Your WordPress theme encapsulates your brand’s aura and helps provide a good user experience. But people often forget about the search engine optimization (SEO) aspect of it.
A WordPress theme that isn’t SEO-friendly (or worse, is bloated and slow) can be a real hindrance in the fiercely competitive battle to land on top of the search engine result pages (SERPs).
And since higher rankings can drive more organic traffic, leads, and revenue — this is one element you really want to get right.
In this guide, you’ll learn what an SEO-friendly theme is, what you should consider when selecting one, and which five WordPress themes are best for SEO.
The Basics of a Search-Friendly WordPress Theme
A WordPress theme built with search engine optimization in mind helps websites achieve better rankings on SERPs.
Optimized WordPress themes are built to elevate your SEO efforts and provide a great user experience.
There are thousands of themes for WordPress users to choose from and thousands more from third-party providers. Most of these themes make your WordPress website look stunning, but a glance under the hood could tell a different story.
Poor coding, slow loading speeds, and a lack of plugin support can be hiding underneath a beautiful facade. All of these flaws affect search engine rankings.
When you have significant technical SEO issues, Google won’t trust your website as an industry authority, and you’ll likely struggle to reach the first page.
On the other hand, the best WordPress themes for SEO are both stunning and optimized with the latest SEO techniques in mind. They’ll have:
A responsive design.
Fast loading speeds.
And they’ll let you optimize your WordPress website effortlessly.
How to Choose the Best WordPress Theme for SEO
So, how do you choose an SEO-friendly WordPress theme?
1. Pick a Responsive Theme
Mobile devices (excluding tablets) account for over 54% of web page views worldwide.
A majority of smartphone users look up websites, products, and related content on their phones. After all, when you hear about a cool product, you usually don’t want to wait until you’re home to check it out.
SEO-friendly WordPress themes have responsive layouts. A responsive WordPress website will adjust to varying screen sizes across devices with ease.
That way, mobile shoppers aren’t greeted with a poorly-adjusted e-commerce homepage when they click through.
Google prefers mobile-friendly websites and offers a tool where you can test how your website fares.
2. Pick a Theme That Supports Most Plugins
WordPress plugins help unlock your website’s true potential with additional features for both users and website owners.
WooCommerce, Jetpack, Akismet, and Google Analytics are popular plugins. You can also download the best SEO plugins to make optimization easier.
The WordPress theme you pick should support popular plugins, especially those you use regularly.
W3 Super Cache is an example of a plugin that’s always active because it maintains optimum page speed. You don’t want it to fail because you switched themes.
3. Pick a Theme with Clean Code
Your website is made up of codes. If these codes are poorly written, it can affect your website’s security, speed, and resources.
The same applies to WordPress themes.
The best WordPress themes for SEO have clean code that makes them more secure and reliable, with less downtime.
Clean code and SEO go hand-in-hand. This is because clean code-WordPress themes boost page load speed and SEO ranking.
For example, an optimized theme with clean code speeds up updates of essential SEO elements like meta, title, and header tags. This helps search engines to:
Find these tags quickly.
Crawl your website easily.
To analyze your chosen WordPress theme and ensure it has clean code that conforms to the standard WordPress coding conventions, you can make use of Theme Check.
All you have to do is:
Install your preferred theme to WordPress.
Install and activate the Theme Check plugin.
Go to Appearance and select Theme Check from the list.
Click on your chosen theme from the drop-down.
Hit the Check it!
Theme Sniffer was another tool built for theme evaluation. However, this plugin is no longer functional.
Note that free WordPress themes don’t have the cleanest code and might pose security threats, especially if the developer copies and alters code from an online source.
4. Choose a Theme That Works on Multiple Browsers
Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Opera are common desktop and mobile browsers, but there are several more. You don’t need to cater to all of them, but your theme should work across the most popular browsers.
An SEO-friendly WordPress theme caters to all popular browsers, making it convenient for users to read and share your content, regardless of their browser choice.
Besides supporting different browsers, check version compatibility. Not everyone uses the latest browser version. Often updates are delayed based on the device or operating system they’re using.
Ideally, your website should work seamlessly on the last five versions of the most popular Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux browsers.
You can use tools like PowerMapper to check browser compatibility.
Developers can also manually run tests to determine compatibility.
5. Select a Theme With a Page Builder Plugin
A page builder is a WordPress plugin that makes it easier to create your website’s layout through drag-and-drop features. You can quickly choose from premade layout options and drag and drop the elements to place them where you want.
Page builders are an excellent option for easy website creation, and most premium WordPress themes offer them. If you’re a digital marketing agency working with multiple clients, you can use page builders to set up multiple websites quickly.
But page builders do have a few issues.
Page builders generate a lot of code, and, as mentioned earlier, bloated websites are slow. This is bad for SEO.
More importantly, when you create a website using a page builder and then switch themes, the layout — and consequently, the content on it — will require several edits. Your technical and on-page SEO could be affected, so be sure to account for SEO during a re-build.
Choose a theme that has a popular page builder plugin built-in. Or, install a separate page builder plugin that works across most themes.
6. Choose a Theme That Loads Quickly
Users have very short attention spans. Many will leave if a website takes more than a few seconds to load. Page speed is crucial for SEO.
Improving page speed has shown tremendous results. A Deloitte Digital and Google study shows that decreasing load time by 0.1s led to an 8% increase in conversions on e-commerce websites.
It’s tempting to go for a reasonably-priced theme with a laundry list of features, like custom widgets or Google Fonts. But if you don’t actually use these functions, then they’re just slowing your website down.
You should pick a fast, lightweight, and customizable WordPress theme with only the features you need. Alternatively, you can pick SEO-optimized themes that let you disable functions you don’t use.
Use Google Search Console to find out how fast your website is and see if it’s slowed down after you’ve installed a theme.
7. Select a Theme That’s Updated Regularly
Regular theme updates are crucial for security and bug fixes. You don’t want a WordPress theme that’s updated once a year.
Developers use updates to provide the latest security patches, fix bugs, address compatibility issues with the latest browsers and plugins, and clean up old code.
Your SEO takes a hit when you use an outdated theme. If your theme isn’t compatible with the latest version of Google Chrome, it won’t load. You’ll lose out on the potential traffic generated by Chrome users and give your competitors a chance to leapfrog you.
Outdated themes might also have limited functionality on newer devices and browsers.
8. Choose a Theme With Good Ratings
The easiest way to identify the best WordPress themes for SEO is to check user reviews and ratings. Don’t just check the reviews and testimonials on the theme’s official website — check for ratings on third-party websites and social media too.
Users might not leave SEO-focused reviews, but they will often list things like “slow loading speed” or “not mobile-friendly.” Compare these to your SEO checklist to understand how usable and well-built the theme is.
Compare common user problems with issues that could affect your website in general, and avoid those themes.
While a small number of speed-related complaints in a sea of positive reviews is OK, you should avoid themes with mostly poor reviews.
Best WordPress Theme for SEO
Hello by Elementor.
If you’re looking for the best WordPress theme for SEO, these are it. Let’s take a deeper look into each of them:
Divi is a bestselling SEO-optimized WordPress theme with a wide range of pre-built templates to suit websites across most niches, including SEO agencies and blogging. It lets you customize almost every aspect of your WordPress website.
Created by Elegant Themes, Divi has built-in SEO optimization and is regularly updated, so you never have to worry about compatibility. It’s arguably the most popular theme for WordPress.
Astra is a powerful WordPress theme with retina-ready premade page templates to suit different businesses. Its lightweight code and fast load speeds make it an excellent option for an SEO-friendly WordPress theme.
Astra supports most popular WordPress plugins, including Yoast SEO and All in One SEO. It also supports drag-and-drop page builders such as WPBakery.
Kadence is a multi-purpose WordPress theme that lets you create lightning-fast websites in minutes. It has templates for brands, influencers, small businesses, e-commerce, and agencies.
It also integrates with major plugins, including Elementor, WooCommerce, and Beaver Builder.
Kadence is built with the best SEO practices for markup and schema and lets you customize every element of your website — including header styles, colors, and typography — easily.
Hello by Elementor
Built with lean, non-intrusive code, Hello by Elementor is the perfect WordPress theme for SEO.
It’s ultra-lightweight, responsive, and claims to load websites in a quarter of a second. A faster website leads to lower bounce rates and happier users.
Despite its focus on speed and using minimal resources, Hello still offers hundreds of templates, plenty of customization options, and regular updates. It also has RTL support.
Whether you’re a freelancer, startup, or agency, GeneratePress is a great WordPress theme for SEO.
It’s fast, lightweight, and accessible. The free version of the theme is focused on speed and performance, which are essential SEO elements.
Upgrading to the Premium version gives you access to GeneratePress’ block-style website builder (so you never have to learn a line of code), professionally designed starter websites, and customization controls.
Final Thoughts: How to Pick the Best SEO-Optimized WordPress Theme
WordPress themes are a great way to spruce up your website, but they shouldn’t hinder your SEO efforts. Don’t let the overwhelming amount of theme options intimidate you into quickly picking one and settling.
Instead, maintain your cool and pick an SEO-optimized WordPress theme after doing your research.
If you need any more help with WordPress SEO, check out our comprehensive expert guide.
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All screenshots taken by author, July 2021