It is not always easy for your WordPress site to rank well in search engine results. There is a lot of hard work needed by implementing SEO techniques such as on-page and off-page optimization. You also need to think about content marketing, building links to your site, and looking for guest posting opportunities. Your installed theme is another crucial aspect of your website SEO.
Many website owners eventually choose to change the theme they are using on the site. There are various reasons for this step. Maybe the theme developer stopped providing support and updates, perhaps the theme doesn’t fit the business model. Maybe the website owner just wants to change the look of the website or theme doesn’t have features and options needed.
Whatever the reasons, it is always the question if changing the theme will affect website rankings. There is still a lot of debate about whether this practice is helpful or harmful in terms of SEO. Many believe it does not affect whatsoever.
The general consensus is that the process of how the theme is changed is one of the most significant factors when it comes to affecting the SEO rankings of the site. Changing the WordPress theme on a website is so easy that very often, users do it without giving it too much thought. However, if things are not done correctly, it could impact site performance.
How to Change Theme Without Affecting SEO Rankings?
There are certain things that you need to keep in mind when you are changing the theme, as there will be several changes on the site itself. Some of these may only be cosmetic issues, while others could cause technical problems on your website.
The content of your posts will not change when you update your theme, but there may be some visual changes. This is because your new theme can display posts and images differently compared to the previous theme you were using.
You also need to check your featured images and thumbnails as these can be resized when using a new theme. If this does happen, you will need to regenerate images so that they are the correct size.
Use SEO friendly WordPress themes
There are SEO optimized themes that have simple code, properly use meta tags, have Schema markup integration, and additional SEO controls to change how your content appears in Google.
These tend to be themes with features that can help you with SEO as they offer appropriate heading tags. If you are using H1 and H2 tags for titles, then these may not transfer over automatically, depending on the settings of a new theme. Therefore it is always recommended to choose SEO friendly themes. On the TemplateMonster site, you can find great selection available themes for any purpose and optimized for SEO.
Custom settings are no longer the same
When you switch themes, your custom settings do not transfer automatically. It can be very time-consuming to change things manually, and you may even need the help of a professional web developer.
This will increase the costs that are involved with changing the theme of your site. One way to get around this is to choose a new theme that has similar features to the one that you were using.
You will want that your new theme can use any widgets that you were using before. Therefore your new theme must be widget enabled so that the switch between the two themes goes smoothly. Sidebar widgets are one of the easiest ways to customize your site, and this makes them very popular.
People make various changes, such as adding custom texts, images, links, advertisements, etc. When you change themes, you will probably need to set most sidebars and widgets manually.
Page speed and bounce rate
Two different themes will rarely have the same loading speed. This can be an issue for SEO if your new theme is noticeably slower than the one you were using before. Pages that load slowly result in lousy visitor experience.
There are tools that you can use to check the page speed like Google PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix. This will enable you to compare the loading speeds of the two different themes.
You probably already use Google Analytics, or another similar service, to monitor the traffic to your site and visitor activity.
Many users don’t use plugins to add the tracking codes for analytics or AdSense because they add code to the footer.php file. Some themes have an option in theme settings to place custom code.
Example of custom code option in Rehub theme settings
Whichever the case, you want to make sure that you copy and paste your custom code to your new theme.
WordPress comes with a built-in navigation menu system. Each theme defines menu locations and where will they be displayed.
Example of menu placement locations for Astra theme
The menu locations can differ depending on the theme, so you will have to reassign the menu location when your new theme has been set up.
You will need to check if your images are still being displayed correctly in your new theme. When you change the theme, some image settings can change, which leads to images not being displayed. This is more common if your images are stored on an AWS server rather than your WordPress host.
Change in permalinks
If your permalinks change when you switch themes, then you will find that this has a noticeable negative effect on your SEO.
During the transition to a new WordPress theme, you need to ensure that the permalinks stay the same. Check manually whether these links take you to the same posts and pages or not.
Theme settings will disappear
Each WordPress theme will have different options for customizing your site. This does mean that your settings will not transfer automatically to your new theme.
You may notice that certain aspects of your site, such as your logo, fonts, favicon, custom sidebars, background images, etc. disappear entirely when you switch to your new theme.
Problems can occur when the new theme does not have the same features as the one you were using before. This means that there may be some settings you had on your site that you will not have anymore.
This should not affect your SEO in any significant way. The only issue that would occur is if some of your SEO settings are bundled together with other settings in the theme options panel.
Structured data is essentially the same as a rich snippet. It is markup language that is added to HTML to make it easier for search engines to understand the site.
Structured data is not something that is supported by all WordPress themes. If this is important to you, then you may want to check that it has all the settings you want before you buy a new theme.
Structured data example
There are still lots of themes that don’t offer structured data support. Many don’t have support for recipes or star reviews, but they should be able to display things like author and publish date. Usually, if structured data support is available, it will be listed among theme features or benefits.
Theme specific shortcodes
Shortcodes provide a more natural way to add additional functionality to WordPress widgets and posts. Many WordPress themes come with a set of shortcodes to add galleries, buttons, sliders, column layouts, etc. If you used those shortcodes in your content, changing the theme, you will lose all that custom settings and will be left with shortcodes, which you will need to remove from your content.
Unfortunately, there is no way to just import shortcodes from your old theme into a new WordPress theme. However, you can find and remove unused shortcodes from WordPress posts.
There are a lot of WordPress themes that will make your site look great, but unfortunately, many of these themes do not have SEO friendly features.
Another important aspect of changing themes is to make sure that everything is working as it should before your site goes live. This will allow you to spot any errors and give you the chance to correct them before your visitors notice them.
Your choice of WordPress theme will be the ultimate deciding factor in whether SEO for your site improves or gets worse after your new theme goes live. This is why it is so important to take your time when choosing a new theme. Try not to get so distracted by the cosmetic aspects of a theme that you forget to check for functionality.
The biggest impact on SEO will occur if your new theme does not function as well as the old one did. Therefore it is important to find out exactly what you are getting with your new theme before you make the purchase.
Although all of this information can seem as if you will have a lot to think about during your theme change, the most important thing is not to forget the basics.
WordPress offers a wide variety of amazing-looking themes, but when it comes to SEO friendly WordPress theme, the offer is not that extensive. Some themes come with great design features, but lack of clean and SEO friendly coding. Hence, for making a perfectly SEO-friendly website, you should select the theme which has certain in-built features to enhance the SEO ranking of your website.
Change in the theme can affect your SEO. But mostly those are minor changes. Realistically, you won’t have to do much to keep your rankings the same during a theme change. Most of your work will just be to take some precautions (like backing up your site), and double-checking everything is working after the changeover.
Matija Kasapovic is the owner of the KasaReviews website, where you can find everything WordPress related. From tutorials, guides, tips to reviews and comparisons so you can make an informed decision when choosing the right product for your business.