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10 Vital Tips for Developing SEO-Friendly Themes

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Read Time: 6 min

Are you a developer who sells website themes on ThemeForest or another marketplace? Then you’ll want to make your themes as appealing as possible for potential buyers. Good design is one thing, but (understandably) more and more buyers are looking for SEO-friendly themes nowadays.

How can you optimize a theme for search engines? Well, it isn’t as difficult as you might think. Whether you build WordPress themes, Magento or Shopify stores, static HTML templates, or any other kind of website theme, here are 10 SEO tips for you to follow.

ThemeForest is home to loads of SEO-friendly themesThemeForest is home to loads of SEO-friendly themesThemeForest is home to loads of SEO-friendly themes
Just some of the SEO-friendly themes on ThemeForest

1. Themes Should Be Responsive

Make your theme responsive. That should be a no-brainer in 2019, but it’s still worth mentioning in this theme developer's guide to SEO.

A responsive theme is beneficial for two main reasons:

  1. SEO. Google uses mobile-first indexing. Non-optimized sites won’t rank as well as they used to, even on desktop.
  2. Users. More than half of online traffic comes from mobile users. Sending them to a page with small fonts, a horizontal scroll and slow loading times will hurt your conversions.

Another good piece of advice: test your theme for mobile friendliness, starting with the mobile-friendly test. You can also try the mobile render function in Google Search Console. And last but not least, conduct some tests on your own with your personal devices. Tools such as mobiReady and Screenfly help simulate your website on various screen sizes.

2. Themes Should Be Optimized for Performance

SEO might seem really complex at times, but a lot of optimization techniques simply require some common sense.

For example: users don’t like slow websites. Nor do search engines.

Try to optimize the code of your theme so its pages load and render as quickly as possible. Even one or two seconds can make a huge difference.

Some things to implement:

  • lazy loading (for images only, not for text)
  • asynchronous/deferred JavaScript
  • minified JavaScript and CSS files
  • responsive image sizes
  • remove unused functions from the front-end code

Want to know how fast your theme loads? There are various ways to test your site speed, such as:

3. Your Theme’s Content Should Be Crawlable

Is your theme ready for sale? Test it in Google Search Console to check its crawlability.

Some errors can prevent Google and other search engines from crawling and analysing the page’s content. That’s an SEO disaster; unreadable content can’t be indexed.

Test the crawlability in the new Google Search Console:

  • Go to URL Inspection.
  • In the top bar, fill in the URL you want to test and press enter.
  • On the right side, switch to Live Test.
  • Click on View tested page.
  • Check the HTML code or screenshot and test if the most important content is present.
Google Search ConsoleGoogle Search ConsoleGoogle Search Console

Test the crawlability in the old Google Search Console:

  • Go to Crawl > Fetch as Google
  • Fill in the path of the page you want to test and click Fetch and render. Do this for desktop and mobile.
  • Check the code and rendered page to see if Google can read the content.

4. Themes Should Include Schema Markup

Implementing structured data can give your theme an SEO advantage.

Structured data is missing from a lot of websites, which is frustrating because they provide two major benefits:

  1. They help search engines understand your content. For example: if you show a price near a product, make sure it has the correct structured data so search engines know they’re looking at a price (and not the size or something else).
  2. They can generate rich snippets. These are search results enhanced with extra information, such as thumbnails, star ratings, etc. Rich snippets make your search result stand out from the rest and improve the click-through rate.

Want to implement structured data in your theme? Check out one of our previous articles.

5. Themes Should Include Meta Data

This one’s easy. A web page’s title and meta description are shown in search results. They help users decide if they should visit a site or not. A good title and description improve the click-through rate, which is a positive signal for search engines.

As a theme developer, don’t hardcode titles and descriptions in the theme files. Use the correct hooks for more flexibility. In WordPress, you can put a filter on the wp_title functionality:

<title><?php wp_title(''); ?></title>

This allows you to “unhook” that filter when an SEO plugin is active. For more on wp_title:

6. Themes Need Properly Paginated Content

If your theme uses paginated content, for example for news articles or product categories, be sure to implement rel="next" and rel="prev" tags. These help search engines understand that certain pages belong together, as part of a larger whole.

The setup looks like this:

  • Page 1 has a rel="next" tag to page 2.
  • Page 2 has a rel="prev" tag to page 1 and a rel="next" to page 3.
  • The last page only has a rel="prev" tag that points to the second-to-last page.

For more information on how to properly paginate content, check out this documentation.

7. Block Internal Search Results Pages

Have you implemented an internal search function in your theme? Great! But don’t forget to block the search results pages.

According to Matt Cutts, internal search result pages don’t add value to users and should therefore be removed from the index.

The easiest way to block this type of content is with the robots noindex tag:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow"/>

8. Themes Should Use Semantic Header Tags

Header tags (H1, H2, H3…) are a great way to structure content. Unfortunately, some theme developers use them in the wrong way. This is fair enough; rules and best practices surrounding them have shifted through the years.

The easiest approach is as follows: begin by making sure that each page has only one H1 tag. You can implement multiple H2, H3, and H4 tags if you want. Change the font size based on the hierarchy.

The H1 should be the page or post title. Under no circumstances should you wrap the logo in an H1 tag (yes, it happens).

9. Be Sure to Educate Your Buyers

There are plenty of SEO tips for theme developers. But there’s only so much you can do. To give you an idea: Google takes more than 200 factors into account when ranking a web page.

Whoever buys your themes will likely have the biggest impact on their SEO, so educate your clients. Help them understand that buying an SEO-friendly theme is only half the battle. They’ll have to put in some work themselves, such as:

  • Implement the right keywords.
  • Write copy that matches the user intent.
  • Design effective landing pages that grab the visitors’ attention.
  • Build links to their website.
  • Write compelling page titles and meta descriptions.
  • Prevent duplicate content and keyword cannibalization.
  • Create a good internal link structure.
  • ...and so on.

10. Keep Your Knowledge Up to Date!

SEO keeps evolving. Ranking factors that used to work great in the past might be useless nowadays. Meanwhile, search engines keep refining their algorithms. Which means that new optimization techniques pop up every year.

Good theme developers keep up to date with the latest SEO trends. Follow news sites such as to discover new techniques. Having an understanding of SEO will make you a better developer.

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