Ever hear people recommending themes because they are “SEO Friendly”? Yes, we have recommended quite a few themes on this blog labeling it “SEO Friendly”. But what does “SEO Friendly” really mean and what some people think it means? In this article we will share our opinion on why WordPress themes should NOT have SEO options and why they do.
What is a Purpose of a Theme? To make things look good (organized and clean), so people can use the site easily. How do you make a theme organized and clean? Aside from all the user-interface (UI) and visual elements, you need to have clean code. The code should be semantic and must follow the web standards. A theme that does that is a “SEO Friendly” theme. This is what we look at when we say a specific theme is SEO friendly.
Now some people think that in order for a theme to be “SEO Friendly”, it must have other features such as Breadcrumbs, SEO Options, etc. But that is NOT true. Sure it will improve your on-page SEO, if you have the meta tags, breadcrumbs, etc. However, this is not required for a theme to be SEO friendly.
So why do theme designers/developers do it? Well it is a marketing gimmick. Instead of focusing their energy on producing the best possible theme they can, they bundle the theme with a small set of SEO Options. It is also to keep up with the industry and competitors.
Why WordPress themes should not have SEO options? By having SEO options, these companies do extreme disservice to their users (specially beginners). Because if the user ever decides to switch their themes, they risk losing all the SEO Data for older posts if they don’t transfer the SEO settings properly. SEO options is clearly in the plugin territory that theme developers should avoid trespassing. Mainly because their SEO options would never be as complete as a plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast (downloaded over 1 million times). Options like nofollow tags, redirections, no-index, sitemaps, and indexation would make a theme bloated.
If a theme company does not want to support an excellent plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast, they should tackle this issue with their own plugin (not their themes).
Most well-known companies understand the importance plugins like WordPress SEO by Yoast or All in One SEO Pack, so they automatically de-register their SEO options when those plugins are active. However, it would make it so much simpler if they don’t have to do that at all.
Update: As brought up in the comment, it would be much better if theme authors simply use Theme/Plugin dependencies. Here is a great article by Otto talking about Theme/Plugin Dependencies.
What are your thoughts?