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Don't Let Your WordPress Theme Undermine Your SEO

Many say WordPress is one of the best content management systems if you are looking for granular control when optimizing the many SEO (Search Engine Optimization) elements on your website. For the most part, this is true. The various SEO boosting plugins you can use and customizations you can make can result in an SEO dream. But if you don’t know what you are doing, you may be in for a nightmare.

One of the biggest faux pauxs people make is choosing a poor theme. A theme controls much more than just the aesthetics of your website. It controls much of its core functionality. Whether the issue stems from the styling, the code or the plugins present, choosing a bad theme can have a major impact on your SEO. Here are some considerations:

How are heading tags being utilized?

Back to SEO basics! Most of you probably know that each webpage should contain one heading tag (<H1> tag) which is unique and descriptive of the page's content. When auditing your theme prospects, determine if you can designate the H1 (2, 3, 4 etc.) tags within the template. What is the theme using as a main heading tag? It should be H1. If it uses anything else, you need to determine if it can be adjusted within the administrative area. If it cannot, check with a developer to see if they are able to make a customization to the theme that will facilitate the H1 tag. An ideal WordPress theme will take the title of each page or post and assign the <H1> tag to it automatically.

Is the theme responsive?

This should go without saying, and this doesn't just apply to your WordPress website, this applies to every website out there. With rare exception, spending money on a new website that doesn't accommodate mobile users is a waste of money. Any SEO efforts made on a website without mobile functionality will be much less effective. Make sure your theme is responsive so you can stay competitive and relevant in the age of mobile.

What plugins are present?

Many times, WordPress themes will come with plugins. If your website currently relies on a plugin for important aspects of your SEO, (robots.txt, sitemap.xml, canonical tags, etc.) you need to be sure that the new plugin will not affect the initial plugin. If it will, be sure you deactivate it prior to installation. It’s possible that a new plugin could override important settings which you’ve made, and worst case scenario, even take down your website completely. Troubleshooting and recovering after an outage can get costly and timely, so it's important to take special care here.

Is the code clean?

You've found a theme you love. It looks great. Time to install it! Not so fast. Make sure you view the source code of the live preview. Do so by holding down ‘Ctrl’ + ‘U’ while you are in preview mode. What does the code look like? If you are not a skilled developer, you might not know what clean code looks like, so it's always good to get an opinion from one. A developer can tell you if the template's code is efficiently written and avoids redundancy. Messy or redundant code not only slows things down, but it also can create confusion for search engine bots.

Where and how much CSS and JavaScript is present?

JavaScript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are two types of computer languages commonly used in websites. JavaScript is usually responsible for interactive effects within a website, where CSS is generally the markup used to designate the formatting and styling of a webpage. Why do they matter to search crawlers? Crawlers can't always effectively process JavaScript, if at all, and too many CSS and JavaScript files can make for hefty page load times. Also, the way in which these languages are being used can make or break their ability to be cached, (or stored for quick retrieval) a method which is crucial to minimizing page load times.

Get a professional opinion!

Does all of this sound a bit complicated? That's because it is, and also why the best and most complete advice we can give you is to seek out the help of a professional. If you are going through a theme replacement and are uneasy about how the changes you are making will affect your SEO, budget in some time for a professional to test, monitor, and troubleshoot issues that could or will arise. Hiccups are to be expected within any transition, however, involving a skilled professional can help to minimize or completely avoid any roadblocks that might occur during a major website change. We promise you, it will be money well spent.

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