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Does Changing WordPress Themes Affect SEO?

If you’re using WordPress for business or eCommerce purposes, you’ll know that the platform comes with a wide range of themes and design options for customising your home page and other web pages. While some themes are free to use, others are only accessible via a premium or business wordpress subscription, or a direct purchase.

If you’re scaling your business – or simply want to change your look – changing your WordPress themes is one of the simplest ways to access more features, change your website’s aesthetic appearance, and re-organise your site’s design.

But does changing WordPress themes affect SEO? In this article, we’re going to take a look at whether or not you can change your website’s theme without disrupting your SEO performance or ruining your SEO campaign. Let’s take a look.

What are WordPress themes?

A WordPress theme is a ready-made website template that allows you to easily set up your new website with simple navigation features. Most free themes are fairly basic, while premium themes can be impressively comprehensive and sophisticated, and can even be used for large enterprises.

How can changing your WordPress theme impact SEO?

So, what factors can impact your SEO ranking when you switch to a different WordPress theme? Here are just a few things that can change:

Slower loading and rendering speed

One key factor in determining your website’s SEO performance is your site speed. If you end up changing to a new theme with greedier resources and increased functionality, it can end up making your site loading speed slower. This can result in two negative outcomes: one, regular visitors to your site no longer visit due to long loading waits, and Google ends up penalising your ranking due to both your site slowness and the decrease in traffic. 

That being said, there are instances in which your site’s SEO ranking can end up being positively impacted by a change of theme: this can occur if your former theme was slow, out-of-date and not regularly updated.

Impacts user experience

Changing your WordPress theme can also negatively impact the user experience for site users, especially if they’re regular visitors. Certain images or features might find themselves poorly displayed within the structure of your new theme, while loyal readers or users might dislike the new theme or find it difficult to navigate. 

Create duplicate metadata

Another SEO problem that can occur following the installation of a new WordPress theme is duplicate metadata: if your new theme comes with in-built SEO functionalities, it could end up creating duplicate metadata for all your published pages. This can create empty pages on your site, which isn’t good for SEO – especially when they’re associated with metadata from your already-existing pages.

Duplicates can wreak havoc with your SEO ranking, as it can end up confusing Google’s algorithm. If Google’s crawlers find two web pages with exactly the same metadata, it could end up displaying the empty page rather than your SEO-optimised content. Don’t forget that Google is also strict when it comes to duplicate content, so you want to avoid duplicate tags and metadata as much as possible.

Impact search functionality 

If you have a search bar integrated into your website, your new theme could end up impacting its functionality, making it more difficult for users to explore and navigate your website freely. While this doesn’t necessarily impact the technical SEO, it can still impact your ranking: if visitors decide to click off immediately because they can’t find what they’re looking for, it’s going to give you a high bounce rate and possibly a negative SEO ranking.

When installing a new theme, you need to think really carefully about the UX and make sure the theme isn’t going to deactivate important functions on your website.

Heading changes

Headings are key when it comes to SEO. Usually, the header function is built into the WordPress dashboard interface, making it easy to SEO-optimise your written content. Some custom themes may come with their own interface designs or modifications, and these can end up impacting your headers. 

If your headers disappear or get integrated into the body of your text, this can impact your SEO both on a technical level and when it comes to the overall UX. While it can be easily fixed, it can be a logistical nightmare having to go through each post individually to make corrections.

Are WordPress themes good for SEO?

In general, a WordPress theme is no better or worse for SEO than any other theme – so long as it’s regularly updated and not entirely out-of-date.

Ideally, if you want to build a site with SEO potential, you should try to purchase one with in-built SEO features. This reduces the need for you to install plugin after plugin in order to optimise your website content; plugins can slow down your site, impacting both your SEO performance and your user experience.

Why might you change WordPress themes?

Despite the fact that changing your theme can impact your SEO ranking, that doesn’t mean changing your theme isn’t sometimes entirely necessary. In fact, some people even change their themes to support a better SEO performance! Here is a non-exhaustive list of just a few reasons why you might end up trying to switch WordPress themes:

Scaling

If you’re looking to scale your business and want to switch to a more supported and fully-functional design, changing your theme might be unavoidable.

Security concerns

If you’re using an old theme that hasn’t been regularly updated, it can pose a security risk when it comes to malicious software and badly-intentioned hackers. If you think your site’s theme poses a security risk to you or its users, it’s a good idea to change it.

SEO performance

As previously mentioned, you may even want to change your theme to help your SEO ranking, rather than harm it. If your theme is old, outdated, and never updated, it’s a good idea to change to something that offers enhanced functionality, including SEO features.

How to change WordPress theme without impacting SEO

So, how can you change your WordPress theme without having a negative impact on your SEO and UX? Here are just a couple of tips we’d recommend:

Hire SEO services

If you’ve spent months, years, or even decades building your website, you don’t want to throw away all your SEO results just because you wanted to change your theme. To avoid this, it’s a good idea to hire a WordPress SEO expert, who will be able to guide you through the process and ensure that you don’t inadvertently modify any content.

Opt for a functional design

One of the easiest ways to minimise impacting your rendering speed is to opt for a function theme with lots of features built into the design. Not only can this make it easier for you to use via the dashboard, but it can also end up speeding up your loading times without impacting your SEO. Just make sure to go through your site and test everything carefully before making any changes.

Don’t change your theme regularly

While it can be tempting to change the look of your website from time to time, it’s really not a good idea to do so regularly. Unless you’re dealing with consistent UX problems, SEO problems, or security concerns, you should try your best to avoid changing your theme when it isn’t strictly necessary.

Article by:

Joshua George is the founder of ClickSlice, an SEO Agency based in London, UK.

He has eight years of experience as an SEO Consultant and was recently hired by the UK government for SEO training. Joshua also owns the best-selling SEO course on Udemy, and has taught SEO to over 100,000 students.

His work has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, AgencyAnalytics, Wix and lots more other reputable publications.