Note: This post refers to a self-hosted version of WordPress, not a free site hosted on WordPress.com.
WordPress is an extraordinarily popular blogging platform that evolved to become the content management system (CMS) of choice for millions of website owners. One of the great attractions for website owners and web designers alike is the ease with which a new design (called a theme or template) can be applied to a WordPress website.
Unfortunately there are often SEO problems built right into WordPress templates.
Out of the box, WordPress gives you everything you need to build a very successful website. Get your theme/template right and your SEO fundamentals will be taken care of too.
So here are some of the things that I’ve noticed recur as a problem or feature request (as designers like to call them), from an SEO stand-point, with most WordPress themes.
Getting the SEO basics right
These ‘problems’ represent fundamental SEO considerations however they are frequently overlooked by theme designers.
- Including alt attributes for images
This is a basic SEO requirement yet it keeps getting ignored. All images need an alt (alternative text) attribute defined. If nothing else, its a usability requirement for people who use screen readers.
- Relative file paths
Think SSL here. Relative file paths play nice when a webmaster implements SSL certificates. Image file paths are the most common offenders here.
- One <h1> tag per page
Please, make this a priority. Have exactly one <h1> tag per page and use it for the actual page title – not with the logo or for some other styling reason.
- Use heading <h_> tags appropriately
Use the six heading tags for what they were designed for – headings. Don’t use them simply to attach style to text, use <span> tags for that.
- Facilitate breadcrumbs
Make is possible for the theme to display breadcrumbs (page path links). Common plugins such as Yoast SEO allow people to turn these on, so make space.
- Use minimal HTML and CSS
Be efficient in your use of code. Don’t get lazy here by creating templates that are bloated.
It isn’t difficult for a WordPress theme designer to put these elements in place. Even an existing template can be upgraded to include them (that’s a subtle hint if your template doesn’t).
Additional SEO needs
This next list isn’t particularly advanced either but these points should be ticked off for any serious WordPress theme.
- Responsive design
Mobile friendliness is now mandatory for good SEO. Responsive design is by far the best solution so make sure your templates resize efficiently.
- Set the language declaration
Let site owners set their language declaration and apply it to the template (in the header).
- Facilitate rich snippets
Add rich snippets, as much as possible, to key elements of the code or better yet make them editable. It will help if you make your templates Google Data Highlighter friendly.
- Incorporate Open Graph data
The Open Graph Protocol is obviously important for social media sharing and very helpful when people share links to the site.
- Provide code snippet regions
Provide a place where webmasters can paste code snippets in the header, after the opening <body> tag and before the closing </body> tag.
- Allow archive descriptions
Make it an option to display the descriptions at the top of the various archive pages (category, tag, author, etc.). Even when archives are being ‘noindexed’ they should follow best practices.
Again, these aren’t rocket science so why not add them to your templates? Us SEO consultants will appreciate it (we may even recommend your templates)!
Just in case…
Since you can’t read people’s minds (I assume) it pays to provide a backup plan. Create a child theme and include it as part of your theme download files, just not the install package of course.
If you are a WordPress theme designer then please consider the SEO concepts above and implement them if you can. Doing so will not only provide excellent SEO performance for those who use your templates, but it will also distinguish you as a pro designer.
If you buy or use themes designed by others then look for templates that have these features. Especially if you are providing them to clients.
SEO should never be an afterthought.