Why some WordPress Themes hurt your SEO.

March 07th, 2012 – 59 Comments

Once again, I want to tell you to not blindly trust theme authors when they say their theme is SEO friendly. “SEO friendly” is just a label they put on their theme and since most of their customers don’t know what to look for to see if it’s actually true, yet know that it’s important, it helps “sell” themes.

Yesterday I was helping out Rick, and found something that was the reason for this post. His blog, Noah’s dad is a blog about a child with Down syndrome and aims to help other parents with children with Down syndrome. Rick contacted me over Twitter as he’d recently switched to my WordPress SEO plugin and a new theme, but his rankings were dropping.

Turns out that the theme he was using had a faulty rel=canonical link in its header, pointing to the site’s homepage instead of the proper URL for a page or post. He was also using my SEO plugin, which added the correct canonical link, but because of how the theme was built, the canonical from my plugin was below the one in the theme and thus Google picked up the wrong canonical. That caused Google to literally remove a lot of the blogs pages from the index.

I’ve since emailed the theme authors and they’re taking action to fix it, so there’s no reason for me to name them here, but I think it shows that they, as goes for many theme authors, didn’t really know what they were doing.

Some themes have a better reputation in this regard. StudioPress first hired me and later on my good friend Greg Boser of BlueGlass, one of the best SEOs in the world, to make sure their themes were SEO friendly. They, unlike others, have earned the right to say their themes are SEO friendly. Others might have invested in the same way, but it’s hard to know for sure. Do you want to bet your site’s rankings on that?

59 Responses to Why some WordPress Themes hurt your SEO.

  1. Julian
    By Julian on 30 March, 2012

    Just working through my SEO again on a rebuild of my site. Thanks for the great advice and the plugin. Makes life a lot easier.

  2. Richard
    By Richard on 28 March, 2012

    I’m using the Graphene theme. I have no idea how it does for SEO purposes, or how well it integrates with Yoast.

    How would I get it evaluated for SEO implementation?

    Richard :)

  3. Jeroen Rommelaars
    By Jeroen Rommelaars on 26 March, 2012

    I am using the free theme Tech Noise, and I just hope it is SEO friendly. At the moment I am desperatly trying to improve my SERP rankings, but my old (free Blogger hosted) domain still outranks my new one, although the new one should be way better optimized.

    I am using Yoast SEO plugin – thanks so much for that plugin by the way – and am rel=canonical redirecting from my old domain to my new domain. I just hope Google picks up the changes soon, or I may consider switching themes…it might just help :)

  4. Greg Beddor
    By Greg Beddor on 25 March, 2012

    @robert cox you should check out the themes at template monster. A few weeks ago I updated an old site of mine that was using a widget heavy paid studio press theme, with a brand new theme for WP from template monster. Within a week of switching out the old theme to the new theme I saw new results in the SERPs.

  5. Robert Cox
    By Robert Cox on 21 March, 2012

    Time for a list. I’ve been using any number of free themmes that seem to work OK but I’m now wondering whether this was a mistake. Have thought about paying for a theme but unsure which ones are worth the money. The comments on this thread make it even more confusing ( and will I be wasting my money).

  6. Reginald
    By Reginald on 21 March, 2012

    Thanks for all your answers. Very enlightening comments!

  7. Mike Baker
    By Mike Baker on 20 March, 2012

    As soon as I install a WordPress Theme as a, href=”http://killerbee.com”>website designer, I check each each one for W3C compliance. I figure if they can’t get that right how will they ever get the SEO parts of a theme. I have manuall gone into the header and other parts of a theme and deleted the offending code, and use Yoast plug in to do th rest.

    Thank you Yoast on a great article

  8. Tim
    By Tim on 16 March, 2012

    Bought a couple of themes through ThemeForest, had mixed results. One was for Microstock Man and the other for Microstock Shop. One (Wont be rude and say which one) has been great for SEO, the other terrible. Can’t get the Yoast plugin to give the homepage a title, description etc. The theme just overrides it!

    Would love a thorough review of some of the most popular themes on ThemeForest. Just because they may sell thousands of times doesn’t mean their SEO is top notch.

    Thanks again Yoast!

  9. Pat
    By Pat on 15 March, 2012

    I have never considered buying a theme as I am not too technically minded and it seems a bit of a minefield, so I just use twentyten and mess with it to get it looking right.

  10. Thomas
    By Thomas on 14 March, 2012

    I only buy themes from top notch sites/producers like studio press. I have friends that buy cheaper themes….only to get hacked down the road.

    Look for a premium theme first. They should really meet all your SEO needs right away. Simply add an SEO plugin and your good to go!

  11. Joe Mastromauro
    By Joe Mastromauro on 13 March, 2012

    Thank you, Yoast! I have looked at a lot of WordPress themes, and poor SEO implementation is something I never looked at before. I never let it concern me before as it was (I thought) a moot point, as I have always used your plugin.

    I will be looking closely in the future.

  12. Ricardo
    By Ricardo on 11 March, 2012

    Hi Joost,
    Is the new Flexibility 3 theme SEO friendly? Or should I consider to move on?

  13. Niall
    By Niall on 9 March, 2012

    I’d have to agree with you. I’ve heard many people say there’s no such thing as an SEO optimized theme and don’t fall for the lies etc. etc. but I do know and this proves it that you can themes that help with SEO. My current theme doesn’t allow for alt tags on images on the homepage which isn’t good for SEO at all. Good thing I’m redesigning it but anyways.

  14. Curtiss
    By Curtiss on 9 March, 2012

    It seems to me that this is another argument in favor of what I’ve been saying for a few years: SEO in WordPress should be handled by a plugin, not by a theme. When a theme handles the SEO side of things, things can start to get really messy. One issue (as Joost pointed out in this article) is that, when you install an SEO plugin, the two entities start battling for control of the data.

    The second issue is, if you ever switch to a new theme, you lose a lot of the work you’ve put in.

    Imagine if you lost all of your blog content when you switch themes. There would be a revolution. So, why should you lose a lot of your SEO work when you switch themes? You shouldn’t. Use a plugin for your SEO needs, and stop relying on your theme to do it for you.

  15. zimbrul
    By zimbrul on 9 March, 2012

    What I’ve noticed is that “SEO friendly themes” means for some theme providers some built in SEO capabilities such us meta description and keywords stuff sidewide or article specific. Thanks for helping me to choose the right theme when I asked :).
    I use one of the top theme providers WITH Yoast WordPress SEO plugin on top…always.
    What made me raise my eyebrows recently was Chris Pearson’s view on who should handle SEO on a WordPres theme: the Theme itself or a plugin…perhaps you can give your view on that in a future article.

  16. Insomnime
    By Insomnime on 9 March, 2012

    Is there a guide to check on things missing/incorrect in a theme to cause bad SEO?

  17. Tim Colling
    By Tim Colling on 9 March, 2012

    Hi – How about the Thesis theme? Some time ago we chose that for our website, and I’m worried that we may have not made the best choice, at least in this regard.


    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 21 March, 2012

      A choice for Thesis is not a good choice, in my opinion. They’re just not compliant with WP standards.

      • Tim Colling
        By Tim Colling on 21 March, 2012

        I was afraid of that. Swell. Now I’ll have to pay to have it migrated from Thesis to another platform. Which do you recommend, Joost?

        • Joost de Valk
          By Joost de Valk on 21 March, 2012

          Don’t change it on my account, just realize that some plugins will not work well with it.

          If you still want to change it, go for Genesis, although there are lots of other great themes out there, I just haven’t compiled a good list yet :-)

        • Timothy (TJ)
          By Timothy (TJ) on 21 March, 2012

          Try Genesis? I heard Joost worked something on their framework. Whatever it was, I’m sure it has something to do with regards to the theme’s SEO.

      • Timothy (TJ)
        By Timothy (TJ) on 21 March, 2012

        WOW! Brave statement. I recently read their newsletter talking about the SEO benefits if you use their framework. I’m really a huge fan of WordPress and anything related to WordPress like frameworks, themes, plugins, etc. I purchased Thesis, Catalyst, Genesis, Ithemes Builder, and a whole lot of themes. I love testing them out to the limit and I’m still under a lot of pressure deciding which one’s to use permanently for my clients. I don’t know SEO that much but now I have a solid statement to remove Thesis from my list. Thanks a lot man!

      • Zimbrul
        By Zimbrul on 21 March, 2012

        This is a bold statement against one of the top providers of premium WordPress themes and coming from you is even bolder not to say confusing.

        • Joost de Valk
          By Joost de Valk on 21 March, 2012

          I’ve never made a secret of my dislike of it. it regularly breaks compatibility with updates and they refuse to fix several things because they’re “working on 2.0” for like forever by now.

    • IamNTB
      By IamNTB on 11 March, 2012

      I recently switched over to the Thesis theme as well and would like to know your opinion.


      • Tim Colling
        By Tim Colling on 20 March, 2012

        I’m concerned about this because as I understand it you really cannot use the third party SEO plugins with Thesis (I may be mistaken about this). My site, the one I’m talking about is at this location if you want to see it: http://www.trustworthycare.com

        What theme were you using before you switched over to the Thesis theme?


        • IamNTB
          By IamNTB on 21 March, 2012

          I was using Atahualpa

  18. Rusty
    By Rusty on 8 March, 2012

    Thanks for the heads up on this topic. I recently lost 6 months of ranking due to a faulty index listed in my hosing company’s logs that conflicted with my new index pages with WordPress. Once that was found and fixed my ranking and SEO excess doubled overnight. So how do you know if you have SEO “user friendly” status on your theme pages?

  19. Kurt Henninger
    By Kurt Henninger on 8 March, 2012

    I’d agree here, which ones DO you view as “being” so friendly, of some of the major commercial ones?

  20. Reginald Jackson
    By Reginald Jackson on 8 March, 2012

    Thank you for this article. My question is-what themes would you say are SEO friendly?

  21. Cody Wheeler
    By Cody Wheeler on 8 March, 2012

    Wow – Never even knew this was even possible. Makes me feel safe about using Genesis on Academy Success

    Also, glad I switched to Yoast SEO from All-in-One – Yours is SO much better, and truly is an all in one solution.

    Loving the content on this site too. It’s great to geek out on WordPress SEO :)

  22. Robert Cox
    By Robert Cox on 8 March, 2012

    But how can you discover which themes are good?

  23. Kamrul Hassan
    By Kamrul Hassan on 8 March, 2012

    I now know why some themes won’t help me in SEO ranking.

  24. Tony Payne
    By Tony Payne on 8 March, 2012

    Finding a good theme is something that I find really difficult, in that few themes that I look at when searching seem to fit my needs, and when I do look at the selected few in more detail, they definitely don’t serve my purpose.

    I have thought of designing my own, but while I have the necessary programming skills, I don’t have the required artistic skills, and the look of a theme is every bit as important as it’s functionality and feel in my opinion.

    Another great post Joost, thank you.

  25. Marcelo
    By Marcelo on 8 March, 2012

    I have a tendency to ignore themes that claim to be “SEO friendly” or words to that effect.

  26. Hyder
    By Hyder on 8 March, 2012

    “I’ve since emailed the theme authors and they’re taking action to fix it, so there’s no reason for me to name them here, …”

    By linking to the blog in question you actually did name them. Your readers know how to View Source.

  27. Paul
    By Paul on 8 March, 2012

    Nice spot will have to check through some of the premium themes I’ve bought.


  28. Nick Brand
    By Nick Brand on 8 March, 2012

    Might I encourage you to write a post naming which themes are not SEO friendly and why in the hopes of preventing someone from making a bad choice? You expert knowledge in this area might help us in future theme choices.

  29. Puget SEO
    By Puget SEO on 8 March, 2012

    It’s sad to see a great WordPress site tank in rankings due to a badly constructed theme. Nice to see you taking proactive action on this.

  30. eRock Christopher
    By eRock Christopher on 8 March, 2012

    Great post! It is so true that people are quick to use marketing that sounds good but doens’t deliver. Fortunately, the theme framework I use actually deactivates in deference to the Yoast WP SEO plugin. Their works okay, just not at Yoast’s level of expertise!

  31. Mike Otgaar
    By Mike Otgaar on 7 March, 2012

    It’s also a good idea to have a really good look at source code for as many possible combinations of content types when installing a new theme – easy way to find any hidden links – with new plugins too…
    (Main reason for this barely relevant comment is to sign-up for the weekly newsletter – don’t know why I didn’t do it previously)

    • Noah's Dad
      By Noah's Dad on 7 March, 2012

      Not sure what you mean……?

  32. Franck
    By Franck on 7 March, 2012

    Hi Joost

    I can understand that it might a difficult post, but I think a fair & independent comparison post of the SEO abilities of the main theme providers would be an Epic one.

    It obvious taht there is a great need of clarification on this particular aspect, and that your review would make the status-quo moving to a higher SEO standards on WP themes providers in general.

    In short, I highly recomend you to run such a comparison, for the benefits of your readers and the overall benefits of the WP users’ community.

    Thanks for sharing so good stuff

    • Meryl
      By Meryl on 11 March, 2012

      Hi Joost,
      For those of us who are following this but are not techies, it would be helpful to know which themes need some support! Ours seems to get high rankings, but could it to better? Or are our good results due to Yoast? I think so! My designer is about to use Headway – I have no idea if it would be SEO-friendly or not – can you help there?

    • Timothy (TJ)
      By Timothy (TJ) on 8 March, 2012

      I agree with Franck Joost! I’m a huge fan of wordpress themes, been buying a lot lately for my clients. When I read this post, darn it scares me. I’m also using a premium theme on my own site. A comparison of theme providers would be great!

  33. George Burnett
    By George Burnett on 7 March, 2012

    Great article. I do have a question though. I just purchased Optimize Press for my blog (and squeeze page) and wanted to know is the blog theme seo friendly or should I switch to another theme and just use Optimize Press for the pitch pages? Thanks for your help.

  34. Dan Shure
    By Dan Shure on 7 March, 2012

    SOOOO true!!

    I’ve fixed so many WP installations where 90% of the issues are themes and plugins that don’t play nice (and most of the time its the theme that’s the issue) When it IS plugins, its usually other SEO plugins (not yours) and I’m not just saying that. Your plugin has been a true lifesaver!

  35. Luke Montgomery
    By Luke Montgomery on 7 March, 2012

    Ha so true! I’ve seen this so many times. 9/10 “SEO friendly” themes are loaded with with encrypted links…they are sure SEO friendly for someone…just not you.

    Nice post though, good stuff to keep in mind.

  36. Martin Jarvis
    By Martin Jarvis on 7 March, 2012

    Good post as usual. There’s a ton of stuff that webmasters could and should check to make sure their sites at least have the fundamental SEO points covered. Taking Ben’s ideas a step further, I think it would really set your SEO plugin apart if it did some basic checking and warned webmasters of certain issues (for example, if it discovered the canonical issues). This would greatly reduce the manual legwork.

  37. Ben Johnston
    By Ben Johnston on 7 March, 2012

    Nice post, Joost. Classy of you not to name them, but a really solid response on their part too.

    I’m just struck by how well this has been handled on both sides – too many bloggers/ devs would have jumped on the “OMG, someone did something wrong”/ “We didn’t do anything wrong, who do you think you are?” train, so well done to all involved.

    • John Saddington
      By John Saddington on 7 March, 2012


      Appreciate this response. If you’ve been around Yoast and WordPress for a while (and I’m guessing you have) then you have seen first hand how badly some companies (and individuals) can respond.

      We’re not shy about owning our product and love being committed to an Open Source model and philosophy – anyone (and I mean anyone, whether a genius or not-so-genius person can audit and provide critique to code.

      This is just what WordPress is and we decided early on to jump in with both feet, take the good and the bad, the great wins with the big challenges, and help create incredible products for our community.

      Really encouraging words Ben. Thank you so much. Made our day!

      • Don Williams
        By Don Williams on 7 March, 2012

        I’m a not-so-genius person critiquing your theme. Do you think you went over the top a bit by saying this about your SEO titles?

        “The following are perfectly formatted title tags for flawless SEO performance.
        In other words, you won’t need any bloated or slow-loading plugin!”

        You weren’t talking about the WordPress SEO plugin, I hope! It truly is genius.

  38. Ben
    By Ben on 7 March, 2012

    Great tip. I checked to make sure my canonical links were done correctly. They were, thanks to your SEO plugin.

    My question is, what are the other things we should check to make sure our themes really are SEO-friendly. Perhaps we can come up with items for a check list. For example, I’ve seen some themes that don’t by default create a H1 title. So if you didn’t manually add one, your page wouldn’t have one.

    • John Saddington
      By John Saddington on 7 March, 2012

      Ben, you could most likely check out Yoast’s own post here and check any WordPress theme against his recommendations.

  39. Brad Dalton
    By Brad Dalton on 7 March, 2012

    I use the Seo Doctor Addon to check how many pages Google have indexed.

    Thesis, Genesis and Woo themes with the WordPress Seo plugin are what i use.

  40. Erik
    By Erik on 7 March, 2012

    Hello Yoast, thnx. Never thought about it this way. Do you know some free wordpress themes that you know are really SEO friendly? thnx,

  41. Ken Jansen
    By Ken Jansen on 7 March, 2012

    Thanks Yoast. This is very helpful. I find similar issues with vendors selling ‘SEO friendly’ template sites, the look can change, but the content stays the same. Its the economy sir/ma’am – no wait – it the content sir/ma’am. Oh yah,and where you direct people to go is pretty darn important too. :)

  42. John Saddington
    By John Saddington on 7 March, 2012

    Yoast, awesome job. Thanks so much. We’ve responded and appreciate your support (via email, wow, thanks!) and work to the WordPress community – and to know that you’ve helped the likes of StudioPress (and many others that use your wisdom) puts in great company!

    Our customers and the WP community at large, in the end, benefits.

  43. tom altman
    By tom altman on 7 March, 2012

    This is a great point Yoast, and very true. Please take time to review your theme and see if it is helping your SEO.

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