If you’re looking for a free or premium WordPress theme, there are thousands to choose from. As we browse through them, it’s easy to forget about the back-end stuff that could make or break the search potential of your new website. I’m talking about SEO-friendly stuff. That one portfolio theme is so ridiculously sleek and spectacular-looking that I might not care that it uses H1s all over the place. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then it’s about time you found out.
Things to look for when choosing a WordPress Theme
Yes, you want to make the best impression on new visitors to your site. And yes, you want lightweight stylistic functionality that makes other developers jealous. But you shouldn’t prioritize features over clean code. If you’re not code-savvy, that’s ok. This article is for you, so that you can get an idea of things to look for in SEO-friendly WordPress themes, and not be caught with egg on your face.
Watch out for endless lines of code
A lot of themes out there come with features out the wazoo. One key to getting your website optimized for search engines is its speed. WordPress themes that have a lot of features sometimes come with the drawback of packing in too much code. The more code that a browser must process, the slower the website will be. Period.
How to check this? Easy. Install and activate the theme, view the site in a browser and right-click. Choose “View page source”. Generally, if a theme’s code extends beyond line 1000 you should be skeptical. If I were you I’d be comfortable with code below line 700. Any lower, and good for you!
Pay attention to browser compatibility
Not totally dissimilar from the first point is this second one. Granted, it is debatable. Some developers think that we should stop creating stylistic fallbacks for outdated browsers—that we should force those users to update by denying them seamless access. Nope. Disagree. How would you like it if you walked into a fancy, modern restaurant, and they kicked you out for wearing bell bottoms? No way. You want all the potential visitors to your website to feel welcome. Success depends upon it.
A fully-optimized WordPress theme, if it uses up-to-date code that is not friendly cross-browser, will offer these fallbacks. If you find a theme that has radical css3 and jQuery transitions, then you should expect to find in the code lines that look something like:
<!–[if IE 7]>
<html class=”ie ie7″ lang=”en-US” prefix=”og: http://ogp.me/ns#“>
<!–[if IE 8]>
<html class=”ie ie8″ lang=”en-US” prefix=”og: http://ogp.me/ns#”> <![endif]–>
<!–[if !(IE 7) | !(IE 8) ]><!–>
<!–[if lt IE 9]>
When push comes to shove, you can always find tools to help visualize your website using the theme in question. We recommend Browserstack.
Look out for multiple H1 tags
Some developers are lazier than others. Some decide that their themes don’t have to be SEO-friendly, and for that reason they won’t put in the extra time to make dire edits that will affect the SEO uninitiated. One such edit is the H1 tag.
WordPress themes generally offer a header where you can put a logo and/or text title. The H1 tag should be the title of your page or post. On the homepage, many WordPress themes will code accordingly, and as you navigate to a different page or post, the header title will take on a lesser <h> tag (h2, h3, h4), or it will take on the <p> tag. The H1 tag will become that specific page or post’s title.
On themes that ignore this important step, the header title remains H1 on all pages, creating a conflict wherein two H1 tags exist on each page. Why is this bad? Well, we’re not entirely sure that it is. Some search engines have said that it’s alright, while others argue against it. Google’s Matt Cutts has said that a website is not penalized for having two H1 tags, if the second H1 is warranted.
In any case, you’re better safe than sorry, so when you’re testing a theme and looking at its source code, hit CTRL-f to search for ‘h1’. There should only be two per page, the opening tag <h1> and the closing tag </h1>.
Need a refresher on some of these terms? Check out our article about the Basics of SEO.
Avoid too many HTTP Requests
Last but not least would be to make sure your dream theme isn’t too heavy on images, that it’s using compact files like jpg and not png. Now you know how to scope out a WordPress theme to see whether it’s SEO-friendly. If we’ve missed something, help out the readers of this article with a comment below!