You often hear about WordPress being SEO Friendly and some theme companies even include SEO options for their WordPress themes. But what does that mean exactly when a site claims to be SEO friendly?
What is an SEO Optimized Theme or Site?
If your website or WordPress theme is optimized for SEO it means things like image optimization, semantic coding, site speed, and search engine friendly page titles. There are two parts to that.
1. The Website Structure – SEO Optimized Code
A theme is ‘search engine optimized’ if it uses Semantic Markup and Coding. Semantic code or HTML means your site code is properly structured, and proper tags are being used for the different types of content. For example using the “h1″ tag for page titles and “p” tags for the body. By using semantic code search engines can crawl it easily.
Without the proper semantic markup, a computer has no way of understanding what you’re content is about. This is why semantic code does better in search engine ranking and results, and why search engine spiders cannot see flash sites. Flash sites aren’t crawable.
WordPress uses Cascading Style Sheets (style.css) which keeps the design of your site separate from the code. This means that updating your site is easier because styles can be applied to the entire site instead of page by page, and the styles can be changed without touching the code.
An SEO Friendly coded theme should have:
- Standard html title tags (h1, h2 etc)
- Valid and clean code – the code should be semantic and follow web standards.
- No flash or iframes
- Be Mobile accessible - Google recommends responsive design.
2. Content Structure
These features can be controlled with a plugin or by options that are built-in to a theme.
In addition your site needs to have:
- SEO Friendly Page Titles
- Meta Descriptions - a description of page content
- Breadcrumbs - breadcrumbs display to a visitor where they are on your site.
- Url Structure (links should be www.yoursite.com/seo-friendly-title instead of www.yoursite.com/?p=4536)
- Meta Robots - Tells search engines how to index your site pages and content
- Canonical Tags - helps reduce duplicate content issues
- Optimized Images
SEO Moz has a great guide that explains these features in greater detail.
Which is better for handling SEO options – a theme or plugin?
There are tools that allow you to optimize your SEO. Those tools let you to do things like create an SEO friendly page title, create a meta description for your page or add rich snippets and open graph tags. There are a few really solid plugins that handle those SEO options. There are also some WordPress themes that have SEO options built-in to the theme and market it as a benefit. Having SEO options built into your theme isn’t necessarily a benefit however. The problem is that if you switch themes you will lose all that SEO data and have to start over since the SEO options and data are contained within that particular theme. With a plugin, that data is still there even when you switch themes. For this reason SEO optimization is better handled by a plugin rather than a theme.
What about Google Analytics Integration?
There are some website companies that lump in Google Analytics integration with SEO optimization. Google Analytics is a website stats tracking tool that provides important data so you can see how your site and marketing are performing. It allows you to track things like how many visitors your site receives, valuable keyword information and other stats that can help improve your SEO strategy. Simply having it installed however will not automatically improve search engine ranking, nor does it optimize your site.
Google Analytics integrates nicely with WordPress and can be easily installed via your theme or a plugin.
Most Important: The technical things only matter if you have good content
Far too often too much focus is placed only the technical aspects, a not enough focus creating good content. The technical things will help if you have that.
The best SEO practice would be
- Look for a theme with good semantic code and standards
- Use a plugin to optimize things like content, page titles, meta description
- Most important – create great content