There are so many things to consider when it comes to changing WordPress themes. If you’re working with an established site, you’re probably wondering: will changing your WordPress theme affect your SEO?
Yes, changing your WordPress theme will affect your SEO, potentially to a great extent. Your theme impacts your design, site speed, content formatting, and structured data—all important factors for SEO. However, there are ways to maintain or even improve your rankings after switching themes.
In this article, we’ll cover exactly how changing your WordPress theme can impact your SEO, and what you can do to stay in Google’s good graces after the switch.
How Changing Your WordPress Theme Can Affect Your SEO
Your WordPress theme is the backbone of your site. It literally dictates everything you see on the frontend of your site—not to mention what’s going on under the hood.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the specific ways a new WordPress theme can affect your SEO.
Design & User Experience
User experience is one of the most important considerations for SEO.
If your website is difficult to read or navigate, many visitors will bounce back to the search results—indicating to Google that your website is not helpful or user-friendly.
A WordPress theme is a lot more than a design, but design is indeed an important consideration.
Is your new theme well-designed? Is it readable? Is it mobile-friendly?
Your WordPress theme can make or break your site’s performance.
Some themes are absurdly complex and bloated. They may look pretty on the surface, but when Google sees that your site takes 8+ seconds to load, your rankings are going to plummet.
On the other hand, if you upgrade to a lightweight theme that reduces your page load times to two seconds or less, you may see a nice boost.
Your WordPress theme doesn’t affect your content itself, but it does determine how it’s formatted.
It’s particularly important that your theme uses the proper heading structure:
Generally, the only Heading 1 (
h1) text on your page should be the main title, i.e. the name of your post. Any subheadings should be formatted as
h3 below that, and so on.
Most high-quality premium themes handle this correctly, but it’s always a good idea to check.
SEO Metadata / Structured Data
Many themes offer built-in SEO features to help you manage your page titles, meta descriptions, and structured data for rich search snippets.
As convenient as this may be, switching themes means you lose all of that custom data—which can really hurt your SEO.
That’s why we recommend using a plugin like Yoast SEO to manage your SEO data, rather than relying on your theme.
How To Maintain Your Search Rankings After Changing WordPress Themes
Now that we’ve seen some of the ways changing your WordPress theme can affect your SEO, let’s talk about what you can do to maintain your search rankings with a new theme.
Choose An SEO-Friendly Theme
Your quest to maintain (or improve) your rankings should begin with your initial theme search.
An SEO-friendly theme formats content correctly with well-organized code, provides a pleasant user experience, and loads quickly.
Here are three specific suggestions:
GeneratePress is an ultra-lightweight, SEO-friendly theme that you can customize for virtually any site. It’s known for its performance, and I’d say it’s one of the fastest WordPress themes in existence.
Because it’s so versatile, it’s hard to encapsulate the visual style of GeneratePress in a single image. Instead, check out their site library here to see a bunch of demos that you can use to start your site.
StudioPress is a longtime leader in WordPress theme design, and their Genesis framework ensures that all of their themes meet the same high SEO standards.
Test Your Theme Before Going Live
A key step to help you maintain your search rankings is to simply test your new theme ahead of time.
Specifically, I recommend creating a staging site to make sure your new theme is properly formatted and offers a good user experience. For more details, check out our tutorial on how to change WordPress themes on a live site.
You can use the element inspector on Chrome and other modern browsers to make sure your headings are properly formatted. Just right click one of your headings, then click “Inspect.”
Remember: the title of a post should be formatted as
h1. All other headings should be
h2 or lower.
You can also test your site speed using a tool like GTmetrix.
Optimize Your Site For Speed
If you find that your site takes longer than two seconds to load with your new theme, it’s worth making some optimizations to improve your performance.
Google uses page speed as a ranking signal, meaning that when all other factors are equal, a faster website will rank higher in the search results.
Here are some key steps you should absolutely take to improve your performance:
- Switch to a speed-optimized web host like SiteGround (we use SiteGround here at GigaPress, and we reviewed it in detail here)
- Minimize your plugin usage and deactivate anything nonessential
- Install a caching plugin like WP Rocket (review and tutorial here)
We have a full list of 16+ speed optimization tips in our WordPress speed tutorial.
Use A Plugin For SEO & Structured Data
If your current theme handles your SEO and schema.org structured data, now is the perfect time to future-proof your site by switching to a plugin.
I use the free Yoast SEO plugin on all of my sites, and I never have to worry about losing my SEO titles, meta descriptions, or schema data when I change my WordPress theme.
For a full guide to setting up the Yoast plugin, check out our full WordPress SEO tutorial.
Stick With Your New Theme For A Long Time
Changing your WordPress theme inherently affects your SEO because it fundamentally alters all of the pages search engines have indexed from your site.
Generally, as long as your new theme is solid and you’ve made the right optimizations, you should be able to avoid any long-term setbacks—but there’s always a risk of short-term problems.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to stick with your new theme for as long as possible. If you choose an SEO-friendly theme that suits your brand and commit to using it for the long haul, you won’t have to worry about this again for a long time.
So, will changing your WordPress theme affect your SEO? Yes—but you can easily maintain or even improve your rankings by making a few smart decisions in the process.
If you have any questions about how changing WordPress themes can affect your SEO, please feel free to leave a comment below!