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SEM Research Topics Forum

Theme-based web sites
importance of theme based web sites

 5:01 am on Feb 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

I stumbled across a post from 2000 about themed-based web sites ranking in google and how to link all the pages together..

5 years later I am wondering if google puts more emphases on themed web sites or just a page by page basis.. I know the importance of page rank and incoming links, but the overall site...

Best regards,

Kasie Morgan



 5:12 am on Feb 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

Welcome kasiem. The answer is a strong yes.


 3:16 pm on Feb 6, 2005 (gmt 0)

I have read almost ALL posts here on themes, canonicals, subdomains.

My main question is still unanswered though: what approach should existing big sites which have all content on single domain take?

For deep level theme structure (beyond level 3) all suggest sub-domains. But is it good for existing sites to go the sub-domains way? All their content will have to be shifted to sub domains.

We have a site with 4,500 categories and 50,000+ articles on single domain. All these are indexed in all search engines. This is already beyond 10 levels deep, and now we plan to add 2,500 more categories. Now if we go according to the suggestion for canonical themed structure, we'll have to shift (301 redirect) almost all our articles and most categories to new sub domains. I think we'll get heavy penalty if we do this.

Waiting for comments.


 3:50 pm on Feb 6, 2005 (gmt 0)


Thanks for the welcome! I spent a good part of the night reading posts..

My main question is now is I have 4 categories that fall under my theme. Should I get a sub-domain for each different category?

What is the best way to link up and down and side to side within the category?

My web site is going to be set up to about 4 tiers. Do I wait until I get to the 4th tier before I link across within the category, or is okay in the 3rd & 4th tier? Thanks!

Best regards,



 4:22 am on Feb 7, 2005 (gmt 0)

Waiting for comments on my question.


 6:14 pm on Feb 7, 2005 (gmt 0)


I am sorry, i have no suggestions. I am a newbie here..lol

best regards,

Kasie m


 9:47 pm on Feb 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

Which set of links between pages make the most sense?

A: Cup -> Coffee -> Beans -> Brazil -> Farming.
B: Marketing -> Fruit -> Football -> GoDaddy Commercial -> Peach Cobbler

A's links are "themed" or semantically correct. The links make sense.


 1:11 am on Feb 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thanks Brett!

I decided to go with sub-directories to make the site more organized and to stay within the theme.. I appreciate everyones help



 7:22 pm on Feb 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

Oh Brett's here! Brett please ... please reply to the above question I posted with as much details as possible. I have to arrive at some decision soon.


 8:44 pm on Feb 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

To clear my question:
1. By level I mean the depth of the directory.
e.g. domain.com/animals/pets/dogs/dog-health is level 4 deep
2. From all the info I read on themes they suggest after level 3 the 4th level must be sub domain
3. But our site is all on one domain and it is already level 10 deep. If we accept the suggestion we'll have to shift all our existing pages from level 4 and onwards to new sub domains. So is it really required to have sub domains to rank well? Can't I have a say a 30 level deep site and still rank well?


 4:36 am on Feb 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

>>2. From all the info I read on themes they suggest after level 3 the 4th level must be sub domain

They don't *all* - in fact, I don't think I've ever seen Brett suggest subdomains, or ciml either, and he's written a lot about themes and "theme pyramids" also. Some people are proponents of subdomains for various reasons, including the possibility of having more than just two listings for a search term - but certainly not all, and those not in favor do have valid reasons, including the fact that Inktomi used to hate them, if I remember correctly.

>>3. But our site is all on one domain and it is already level 10 deep. If we accept the suggestion we'll have to shift all our existing pages from level 4 and onwards to new sub domains. So is it really required to have sub domains to rank well? Can't I have a say a 30 level deep site and still rank well?

I can't visualize how shifting level 4 pages to a subdomain would be intuitive. I could see dogs/cats/birds on their own subdomains, but that would no longer be level 4, and with an established site that's doing fine,why rock the boat that drastically? Plus, not all engines pick up 301's equally well or as rapidly as others.

It's very unlikely that it's necessary to have subdomains to rank well, but 30 levels deep sounds like going overboard. Isn't there another way to do the navigation that's intuitive without going to extremes in directory depth?


>>e.g. domain.com/animals/pets/dogs/dog-health is level 4 deep

Would it work to try one - like if pet-medications is a new category you're adding content for, to create a subdomain for that and see how it works?




You'd also want to look at the word sequencing in the filepaths, and it would depend on the products/categories. Maybe just putting new content on a subdomain or two to try out, rather that moving anything, would be a more conservative way to go.


 4:43 am on Feb 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thanks Marcia. These are great tips.


 4:57 am on Feb 12, 2005 (gmt 0)


It's getting "Deep" in here....

If you're just moving content and don't want to get too penalized I'll tell you what I did as I just had somewhat of a similar problem with a ton of pages. I left all the old links/pages AS-IS and simply re-indexed the entire web site to point to the new page locations, which I thought was better than the redirects. Some search engines picked up the new page location scheme quickly (ok Google, the others stink) and the rest are slowly catching up. Needless to say, when all the SE's are completely up to speed I'll probably install a redirect just to satisfy old bookmarks and links.

Heck, I still have links I maintain that are almost 7 years old and still get about 1,000 clicks a month and not from any search engine - just old bookmarks and web sites, which is staggering if you think about it that with 300,000 visitors a month that 1,000 stumble in thru a back door from when the site was still just a subdirectory in my primary domain, before it had a domain of it's own.


 6:53 am on Feb 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

guys im new to all of this, or you can call me retarded but what is a sub domain does that mean for example if i have www.site.com and i have more then 4 themes (animal>pet>dog>pitbull) do i have to create a new domain and link to it? Im so confused I need help =(


 10:37 am on Feb 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

First of all, the goal is to keep users happy and the old rule-of-thumb has been not to have what people need to get to more than 3 clicks away. Having directory levels too deep could mean 5, 6 or even more clicks for them to work down into the categories. However it's laid out, a site should be easy to navigate so that people can easily find what they're looking for. Setting a site up according to "themes" and "sub-themes" within the main theme helps with doing that - it isn't only for rankings, it's for usability.

I think themes are pretty easy to visualize if we think of how the super market is laid out. Everything in the butcher department is one theme and would include meat, fish and poultry. Everything in the produce department is another broad theme, and would include all the fruit and vegetables.

Theme: groceries (root level)


(same for the fruit - produce/fruit/grapes.htm and so on)

You could probably subdivide further and create another level of directory for root vegetables, green leafy vegetables, types of lettuce, etc. - but that could be more confusing than helpful to visitors, and mean more clicking than necessary.

The point is, that the "theme" which is simply a broad, inclusive category of related items (or topic) is produce and the products and words are all related and fit into that category - so you wouldn't have roasts or light bulbs there, those are off-topic and not within the theme of the produce department or site.


 12:32 pm on Feb 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thanks all for participating. I had been waiting for this discussion to pickup. Most seem interested in the google update threads, even I am, but its now time for me to come up with a solution for the lost traffic.

Themes I think is the best way in the long term. But it needs to be implemented correctly. After reading Marcia's comments I have decided to keep the levels as less as possible.

One more question, which Brett probably did not clear in his theme thread. How should the home page be used in a themed site? Right now we have links to all the top categories and then a list of latest articles. So which is better of
1. links to latest articles
2. links to few selected sub categories

Thanks again.


 12:35 pm on Feb 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

Yes I'll be keeping all my old files with a 301 redirect, so that any bookmarks will still work.


 1:25 pm on Feb 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

A: Cup -> Coffee -> Beans -> Brazil -> Farming.

I believe Brett was talking about link structure here, not as some seem to have assumed directory structure.

These are not the same thing. For example all the above categories could be at the same directory level - links do not have to follow directory structure. After all, how many users actually look closely at the page url?

I'm not suggesting everything should be at one directory level, but just to demonstrate the point you could have:

www.domain.com/cup/demitasse.html, etc

www.domain.com/coffee/instant.html, etc.

www.domain.com/beans/how-to-grind.html, etc.

(Or if you want to preserve keywords you could have www.domain.com/coffee-beans/ and www.domain.com/coffee-farming/, etc.)

The link structure is imposed on the above by the indexes. To add a new category you just change an index, for example, to add Cup -> Tea -> India

To a user the above link structure is themed. However, whether a link structure which is different to a directory structure loses the benefits (if any) of a themed site in serps rankings, I have no idea...


 3:27 pm on Feb 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

How about having all directories as only first level by using URL rewrite?
On the server real directories will not exist. A common file can be used and with help of some URL rewrite software, the directories will display as:

Linking can be animals -> pets -> dogs -> dog-health -> dog-medication
and animals -> pets -> cats -> cat-health -> cat-medication

Later on if a change in structure/theme/linking is required, like adding pet-health because dogs and cats are not working, a new category domain.com/pet-health can be added. Links will then change to:
animals -> pets -> pet-health -> dog-health -> dog-medication
animals -> pets -> pet-health -> cat-health -> cat-medication

The site gets independent of the directory structure this way and can change links/theme later if required. For user it will be easier to type any URL if most are first level. They might get habitual to this and start typing any keyword .. almost like search! For people who want to link to the site, a simple url is always good. In SERPs a first level directory highlights the importance your site is giving to that term, savvy people like us do take a look at url if it is simple and when it exactly matches our search term.

Of course where applicable a 2nd/3rd level sub directory will be used when it perfectly fits. E.g.

Overall everything (directory wise) will stay within 3 levels however big the site is. Linking may go deeper, but its always in your control and you can change it as your content grows (also as your knowledge of SEO evolves).

Only thing is search engines might frown how you can have say 3,000 first level directories!


 2:47 pm on Feb 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

If you turn all logical subcategories into top categories then you run the risk of having duplicate names. This has been a problem for me with only a hundred directories.

You'd almost have to rewrite with dashes.


Base URL > Big Widgets > Blue
Base URL > Small Widgets > Blue

Because you can't have multiple "Blue" categories, you'd have to go with

Base URL > Big-Blue-Widgets
Base URL > Small-Blue-Widgets


 4:38 am on Feb 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

>>I believe Brett was talking about link structure here, not as some seem to have assumed directory structure.

Links (and anchor text) have a lot to do with establishing a theme; not only within the site, but inbound and outbound links (and their source and destination) as well. Regardless of whether a certain "system" is being considered in a current algo, if something is possible it should be noted for reference, because anything that can be considered may be sooner or later.

The relation between link structure and directory organization can affect ease of maintenance for a site and how user friendly the navigation is, though one doesn't necessarily depend on the other. The point made about duplications is a good one, and another point to consider is the percentage of anchor text that will be identical.

tedster did a couple of magnificent posts a while back about navigation / Information Architecture. If anyone can find or remember where those posts are, this would be a good place to link to them. Utilizing the card system he recommended (or something similar) is an incredibly handy and useful way to lay out a site's navigation in the forumative stages.


 5:15 am on Feb 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

Found them: Here's tedster's great post series, Part 1 and Part 2:

Information Architecture for the Small Site - Part 1 [webmasterworld.com]

Information Architecture for the Small Site - Part 2 [webmasterworld.com]


 4:07 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Those threads were very good. Thanks for the links.


 4:23 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thank you all for all of your insight.. greatly appreciated.. i already love this place..lol

Best Regards,

Kasie M.


 4:49 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Just my own small test from changing to theming

My main site has multiple themes which could be considered non related
in August last year after much thinking and reading I decided to create new sites for each theme with different content to the old site but still related
Little or no SEO on new site

After 6 months the results are showing it was most definately the right decision as in 75% of cases on a new ( 6 month old site it is ) outperforming the 5 yr old site on same keywords and traffic is peaking at 4,000 visitors per day

One other interesting fact is when doing some searching I came across a beta product of G seach based around theming i.e. auto realty education travell etc. etc. so I suspect if G is not using yet in anger will start to somehow create a theming scheme in the background which will start to influence serps to a greater extent at a later date

just my own 2 cents worth

and one thing is for sure SE's do make our brains continue to tick and work


 6:59 pm on Feb 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

>> But is it good for existing sites to go the sub-domains way?

Jalinder, at this moment in time you will do best by keeping your existing well indexed content where it is. I'd advice against moving it to subdomains. There's a high risk that you will harm yourself doing so.

The best time to make this decision is when planning the site, not when it's up and running successfully. If it's doing okay, then keep it that way.

If you want to try out subdomains, do it with completely new content in stead. There's no law that says that you can't rank well without using subdomains, ie. some do fine with them, and others do fine without them.

Another thing you might want to consider is this:

Are your level 2 categories broad or narrow? Ie. do you have a very large number at level two like this:

1) domain.com/cats/
2) domain.com/dogs/
3) domain.com/canaries/
4) domain.com/ostriches/
5) domain.com/elephants/
6) domain.com/hippopotalamuses/
7) domain.com/whales/
8) domain.com/sharks/

... or a smaller number, like this:

a) domain.com/animals-you-can-play-with/ (sub: 1+2 above)
b) domain.com/animals-with-feathers/ (sub: 3+4 above)
c) domain.com/heavy-walking-animals/ (sub: 5+6 above)
d) domain.com/animals-that-swim/ (sub: 7+8 above)


Normally, the latter model is best but it can give deep paths. If this is really a problem to you (and i don't think it's really a problem, as you say that everything is indexed fine) you might be able to get a better structure by relocating your content so that some of your really deep levels move one or more levels up, like in the first example.

At this moment it is less risky to move content around on your existing domain than to move it to a new (sub)domain. It's still risky, though, only it's not as risky as starting new domains (afaik, fwiw, imho, ymmv, etc.)


 4:36 am on Feb 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

Thanks claus. Yes I have decided to keep content on same site. Within the site some content will have be moved due to depth as you suggested.

"a beta product of G seach based around theming i.e. auto realty education travell etc."
>> steveb, if it is anything other than Google Site-Flavored please send me the link.


 5:16 am on Feb 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

Google Sets makes some pretty interesting connections between words, very unexpected at times.

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