Can Changing Your WordPress Theme Affect Your Search Engine Love?

Yes, it can.

I used to think of a theme as nothing more than a nice colour scheme when I first started blogging. As long as I liked the colours, and it had enough sidebars, I was a happy camper.

How wrong I was.

WordPress themes have progressed enormously since those days, but even back then if I’d known what I was doing I’d have paid a bit more attention.

Here’s how they can impact your search engine love:

Free Themes

The first thing to be aware of when looking for free themes is that there’s nothing to stop the author from hiding links in it.

Which means that by activating his theme you could be providing links back to his site (if you’re lucky), or to some spam or scam site if you’re not.

The search engines will not be pleased about the spam and scam links.

Even if he hasn’t hidden links in his theme, the author’s coding skills have an impact on how quickly your pages load and how easily the search engines can crawl your blog.

And that’s important for good search engine rankings.

So yes – even at the most basic level, changing themes can affect your rankings (either positively or negatively) just based on:

  1. Whether or not the author has hidden links in it
  2. The quality of the his coding (CSS, HTML and PHP)

Don’t get me wrong – there are some very good free themes out there, but there are also some pretty awful ones.

So if you’re going for free, you need to make sure it’s a good one.

The only safe place to get a free theme is the WordPress repository – go to Appearance > Themes in your WordPress backend and select one that’s displaid there or click the ‘Add new’ button at the top.

Premium Themes

WordPress caused a bit of a stir a while ago when they decided that the only themes they would approve had to be GPL – free to download and install. For a short while Premium Themes became the target of some speculation.

But, having used the Thesis theme for a year now, and another premium theme prior to that, I can tell you that there’s no way I’d ever go back to using free themes.

You not only get rid of the chances of being stuck with hidden spam links, you greatly increase your chances of having well coded CSS, HTML and PHP.

This, as I said earlier, will help the search engines.

Plus, modern premium themes provide all sorts of additional functionality that builds on the flexibility of WordPress.

For example, some themes (Thesis among them) enable you to set META tags and settings both for your blog as a whole and for each individual post and page within it.

This greatly improves the visibility of your blog and articles to the search engines, and it enables you to drop SEO related plugins.

For example, I used to automatically install the All-in-One-SEO-Pack and Robots-META plugins on new blogs. Now I don’t need to, because Thesis gives me the same options.

Of course, if you weren’t using any SEO plugins to start with, this will bring you a whole bunch of SEO benefits you didn’t previously have.

Further, many premium themes will enable you to change the layout and design of your blog by selecting various options in the control panel.

So as long as your theme is capable of it, and your imagination can cope, you no longer need to go hunting for new themes.

You can change your blog’s appearance whenever you want to and not lose the settings and SEO benefits you’ve built up.

Just one word of caution: if your theme offers different functionality check to see whether it’s built in or whether installing the theme simply bundles in a bunch of plugins.

If it does, and you want the functionality, you’re in good shape. But if you don’t want the functionality make sure that the page layout doesn’t change when you deactivate and remove the plugins.

A while ago I discussed how a theme being used by one of my customers would only work with the WooCommerce plugin installed, which was a problem since she liked the theme but had no intention of having a shop on the site!

A perfect example of a badly coded theme, and which caused her page load times to be painfully slow. Worse still, she had paid for it (from ThemeForest).

Themes these days, particularly premium themes, should be thought of as supplementary platforms which extend the functionality of WordPress.

I wrote another article on the impact that changing your theme has on SEO here.

Martin Malden

Martin Malden
Owner – WealthyDragon

Website owner: Martin has been working online since 2006 and focuses on two areas: 1) affiliate marketing and 2) designing and building websites based on WordPress. He has his own WordPress agency, and serves clients in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK.

What do you think?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Brad Harmon Dec 11, 2009 @ 12:07


    I think I got lucky with my free theme, but I did remove some iframes which seemed to serve no purpose so your point about hidden items is well noted. I’ve seen a few Thesis set up pages and it looks pretty awesome. It’s definitely at the top of my list when I upgrade in 2010.

    .-= Brad Harmon´s last blog ..The #BlogEngage Community, How Tweet It Is! =-.

    • Martin Dec 11, 2009 @ 21:20

      Excellent move to go to Thesis.

      I’ve a special offer running on Thesis at the moment which will extend into the New Year. Clicking on the Thesis logo in the right sidebar will take you to the gory details 🙂



  • Mike @ Computer Tips Dec 11, 2009 @ 12:15

    I agree completely. One of the most important things for me has been the scope and vitality of the Thesis support community. I’m not a hard-core developer so having people to turn to for advice and help has been a huge plus.

    I used another premium theme prior to switching to Thesis and have been very, very glad I made the change. I also recently modified my blog to be a DoFollow blog. Pretty interesting.

    I enjoyed your post. Well-written, concise and informative. Thanks.
    .-= Mike @ Computer Tips´s last blog ..USB 3.0 – USB, The Next Generation =-.

    • Martin Dec 11, 2009 @ 21:18

      Mike, hi,

      Thanks for your kind comments!

      Yes – the Thesis support community is excellent. There are also lots of tutorials and sites online that provide additional support for Thesis.

      If you Google whatever it is you’re looking for and include Thesis or Thesis Theme in the search string you’ll get loads of results.

      Thanks for dropping in!



  • GuideMeSingapore Dec 12, 2009 @ 4:39

    I found out only last year that free themes could have hidden links and after checking out the theme i was using thoroughly, i did find three links hidden. Do these hidden links affect google rankings? I was told that google doesnt take it too kindly if it finds hidden links and might put the site in the supplemental index. Is this true?

    • Martin Dec 12, 2009 @ 12:25

      Google will certainly remove your site from its index if it finds links leading to what it sees as scam or spam sites – no question.

      There’s no need to hide links in a theme. The author’s perfectly entitled to put a link in the footer pointing to the site they sell their themes from if the theme is free. But those links are up front and clearly visible.

      If they’re hiding links it means they don’t want you to know they’re there. And that’s probably because they lead to sites that are dodgy in some way.

      If you find hidden links in your theme my suggestion is change the theme. Unless you’re a coder yourself (in which case you’d probably be building your own themes) you’ve no sure way of knowing that you found all the hidden links. So removing the ones you do find may well not fix the problem.

      Change the theme and get one from a reputable site. As I said above, there are lots of good free themes around.



  • Paul Dec 13, 2009 @ 7:51

    Like you when I started blogging I would just choose a theme I liked and go with it. I had no thought at all about SEO and was totally unaware of the hidden adds and other plugins inserted by the author.
    I had one blog which frustrated me for a year because I just couldn’t get any traffic to it, no matter what I did. I changed the theme to a premium theme and the traffic came.
    Now I only use premium themes for blogging. I have a number of blogs running on thesis which I’m very happy with. And to be honest the cost of a wordpres them is really small when compared to the cost of putting up a website.

    • Martin Dec 13, 2009 @ 9:44

      Hi Paul,

      Glad you got your traffic sorted out!

      That’s a really nice theme you’ve got there on middleagedbiz – I thought it was Thesis at first but it’s Revolution2. Really nice looking, though 🙂



  • Keith Davis Dec 19, 2009 @ 2:32

    Hi Martin
    You could never be a politician with an answer like “Yes, it can is the short answer” LOL

    I hear lots of good things about Thesis and your site certainly is a great advert fot the theme.

    I’ve settled for a cheap theme from Elegant Themes and have added a few SEO plugins… you can probably guess which ones!

    I am aware of SEO and how important it is and will keep an eye on my site.

    Talking of SEO, would you recommend the CommentLuv plugin? It’s a great idea and since you use it, you must think it gives an advantage.
    I’m in two minds about it. Would welcome your comments.
    .-= Keith Davis´s last blog ..The eyes have it! =-.

    • Martin Dec 19, 2009 @ 13:38

      Hi Keith,

      Firstly – many thanks for those very kind comments! (Although I’m gutted to know I couldn’t be a politician! 🙂 )

      Yes – I like CommentLuv, not only because it encourages comments here, but (as long as you register and add the logo to your site) you can select which of your posts are linked to on other sites where you comment.

      That means that if you leave more than 1 comment in a day on a blog you can arrange for different posts to be displaid. Or, alternatively, you can just select a post you want to promote and display that one on blogs where you comment. Neat that. (As long as the other blog is running CommentLuv too)

      It’s also been stable for me (unlike Yet Another Related Posts Plugin which threw a wobbly this morning after I upgraded – which is why it’s now disabled!)



  • Keith Davis Dec 19, 2009 @ 16:14

    Hi Martin
    Thanks for the additional info about registering with CommentLuv and having the choice of which post is linked to.
    That’s answered one of my reservations about publishing another post before the previous post has many links i.e. new post would get all the links at the expense of the old post. But CommentLuv have obvioiusly thought about that.
    .-= Keith Davis´s last blog ..The eyes have it! =-.