We are addicted to our smartphones. For many people, the smartphone is the first thing they check when they get out of bed in the morning. It is also the last thing they check before they go to sleep. People use it for everything. It’s huge. Mobile has changed our lives. It has also changed SEO. Mobile SEO helps you to reach customers and satisfy their needs in an enjoyable way. This guide to mobile SEO will show you everything you need to deliver a perfect mobile experience.

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Why is mobile SEO important?

Mobile SEO is so important because it helps you get in the right place at the right time and makes sure the experience you offer consumers is stellar. Mobile traffic has eclipsed desktop traffic. Every day, more and more people are discovering the enormous advantages of the smartphone. Our whole lives are in those machines – it’s almost scary to see how attached we’ve become to our smartphone. Many people call it an extension of themselves and something they couldn’t live without. To reach these people you need mobile SEO.

Mobile does not necessarily mean on the go. Studies find that people often grab the nearest device to look something up and in most cases that’s their smartphone. They use it to inform themselves about products before making the decision to buy something. Anywhere any place. According to research by Google, smartphone users have a higher buyer intent than desktop users. They’re focused and ready to buy. It’s your job to be there when they are looking for your products.

Mobile SEO vs. desktop SEO

There’s a difference between desktop SEO and mobile SEO, but the goals are often comparable. You want to reach your audience and turn them into customers. In some ways, desktop SEO tactics also work for mobile SEO, but in a slightly different form. Three big themes still apply: focus on performance, user experience, and content. In desktop SEO you’ll often focus more on the general public, while mobile SEO is somewhat more local oriented.

Google’s mobile-first index

The importance of mobile SEO is made even clearer by Google’s recent announcement. Sometime in 2018, Google will switch to a mobile-first index. What does this mean? For the first time, Google will determine rankings based on the quality of the mobile version of the site instead of the desktop version. A new Googlebot will crawl your mobile site and determine if its performance, content and user experience are up to scratch. If so, you can get a good ranking. If it fails somehow, other sites will be higher rated and will pass you by. Even if you’re not focusing on mobile you will still be judged by your mobile site, so now is the time to take action.

Things will change

Right now, nobody knows exactly how this process will differ from the current one. We do know, however, that you must keep your mobile site crawlable by taking down all possible barriers like poorly loading scripts. Don’t block stuff in your robots.txt. It also has to offer the highest possible performance if you want to be indexed well.

You can no longer present less information on your mobile site than on your desktop site. Your content has to be the same on both, because, in the future, you can only rank on the information that is on your mobile page. Or, like Google’s Maile Ohye told us in an interview:

“To “optimize” for a mobile-first index, make sure that what you serve to mobile users is the version of the content you’d want Google to index, not a paired down version, or a version that gets updated later than desktop, or version that redirects to the mobile homepage.”

Don’t forget to tell Google your site is mobile-proof. You can add a viewport declaration – if you’re using responsive design – or a Vary header when using dynamic serving. More on later on in this article or in Google’s developer documentation.

Know what to do

Mobile SEO is – just like regular SEO – all about making sure your site is crawlable and findable. Also, you need stellar performance, great content and a flawless UX. To get it right, you need to know how your site is currently performing and what your visitors are doing right now. For instance, do people use the same keywords on mobile to find you? People often change how they search while using a mobile device. And what do you want people to do? Offering to navigate to the nearest Whole Foods is less than ideal when you’re on a desktop machine. It makes total sense on your smartphone, though.

Mobile SEO tools

You need to become best friends with Google Search Console. Its search tools are legendary and a big help if you want to find out how your site is doing in the search results. For instance, by using the Search Analytics feature, you can see how mobile and desktop users use words to find what they need. Are you targeting the right words? Should you focus on something else?

One of the other Google Search Console tools that make your life a bit easier is the Mobile Usability tool. This tool checks your site and presents an overview of posts and pages that don’t follow Google’s mobile-friendly rules. This is an excellent way to start improving your mobile SEO.

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Another Google tool is PageSpeed Insights. This tool shows you exactly how fast your site loads on mobile and desktop. It also suggests performance improving enhancements. Use this alongside the Developer Tools in browsers to see how your site is rendering its contents. Some other great tools to up your mobile SEO game are Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, Analytics, SEMrush, OnPage.org, ScreamingFrog, and SimilarWeb.

Read more: Google Search Console: Search appearance
Read more: DIY: Test your mobile site

Design for performance

It’s the number one thing you’ll be working on when you’re trying to improve mobile SEO: performance. In this case, performance almost entirely boils down to site speed. It’s a given: the faster your site is, the happier your users will be. We all know that a site has to load within a couple of seconds or else your visitors will be gone. If you combine this with the knowledge that sites are only increasing in size, you know you have your work cut out for you.

Optimizing performance, however, is a continuous process. Your site will never be fast enough because there’s always more to improve. And that’s ok. By keeping a close watch on how your mobile site is performing, you can immediately jump onto every opportunity to improve it. Google loves fast sites, and so do your customers.

Read more: How to improve your mobile site
Read more: Page speed as a ranking factor, what you need to know

Responsive design vs. dynamic serving vs. separate domain

While developing your mobile site, you’ll have three options: responsive design, dynamic serving and a separate site on a subdomain. Google prefers responsive design. This way, you have one site that adapts to the device it’s used on. There’s only one code base, so maintenance is easy. According to Google, using responsive design will make your site eligible for addition in the new mobile-first index. Always let Google know that your site is mobile-proof by adding the meta name=“viewport” declaration in the head of your documents.

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

Dynamic serving takes a different approach. It uses server-side technology to serve a different version of your site to mobile users, depending on the way they access your site. The URL stays the same, but the files sent differ completely. You need to add the Vary header to get Google to crawl your site. This way, Google immediately knows that it will receive mobile-optimized files from somewhere else. A Vary header appears like this when a browser makes a request:

Vary: User-Agent

The third option is a separate mobile site on a different URL – usually an m. domain – and with different content. Google supports this method, but only if you make correct connections between your regular desktop domain and the mobile domain. Use rel=”alternate” and rel=”canonical” to tell Google how these pages are connected. More on these different types and how Google uses them on this Developers page.

PageSpeed Insights

PageSpeed Insights is a powerful tool to analyze the performance of your mobile site. It’s easy to use and gives you loads of insights into the loading speed of your site. Put in your URL and Insights will give you two scores: one for mobile and one for the desktop. These will differ. If your score is red, you have work to do. Orange means an average performance and green is good. You’ll receive suggestions to enhance the performance of your site. Follow these suggestions, and you’ll be on your way.

I hear you thinking:

“Nobody has a score of 0/100, right?”

Well, think again. It’s a combination of things that can do your mobile site a lot of harm. Find a bad hosting provider, install WordPress on a crappy shared hosting program, activate thirty plugins and upload a hundred non-optimized images to your blog and you are well on your way to a bad score. But these things can easily be undone. Run PageSpeed Insights and other speed analyses tools and follow their advice.

What can you do to improve your site speed?

When improving your page speed, you should always ask yourself if you need all these assets, libraries, images, plugins, theme features and so on. The famous saying “less is more” is still as valuable as ever.

Read more: Site speed tools and suggestions »

Think about implementing AMP

The Google-led open source project AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, has one goal: loading your pages as fast as possible. It’s been in development for some time now. It has reached new heights with the release of amp-bind, a JavaScript library that adds interactivity to AMP pages. Now, one of the biggest drawbacks of using AMP is fixed.

In the beginning, AMP was used on static posts, like blogs or news articles, that didn’t need interaction from the user. For e-commerce purposes, AMP fell short. Until now, that is. Look into what AMP could do for your site and how you might implement it. Not every site needs it, but the ones that do could gain a lot from it.

Read more about implementing AMP with WordPress »

New kid on the block: Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

PWAs offers another way of targeting that mobile user. A progressive web app is an all-in-one solution that works on all devices, for all users. It’s the perfect crossover between the app world and the web world. The web app works like an app, without the need to publishing it in an app store. PWAs combine the loading speeds of mobile sites with the best functionality of a native app. If done correctly, a good PWA might fool users into thinking they are using a native app.

Thanks to technologies like service workers, the browser can do a lot more in the background, while keeping the front end updated in real-time. This makes it a viable option if you need an app, but can’t justify the cost. There will be a lot happening with progressive web apps in the next couple of years. Google has a must-read blog post if you want to know how to create indexable PWAs.

Focus on user experience

Besides being findable and lightning fast, your mobile site should offer an enjoyable user experience. Try to take away any obstacles and make sure users can reach their goals quickly. There’s a lot you need to consider when optimizing your user experience. I’ve listed a couple of things you can think of below:

  • Fix your font size: your typography needs to be top notch.
  • Keep enough room between the clickable elements.
  • Make your sub-menu clickable, so users don’t automatically go back to home instead of the submenu.
  • Put your phone number on the homepage and make it clickable. This way, people can call you if they want to do business.
  • Don’t make users pinch and zoom to see – and use – your interface.
  • Make your buttons large enough for fingers.
  • Fix your forms: bad forms are unusable on mobile.
  • Cut the clutter.
  • Test, adjust and test again!

Read more: 10 ways to improve mobile UX »

Optimize for local

While we use our smartphones a lot in our house, these devices become extra useful when we’re out and about. Google found out that 76% of the people who search for something nearby visit a related business within a day. 28% of those visits lead to a sale. To cope with that local demand, you need to work on your local SEO. Local search results can look very different from regular desktop searches, so you have to know what to target and how to target that. Here are some things you can to do to improve your local SEO for mobile:

Read more: Ultimate guide to small business SEO
Read more: Local ranking factors that help your business’ SEO

Finetune your mobile content

The screen of a smartphone is small, that’s a given. On that screen, text gets truncated or wrapped in a seemingly never-ending stream of paragraphs. A user has to scroll endlessly. Text on a mobile screen has the potential to give every web designer a headache. But the design – and use – of text is of crucial importance to the success of your site. If your site is unreadable or plain ugly, people will not read your 1,000-word article. Hell, not even your 100-word summary. Fix your typography.

People read a lot on their smartphones, but you have to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Also, you have to make sure that your content is up to scratch as well.

Read more: Optimize your mobile content

Write for the small screen

Always keep the restrictions of the small screen in mind when creating or editing content. Don’t use too many long sentences, keep your paragraphs around four sentences and use many stops like lists and headings to break up your text. Nothing is more daunting to your visitor than a massive block of unformatted text. Check your content on a smartphone to see how it works and if it’s possible to improve it.

Read more: Copywriting for mobile (coming soon!)

Write better meta descriptions and titles

Google will show less information in the search results on mobile than on a desktop. Your meta descriptions and your titles will be truncated if you made them too long. Thinks about that when you optimize your posts and pages. You lose several characters when optimizing your meta descriptions and titles for mobile. In Yoast SEO’s snippet editor, you can switch between a mobile and desktop preview. This way, you can see how the differences between the two and pick a perfect middle ground.

Read more: The snippet preview in Yoast SEO

When working on your content, you should take the next biggest thing into account: voice search. Yes, it’s been around for a while. But with the advent of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s nameless Home assistant, things are moving fast right now. More and more people are using their voice to perform actions on the web, and your content has to provide answers. If done correctly, you might kill two birds with one stone: you’ll not only respond to questions mobile users have, but it might also lead to so-called featured snippets or answer boxes on desktop searches.

To prepare for voice search, you need to take a good look at your current content. Ask yourself, does it answer any question a user might have? If not, change it. Find out which questions people use to find your content and optimize for that. Use Google’s autofill or tools like Answer the Public to find alternative questions to answer.

Read more: How to prepare for voice search

Add structured data to a mobile site

Structured data is hot. By adding structured data in the form of Schema.org to your site, you can open a line of communication with search engines. Structured data makes it clear for search engines what all the different elements on your site mean. If done correctly, search engines can use this data to give you highlighted search results, known as rich results or rich snippets. This way, your site immediately stands out from the crowd, and that might lead to a higher click-through rate.

Want rich snippets for your site? Try our Structured data training »

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Structured data forms the basis for many new ways of presenting search results. The rich results we used to know as rich cards, for instance, use data you can add to your mobile site. The result is a snippet that is mobile-optimized and very enticing to click. Structured data is one of the most important topics you have to read up on. Follow our structured data course if you need an easy way to add structured data to your mobile site.

Read more: Structured data with Schema.org: the ultimate guide

A mobile SEO guide

This ultimate guide to mobile SEO gives a lot of pointers to improve the performance of your mobile site.  Mobile SEO should always be a work in progress because there are always new things to improve. Also, technologies arrive or get discarded. The world is always changing, and you have to keep up. If you do, the rewards can be great. So, what are you waiting for? Get your smartphone, check your site in a mobile browser and find and fix those issues. Use this mobile SEO guide well, because 2018 is going to be an important year! This is the time to take action because if you don’t, you might miss out in the new year.

Read more: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

Breadcrumbs are an important part of almost any good website. These little navigational aides not just help people visualize where they are on your site, but also help Google determine how your site is structured. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to add these helpful little pointers. Let’s see how breadcrumbs work.

Want rich snippets for your site? Try our Structured data training »

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What are breadcrumbs?

When Hansel and Gretel went into the woods, Hansel dropped pieces of bread on the ground so they could find their way home if the two of them ever got lost. These breadcrumbs eventually became the model for the breadcrumbs we see on websites nowadays. A breadcrumb is a small text path, often located at the top of a page. On yoast.com, for instance, the path to our Yoast SEO plugin page is Home > Software > WordPress Plugins > Yoast SEO for WordPress. This breadcrumb immediately shows you where you are. Every part of that path is clickable, all the way to the homepage.

Breadcrumbs also appear in Google. If you use Yoast SEO or add the correct form of structured data to your site, search engines can pick up this data and could show your breadcrumbs in the search results. These provide users an easy to understand overview of where the page sits on your site.

Different kinds

Looking closely, we can distinguish different types of breadcrumbs. These are the three most common types of breadcrumbs you will find on sites:

Hierarchy based breadcrumbs

These will pop up most often. We use them on our site as well. Breadcrumbs like this will tell you where you are in a site structure and how many steps you can take to get back to the homepage. Something like Home > Blog > Category > Post name.

breadcrumbs hierarchy

Attribute based breadcrumbs

Attribute based breadcrumbs appear after a certain selection has been made, for instance, while searching for a product on an e-commerce site. Maybe, Home > Product category > Gender > Size > Color.

breadcrumbs attribute

History based breadcrumbs

History based breadcrumbs do what it says on the tin; they are ordered according to what you have been doing on the site. Think of these as a replacement for your internet history bar. These would appear like this: Home >  Previous page > Previous page > Previous page > Current page. It’s also possible to combine these like Macy’s does in the screenshot below.

breadcrumbs history

Advantages to using breadcrumbs

There are a couple of advantages to using breadcrumbs on your site. Let’s go over them quickly:

1. Google loves them

Your visitors like breadcrumbs, but Google likes them as well. Breadcrumbs give Google another way of figuring out how your website is structured. In addition to that, Google might use your breadcrumbs to show these in the search results. This way, your search result will at one become much more enticing to users. To increase the chance to get these breadcrumbs in Google, you need to add structured data or use Yoast SEO.

2. They enhance the user experience

People hate to get lost. When confronted with a new location, people often look around in search of recognizable objects or landmarks. The same goes for websites. You need to keep visitors happy and reduce as much friction as possible. Breadcrumbs can help your user experience since it is a well-known interface element that instantly shows people a way out. No need to click the back button!

3. They lower bounce rates

Hardly anyone comes in via the homepage anymore. It’s all organic search nowadays. That means every part of your site could be an entry point. You must come up with a way to guide these visitors to other parts of your site if the selected page does not meet their expectations. Breadcrumbs can lower bounce rates because you’re offering visitors an alternative means of browsing your site. Don’t you think it’s better to send a visitor to your homepage than back to Google?

How to add breadcrumbs

There are several ways of adding breadcrumbs to your site. Firstly, if you use a WordPress site, you can use one of the many breadcrumb plugins or just use Yoast SEO. If you use a different CMS the process might be different. It is also possible to add them by hand. If you want them to appear in Google as well, you need to use structured data in a way that Google understands. You can find more information on this in Google’s developer documentation on breadcrumbs.

Yoast SEO offers an easy way to add breadcrumbs to your WordPress site. It will add everything necessary to add them not just visible on your site, but get them ready for Google as well. To add breadcrumbs to your site, you need to add the following piece of code to your theme where you want them to appear:

<?php
if ( function_exists('yoast_breadcrumb') ) {
yoast_breadcrumb('


','

');
}
?>

This code can often be placed inside the single.php or page.php files, just above the title of the page. Some themes want it at the end of the header.php file. Try not to add it to functions.php since this could create problems.

After adding the code, you can go to the advanced settings of Yoast SEO and switch on breadcrumb support. Here, you can also determine how the breadcrumb structure will look and what prefixes will be used. Find out more on our Knowledge Base page on implementing breadcrumbs with Yoast SEO.

Conclusion

While using breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel still got lost in the woods. Don’t let that happen to your visitor. Breadcrumbs provide an easy to grasp way of navigating for users. Visitors instantly understand how the site structure works. For the same reason, Google loves them as well. Use Yoast SEO to add breadcrumbs to your site easily.

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

Google Search Console is an incredibly important tool for website owners. This tool shows you how your site appears in the Google search results. It also shows you what to improve to make the most of your listings in the results. One of the many cool features of Search Console is the structured data analyses found in the Search Appearance section. Let’s dive into that!

In this post, we’ll cover the Structured data tab in GSC, the Rich Cards tab and the Data Highlighter. If you don’t have Search Console yet – and you really should -, sign up on Google’s website.

Google search console home

Search Appearance

First, log into Search Console. On the left-hand side of your screen, you’ll find the Search Appearance menu item. This tool gives you insights into how your website appears in the search results. You can click any item to see how Google treats your site.

Structured Data

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In this post, our main focal point is structured data, so we’ll jump to the Structured Data section of GSC. Clicking on Structured Data will show you an overview of all the pages that have some kind of structured data attached to it. This could be in any form, like RDFa or Microdata, but usually, it will be in JSON-LD.

Structured data is all the extra information you give search engines to understand what a page is about. For instance, as the writer of this article, I am both a Person and an Author. If I add this data to the source code of this page, search engines can use that data to do cool things. If you sell products, you can enhance your search listings with reviews and ratings, prices and availability. These might all become visible in the search results.

Rich snippets products

Google Search Console shows a red line for the pages on your site that have incorrectly implemented structured data. Red indicate items with errors. You’ll notice that Search Console automatically sorts the list by the number of errors on a page. This way, you can start by fixing the most important issues first.

Google search console graph

Click on the lines in the table to see which pages have errors with the selected data type. Use these errors to prioritize your work. The big graph shows the progression of your structured data implementation as seen by Google. Let’s see how that works.

We’re going to take a closer look at the data. Above the graph, we see how many structured data items Google has found on how many pages, in this case, 218 items on 56 pages. Look closely at the left and right-hand side of the graph. The left side – in blue – goes from zero to 240 and this shows the number of pages with structured data items. The right side – in red – goes from zero to sixteen and shows the number of errors. At the bottom of the image, you see all the different data types Google has found on your site and all the items that have errors.

Errors

Now that we’ve analyzed all the different data on the structured data tab, it’s time to look at our errors. So click on an item with errors.

Google search console errors

After clicking on an error you’ll see this screen. This is where all the errors are listed individually. It’s the same kind of information as the screen before this one, so I won’t cover it again. However, now click on the individual error to see what happens:

Google search console popup

When we clicked on the individual error, a pop-up appeared. It shows information of the domain we’re on, information about the data item that gives an error and a button to test it with the Structured Data Testing Tool. Try to test with live data because GSC might give you an incorrect message. Also, the Structured Data Testing Tool allows you to tweak the code until it doesn’t give an error anymore. This way, you can safely test and improve on the error. Let’s move on to Rich Cards.

Rich Cards

Rich cards are new ways of presenting search results. These results are often amended with special, rich search features that make the results more interactive. For instance, a recipe site might get swipeable cards in the search results or a restaurant might get an option to immediately reserve a seat from the results. These are just a couple of examples. And since this is one of the areas Google is increasingly focussing on, you’ll see a lot more of these in the coming years.

Rich cards aren’t that different from structured data types. You can see structured data as the language used to describe the content on a page, while a rich card is a visually compelling way to present search results. And yes, more often than not, rich cards rely on the structured data that Google finds on a page. That’s why the Rich Cards tab is kind of complementary to the Structured Data tab instead of it superseding it. 

By the way, these are all the rich cards Google creates.

Add structured data to your site, validate it and you’re ready to get rich cards. If Google deems your site the best possible result, that is. In Search Appearance, you can check if your implementation is correct and if Google has already awarded you rich cards.

Google search console rich cards overview

Click on the Rich Cards tab and you’ll see a graph like the one above. On top of the graph, you can tick and untick the boxes. We’ve got invalid cards, cards that can be improved and correct cards. You can probably guess that each box shows a different graph. Also, our issues are sorted by severity. First, we’ll try and find out what our critical issues are by clicking on them.

Google search console rich cards

Now we see all the individual URLs with errors. We know that these are all image-related problems because that’s mentioned in the previous screenshot. Just click on one of the URLs.

Google search console cards popup

A pop-up will appear, similar to the one in the Structured Data tab. It gives you the option to test your live data and read the card documentation. You always want to double check your live data with the Structured Data Testing Tool. As said before, you can edit the code right away and see whether your changes validate. All good now? Great, you can start to implement your new code.

Data Highlighter

The Data Highlighter is a tool within GSC that allows you to markup your pages without any knowledge of coding. There are a couple of things you need to know before you start marking up your structured data with Google’s Data Highlighter. Firstly, your highlighted data is stored in Google’s databases, not on your site itself. Since the data is stored externally from your site, other search engines won’t be able to benefit from it. Ask yourself if you want this. Secondly, Data Highlighter only offers a limited set of schema you can implement. So it won’t be for everyone.

The Data Highlighter does make fixing the issues you’ve found in the Structured Data section easier. For instance, choose one of the URLs that had a faulty Structured Data setup and tell GSC what kind of information you want to highlight.

This will bring you to a live view of that page and you’ll be able to select any element on the page. By selecting an element you’ll be given a choice of what you want to highlight that specific element for. For example, for a Product, you’ll be given these markups to add to the corresponding element on the page:

google search console data highlighter

This makes adding Structured Data, for Google at least, as easy as a few clicks.

You can find the Data Highlighter under the Search Appearance section. Click on the “Start highlighting” button and you’ll see a new screen. Now we can fill in the URL (a product page, for example), select the type of markup we’d like to implement (Product Schema.org) and select if we just want to markup this single page or similar pages like it as well. We’ll only show multiple pages because marking up single pages shares the same core functionalities – only with fewer steps.

You can easily select elements on a page. Google automatically shows the available Schema.org you can select, see the first arrow. Once selected, you’ll see an overview of the data items on that page, check the second arrow. When you’re done, you click on finished – it’s the big red button in the top right corner.

google search console data highlighter save

In the end, Google shows you random pages from your selection to check the implementation. You can verify whether the information holds true for all of your products:

● Did Google unexpectedly include a page it shouldn’t have? Click Remove page.
● Did Google mistakenly apply the wrong Schema? You can correct it by selecting the element and change the Schema.
● Did Google do it right? Just click Next.

The Google Data Highlighter is just one of the tools that helps you implement structured data with Schema.org. It is, however, fully tied into the Google ecosystem and might not be the best option when you want to keep full control over your data.

You’ve reached the end…

Structured data gives you an excellent opportunity to open a conversation with search engines. By adding structured data, you make your site instantly comprehensible for engines. This way, they can use your data to present your content in innovative, highly visible ways that are guaranteed to catch the eye of your customers or readers.

Structured data is becoming so important that we’ve developed a course to educate you on this subject. In this course, we’ll show you exactly what structured data encompasses, what it can do, how to implement it using JSON-LD and Google Tag Manager, and how to check its performance in Google Search Console. This course will be available from June 29.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article! Keep an eye on yoast.com for more articles on structured data and SEO. And don’t forget to sign up for our brand new Structured data course!

Read more: ‘Structured data with Schema.org: the ultimate guide’ »

WordPress was built by the community. In just a few incredibly productive years, it grew to become the most popular CMS in the world, and all of us in the WordPress Community played a role in the evolution and development of WordPress. Together, we made it into the popular powerhouse it is today. If there was one thing that made it possible, it was the open source philosophy. Just like WordPress, Yoast was born from an open source world. In this interview, Joost de Valk shares his views on a topic dear to his heart.

Joost began his journey into the open source world many moons ago. As a contributor to the WebKit project, which built a layout engine for web browsers, he saw how a group of like-minded people could go up against mainstream, rich companies. WebKit’s small team made waves with their product. Different browsers adopted it and it helped them to hold their own against the incredible power of Internet Explorer. Joost says: “We were unbelievably efficient. I discovered very early on that it was better to build something together than on your own.” 

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A passion for open source

Talk to Joost about open source and his eyes light up. Open source formed him – it shaped his thoughts and visions. Even now, as CEO of a successful company, he’d still choose open source as the business model every time. Joost: “If I had to start over, I’d do a million things differently. But I would choose open source again in a heartbeat. I actually do think it’s better to create together. Take those design agencies that develop bespoke CMS’s. Why? It’s nonsense. It leads to vendor lock-in and that is horrible. There’s only one model: the open source model.”

‘‘If I had to start over, I would choose open source again in a heartbeat ’’

Running a business with an open source mindset is better than keeping everything behind closed doors. Joost: “Why should a school build their own site when there are hundreds of schools with the same requirements and questions? Join hands to make it manageable and cheaper. Just think how much the government could save if they used open source everywhere.”

“To me,” says Joost, “open source is a combination of community, not just friends, and a shared responsibility to find solutions to problems together. Take WordPress for example, collectively we are fixing the problem of publishing to the web. Other projects tackle different problems in the same way, together. This is how society should function; when we set our minds to it, we can achieve anything if we combine our efforts.”

David vs. Goliath

Joost sees open source as a David vs. Goliath struggle: “It’s money versus community. A lot of money versus no money. As a community-driven CMS, WordPress continuously has to figure out how to go up against large-scale commercial efforts. But, in spite of all that money, WordPress continues to grow like wildfire. We’ve reached critical mass and it will only go up from here.”

While WordPress grows, its community continues to expand. According to Joost, the community is diversifying at a rapid rate: “It’s not just developers anymore – the project attracts a wide range of people, from designers to writers. People are willing to invest loads of time into it. Just look at all those WordCamps around the world; all of them are organized by people from all walks of life.”

Open source politics

In theory, open source may sound like the perfect way to get something done, but oftentimes, good-old politics can cause everything to grind to a halt. “The political games are no fun,” Joost says. “It’s a community and therefore pretty diffuse. It takes time to reach a consensus. It’s hard to navigate the waters when there’s no one actually in charge. You have to figure out where decisions are being made and try to be there to influence them. That’s when you find out that not having anyone in charge can make it harder.”

‘‘It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a tool like Yoast SEO’’

Yoast now and in the future

Yoast as a company was built on open source and this philosophy continues to play a big part in its future plans. The Yoast SEO plugin is now spreading its wings, moving to other open source platforms like Drupal, TYPO3 and Magento. But Yoast has to sell something to make money, so in our case it’s a Premium version and other products, like services and education – aspects Joost wants to expand: “In the future, I’d love to be able to give away my plugins for free and generate enough income from our services and education platform. But, that moment is not yet in sight.”

Making money on open source seems strange and contradictory to the openness of open source. Yet, to pay nothing towards the development of products you use every day feels wrong as well. Joost: “It’s almost as if people think it’s rather easy to develop something for WordPress and that it doesn’t cost anything. That’s not true of course. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a tool like Yoast SEO. Think about it, the readability analysis in Yoast SEO took about six man-years to develop. We could have put it in the Premium version, but we thought about the impact it would have if we gave it away for free. So we did. Come to think of it, I’ve never thought about taking something out of the free version of Yoast SEO to make people pay for it.”

Read more: ‘Yoast WordPress core contributions ’ »

David Mihm is a local SEO legend. He’s been a leading figure in the SEO world for years. Recently, he started a new firm called Tidings, that helps businesses achieve success in local markets. We’re honored to present you his fantastic answers to five pressing questions on local SEO. Find out what you should focus on if you want to be successful in your area!

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You’ve been in the – local – SEO business for a long time now. You’ve seen many trends come and go, but what was the most striking change you’ve encountered in local SEO in recent years?

Well, I’m going to cheat a little. I’d say there are two very important trends. These are far more important for the average local business than any given algorithm update over which so many SEOs obsess. These are 1) Google’s increased monetization of local SERPs, and 2) Knowledge Panels. I wrote about both of these pretty extensively in my 2017 predictions post.

Google is showing more Adwords than ever above the fold; that won’t be news to anyone. What might be news are some of their hybrid ad/local units. We’re seeing them now in the hotel space and some home services verticals on the U.S. West Coast. Within a couple of years, these hybrid ad formats will roll out to every category, and every geographic market in the world. The availability and visibility of organic inventory will decrease.

In parallel, Google has been moving into a world of answers, not websites. They want to present as much information as they can about a local business directly in the search result. This way the need for searchers to click through to a business’s website will decrease. We’re seeing more and richer information like photos, reviews, busy times, critic lists on which the business is included. There’s also an increase in the ability to transact with the business right from the SERP. Especially in the hospitality, restaurant, and personal care industries. Of course, websites still play a crucial role in helping Google determine the relevance and authority of your business. But you’re going to get fewer clickthroughs from Google. Even if the number of customers they send you remains consistent.

Why is there this distinction between Local SEO and regular SEO? What are the main differences between the two?

There are two prongs to the differences. The first is that since the Venice update in ca. 2011, Google has been localizing organic search results to the geographic area of the searcher. If I search for something like “bankruptcy lawyer,” Google interprets that search as inherently local. I’m looking for a bankruptcy lawyer near me, not in New York or Hong Kong or London. So they sprinkle in websites from local bankruptcy attorneys for this “global” query via some local filter on their traditional algorithm. I didn’t specify “Portland, Oregon” in my search, but Portland bankruptcy lawyers appear right alongside the largest websites in the world like Yelp, Avvo, and Findlaw. Optimizing a website and backlink profile to have a strong local scent is a different skill set than optimizing an eCommerce or media website.

The second prong (one with an even greater difference than traditional SEO) is that there is a fundamentally different algorithm at work that ranks the business listings included in what we call the 3-pack: the visual unit that appears between the ads and organic website results. This algorithm is built largely on ranking factors that aren’t in play for a typical organic market: business listing data, user reviews, proximity to the searcher, and many others.

example of a 3-pack local seo

The 3-pack shown between the ads and organic results after a local search query

 

It’s hard to rank in a neighboring area or town. So what can you do when your business is not close to the center? Or when you live in a small town? Can your business compete with those in a larger city?

It’s going to be hard. You’re probably better off trying to win business on social media than you are in local search at Google — at least for keywords in the major city — in this instance. The best chance you have is to compete organically by targeting specific pages at the larger city. The best/easiest kind of content to populate these pages is usually case studies from customers who live in the larger city.

Beyond that, it’s going to take an overwhelming review profile (as in 10x the number of reviews of the most-reviewed big city competitor) to get noticed in the 3-pack. And that takes a LOT of time and a lot of effort.

So my general advice would be to dominate your small-town market. Get as many customers from your “backyard” as you can. Then start to gradually expand to the bigger city using word-of-mouth, targeted offline business partnerships and referrals, and eventually social media.

Let’s say you have limited resources available to work on your local SEO. You can focus on a maximum of three things. What would you advise?

Glad you asked!  I’ve got a graphical resource which I hope answers this question perfectly :)

Thinking about the longest-term benefits for local search, I’d say you should focus first on your website.  Make it mobile-responsive, answer the most common questions your customers have, showcase customer stories and case studies, and make sure you convert people who are already clicking through to it.

Next, I’d focus on building offline relationships in your community (but make sure they’re represented online as well).  Think about relevant non-profits to which you can donate time or money, get involved in community events, and figure out how you can network with and support complementary local businesses to your own.

And then I’d implement a really great review acquisition platform. Getting happy customers to talk about your business on prominent review sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook is not only an increasingly important ranking factor, but it helps convert prospective customers who see all of your great ratings.

The great thing for local businesses is Local SEO should get less-technical over time. Things like title tags, citations and backlinks are certainly still important, but I see their relative value diminishing as Google collects more and more engagement signals from individual customers.

Today’s marketing landscape seems to revolve in large part around social media. How important is social media for Local SEO? Should every local business have and maintain a Facebook business listing? If so, how?

Social media is important for a holistic digital presence and does have some value for Local SEO. All kinds of studies show that customers are more likely to buy from a business that shows some engagement on social media — an active presence gives people a better feel for your business before they decide to purchase from you.

Every local business should maintain a Facebook business page — not least because Facebook, at some point, will decide to leverage the huge amount of data they have around local businesses and launch a local search engine of their own. You’ll want to have a strong presence out of the gate when that happens.

Beyond that, Facebook pages regularly rank well for your business name, so they’re great for reputation management. And we routinely see Facebook reviews pulled into the Knowledge Panels for local businesses in virtually every industry. So from that standpoint, we know Google is at least able to assess your volume of Facebook reviews (if not the content of the reviews themselves).

(Local businesses should know that unless they pay to Boost or otherwise advertise their Facebook presence, though, very few fans will see it (likely somewhere between 2 – 6%). Helping bridge the gap between expected performance on Facebook and the actual performance of email marketing is the rationale behind my new product, Tidings.)

Read more: ‘Local ranking factors that improve your local SEO’ »

In this release, we’re fine tuning our algorithms to give cornerstone content articles the analysis they deserve. Articles you’ve marked as cornerstone content will now be judged on a different level, so we can make sure they have the quality and authority an article like that should have. Yoast SEO 4.8 helps you write better cornerstone content articles.

Cornerstone content analysis

For some time now, Yoast SEO checks your articles and gives you feedback so you can fix readability and SEO issues. This analysis has always been one-size-fits-all, but that’s about to change. These last couple of weeks, we’ve been investing heavily in site structure. One of the most important parts of a solid site structure is cornerstone content: authoritative articles based on the keywords you most definitely want to rank. These should form the basis of your site.

In Yoast SEO 4.6, we added the possibility to mark a certain article as cornerstone content. This way, it is given a higher value in Yoast SEO, which causes this article to show on top sooner in the suggestions the internal linking tool provides.

Starting from Yoast SEO 4.8, we can now analyze your cornerstone content following a particular, stricter set of specifications. These checks will help you build killer cornerstone articles. Among other things, we now check if a cornerstone article has 900+ words and if the keyword is in at least two subheadings:

yoast seo 4.8 cornerstone analysis

But wait, there’s more

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While the rest of this release mostly consists of bug fixes and enhancements, there’s also a couple of other changes. We now remove the prominent words option for unsupported languages and change the string ‘current url’ to ‘old url’ in the Search Console Redirect to match the language in the Redirect Manager. We’ve also made several improvements to the Local SEO plugin.

As always, we hope you enjoy this new release. Don’t forget to update!

Read more: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

Google’s Knowledge Graph is hard to find, but its results are not. Take for instance that big block of information that appears on the right-hand side of your desktop screen after entering a search term. This block – also known as the Knowledge Graph Card – contains relevant, context-specific information regarding your search, powered by the Knowledge Graph.

If you search for a specific company, the Knowledge Graph will show an almost complete profile, depending on how well they did their SEO work. Searching for a recently released movie will show posters, reviews and screening times for your local cinema. As you see, the graph is a powerful and fascinating tool. But what can you do to get your information in the Knowledge Graph?

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It’s Google’s way of connecting information

Google’s core business is providing people with a correct answer to all their questions. To do that, it doesn’t just present the result that closest matches a search term, but also by making broader connections between data. Google, therefore, collects and analyzes massive amounts of data on people, places, things and facts and develops ways to present the findings in an accessible way. These are often rich results, like featured snippets, images carrousels or the famous Knowledge Graph Card mentioned in the intro of this text.

The Knowledge Graph and its card

This is where it might get confusing: many people mix up the Knowledge Graph and the panel you see on the right-hand side of your screen. The Knowledge Graph is the engine that powers the panel that’s officially called the Knowledge Graph Card. In this card, you’ll find the most visible result of the work the graph does. When there’s enough data about a subject, the card will be filled with all kinds of relevant facts, images, and related searches.

Check out Target’s card in the screenshot below, and you’ll see how much information it provides.

Anatomy of the Knowledge Graph

When Google released the Knowledge Graph in 2012, they made an excellent introductory video and supporting website. These explain in easy to understand language how exactly the graph works and how it influences the results you get when you search for a specific term. Check out the site and video; they are still as relevant today as they were then:

Examples of search results

In recent years, content presented by the Knowledge Graph has become much more interactive. At first, it featured only static content, like images, social media profiles, and general information about the search. Today, it is continually expanding in possibilities. If you search for a movie, you can directly book tickets to see it at your local cinema. Search for a local store, and you know exactly when the busiest times are. Google likes to experiment with the graph, what it shows and how it’s presented.

Let’s look at some examples of recent listings.

Recipes:

knowledge graph chocolate
Movies:

knowledge graph alien

 Music:

knowledge graph music
Image slider:
knowledge graph slider

These are just a few of the possible variations of information that can be found. What you see might even change depending on where you are in the world.

Getting your content in

To get your content in the Knowledge Graph, you need to become an authority on your subject. Find out what people search for by doing keyword research, write excellent content and make sure your site is fully optimized and mobile-friendly. Use structured data to mark up important elements of your site to make it easier for Google to understand what it is all about. Register your site with Google Search Console and My Business. Keep in mind, structured data in the form of Schema.org is becoming increasingly important.

Yoast SEO and the Knowledge Graph

If you have a business and need help getting your information in the Knowledge Graph, fear no more, because Yoast SEO can help. Just by setting up Yoast SEO – optionally supported by Local SEO – and filling out the information on your site, you automatically enable the data that Google needs to fill the Knowledge Graph. After that, you can use regular SEO tactics and structured data to fill in the missing pieces. Keep in mind though that it’s Google that determines what it adds to its Knowledge Graph.

Conclusion

The Knowledge Graph is an important part of the search experience in Google. It powers many of the innovative new ways data shows up in the search engine. Getting your information in there is of the essence, especially if you have a business. If so, you have to make sure your business details are correct, sign up for Google My Business and add everything you possibly can. Many other parts of the Knowledge Graph are generated from structured data, like reviews, movie information, events, so be sure to mark up your data in any which way you can.

Read more: ‘Structured data: the ultimate guide’ »

Every business owner with a website is looking for ways to get noticed in the search results. Today, there are loads of tactics to rank well as a local business, but there is no silver bullet: as with most SEO issues, this is a combined effort. One of these pieces of the local SEO puzzle is Google My Business, a dashboard for managing listings. But what is it exactly and why is it so important for local SEO?

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What is Google My Business?

My Business is Google’s one-stop shop to manage how your business will look and perform in the search engine. It is an essential tool to find out and adjust how your site shows in Maps, the Knowledge Graph, Google+ and organic search results. According to the 2017 edition of Moz’ Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, Google My Business continues to be the biggest driver of local SEO success, with quality links coming in at a close second.

You can manage your business listing by adding NAP details, opening hours, photos et cetera. In addition to that, it is possible to manage the reviews your customers leave behind. As you know, reviews should be a key factor in your local SEO efforts.

How does it work?

Getting started with My Business is easy; you have to make an account and claim your business. After filling in your details, you will get a real-life postcard from Google on the address you’ve specified. This card is the only proof you’re the owner of the business listed at the address.

Once verified, you can fill in all the necessary details and check how your listing is doing. You can even get regular insights to see how many impressions, clicks and subscribers your listing got over a period. It’s a great way of getting a feel for how your business is perceived by Google and customers alike.

Keep in mind that My Business is not the catch-all tool for your local SEO. It has to work in tandem with your on- and off-site SEO efforts. You won’t climb the charts if your profile is inaccurate, but you also won’t reach the top without a well-optimized site and localized content. These things go hand in hand.

Ranking factors

Google My Business uses many factors to determine rankings for businesses. We’ll highlight the three most important ones:

  • Relevance
  • Distance
  • Prominence

Relevance

Relevance determines how well your business fits the search intent of the customer. Is your focus identical to what the customer needs or are you a bit opaque about what your business does? Vagueness doesn’t rank. Be as clear as you can be. Keep your focus.

Distance

Distance is a well-known factor for ranking local businesses. You can’t rank in a local search for (dentist New Jersey) when you have located your company in Manhattan. The exact way Google determines which businesses to show in a local search is unknown, and it can be pretty hard to rank in a given area. The other factors play a significant role as well. It helps not just to say you are located in a particular area, but also to show it by creating local-oriented content around your business on your site. Google uses what’s known about the location of the searcher to present the most relevant local businesses.

Prominence

Prominence is all about the activity around your listing; this could be the number of reviews, events, local content et cetera. It also helps if you can get loads of quality links to your site. It is somewhat hard to determine what prominence means exactly, but one thing is sure: no one likes dead profiles. You have to keep it updated with new photos and manage your reviews. As said before, this works in tandem with your site, so make sure both listings align and that you publish local content.

Optimize your Google My Business listing

To start, you need to claim your listing. After that, you can use the following tips to make your My Business account a success. Keep in mind that everything you add must be in line with the information you provide on your site. Inaccurate information kills your listings and could kill your rankings:

  • Claim your listing with your actual business name
  • Choose a category as accurate as possible
  • Provide as much data as you can – your profile has to be 100%
  • Check your phone number
  • Check your opening times – think about holidays!
  • Review your photos – are they accurate and good or can you improve them?
  • Create citations on other sites as well – pick well-regarded business listing or review sites and directories, stay away from spammers
  • Keep your My Business listing in line with your site – and use Schema.org data
  • Above all, keep your data up to date

It’s critical to remember that this is not a set it and forget it type of thing. Things chance, your business changes. Keep everything active, monitor reviews and stay on top of things. It’s frustrating if your listing doesn’t perform as well as you’d like, but keep putting in the hours, and it will work. US businesses can check their listings with this tool by Synup: Google My Business Guidelines Checker.

my business guidelines check

Structured data and Yoast Local SEO

Google increasingly depends on structured data to find out what your site is about and which elements represent what. This is most certainly true for your business information, including the information that My Business uses. Make sure you add the correct structured data to your site. Enhance your NAP details, opening hours, reviews, product information et cetera, with Schema.org data. This will make it much easier for Google to determine the validity of your listing. Several tools can help you with this, including our Yoast Local SEO plugin.

Your local SEO is critical, even with Google My Business

So, you should activate and maintain your My Business account, and make it awesome. But the most of your listings and to get good rankings, you must have your site in order as well. Optimize every part of it. Create local content for your chosen keyword and business location. Acquire quality local backlinks to build up a solid link profile. Ask customers to review your business onsite or on My Business. Make sure your listing is active and attractive. Dead profiles are no good.

Read more: ‘Local ranking factors that help your local business’ SEO’ »

It’s official: Google announced that page speed will be a ranking factor in its mobile-first index. But what does that mean? There’s no beating around the bush anymore: you should work on making your site as fast and accessible as possible. Don’t wait, do it now. I mean it.

For years, we’ve been bombarded by one message: mobile is going to take over the world. We needed to adapt ourselves to this new reality where everyone does everything on their mobile devices. While we still spend loads of time in front of our desktop and laptop machines, we can’t deny mobile is crucial. Just look at the upcoming markets, where people use their mobile for all possible tasks.

We also know that if you want to compete with the big boys, get a solid ranking for your mobile site and make some money from it, you need to take care of a few things. One of the most important ones is page speed. 

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The verdict is in

Let’s look at some recent research: according to Google the average time it takes for a mobile landing page to load is now 22 seconds. Compare that with the three seconds visitors need to decide if they want to stay for your page to load and you will see a huge discrepancy. People are impatient. They want something, and they want it now. While page speed is important for your SEO, it is even more important for your UX, conversion and general customer happiness.

Yes, page speed will be a ranking factor

At the moment, page speed is more of an indicator than a ranking factor. Unless your mobile site is extremely slow, you can still get decent rankings with average page speeds. But it’s been proven time and time again that the speedier your site, the better your results will be.

Google’s latest research shows that the chance of a bounce increases 32% when the page load time goes from 1s to 3s. 1s to 5s increases the chance to 90% and if your site takes up to 10s to load, the chance of a bounce increases to 123%. That’s incredible. For search engines, better results and performance is a sign of a healthy site that pleases customers and therefore should be rewarded with a higher ranking.

Also, Google has recently gone on record saying that page speed will be a ranking factor in its upcoming mobile-first index. Details on how they will evaluate page speed for mobile and calculate rankings are still unknown. But, what we do know doesn’t change much from what we at Yoast have been saying for some time: make sure your site is responsive, as fast as possible, solidly structured, and full of excellent content.

5 ways to speed up your site

Do everything in your power to increase the loading speed of your mobile site. Everyone loves a fast site: we SEOs and search engines, but most importantly, our customers. Firstly, check Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to see what they advise you to do. Secondly, take a look at the size of your page, as many sites are bloated nowadays. Try to shave off as much as you can by optimizing images, compressing code and loading fewer external scripts and ads. In addition to that, here are five things you can work on:

Activate AMP on your pages

Google’s AMP project is meant to give the web a necessary speed boost. It’s not too hard to implement, and it will give your mobile site a life in the fast-lane. According to Google, AMP is not a ranking factor, but it’s not hard to predict it has a decent chance to become one. Read Google’s documentation on how to implement AMP.

Use HTTP2

That series of tubes we call the internet is at the dawn of a new age. Several new technologies will bring much-needed upgrades to the way the underlying infrastructure has been built. One of these is called HTTP2, and you can already use to speed up your site, barring it uses HTTPS. Find out more on performance optimization in an HTTP2 world.

Switch to PHP7

As we mainly use WordPress in these parts, getting everyone to use PHP7 is a big deal. To get everyone to move from unsupported and unsafe versions, like PHP5.2 and PHP5.3, we at Yoast created Project WHIP. Moving to PHP7 will give your WordPress site a speed boost, keep it secure and make it future proof.

General optimizations

You should already know these tactics. Please use a CDN to make sure that your content is delivered from a location close to the visitor. Use a caching plugin like WP Rocket to keep static parts of your site in the browser cache. Last but not least, please optimize images. That’s low-hanging fruit.

Critical rendering path

Running a PageSpeed Insights test will show you which elements block a page from rendering quickly. The critical rendering path is formed by the object – like CSS and JavaScript – that have to load before the content can show up on screen. If this content is blocked, your page will render slowly or not at all. Pay attention to this and keep the path free of obstacles. At modpagespeed.com you’ll find several open source tools to help you with these issues.

Always work on your page speed

Keep in mind that your work is never done. Your mobile site is never too fast, and your customers will never come flocking to you when you shave off just a little of your loading time. Keep working on it. Now, tomorrow and next month. If possible, try to automate your PageSpeed Insights testing, so you get regular updates. Follow the news to see if there are new ways to speed up your site.

Read more: ‘How to improve your mobile site’ »

We’ve seen it happen so often. You have a great blog, and at some point, you decide to go for a new look and feel. There are a couple of things you’ll look at, usually in the order: layout / look and feel, usability, and optionally, room for advertising. If the theme meets your needs in all two or three of these points, you might download and install it. If that sounds familiar, this post describes how to find the perfect WordPress theme!

A theme has quite a few things to take care of, and a lot of themes miss out on these. This overview should help to keep you out of trouble when you’re looking for a new theme. If you’re thinking of installing a new theme, please give the following points a thought. Keep in mind; your new theme should be accessible, compatible, customizable, integrable and standards compliant.

Define your needs

Whether you are in the market for a free theme, a premium theme or want to hire a developer to build one especially for you, the first step is always the same: define your needs. Write down what the theme should do, now and in the future. You might not need an eCommerce shop at this time, but what about in a year from now? What should your site look like? Which pages do you need? What types of content are you planning to publish? Once you have a clear picture of the requirements, you have a better chance of finding your dream theme.

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Find a trusted reseller or developer. How’s the support?

Should you build a theme yourself? Or will a general free theme do? The discussion on whether a premium theme is better than a free theme continues to rage on. Both sides have their merits. There are loads of crappy free themes, but there are just as many crappy premium themes. What you should do is find a reseller or developer that you trust. Look for social proof; how many reviews does a theme get? Is there an active message board? When did it receive its last update?

In general, every theme on WordPress.org underwent scrutiny, so they are safe to use. But that doesn’t mean they’re awesome. Theme resellers offer loads of premium themes in varying degrees of awesomeness. But just because you pay for them, doesn’t necessarily make them better than free themes. In addition to that, since you only receive the files when you pay for a theme, there’s no way to check the quality upfront. Despite social proof, it’s still a leap in the dark.

How flexible is the theme?

A static theme won’t do you any good when you want to change the page layout in a couple of months. Make sure to choose a theme that is flexible in its appearance as well as its functionality. Don’t choose a design that screams for full-width images when you only need a well-presented place to write your poetry. Check what happens to a theme when you turn off all massive images; does it still function? And is it possible to change colors, fonts and other visual elements?

Your theme should have ample room for widgets, plus it should support featured images and offer multi-language support. Lots of themes have a page builder on board; these help you construct your bespoke layout. But, this is something you should be careful with because these could generate less than stellar code that hinders your SEO.

Which post and page templates does the theme support?

Another way to keep things flexible is for a theme to offer multiple posts and page templates. That way, you could start off using a basic template with a main content area and a left sidebar, but have the flexibility to change to a full-width content area or one of the many other options. If a theme has only two choices, that might become problematic in the future. Pick a theme with enough sensible templates.

Does it function as a parent/child theme?

Parent and child themes are a great combo. If you use any of the theme frameworks like heavy hitter Genesis, you know how powerful these are compared to regular themes. A child theme gets its functionality from a parent theme. So if you’re making changes to your child theme, the parent won’t see these. You won’t break the parent theme if you make a mistake. The same goes for updates; if you update your parent theme, which happens often, it won’t wipe the changes you’ve made to your theme because it’s a child and doesn’t contain the functionality.

Whether you need a theme framework depends on your needs. Almost all WordPress projects will benefit from a theme framework, but it might be overkill if you only need a tiny amount of its functionality and you know exactly what kind of theme you need.

Watch out for theme bloat

Many themes are bloated, and this will increase loading time. If the developer of a particular theme included everything but the kitchen sink, you might get a feature-complete product but an insanely complicated one as well. Try to find a theme that offers everything you need, instead of everything there is. Your theme should be lean and mean. See the next point.

Check site speed and mobile-readiness

In this day and age, mobile-friendliness is imperative. In addition to that, your site and its theme should load as fast as possible. Choosing a lean and mean theme will certainly help in this regard. Check the responsiveness of a theme and run a Google mobile-friendliness test. You could also enter the address of the theme’s demo site in Google’s PageSpeed tool to see if there are particular loading issues. However, this is just an indication, since you can only judge the real loading speed of your theme when it’s running on your server.

Is the theme’s SEO in order?

While Yoast SEO fixes a lot of WordPress’ SEO issues, a good theme helps a lot. Most WordPress themes will claim SEO-friendliness, but make sure to check it. Find out if the theme’s code is nice and clean or an intangible mess. Has it been updated recently? And will it be supported in the future? How many JavaScript libraries does the theme depend on? Does it support Schema.org structured data? If you’re eyeing a free theme, make sure there are no hidden links to the developer’s website, as this can hurt your SEO efforts. In general, keep Google’s Webmaster Guidelines in mind when hunting for SEO-friendly themes.

Is the theme’s code valid?

Many a theme author is more of a designer than a coder, and thus they sometimes hack around until it finally looks the way they want, without bothering to check whether the code they’ve written is valid HTML. If it’s not, current or future browsers might have issues rendering the content correctly. You can check whether the code is valid by using the W3C’s validator.

Test, test, and test again

Once you’ve chosen your favorite new theme, it’s time to kick it into gear. Start with a development setup to test your new theme through and through. Run every type of test you can think of. This might be a security check with the Sucuri plugin or a theme check with the Theme Check plugin. Load your site with dummy data from wptest.io to see if every element is represented and functioning. Run pagespeed and mobile-friendliness tests to see if problems arise. Fix the issues, or find a new theme.

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Bonus checks

That’s just to get you going. There’s a lot of stuff you can check before you install your brand-new theme. Start with these three checks, if you will:

Hooks

WordPress plugins use so-called “hooks” to be able to perform their designated tasks. These hooks allow for instance to add extra output, tracking codes, etc. A lot of issues with plugins will arise for you when a theme author forgets to add these hooks. This is how to check for them:

1. In header.php, it should have a small piece of PHP code that looks exactly like this wp_head(); or this do_action('wp_head');, usually just before a piece of HTML that looks like this: </head>.

2. In footer.php, it should have another small piece of PHP like this wp_footer();, or this do_action('wp_footer');

3. In comments.php and/or comments-popup.php, it should have a piece of code like this: <?php do_action('comment_form', $post->ID); ?>, just before the </form> HTML tag.

Template files

Another wise thing to do when you’re changing themes is to compare theme files. If for instance, your current theme has an author.php file, which contains the template for your author profiles, and your new one doesn’t have that, that might be an unpleasant surprise when you install the theme. The files you should be checking for in your old and new theme:

  • home.php: the homepage template.
  • single.php: the template for single posts.
  • page.php: the template for pages.
  • category.php: the template for category indexes.
  • author.php: the author template, used when someone wants to find all posts by a certain author.
  • date.php: the date template, used when someone tries to look at for instance a certain month of posts on your blog.
  • archive.php: this template is used when either category.php, author.php or date.php isn’t there.
  • search.php: used when someone searches on your blog, a very important template to look at if you’re concerned about usability, and whether people can find posts on your blog.
  • 404.php: used when WordPress can’t find a certain post or page, this is a very important template file to have!

How is your theme handling titles?

You should check how your current theme is handling page titles in the file header.php. You can find it within the <title> HTML tags. If the title tag differs, you might want to check out why and what happens when you enable your new theme. Sometimes it’s for the better (for instance, because it turns around blog description and page / post title), but you have to make sure up front!

It will probably look something like this:

<title><?php bloginfo(‘name’); ?> <?php wp_title(); ?></title>
If it does, you’ll be a lot better to change it to:

Now Yoast SEO can take care of all the titles. We have a great article that you can read if want to know more about crafting good titles.

If your theme does all of this correctly, you should be quite ok. Good luck with your new theme, and if you have any tips on other things to check, please share in the comments!

Read more: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »