It seems every premium WordPress theme these days calls itself “SEO-friendly”. They’re usually not. So, I thought I’d lay down some WordPress SEO theme “rules” or “guidelines”. These guidelines will consist of WordPress SEO theme do’s and don’ts, starting out with the don’ts:
WordPress SEO theme don’ts
- Put the site’s name first in the title tag.
The title tag should be post title – site title or a variation on that, but the only variation you do not want in a WordPress SEO theme is the exact opposite: site title – post title.
- Add a static meta description to pages.
I see this so often now: people complain that my WP SEO plugin doesn’t work because the meta description isn’t showing, but in fact, their theme contains a static meta description that is the same on each bloody page.
- Don’t add static robots meta tags or anything else that’ll hamper search engines.
Same as above, please don’t add meta robots tags, “index,follow” is what Google will do by default and if you include it in your theme statically, a user cannot use a plugin to make a page un-indexable, for instance.
- Use the H1 for the logo, on every page.
The H1 should be used for the most important heading on the page. In most cases, that is the article title, not the logo, on every page but the homepage. There’s a lot more to say about headings, which I’ve done in my post The heading structure for your blog.
- Don’t hide links in the theme.
This one might be obvious but still: don’t hide any links in your theme that don’t belong there. One link to you as the theme creator: ok, anything else: nonsense.
- Have sidebars above the content in your code.
In an ideal world, the first content in the HTML is the content of the page, followed by related navigation, then sidebars, then site navigation, then utilities like sitemaps and privacy statements. Having sidebars above the main content of a page though is a straight violation of the WordPress SEO theme guidelines.
WordPress SEO theme do’s
- Allow taxonomy descriptions to be shown.
In most themes, taxonomy archives are boring as hell. They have no unique content whatsoever and just contain the latest posts for that taxonomy. WordPress has a core feature that allows for a description of a taxonomy though, and a good WordPress SEO theme should allow the user to display that description, topped by an H1 with the taxonomy title in it.
- Show excerpts on archives.
Archive pages with full-length posts are not really any good for SEO, doing so on your front page for the last few posts might have some usability benefit, allowing users who come to your homepage to read posts immediately, for archives that benefit doesn’t outweigh the SEO.
- Allow for breadcrumbs.
Most SEO’s these days will tell you breadcrumbs are a nice and easy way to create a good internal linking structure (provided the user uses the taxonomies etc. right, of course) so embedding breadcrumbs is important. Making sure they work with custom taxonomies is important too!
- Use the post title as the first anchor text.
Don’t use “read more” or “continue reading” as the first anchor text towards a post, not in the body, not in widgets, nowhere. Just use the post title.
- Clean, cleaner, cleanest.
Your theme code should be as clean as humanly possible, don’t overdo it on divs, etc. for styling, just keep it simple and solid, to allow for fast page loads and easy crawling.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s no need to put SEO functionality for titles and descriptions in your theme. There are a couple of very good plugins that can do that better than your theme ever can. While I wouldn’t distract any points for it, I’d rather you focus on great code for your theme.
Coming up next!
- Event September 27 - 28, 2023 Team Yoast is Sponsoring WordPress Accessibility Day 2023, click through to see if we'll be there, who will be there and more! See where you can find us next »
- SEO webinar 26 September 2023 Get expert analysis on the latest SEO and WordPress news with Carolyn Shelby and Alex Moss. Join our upcoming webinar! 📺️ All Yoast SEO webinars »