How WordPress Theme change Affect Traffic and SEO

If you are one of those bloggers who is using a free WordPress theme, you are likely changing your theme around a lot.

Two of the most commonly asked questions regarding changing a WordPress theme are:

  • Will it affect my blog’s SEO?
  • Will it affect my blog’s traffic?

The answer to this question changes with different scenarios, and I will try to answer this question from all angles with regards to WordPress, SEO, and traffic.

But before I move ahead, there are a few things that you should know:

  • Many WordPress themes like Genesis and Thesis come with built-in SEO options, and if you are using the theme’s SEO feature, chances are high that your blog’s SEO will be affected.
  • If you are using an SEO WordPress plugin to handle your blog’s SEO, you are more likely to retain your overall SEO, but only if your new WordPress theme is SEO optimized.

Who is Handling Your Blog’s SEO? WordPress Theme or SEO Plugin?

Before shifting to the Genesis WordPress theme last year…

… I was using the Thesis theme, and thanks to the Thesis SEO feature, it handled all of my blog’s (on-site and on-page) search engine optimization requirements.

The benefit of this was that I was running one less plugin, and since I don’t change my theme framework often, it worked for me. But for bloggers who are in the habit of changing their WordPress themes every now and then, it’s a good idea to let a WordPress plugin handle your blog’s SEO. After the launch of Thesis 2.0, I have made the decision to shift to an SEO plugin.

This is where I realized it’s better to use a plugin to handle the SEO part.  I highly recommend using the Free WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, which is one of the best free plugins out there. It will let you handle your complete blog’s on-site and on-page SEO.

For me, it was not a problem to shift my SEO settings from my theme to a plugin & you can read about it here.

Changing WordPress themes could lead to these potential issues:

Heading tag changes:

Imagine you change a WordPress theme, and you are using H2 tags for post titles, or your post titles are hyperlinked. This will surely affect your overall search engine ranking.

You must have heard that Genesis & Thesis are two of the top SEO optimized WordPress themes. This is because their codes are clean, they use proper heading tags, and they take care of all small requirements for an SEO optimized theme.

When you are making a shift from a good theme to another good theme, you have less to worry about. But, when you make the shift to a brand new WordPress theme, chances are high that they are not as SEO optimized as the previous one.

I have worked with many WordPress theme developers, and they are amazing when it comes to doing magic with PHP and CSS, but when it comes to SEO, they have little to no clue about how to achieve proper SEO.

That’s the reason I always like working within the theme framework, as they care about of all the little things.

You lose your custom settings:

This one is from personal experience.

When you change a theme, it might affect your old custom settings.

When you change your old WordPress theme for a new one, you might end up losing those theme-specific features. Either your new theme should offer such features, or you need to hire a WordPress developer to do the customizations for you.

Moreover, all the themes are coded in certain ways.

For example:

  • Some themes will load the content part first and then the sidebar.
  • Some themes load everything at once (which increases loading time).

If you know that loading time of your blog impacts your search engine ranking, you can clearly determine if your ranking will be better or worse based on how much faster or slower your blog is loading.

Change WordPress Theme Keeping the Same Search Engine Ranking

Import SEO settings to a plugin:

If you are changing your theme framework (Thesis to Genesis or anywhere else), you should first take a complete backup of your blog database and theme.

Then, migrate all SEO data to a plugin.

WordPress SEO by Yoast, offers this feature internally, and you can quickly import all SEO data to the Yoast plugin. After this step, you can change your theme to any other theme without any effect in SEO.

Pick an SEO friendly theme:

There are amazingly beautiful WordPress Premium themes out there.

While they might look amazing with their design, many of them lack basic SEO features. Pick a theme which is SEO friendly and has codes that are bug free.

Once you have shifted your WordPress theme, you can use tools like SEMRUSH or SEO spider to crawl your blog and see if there are any errors these crawlers can detect. If yes, it’s time to make some changes to your new theme or change your theme again to a better one.

It’s a fact that when you change your theme, the crawling of your site might be affected.

So a little change in ranking and traffic is usually obvious in most cases, though you can always fix any SEO issues with a proper site SEO audit.

I always recommend you to stick to one theme for a long time, as changing your theme at regular intervals will affect the overall branding of your site. Moreover, most of the time you will not be able to immediately spot SEO changes which happened due to the theme change, so it may take some time to see any difference.

Also, when you are shopping for a new theme for your blog, make sure your new theme is validated by the W3C markup service.

I always prefer to use a custom design on my blogs; I pick a theme framework and hire a designer to code a custom design for me. This not only gives me a feeling of uniqueness on my blog, but also helps in branding. Once you have a custom design, you don’t need worry about changing your theme at semi-regular intervals.

You’ll be happy with that one.

Let me know if you have noticed any search engine ranking difference after changing your WordPress theme.

And what factors do you consider before buying a new theme?

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