Templates and SEO

Are templates a help or hindrance to your SEO efforts? Popular content management systems, like WordPress, Joomla and Magento make it easier to establish an online presence by offering a packaged solution. Styling your new website is often accomplished by selecting an option within the template or theme.

Here are some important things you should be aware of when using templates- as almost every template we have worked with, has had SEO issues. Template problems- as seen from the perspective of SEO experts have ranged from sloppy declarations of properties and attributes, to elements falling apart when viewed on mobile devices. And that’s on “responsive” themes!

Some websites are far better for SEO than others, but before we look at the criteria, let’s consider the factors which come into play, as we make our observations. If you’re optimising your website for prominent, front page Google rank, then you need to be aware of the pitfalls. Content management systems are often the work of many contributors, and search engine optimisation characteristics might not necessarily be consistent from one version to another.

We’ve seen it many times.

Designs Engage Visitors- Content Needs to be Accessible to Search Robots Too

Unless you’ve got a ton of money to commit to paid online advertising, you’ll need to attract organic traffic. Some templates- especially ones we’ve seen recently for WordPress and Joomla- contain sloppy code which renders multiple h1 heading tags throughout the page where there should only be the “strong” tag applied to the text. This results in multiple h1 instances, not good for your SEO.

One important ranking signal is how well you meet the needs of people using assistive devices- essentially a “bot” or “search engine crawler” sees your website through the eyes of the blind- by reading the source code. If you have non-descriptive file names for images, then that’s ok- but leaving out your “title” and “alt” info is a recipe for lost points- and lost visitors, if those visitors are relying on screen readers to read image descriptions out to them.

Templates are often more than frameworks for web design. They offer pre-installed extensions and components to dress up the presentation and embellish the underlying design. Often the result of a collaboration of developers and coders, Joomla templates, WordPress themes as well as themes for Drupal and Magento don’t always have SEO considerations sealed off to prevent any leaks.

Some developers hard code external links to themselves within the core php files, this is to encourage you to visit their site- but could be seen as a negative action- a bad link or SEO leak- by search engines. Your website might be totally unrelated to web development and it would make no sense at all to provide a link out to the theme developer or template coder.

The Finishing Touches- Extensions and Widgets

Here’s where things can really get interesting when deciding which templates work to enhance your website SEO or bring it crashing down.

You’ll no doubt be aware that slideshows, tabs and different widgets affecting the presentation of content and images are popular. The real test is how well they contribute to the visitor experience. We recently worked with someone who had a stunning slideshow in their website which took 90 seconds to load three images over a lightning fast connection. The component was causing the rest of the page the really bog down, and take a long time to load.

Not good for SEO.

This instance demonstrated the uncertainty which prevails when buying templates.

The whole package is only as good as the developer of the worse extension within that package.

Select your template wisely- it might pay to look for instances of the template online and in use already. When you use a template previewer within a website which sells templates, the real source code isn’t rendered the same way within the demo as it would be on a live website.

The final template you select- can have a profound effect on your search engine optimisation efforts. Although it’s not always necessary to custom-develop your own design or theme from the beginning, sometimes the cost of fixing SEO issues within templates outweighs the saving you make at the start.

WordPress Template Considerations

It’s important that your WordPress template uses CSS to declare the attributes of presentation. In case you didn’t know- CSS stands for cascading style sheets. These are files which declare presentation independently of content, making the code within the page considerably leaner.
Cascading style sheets also reduce the number of instructions sent to the browser, making the experience better for the user and easier on resources. WordPress templates can be guilty of not utilizing CSS correctly. We see so many WordPress templates and themes which hinder SEO by having styles declared in the head section of the code, or worse still- inline- throughout every paragraph on every page.

Joomla Templates

Joomla is a strong open source platform- although not as easy to understand as WordPress, it is more flexible and a skilled webmaster can really make it do some wonderful things. When you think of WordPress as a plastic swiss army knife, Joomla steps in as a professional multi-tool. With a generous range of extensions and plug-ins to boost the functionality of the website, Joomla is out there among the best of them.

Joomla templates can be enhanced with tweaks to the raw code. Some Javascript issues can exist within certain components, making them less compliant with current best practices.
We can fix these.

Magento- eCommerce Templates for Online Stores

Magento has a real slickness and professionalism to it. The platform is one of the better engineered CMS (Content Management Systems) out there. It’s a very robust system, and updating it with new products is easy. Magento has a lot of developer-friendly features, which also make life easy for the more advanced website owner. Being able to wireframe a live site to show which php files are being called to render within the web page is a great feature. Lots of power under the hood for endless tweaking and in-depth data analysis make it one of our favourites. You need to be careful with Magento plug-ins, the platform itself can place a heavy strain on web server resources.

Drupal- Powerful, Flexible and Secure

As a CMS, they don’t come much better than Drupal, if you want the ability to customise to your heart’s content. Drupal has a plug-in called “Views”. This enables any number of dynamic pages, with layouts to suit individual categories. For example- different preset can be created for different products or categories, enabling a custom-preset order to be set for display.
Images can also have different presets created, and then the desired preset can be used for displaying that image- or a whole series of images.
Drupal uses object oriented programming. Unlike many other content management systems, which use php files to render the html output, Drupal has files defined as “.info”, “.module”, which are more robust, and resist hacking attempts using hacks like cross-site scripting, or SQL injection. Drupal support and help with Drupal problems is less commonly available- you should keep that in mind when making the decision as to which CMS to chose.

however- all is not lost. We can provide customisation to any Drupal website. If your Drupal site needs rescue, recovery or a conversion to a mobile -responsive theme, we can help.

Choose Your Favourite CMS and Template

The above is only a very brief guide. We encourage you to explore and select your preferred CMS and template. Perhaps arrange some SEO planning with an expert in strategy so we can take a look over your template before you go ahead with the commitment to a final design or build.