hosting secttion.
I am planning on reworking this site in the near future so I guess the proof will be in the pudding so to speak. I’m with you on not forcing things. Like so many aspects of seo you still need to think of visitors first and search engines second. I’ll always opt for making this site more usuable to a human being than more optimized for a search engine.
I don’t think keyword themes is the only thing that determines the topic of your site. Basically, on your site you’ll have all the necessary keywords anyway, but you may or may not have them in the theme, too.
What helps the search engines determine the theme of your site is your content (of course), topics of pages and sites that link to you, the anchor text of incoming and outgoing links. So the only way to determine your site topic is to focus your content around it (it’ll determine who links to you, too).
In that respect, keyword theming is different from general site topic, though.
Yuri I agree. It’s not solely a theme that will determine what a site is about. I do think they can help though. Where I think it can help the most is in getting keywords into urls without having to create overly long file names. I also think it’s more common for pages to interlink more with other pages in the same section of a site than to pages outside the section. Of course pages will link across sections, but there will probably be more more within a given section. using themes can help these link to be seen as more relevant for the pages on either side of the link.
I wouldn’t recommend someone redo a site just so they can get themes in, but I think it’s worth considering if you are developing a new site or restructuring a site for other reasons.
Really good article and also the comments
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found the comments useful too.
I would like to create a website for a tour of the Czech Republic including:
-castles and chateaux
My question refers to theme/subthemes/siloing:
1. what could possibly be the main/overall theme for all of the above subthemes as they do not fully relate? I can see how beer and wine can be related subthemes but do not know how castles/chateaux would possibly relate as a subtheme to wine and beer.
2. also, even if the subthemes (beer tours, wine tours, castle/chateaux tours) are organized in silos and one overall main theme is found for all of the subthemes,
a) would EACH individual subtheme rank high?
b) or would only the main theme for the whole site rank high in the search?
Thank you for replying
Radim the first thing I would say is always make sure to first organize the content for real people.
If you’re looking to organize things around keywords then the first step would be to spend some time researching keywords. You may have already done this, but the research may help determine how best to group things.
Also know that there is still going to be some play in how you organize content. I don’t think there’s ever a one size fits all approach.
With your example it may be that there isn’t a good way to organize the three subthemes under one theme. I’m with you on seeing the wine and beer tasting as similar enough to fall under one theme, maybe simply “tasting” or “tasting tours.” I’m not sure how the castles will fit in unless you go with “tours” as the main theme.
As far as how each section will rank there’s more to it than just organizing the content. The idea with the content is that the deeper pages on the site all start linking back up using appropriate keywords.
For example say you organize everything under tours. You probably won’t be able to rank well for the single word tours at first because it’s so generic and I’m think there’s plenty of competition. It would be easier to rank for phrases like:
“wine tasting tours in the Czech Republic”
“beer tasting tours in the Czech Republic”
Both pages might link to each other as well as linking back up the chain, maybe to “tasting tours” and “tours” helping to reinforce those keywords throughout the section. Ideally you’ll have a section that ranks well for the more generic phrases at the top level of the structure and the deeper pages will rank for the longer phrases.
I hope that helps, but if not feel free to ask more questions.
Thanks for your tips here. I used to use google keyword tool to help theme my sites as it split keywords into themes, any idea if there is still a way to do this since the interface has changed
Hi Gordon. I’m not sure what you were looking for with the Google Keyword Tool. I don’t think you can go back to the old interface though so you probably have to make do with whatever Google now lets you do.
You shouldn’t need their tool though to set up keyword themes on your site.
Its been almost 9 years and your content are awesome to this day.In my opinion, the google may well rank for website until its optimized for users. There has been a whole lot of change in google’s algorithm over these years.