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Is Your Blog Template Holding You Back?

This Guest Post was written by Wendy Piersall from eMoms at Home.

In the first few months of blogging, there was SO much to learn. I figured that SEO was one of those battles I would tackle once I was “more established”. But after 9 months or so, I hired a professional designer to develop a custom template for my blog. Quite literally the next day, my search engine traffic doubled. Soon I went from 800 referrals a month to nearly 2400 monthly referrals - just from Google alone.

I realized rather quickly that I had been terribly short sighted on the importance of SEO for a blog. The extra visitors are important, of course, but with more search engine hits came…

  • New readers from outside of the blogging community
  • New advertising opportunities
  • A higher click-through on existing ads
  • Better monetization options for highly ranked posts
  • Mainstream press inquiries

How could a blog template impact search traffic THAT much? My question led me to Chris Pearson of Pearsonified and Sarah Lewis of Blogging Expertise, my template designer. Both of these talented designers know how to put a seriously powerful template together – and I decided to interview them to help you ensure your blog template isn’t holding you back, too.

Interview with Chris Pearson and Sarah Lewis

~Chris, I found a post on your blog in which you had a similar jump in traffic from an SEO perspective. You had recently moved from Movable Type to WordPress – what is it about WordPress that is so search engine friendly?

Chris Pearson:

WordPress itself is not necessarily SEO-friendly, but quite a few WordPress themes are constructed with SEO fundamentals in mind. This is generally what leads to the misconception that WordPress is the CMS of choice if you want your site to rank well.

That said, I chose to move my site to WordPress because the PHP architecture and theme capabilities allowed me to do things (like implementing dynamic page titles, for instance) that I was struggling to do with MovableType.

Simply put, I think it’s easier to apply SEO fundamentals with the WordPress architecture than it is with other CMS platforms. While this is a matter of opinion, it’s certainly a fact that someone could migrate their site to WordPress today, upload an optimized theme, and enjoy the benefits of good SEO almost immediately.

~Sarah, what are some of the things you did to my template to make such drastic improvements?

Sarah Lewis:

The main thing I did that impacted SEO results were behind-the-scenes code improvements. The theme you had before was a bit convoluted, code-wise. Some specific improvements were:

  • The source code prioritizes your real content by putting posts first, then sidebars and extra stuff. The search engines like it this way.
  • The theme emphasizes your titles and other important “keyword cues” by properly using header tags (h2, h3, etc.)
  • I used the Google Adsense “start” and “end” tags to emphasize the core content (posts, etc.) and de-emphasize the rest.

~Chris, your Cutline Theme also played a major role in your SEO traffic. What are some of the additional things you did that made an improvement?

Chris Pearson:

Most of the key, behind-the-scenes “improvements” are actually quite simple, but in practice, their effects can be profound:

  • Image optimization
  • Using a sitemap
  • Dynamic page titles, which I hinted at earlier
  • Linking to interior pages directly from my homepage. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but pages that have direct links from your homepage are going to receive more search engine love. I use WordPress categories to create groups of posts and serve them in the sidebar of my personal site, and I’ve found that those pages tend to do quite well in the search engines.

~Chris and Sarah, besides using the Cutline theme or hiring one of you, what are some of the other ways that people using WordPress can improve their search engine rankings?

Sarah Lewis:

Many people opt for “cute” or “clever” with the post titles, and miss out on traffic because they don’t realize that Google and the other search engines pay a lot of attention to titles.

Another SEO tip that fits in well with the general goals of blogging is to regularly write posts that focus on a very specific topic. “Regularly” because the search engines seem to follow blogs more if they are regularly updated (and of course that’s ideal for your readers, too!); “very specific topic” because it helps both search engines and readers figure out quickly and accurately what the point of the post is.

Chris Pearson :

I tried to address this very issue late last year when I published my mini-series, entitled SEO for Everybody. The idea was to present people with a few things they could do on their own to whip their site into high-ranking shape. Topics include sitemap implementation, dynamic page titles, and image optimization.

~Thanks Chris and Sarah!

To WIN a SEO friendly site redesign yourself, you might want to head over to SEO Week at eMoms at Home.

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Comments

  1. Leroy Brown says:

    I’ve always held to the fact that your theme is one of the least important things in your arsenal as a blogger. The first part of your post started to make me question it, but after finishing, it does boil down to SEO, rather than the theme itself. You can take an ugly theme and optimize it, and probably get the same results.

  2. Although I do think that there are plenty of things more important than a theme, I would have to disagree that it is the ‘least’ important. I kept the topic of this post specific to SEO, but the branding aspect of template design is incredibly important too.

    For example, I’ve done quite a bit of work to incorporate the advertising on my site into my theme – and my advertisers enjoy a 2-6% click-through rate because of that.

    Additionally, many people use their blog as an indirect earner, so brand building is more important to them than advertising optimization. But I would agree that it is lower on the list for a product blog, especially when the products need to be center-stage.

    I’d be curious to hear what Sarah and Chris have to say on the issue! :)

  3. Sarah Lewis says:

    I’d agree that generally speaking, you could get the same SEO results from thoroughly optimizing an ugly theme… but what happens when the search engines actually deliver a visitor? Alister Cameron had a great post on this the other day that suggests that it only takes 50 milliseconds for visitors to form a first impression.

    Realistically, it takes about the same amount of time to create an attractive, SEO-friendly theme as it takes to go back and retrofit an existing theme, so why go ugly?

  4. Thomas says:

    Optimizing my site is really stressing me out because I know it could be done better.
    I wish there was a discussion forum for matters like this!

  5. Villager says:

    I am a new blogger (started on 1/13/2007). I’m currently using Blogger. I noticed that this post talked about ways to improve WordPress templates and such. Is there similiar tips for those of us using Blogger?

    peace, Villager

  6. Chris M says:

    Great interview, makes a lot of sense. Picked up some great tips, thanks again Darren!

  7. Shane says:

    Wendy and Sarah: what Leroy is saying is that you put so much emphasis on the new template that it would be easy for someone to come away from this thinking that they need a new theme if they want to have search engine success. A good theme is very important — just not for SEO. Also, AdSense tags have nothing to do with SEO, and image optimization may get visitors to your page, but it’s not exactly high-quality traffic.

    The funny thing is, I found this post right after I finished up the second draft of my How to SEO a Blog, which should be live by midday tomorrow (American time). Granted, it’s not focused on pro bloggers, but I think it’s amazing just how great a platform blogs are for benefiting from search engine traffic. As I write in that article, “Just take a look at the top ten ranking factors and notice how many are just naturally inherent in blogs” — particularly WordPress.

    Thanks for bringing this to light. I hate to see bloggers foregoing this and giving up so much traffic to sploggers and other members of the Internet’s underbelly. The basics aren’t rocket science, so it doesn’t make any sense for all of us not to take a few minutes to get everything in order.

    Thanks!

  8. @Thomas, I hear your pain.

    I am planning to write a series of posts that will come together (in time) as a “Blogger’s Guide to SEO”.

    Add my feed to your newsreader and sit tight… I won’t be long with it.

    Meanwhile Darren has written some great stuff (of course) in that area. See his SEO category for more..

    Cheers,

    - Alister

  9. Useful tips, can anyone else add to this list?

    http://theprizeblog.com

  10. I agree with you Darren, since I change my template about three month ago, I got my visitor 10 times than before, really it is true.

  11. Great interview, Darren. And thank you to both Chris and Sarah for sharing some awesome tips.

  12. Nenad Ristic says:

    some good tips there… I will really have to look into changing my theme to something a bit more SEO & AdSense Friendly. I knew that a theme is important, but I never realised how much impact it could have on traffic.

  13. I have a one question though; i thought problogger’s pr was above 0 sometime ago. Now i see Problogger.Net’s pr as 0. Why? Does SEO help rank your site pr higher?

  14. Baby Matthew says:

    I have to say that Chris’ Cutline theme is excellent. I use it in most my blogs. From an SEO perspective it’s hard to beat.

  15. Nadav Samet says:

    Darren, great post. You’ve forgot to mention the importance of the description meta tag.

    How do you produce it? Do you use a special plug-in?

  16. Thanks for the tips, very timely as we are currently rethinking our site. We have a poll asking readers what background color they prefer, and somewhat suprisingly, the majority is suggesting to keep the current black one, rather than change to a white one. Any thoughts?

  17. John Hood says:

    After changing my template and following most, if not all, of the suggestions highlighted by Chris and Sarah, I have noticed a gradual rise in site visitors over the past few weeks. An excellent ROI.

  18. MJ Ray says:

    I’m a little surprised by this appearing on problogger because problogger’s current theme has two Very Irritating Points which I think also hurt SEO. Of course, problogger is such a titan that it can just steamroller such things for a while, but it does look a bit odd.

    Firstly, the page source puts the content in the middle instead of the top or bottom and doesn’t offer non-stylesheet readers a way to skip to the content. (And there probably are non-stylesheet readers because problogger’s colours do not follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.)

    Secondly, the site name is not in the title at all, which makes it harder to locate pages in browser bookmarks and histories, and means the site name won’t feature in some links built with WYSIWYG tools. If I link a problogger page, I have to remember to edit the title, else the site goes unattributed.

  19. Raj says:

    Great Interview and Nice tips.

    Thanks

    Raj
    http://www.technobuzz.net/

  20. Lilly says:

    I know it helps, but you don’t necessarily have to get a custom or go and hire a designer what about a template on a thing like templatescene.com or 4templates, and then see if they will customize it for you?

  21. Nadav, you’re right, I didn’t mention meta tags, mostly because the post was getting awfully long!

    But Neil Patel told me about this Meta Description plugin that seems to be working very well.

  22. dharana says:

    The site name _is_ in the title “Make Money Online with ProBlogger blog tips”. I don’t think it would make too much sense to put the “.net” in the slogan. If people know about the blog they will type the address, they won’t search it in google, right?

  23. When I left the world of blogger and created my own wordpress blog, I was really disappointed in how poorly it was structured from an SEO standpoint. (Just like you say). And no, I am not any html or web design guru by any means, I just understand the basic concepts. If you dig into the theme pages a little bit and see the structure of the html/php coding, it is apparent that you can add pretty much whatever you want. Of course, this requires you to manually go in and do it (most web programs won’t know what the heck it going on!). Still, it is not too bad. Sherman Hu has a lot of good resources and tips to help as well.

  24. Lisa says:

    Wendy – this article comes at a perfect time for me, it was extremely helpful – thank you! And thank you, also, to Darren, Chris, and Sarah! It is so awesome how much you all share your knowledge with us, just totally awesome! :)

    (Yes – I’m getting excited – can you tell?) ;)

  25. Ponn Sabra says:

    Thanks for the post Darren & Wendy–Great interview: Chris & Sarah.
    I’ve seen immediate and dramatic traffic and ranking as a result of my move to WordPress, customizing my theme, and applying basic SEO principles too.

  26. Shane says:

    @MJ Ray: Neither of those points affect SEO very much. The position of the content is basically a non-factor for bloggers (since we’re not trying to hyperoptimize for competitive keywords), and leaving the name of the blog out of the title actually enhances its effectiveness from a pure ranking standpoint since the concentration of keywords is greater.

    That said, in Darren’s case I’d definitely lean toward adding the name back in because it carries so much weight with people. If I got 5 results in Google and saw one was Darren’s, I’d probably click it first. That’s not the case for most of us, but he’s an exception. And you’re right, too, I’d sure rather have the name of the blog visible when I bookmark a page.

  27. basketer says:

    How much does it actually cost to get a template like that designed??

  28. Joe says:

    Great article, but as a newbie blogger, I gotta say, this is frustrating.

    Why should we have to focus our efforts on computer geek stuff if all we want to do is blog and get noticed? Shouldn’t Blogger (or any blog host for that matter) do everything in its power to optimize our pages for us?

    Content truly should be king. We should all be equals in the SEO world and see who comes out on top.

  29. Katie Baird says:

    Yikes. I just wrote a post today bemoaning loss of traffic after a period of Theme Promiscuity! I was wildly experimenting with assorted themes, never thinking about how a moment of activation would affect my Google rankings. That’s an issue I had never considered.

    Along with the above tips on optimization, think twice about your approach to incorporating a new theme.

    ktcosmos

  30. Katie – I went and looked at your blog only to find that you are in Prescott, AZ! I lived there for 4 years and went to Prescott College in the early ’90′s. I really loved it there and still miss it. If I ever left home again, I’d head straight for Thumb Butte. :)

  31. David says:

    Wow, much thanks for pointing me to Chris Pearson’s site and his series on simple SEO techniques, very easy and quick fixes.

    Simply awesome.

  32. I also change from Movable Type to word press simply because it is written in php and I could understand at least enough to edit some stuff. I have heard rumors that wordpress can’t handle large traffic demands. Anyone care to comment?

  33. Wauks says:

    Now this is good stuff! Thanks! *goes to tweaking WP*

  34. Same says:

    Darren, I feel that your template is NOT the greatest at all. It seems like you tried to cram everything on my screen. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have a ton of items but you have a fair amount, it’s just not organized well. I don’t read your blog often for that very reason.

  35. mara says:

    I’ve noticed that Google favors WordPress blogs in search engine results.
    Almost all things equal, my WordPress blogs generally ranks higher than Blogger.

  36. Brad says:

    Wow! I’ve been concentrating so much on content that I’ve placed SEO and even blog design on the back burner, thinking I’ll worry about it later. Now that my blog is a little more established, it’s probably time to get serious about SEO!

    Thanks for the great post!

  37. Mimi Lenox says:

    The next BlogBlast For Peace will be held June 6, 2007. The last one in November was incredible. Details on my blog. I hope to see you there.

  38. Darrin says:

    I never thought a theme would have such an impact, although I knew it was important. Thanks for reminding me about that. But I doubt there is such a thing as a perfect theme/template…with everything in it, on it.

  39. Dave says:

    This is a really great article. Thanks so much for the practical links to being more efficient and effective. As a new blogger, it’s hard to keep track with the “essentials” but this really helps. Thanks again.

  40. Mike says:

    Anyone know of a tool to see if the template your using is built for SEO. I’ve tried using various tips for template optimization and I think everything I’m doing is working, but it’d be nice to get a sense if I’m doing as well as I can or if there’s room for improvement. Thanks!

  41. Jenny says:

    Lot’s of nifty links there. And info too. Thanks.

  42. I’ve never played with Word Press but did download it a couple of weeks back with the intention of checking it out. I think one of the main reasons it’s so popular with search engines is that the templates themselves are coded in a way that are very light on gizmo’s and bloggers tend to be heavy on written content. This combination has always been a winning technique for optimizing sites.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Ah, my very last guest post over at ProBlogger today: Is Your Blog Template Holding You Back? [...]

  2. [...] Darren Rowse over at Problogger has written an very intresting article about wordpress templates/designs, and how the design you choose will have an impact on your site/blog traffic. [...]

  3. [...] Wendy of eMoms at Home did a great writeup on ProBlogger yesterday where she talked about the importance of a well-coded blog template and described the phenomenal results she saw when I implemented a much better coded them for her (the number of people that Google sent her doubled the next day). Wendy explored the reasons for that and the result was the ProBlogger post. [...]

  4. [...] I spent literary ages choosing my current them, and I am still a bit unsure if I will stick with it or not, however, Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger has just posted an interesting topic regarding WordPress themes and how they affect your SEO. [...]

  5. [...] There’s another quality guest blog post over at Problogger about blog templates. I think it is a good read to go along with my post on premade templates vs. custom themes. [...]

  6. [...] This is one of the reasons I love blogs. There are some really cool people doing some fun things with their sites. Anyway, I was reading my daily fill of ProBlogger.net and one of the posts was on Blog Templates. The writer was not Darren Rouse but Wendy Piersall of eMoms at Home. Now eMoms at Home is not necessarily a blog I would have thought to read. I’m not a Mom and I don’t really care what but a handful of moms care about. But they are having a pretty cool contest that I just have to try to win. And when I dug in and started reading some of the posts I realized it was a blog full of great info that will help me be a better blogger. [...]

  7. [...] É interessante como funciona a forma de se navegar né? Eu estava dando uma olhada no Problogger tentando achar algo que melhorasse meus posts nos sites de busca, quando achei um post do Wendy Piersall sobre como o design influencia nas visitas do seu site e explicando que foram dois designers que fizeram o template para o blog dele, e que após isso, as visitas passaram de 800 a 2400 referências por mês. Os designer foram Chris Pearson do Pearsonified e Sarah Lewis do Blogging Expertise. Dando uma olhada nos posts mais lidos do Pearsonified, encontrei um bem interessante, que explica um pouco sobre uma forma melhor de fazer com que todos seus posts sejam melhores indexados pelo Google. [...]

  8. [...] Many people have been reading the posts on ProBlogger and this blog about the importance of good theme code and the role it plays in your search engine traffic. [...]

  9. [...] Blog template factor in SEO There is an interesting post at ProBlogger concerning blog templates (or themes as they are called in WordPress) and the role it plays in SEO. Although I never gave that much thought to it, I think there is a fair amount of truth in this. [...]

  10. [...] Temele gratuite sunt destul de numeroase si se gasesc din abundenta. Foarte multi le folosesc asa cum sunt. Altii le modifica pe ici pe colo prin partile esentiale. Adica instaleaza niste pluginuri, optimizeaza asezarea in pagina si eventualele reclame. Totusi aceste lucruri nu sunt de ajuns. Citeam chiar astazi un articol pe site-ul Probbloger despre importanta unei teme custom. In acel articol Wendy Piersall povesteste cum a obtinut traffic suplimentar doar prin schimbarea temei gratuite intr-o tema custom realizata de niste specialisti. Facand aceasta operatiune traficul de pe blog a crescut de 3 ori. [...]

  11. [...] recently had a post “Is Your Blog Template Holding You Back?” interviewing 2 experts who commented on “what are some of the things you did to my [...]

  12. [...] and recent interviewee Sarah Lewis from Blogging Expertise seems to be riding the wave of success lately.  She got tons of inquiries [...]

  13. [...] is tough. Should I just stay with this default, or go with something a little more wacky? Is making [...]

  14. [...] is tough. Should I just stay with this default, or go with something a little more wacky? Is making [...]

  15. [...] Is Your Blog Template Holding You Back? on Problogger by Wendy Piersall from eMoms at Home Is Your Blog Theme Keeping Readers Away, Five Free, Beautiful WordPress Themes to Help your SEO and its follow up Five More Fabulous and Free WordPress Themes by Sarah Lewis from Blogging Expertise. [...]

  16. [...] But once I emerged from the sandbox, I was woefully unprepared and unenlightened. I kept putting it off, until my site redesign opened my eyes to the cost of my oversight. [...]

  17. Islaperdida says:

    [...] article, written by Wendy Piersall of EMoms at Home offers some advice about SEO of blogs. The question is: [...]

  18. [...] a guest post on ProBlogger, Wendy Piersall from eMoms at Home wrote Is Your Blog Template Holding You Back? In the first few months of blogging, there was SO much to learn. I figured that SEO was one of [...]

  19. [...] template factor in SEO There is an interesting post at ProBlogger concerning blog templates (or themes as they are called in WordPress) and the role it [...]

  20. [...] But once I emerged from the sandbox, I was woefully unprepared and unenlightened. I kept putting it off, until my site redesign opened my eyes to the cost of my oversight. [...]

  21. [...] your Template – links on how to do this are forthcoming, but I recommend starting out with a theme that has a good, clean code base that will help you rank well with the search [...]