Does Changing a WordPress theme Effect a Websites SEO?

So it’s time to switch themes.

While installing a WordPress theme is easy, you need to be aware of how the new theme will perform with regards to search engines as well as your end user experience. Below is a shot of one of my websites analytics. The dip came about because I switched a website from a premium theme to a 1 page parallax style theme from Theme Forest. The dip was a drop in nearly 100 visitors! The traffic came back when I switched back to the old theme.

Wait, why would this matter?

There are a few things you need to be aware of when switching themes. The parallax theme I switched too required the creation of multiple pages that would be shown on the homepage. Each of these pages was filled with minimal content as they were simply sections on the homepage.

A better way to form a homepage should be to have a theme like DIVI where you can custom create a homepage with it’s own content instead of using a theme that uses separate pages for each section of content.

This could negatively effect rankings by having an increase in the amount thin content on the website as well as having a more difficult to read homepage from an HTML perspective.

Which is my next point, search engines will crawl your site in different way. Depending on the theme this could help or hurt your rankings.

Also, don’t forget that design will effect how people interact with your site. The size of the text, the side, related posts, all that good stuff can help make user time on site longer which will help your website perform.

Lastly, make sure your titles and meta descriptions don’t change in any particular way and that everything is carried over from your old theme.

Before you make the change, here are some things be aware of.

Maintenance Mode!

A common question I get is how can you edit a new theme but keep the old theme active.

In short, you can’t. At least not in a simple way. The way you would do it is install a simulated WordPress environment on your computer, upload a copy of your website with all it’s content and then run the new theme in this simulated WordPress environment. When you’re done, export the customized theme and upload it to the live version of your WordPress installation.

It’s quite technical.

Instead, just install a maintenance mode plugin and activate your new theme and customize it. A new theme takes some time to customize but it should not take days or weeks. Just a few hours and you’re good to go.

You’ll want a maintenance mode plugin because it will hid the transition to anyone who is visiting your website.

Performance and Speed

Keep your theme as fast as possible. When I switched to a theme that used a giant hero image with a text overlay I saw a stark drop in visitors and time on site. While the site looked good, it was not clear to Google what the site was about and the page took a lot longer to load, causing people to bounce.

When you switch a theme, use a service like Pingdom to keep tabs on speed. Fix any problems websites like this inform you of. You want your site to be under 3 seconds for load time when using Pingdom as  reference point.

Compare the performance of your old theme to your new one. What you’ll want to look at is BOUNCE RATE  and LOADING TIMES. These two factors are effected greatly by the coding quality of the theme.

If the new one is worse, fix it or switch back.

Apart from bounce rate, also monitor traffic levels. If you notice a major dip like i experienced again, fix it or switch back. I ended up switching back to a previous theme for that website because the one page theme was so handicapped with regards to content organization and SEO that it simply was not worth my time and effort to sort it out.

Breadcrumbs, related posts, categories

A good theme for content has a lot of deep linking. Deep linking is showing breadcrumbs on the page, related posts at the bottom and any categories or tags used for the content. When switching to a new theme try to stick to the same organizational structure of your current theme. Otherwise, you may experience a big dip in traffic as I did.

The one page parallax theme I used did not use any of the organizational features the old theme used. As such, the deep linking was gone which effected my traffic.

Short Codes

Some themes have built in short codes that allow for fun, useful, fancy features. One problem, they only work with their respective theme. Once you switch themes, your end users will see the literal short code and not the feature.

You’ll have to go through your content and delete any shortcode from your old theme. A best practice is to only use shortcodes on your pages and not within your blog posts. Otherwise it will be a maddening process to go through a lot of content deleting shortcodes.

This is my main issue with eh DIVI theme, it uses special content blocks that are only found if you use DIVI. If you want to swtich away from DIVI it’s going to be a headache.

Sidebar

You’ll have to redo that sidebar when you switch themes. WordPress will save your widgets, but you’ll have to jump back into the widget area in WordPress and go over what widgets you want to show.

Analytics

Not every theme has a built in area in the theme options for a place to copy and paste analytic code. If your old theme had, but your new theme does not have you’ll have to install this headers and footer plugin in order to keep your analytic data current.

Also, if you switch themes, you’re analytics code will not carry over, you’re going to have to add it to the new theme.

Kill off plugins you don’t need

For speed purposes you want to keep plugins at a minimum. Your goal should be to find a theme that needs a minimal amount of plugins. The one page theme I used briefly lacked breadcrumbs. I need a plugin for that. It lacked related posts so I needed a plugin for that. It lacked social media integration so I needed more plugins for that.

What ends up happening is that you have too many plugins running. When you switch to a new theme try to find themes that will allow you to eliminate unnecessary plugins

BACKUP

Always backup your website. You can backup your website in Cpanel (just contact your web host for how to do it) or you can use a plugin that will take care of backups on autopilot:

Vault Press (Paid) – For big websites.

Updraft (free) – If your site is under 2000 visitors a day, this one is fine.

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