How To SEO Your WordPress Theme

This post was guest blogged by Courtney Tuttle of Court’s Internet Marketing School.

First things first – most WordPress themes are horrible for targeting search engine traffic. Whether you’re using a free theme or even a custom theme for your WordPress blog, you’re trusting a web or graphic designer to ensure that your blog is set up to target keywords properly, and that is a huge mistake.

Don’t misunderstand, you can still get search traffic with a weak WordPress theme. Since there are so many factors that contribute to search engine rankings, your strength in some aspects might help to grab search traffic. However, setting your blog up to properly target keywords can often remove the lead weight that’s keeping How To SEO Your WordPress Themeyour search traffic from growing more quickly. You may get a 50% or bigger increase in search traffic by simply implementing a few ideas.

Being an SEO consultant for literally hundreds of websites has given me a unique look into how sites should be set up for maximum benefit. I have taken those insights and have applied them to my own blog and am now ranked in the top 10 in Google for ‘internet marketing’, which is arguably one of the hardest keywords out there. Today I’m going to pass on some of those insights to you.

4 Reasons Most WordPress Themes Are Terrible For SEO

  1. Multiple use/poor use of the H1 tag. H1 tags are only meant to be used once on each page. Also, many themes don’t use keywords in the H1, even though that would provide a search benefit.
  2. Excessive/improper use of H2 tags. Many WordPress themes use H2 tags in tons of places where they shouldn’t. If you were to view the source code for your WordPress blog, chances are that each section of your sidebar will use an H2 tag. This is a mistake because the H2 tags on your pages should include the second most important heading on your pages, probably your post titles.
  3. Poor use of keyword authority. Using text and links properly can help any site to build authority for the keywords they are targeting. Most themes are not set up to create these links and text automatically so they must be added in manually (more on that below).
  4. Pages create onsite duplicate content. You would never want your category, tag, and archive pages to show your entire posts. This would create multiple URLs in your site that have the full content of your posts. Bad idea!

How To SEO Your WordPress Theme

Start with your site’s H1 tag. You want the H1 tags of your site to do two things for you:

  1. Target your site’s main keyword with every page. My site’s main keyword is ‘internet marketing’ and it shows up in the H1 section of all of my pages.
  2. Target the keywords you use in your post titles.

Most people think that they can only use the h1 tag to target either their site’s main keyword or the keywords in their post title, but I have created a piece of code that will allow you to do both. You can find the code here (opens in new window). You will add in your main keyword where prompted, insert the code where you would like the section to show up (probably in your theme’s header.php file), and will then make it look how you want using CSS.

Set up H2 tag properly. You want to set your theme up to use the H2 tags around the post titles in your WordPress blog. You can find out if it’s set up this way by looking at the source code for your blog, and searching for the H2 tag, which looks like this: <h2>. The post title should appear there. If it isn’t there, you will want to adjust your theme accordingly.

The code that creates your post titles will usually be located in either your single.php or index.php file and looks like this: <?php the_title(); ?>. If it’s set up properly, it should have H2 tags around it: <h2><?php the_title(); ?></h2>.

Now you will want to make sure that you aren’t using H2 tags in funny places, like your sidebar and comment sections. If your sidebar uses these tags around the section headings such as ‘Categories’, you will want to change them. You can easily change them to H3s and you’re good to go.

Subtle keyword authority changes. There are two very simple things you can add to your theme that will help you to create more keyword authority for the keyword of your choice:

  1. Create a footer link that points to your homepage using your main keyword as anchor text.
  2. Create links in your sidebar that point to pages related to your main keyword. My main keyword is ‘internet marketing’, so I have created links in my sidebar that point to posts related to internet marketing. This helps me to create more site-authority for internet marketing.

Eliminate duplicate content. Some people recommend using a plugin that adds ‘no index’ to category, archive, and tag pages. I would not recommend this because having more URLs in search engine indexes can help you to create authority for your keywords. I would recommend changing each of those pages to show excerpts only.

This can be accomplished by editing the theme files that create these pages. For example, category pages are usually created by the category.php file. You would edit that page and look for the code that creates the post itself: <?php the_content(); ?>. Change that code to <?php the_excerpt(); ?> and you’re good to go.

Create Your Stronger Site

These insights can help you to create a stronger site, but now it’s on you to implement these ideas. I know that these methods aren’t simple. It might take you all day to figure out how to make them all work. I can promise you that it’s worth as much time as it takes. If this is too difficult for you, you can take a look at some of the SEO themes I’ve modified for your benefit.

Bonus Tip

While this tip doesn’t change your theme itself, you still need to use it to get the most out of your WordPress blog. Use the All-In-One SEO Pack plugin to get your HTML titles set up properly. John gave a great explanation on that topic here: All in One SEO Pack for WordPress. Since the HTML title tag has a huge effect on search traffic, make sure you’re using this plugin.