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What Makes a “SEO-Friendly” WordPress Theme?

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There’s a lot of hullabaloo regarding “SEO” when it comes to WordPress themes. In this series of posts, I’ll go over what most people believe is “good SEO” when it comes to web templates. If your theme doesn’t have it already, I’ll show you how to “correct” it.

  • Content ordering, and how to make sure your content appears before the sidebar no matter the layout
  • Clean, semantic markup, and how to eliminate unnecessary code from your themes
  • Lots and lots of navigation, including the all-important breadcrumb navigation.
  • The “All In One SEO” syndrome, how to integrate a custom write panel to control title and meta tags in your theme

I’ll update this post with links to the articles as I publish them. Think of the above as a dynamic outline of my “SEO friendly” WordPress theme series.

My Thoughts on “SEO friendly” WordPress themes

First up, here’s a challenge: try to find a premium WordPress theme for sale that doesn’t mention something related to “SEO” as one of the benefits. You’d be hard pressed to find a single one that hasn’t hopped on the “SEO friendly” bandwagon. But what does it actually mean?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It has nothing to do with content, incoming links, outgoing links, you know, the things that actually count for something. That’s part of the reason why I’ve put every single mention of “SEO” in scare quotes, because it’s so much more than the on-site benefits that can be provided by the template you use.

For themes that have a clue, they probably do a lot of the things I’ve listed above very well. Whether or not your pages actually rank is another story, but “SEO friendly” themes can put you at a slight advantage, and that’s what I hope to show you how to do in this series of posts.

If you’re so obsessed with “optimizing” your site that you neglect creating quality content, link building, and the like, you may have a problem. Don’t go too overboard with this stuff, but don’t be completely ignorant to search engines and be so naive as to think, “all I have to do is create good content, and Google will love me!” Even amazing content needs to be promoted.

This post was originally meant to be a response to Alex Denning’s post called “Some Thoughts on SEO” and Jeff Chandlers post “Write For People, Not Spiders” but it evolved into this.

Am I Missing Anything?

Themes can provide the tools to help you, but they can’t hold your hand, make sacrifices to Google gods for plentiful traffic, or anything like that.

If there’s any on-site SEO that a theme is capable of doing that I’ve missed, please let me know and I’ll consider adding it to one of my future series posts.

About

Leland Fiegel was the original founder of ThemeLab. He is a web developer who loves WordPress and blogging.

  • http://slimmity.com Omar

    Can’t wait for you to start writing the “SEO” post series :D

    I seriously need to learn a thing or two about SEO lol

    • Leland

      Been planning on doing this post series for a while, but I guess now is as good a time as any.

  • Leland

    On an unrelated note, if you’re not a previously approved commenter, I won’t approve your comment if you have a name like “Seo agency” …try using your *gasp* real name instead. You know who you are. ;)

  • http://wpcanada.ca/ Len

    The topic of SEO is indeed “hot”. Despite that I’ve never really given it any thought. Looking forward to this series.

  • http://www.onlineassist4u.com kirkoconnor

    In a perfect world we all would have time to obsess over SEO in our WordPress sites but in the real world where many deadlines take most of our time then we rely on plugins such as All In One SEO and Headspace 2.

    It will be great to read your articles to see if this reliance is a good idea or a false sense of security.

  • http://www.jrfarr.com JR Farr

    Very interested with what you’re posts entail in regards to SEO. I’ve been using WP since late ’05 and in that timeframe I’ve actually used a few themes that have dropped my rankings.

    I do agree with you though that most themes tout that they are SEO optimized. I reached out to WOO themes to tell them some recommendations I had on how they were using semantic web markup with their themes. I had a nice response but they didn’t see the point. After downloading some of their newer themes it looks like they’ve implemented the change.

    Anyway, I’ve been following ThemeLab forever and I love your work. So again, I’m very intrigued to hear your thoughts.

    • Leland

      Hey JR, thanks for the kind words. Out of curiosity, do you remember which themes dropped your rankings? Are you sure it was the themes’ fault or could it have been something else?

  • http://welessthanthree.com Andy Gillette

    At this point, doing anything, especially with wordpress, that isn’t ‘seo friendly’ is just lazy. All of those things that you’re supposed to do to help search engine robots understand your page also tend to help real people understand your page. All the talk about seo, I think, is because developers and designers know that’s the one buzz word that every client knows and asks about. But at the end of the day, Google works so hard on the metrics that determine ranking because they’re trying to be a good search engine. So, really, the only sure-fire way to be the top result on any given topic is to actually be the most relevant and accessible website on that topic.

  • http://wealthyaffiliateguy.com Ben Parker

    I came here looking for a blog theme and read your post with great interest. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to SEO and then it changes some… I’ve heard a lot of talk about Site Maps lately. I will be eagerly watching for new posts on this subject and thank you for contributions on this subject.

  • http://www.mitchellcausey.com Mitchell Causey

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, but does this mean we can assume that your themes are structured well according to your requirements above?

    I’m really interested in your “SoundSpace” theme, but I want to make sure I’m not going to mess myself up over little details like this as I have definitely done in the past!

    Thanks – great site/info!

    • Leland

      I don’t code all the themes here into XHTML/CSS so no, you can’t assume they’re all structured like that.

  • http://www.michaeljamesswan.co.uk/ Michael James Swan

    I found this article very useful, and have even printed it so I can refer to it whilst creating my new WordPress theme :D

    Thanks!

    Best Regards,
    Michael James Swan