A properly designed and configured WordPress website can be great for SEO.
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, even said a few years ago that ”If you do everything on WordPress, you are pretty much covered. WordPress has virtually everything you would want your site to have as far as SEO goes…”
One of the reasons I love WordPress so much is its SEO friendliness. In fact, one of my favorite topics to teach and speak about is optimization on the WordPress platform. ( I’ve written an eBook about it, have hosted several Meetup events and have even spoken about in at WordCamp Seattle)
In this post, I want to cover SEO and WordPress from a different angle. This time, I want to talk about a hidden issue that often poses problems for WordPress users. We run into it surprisingly often while auditing new clients’ websites, and it’s something that must be remedied in order for SEO efforts to be successful.
Not All WordPress Themes are SEO-friendly
One of the best parts of WordPress is the huge variety of themes available for you to choose from. These “skins” or “templates” allow do-it-yourself business owners and beginning web designers to create beautiful, professional-looking websites in just a matter of hours.
Unfortunately, several of these themes don’t lend themselves to proper search engine optimization techniques. In fact, even ones labeled “SEO friendly” are often well below par.
In many cases, the “SEO friendly” tag is the only place where SEO was taken into account at all!
It’s a sad fact, but the truth is many WordPress themes were created with zero understanding of SEO. Not only are they not structured properly to boost SEO rankings, sometimes they even hurt a site’s performance.
At Spot On Digital Marketing, we often begin new projects by performing an in-depth audit of the client’s existing web presence. Unfortunately, when looking under the hood, we often find the theme is to blame for many of a site’s issues.
Though the variety of mistakes these themes make is so wide it is hard to generalize, there are two problems that we come across pretty regularly:
Bad usage of headline tags
One of the basic rules for optimizing a webpage is to include a single and unique <H1> heading. This indicates what each page is about, and it helps search engines understand the page’s content. It also plays a role in a page’s search engine ranking for certain keywords.
Most good WordPress themes I have worked with simply take the title of each page or post and automatically add <h1> tags to it. Others will give the user flexibility to assign <h1> tags on their own.
The “bad” themes I’ve seen don’t allow for proper <h1> titles at all.
- Some have the <h1> tag assigned to the website logo, which makes the tag basically meaningless in regards to content. It also doesn’t allow for a unique tag on every page.
- Other themes have page and post titles coded so that they automatically use the <h2> header. This leaves a large bulk of the website without any <h1> headings at all – and this is huge no-no if you want to gain search engine traction.
It is important to note: The only way to fix these issues is to change the PHP code behind the scenes, so if your theme doesn’t handle <h1> tags properly, you’ll want to consult an experienced developer.
Slow loading times
A few years ago Google announced that website loading speed is one of the many factors used to determine search engine rankings. In other words, the slower your site loads, the less likely it’s going to be ranked highly on Google.
Some of the WordPress themes we have seen are using inefficient code that bogs down browsers and takes minutes to load. (The ideal time is less than 3 seconds.) This frustrates users and can make SEO rankings plummet.
Optimizing your website’s speed and ensuring it loads as fast as possible is crucial if you want to improve your website’s ranking. A faster loading website will also improve your visitors’ experience. That means a higher chance they’ll convert, buy your products and services, and actually do business with your brand. And isn’t that the point?
When a theme is an extremely slow the only real solution is to replace it with a better one. Upload a new, more lightweight theme, or consult a developer to help you pare down your existing one.
How to Pick the Right WordPress Theme
All these WordPress horror stories probably have you wondering, “Have I chosen the right theme?”
Unfortunately this is a difficult question to answer. We highly recommend you only use themes that are well-reputed. All the “bad themes” mentioned above were, in fact, purchased in an open marketplace where anyone can put their theme up for sale. On sites like these, there is no way to discern whether you’re purchasing a quality theme or one that simply looks good from the outside.
At Spot On, we mostly use Studio Press child themes. We have been using these for years and know that they work well, function properly and allow for complete SEO customization as long as we configure them correctly.
No matter what you do, make sure to choose your theme carefully. Though a theme may look pretty from the outside, if it doesn’t have the right foundation, it could actually hurt your business in the long run. Want to make sure your site is using an SEO-friendly theme? Just need advice? Contact Spot On Digital Marketing today.