WordPress is a great platform to quickly and easily build a website. Once you have WordPress installed, you will need to choose a theme that will define how the elements of your content will look.
Unfortunately many themes (paid and free) are not set up correctly for SEO, and this can make it difficult to rank, as the elements used for basic Search Engine Optimisation will not be indexed in the best way by Google.
Using a child theme gives you the ability to customise how your site looks, as well as correct a few problems that the theme designer may have overlooked. By using a child theme, you can keep the base theme updated with new releases and it will not overwrite the child theme files that you created.
WordPress Theme SEO Problems
Here are some common problems with ‘out of the box’ WordPress themes.
H1 Tags used around Logos and Image Elements
Ideally the H1 heading tag should be used once on each page, containing the title of the page. If your theme is using a H1 element around the logo, you will have two H1 tags on each page, the first being your logo and the second being your page title.
Heading Tags Incorrectly Sized (Leading to Improper use)
The heading tags are set up by the theme designer to have different sizes and look great with the sample content that they sell them with, but sometimes, these are sized so badly that they look horrible when you add your own content to your pages. I have worked with many sites where the developer has used the incorrect heading tags on a page, such as a H3 in place of a H1, because it looks better. However, this results in each page having no H1 or H2 headings on the page. The H3 page title will still be picked up by Google, but this is not the optimal way to use your heading tags.
Remember to use the H1 tag (1 per page) for the title, H2 headings for paragraph titles, sub-headings use H3s, and multiple H2s and H3s can be used on each page. With most pages, you will probably never use the H3-H6 tags anyway, but if you do, make sure you use them in order, with H1 being the most important and H6 being the least important.
No Functionality to Implement Custom Meta Titles, Meta Descriptions and Breadcrumbs
The Meta information (titles and descriptions) are what Google displays in its search results as shown below:
If you do not set your own custom Meta titles and descriptions, Google will use the page’s default title and generate its own Meta description from the page content. You can find more information on writing your own titles and descriptions in my post How to SEO WordPress: 5 Things To Do.
The missing Meta titles and descriptions problem can be corrected by installing a good SEO plugin such as WordPress SEO by Yoast, and breadcrumbs can be added by placing the Yoast breadcrumb code into your child theme.
How to Check your WordPress Theme for SEO Problems
The quickest way to check these elements is to view the source code on your web page and search for each element.
Find H1 Tag
- In your browser, right click -> View Source (or CTRL-U on a PC)
- Do a search for ‘H1’ and check that only the title is in an H1 tag.
Find Meta Description
Bring up the source code and search for ‘description’. If you find some code like this, then you have functionality to implement custom Meta descriptions somewhere in your theme:
<meta name=”description” content=”Our How To Guide for Optimising Your Website with SEO Yoast for WordPress. Implement On-Site SEO Factors & Ensure Your Site is Optimised for Search Engines.”/>
If you have many pages to check, you can use a crawl tool such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool to crawl all the pages of your site. This software will send output to a spreadsheet and show all your sites pages, titles, descriptions, H1 and H2 tags, and other information.
Creating a Child Theme
I will be covering the creation of your child theme in Part 2, there is also detailed documentation available on the WordPress site to get you started: http://codex.wordpress.org/Child_Themes
Before you start anything BACKUP!!!
WordPress Plugins to Help SEO
The first plugin I always install is security. My personal favourite is iThemes Security (formerly Better WP Security). This is a free plugin that provide some essential changes to make your WordPress installation more secure and safer from hackers.
Once security is installed and set up, the next plugin I use is the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. This plugin provides an easy way to implement custom Meta titles, Meta descriptions, breadcrumbs, and sitemap file generation.
You can find instructions to install WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin in Stelios’s blog post Optimising Your WordPress Website with SEO Yoast.
Check back for part 2 where I will show you how to create and edit your child theme files.