Choosing a new WordPress theme can be equal parts exciting and intimidating. The market has exploded in recent years, with thousands of beautiful themes competing for your attention.
Sadly, some themes can be less than SEO-friendly and using one of these could have you at an immediate disadvantage in the race for organic search engine traffic. If creating a search engine-friendly site is top of your priority list, we’ve put together this list of things to watch out for when shopping for your next WordPress theme.
Wait, can’t I just use an SEO plugin and forget about all this?
Fair question! Well-known popular plugins such as All-In-One-SEO and Yoast SEO will, in the majority of cases, handle your basic SEO needs. This doesn’t mean installing one of those two plugins is a quick fix for everything, but it almost always helps. Both plugins work with the vast majority of themes, but if you’re unsure about compatibility, just ask your theme author.
To give your site the best chance in search engine results, your plugins, theme and content must all work together. A correctly configured SEO plugin is just one part of the puzzle.
So with that out of the way, here are some things to look out for when shopping for your next SEO-friendly WordPress theme:
Minimal feature bloat / fast loading speed
Over the last few years, the WordPress theme market has become focused more and more on “do it all” multipurpose themes. These themes are great in terms of flexibility and usefulness, but if you’re considering purchasing one you should be sure that you need all (or at least most) of those features.
Large multipurpose themes will often include many unneeded files which can slow your site down, and Google has gone on record to say slow loading sites risk being ranked lower in their search results. Slow loading times also affect your users and your conversions negatively – especially on mobile.
By contrast, a smaller, more niche-specific theme could have all the features you actually need without including any of that extra bloat. So do you really need all those bells and whistles?
Pro tip: Use a speed tester like this one from Pingdom to compare the demo of your shortlisted themes. Lower load time and requests = better.
With the rise (and rise, and rise) of mobile browsing, it’s more important than ever to make sure that your site offers a good mobile experience to your visitors. On top of user experience concerns, poor mobile sites can actually affect your ranking in the search engine results too!
Thankfully, almost all modern themes are responsive, which means they’re designed to work equally well on any screen size, but if you’re looking at a free or older theme this is something you’ll need to check for.
Pro tip: The easiest way to check whether a theme demo has a responsive layout is simply to resize your browser or (even better) visit it from a mobile device. You can also use Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool to compare theme demos.
Have you ever seen a Google result that doesn’t just include the result title and description, but other information such as star ratings or event times?
This structured display depends on your website using the correct markup, and that’s where your theme comes in. As you’ll see with many items on this list, it’s user-friendly and SEO friendly all at the same time.
If you’re planning to build a review site, for example, and you’re looking at themes that feature user reviews, be sure to check the theme’s feature list or ask the author about schema.org markup support / rich snippets so you can show reviews directly in your search engine results.
Category / tag and other archive pages can often end up as anonymous lists of posts. Displaying the description of your category, tag or other taxonomy on this page gives your users some context, as well as being a valuable way to tell search engine robots what your page is about.
Breadcrumbs are great for your users and they’re great for SEO too as they let users and robots alike discover the structure of your content. There are plenty of free dedicated breadcrumb plugins if your theme doesn’t include them, but the aforementioned Yoast SEO plugin actually includes them as an advanced option.
Post titles as anchor text
A typical WordPress blog will include a list or grid of posts, usually made up of the post image, title and maybe an excerpt with a read more link. In these situations, it’s best to check that the theme uses the post title as the first link to that post, rather than the image or the read more link. This means the “anchor text” of the first link is more descriptive and gives more context to robots crawling your site.
If you’re unfamiliar with terms like “H1” this part probably won’t be for you, but if you’re feeling brave here’s a quick list of some more advanced red flags in an SEO-friendly WordPress theme. Danger, Will Robinson!
H1 logo on every page
The H1 tag should be used for the most important content on a page, and often on the site homepage, this does mean the logo / site name. On other pages of the site, however, it’s best to use your H1 on something more relevant such as the specific page title.
Sidebar markup before content
In a typical left-sidebar page layout, be sure that the markup for the sidebar isn’t output before the main content. As a general rule, the closer content is to the start of the page structure the more important it’s assumed to be, so things like site name, main navigation and main content should come first.
No multiple sidebar support
Many WordPress sites use the same widgets on every page, and this is fine. For an extra SEO boost though, use a theme with multiple sidebar support and display different, context-relevant widgets on each page.
This was more of an issue in the early days of WordPress, but hidden links still infest some free themes so it’s best to be aware. The last thing you want is for your site to be associated with unrelated (and sometimes unsavoury) linked sites.
The best place to check for hidden links is usually in the footer of a theme, but of course, they could be anywhere. A thorough search of any freely available WordPress theme is always a good idea.
Hopefully, this list has given you enough information to make an informed choice on your next SEO-friendly WordPress theme purchase. If you’d rather delegate the decision to an experienced team, why not get in touch with Venture Stream today!