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Does Changing Your Website Theme Affect SEO?

Written by Paul Steinbrueck

Earlier this month we announced 40 new themes and a new theme selector for our WP-EZ Website Builder.

There are a number of factors to think about when considering a new theme. One of them is SEO.

To understand whether changing themes can affect SEO and search rankings, it helps to understand what aspects of your website are a part of the theme (and thus could change) and which are not.

The website theme includes the header, footer and overall layout of a website.

Website SEO elements NOT affected by the theme

  • Content in the body of the page. This is text, images, and other media in the main part of each page.
  • Title and meta description tags – These elements are not visible on the page but are the title and description search engines see and use in the search results. If the website uses an SEO plugin like SEO Yoast (as OurChurch.Com’s custom websites and sites built with our WP-EZ website builder do), changing the theme should not affect them.

Website Elements which may be affected by the theme

  • Mobile-friendliness – Whether a website is mobile-friendly or not is almost completely dependent on the theme. Websites that are not mobile-friendly are penalized in the search results, therefore make sure you select a mobile friendly one.
  • Header content – This is the text and images common to the top of every page of the website. If you have your address, targeted keywords or images with optimized alt attributes in your header, they may not be in your new theme by default and may need to be added or re-optimized.
  • Footer content – This is the text and images common to the bottom of every page of the website. As with the header, if you have your address, targeted keywords or images with optimized alt attributes in your footer, they may not be in your new theme.
  • Sidebar content – Sidebars are becoming less and less common in themes. If you switch from a theme that has a sidebar to one that does not, you’ll have to decide whether to put the sidebar content somewhere else on the page or get rid of it. If your sidebar has optimized content in it, getting rid of that content could hurt your search rankings.
  • Special content areas – Some themes have page templates with special content areas. These special content areas are usually found on the homepage and can include things like an image slider or a list of recent sermons, blog posts or photos. Similar to the sidebar, if you have optimized content in a special content area in your current theme and then you switch to a theme that doesn’t have that special content area, you’ll have to decide whether to put that content somewhere else or get rid of it.
  • Page speed – Some themes have more code, scripts and images than others. Some themes have their code compressed to load fast. Some have features built into them to cause the website to render more quickly. Since page speed is a ranking factor, this can affect search rankings.

As you can see there are a lot of potential pitfalls to switching themes.

Good intentions can often lead to unintended consequences. -Tim Walberg

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Anytime you change themes, I recommend you thoroughly compare the new version of your site to the old version and re-add or re-optimize as needed. I also recommend doing an SEO audit after changing themes. This will catch any technical or structural issues in the theme that could impact search rankings.

This is why it’s good to have a professional SEO in your corner managing and monitoring the SEO of your website.

If you’re interested in getting more visitors to your website through search, consider OurChurch.Com’s church and Christian SEO services., Put our 14+ years of SEO experience to work for you!

Discussion:

  • Have you switched themes recently or are considering changing themes?
  • What comments of questions do you have about the SEO impact of changing themes?

About the author

Paul Steinbrueck

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.

2 Comments

  • I’ve been thinking about switching themes and you make some great points. The last one I did, the consequences included sidebar widgets getting lost and needing to be rebuilt. That was the largest of the problems.. . . .themes have different custom widgets and sometimes short codes for custom design in a page/post. . . that was painful. Didn’t seem to have an SEO impact, because pages and posts are pretty good, constantly improving as I clean it up.

    As to my primary site, EvangelismCoach.org, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.

    • Thanks for your comment Chris. Yeah, it’s those unexpected things that can make switching themes challenging. But it’s got to be done every 2-3 years to keep up with changes in technology and the way we communicate.

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