How Switching WordPress Theme Can Impact SEO, and Ways to Avoid It

July 31, 2017 9:27 am

A common behavior among users of free WordPress themes is the tendency of switching WordPress Theme – a lot. This should come as no surprise because there are several options to choose from. However, the downside is the impact such changes can have on your SEO or web traffic.

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Not all SEO performance can be attributed to your new theme. Generally, new WordPress themes may not impact your ranking if a
SEO WordPress plugin retains the settings of the previous theme. But if your WordPress theme had its own built-in SEO options, there is a high chance that the blog’s SEO will be affected when you change it.

There is more to blog SEO than just the main text, the back-end HTML in equally important. The following are some ways your SEO can be hurt when you are switching the WordPress theme.

1. Impact of switching WordPress theme to the content

A majority of search engines such as Google and Bing scan your site’s HTML code in a linear manner. This may vary from the way it is displayed across the screen. Content boxes and tables can be used to display your blog content in a different sequence from the way the HTML content is shown on the page source code.

Changing a theme that has a right-hand sidebar with another that uses a left-hand sidebar, will prompt spiders to read the sidebar content ahead of the main text. This has a tendency to impact your SEO ranking. It is always important to study the order of the page coding for any theme. To resolve this, right-click and click on “view page source”. Then ensure that the HTML in the Body segment presents the main text before the sidebar content.

2. The Metadata

In recent times, metadata content appears to have taken the backseat in SEO. This probably because of new algorithmic updates introduced by Google every year. However, metadata is still extremely relevant to your SEO ranking. It is highly recommended that you use the same SEO plugins on your blog. For instance, if your original theme uses a Yoast WordPress SEO, then it is imperative to use Yoast as well after switching the WordPress theme.

When you use the same widgets and plugins with the new theme as you did with the previous one, you increase the chances of retaining your SEO settings. Also, make sure that the title tags and meta descriptions are identical. Or that all metadata are the same in the HTML head section.

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3. Changing your permalinks

Think of permalinks as URL pointers for your blog posts, just as your web page URL points to the location of the page on your website. If changing your WordPress theme causes your permalinks to change, then search rankings will be affected negatively.

According to Maria Brosnan, general manager of Freeparking’s website builder, “It is important to keep your permalinks in exactly the same position as they were in the previous theme.”

“Whenever you change your theme, always check that the URLs point to the same pages or posts as the last permalinks did. Otherwise, Google will drop those pages and posts from the rankings for those keywords which they were listed,” she says.

If you cannot create the same permalinks for your new theme, then use a 301-page redirect towards the original permalinks to prevent a 404 error.

4. Keep all existing links

Permalinks aren’t the only important things to watch out for when you change your theme. When a Google algorithm computes your search engine rankings, it records all the links on your blog post. Therefore, every link leaving your blog must match the new theme as it is in the previous one. For example, tag links must be maintained. Likewise, any other links connected to the archives, blogroll, images, and graphics.

It goes without saying that you should always check the whole linking structure after a major theme change. This covers not just the links in the body of your page or post, but also links in your widgets, sidebars and any ads you may be running.

Changing your site theme brings a lot of SEO brouhaha into consideration. Because of this, it is advisable to be wary of major changes that may affect your search rankings. If you must change your theme, go for something that is similar to your existing theme.