Published: June 18, 2019
Author: Martin William Harvey
According to Netcraft’s 2018 Web Server Survey, 27% of the worlds websites are powered by the Content Management System WordPress (that’s over 75 million websites!). WordPress is used by 14% of the world’s most popular websites including CNN, NBC, TED, NFL, and Best Buy.
So, who are we to say that websites built on WordPress, Wix, Drupal and Squarespace are bad for SEO and bad for business?
WordPress is a Content Management System, commonly referred to as a CMS for short. In 2006 WordPress introduced “themes” (known as “templates” or “off-the-shelf templates”). Themes are a set of pre-developed files that can be manipulated without using code to construct a graphical interface that the owner can use as a website. Websites such as CNN, NBC and Best Buy are not built with themes, but are custom coded by web developers and imported in the WordPress Content Management System for easy manipulation and management by marketing departments.
For the sake of this article, when we refer to WordPress, Wix, Drupal or Squarespace websites, we are referring to template or theme-based websites and not custom-coded websites using the WordPress CMS.
In recent years, WordPress and hundreds of third-party companies have filled the market with beautiful, modern template-based websites or “themes”. Whether your business is in the construction, medical, retail or even marketing industry, theme-developer companies boast that they have a theme for you, and every other business large or small ready to be manipulated and published to the world wide web.
The most popular WordPress theme in 2018 is Oshine. Oshine’s developer Theme Forest, markets this popular theme as a high-quality design with an intuitive fully visual page builder used by businesses in industries such as photography, agencies, architecture, and retail; best of all this theme can be yours for only $59.00.
For business owners looking for a modern design, purchasing this relatively inexpensive theme, over paying a developer thousands of dollars is almost a no-brainer.
For entrepreneurs with a limited budget, in-expensive “build-it-yourself” websites may seem like a win-win; especially for hands-on tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
So, why don’t large companies like Best Buy and NBC use themed websites that can be built by non-coding marketing departments and graphic designers?
Well, like most things in life, you get what you pay for and when it comes to websites this motto is especially true.
Themes are developed for design, and it is no lie that themes such as Oshine are beautifully designed. However, what themes (even the $59.00 ones) don’t address is the back-end infrastructure, which play a huge role in a websites Technical Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
To explain, first let’s talk about Technical SEO (On-Page SEO).
On-Page SEO is how optimized a website’s structure is for search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. Search engines such as Google, not only take into consideration a websites user-experience and design qualities, but also a number of other factors such as website size, speed, keywords, structured-data-markup, file configuration and over 200 more. Websites that are big, slow or have a “messy-structure”, inhibit Google’s ability to crawl the website for valuable indicators that determine how the website should be ranked compared to its competitors. In short, a website that loads too slow or is built with unreadable code will find it significantly harder rank in the search engines. Learn more about Search Engine Optimization features here.
Now let’s talk about how Theme websites are developed.
Imagine you are building a new home. The contractor gives you a variety of options on several key backyard elements such as 4 different types of fences available in 25 different colors, 3 different types of pools available in 6 different sizes, 10 different types of decks along with 20 different types of patio furniture sets.
That’s 360,000 different backyard combinations to choose from!
As a new soon-to-be home owner, the thought of choosing your perfect backyard scenery is exciting. After much consideration you decide on a backyard with a dark-brown wooden fence with a medium-sized rectangular pool surrounded by a large deck topped with a furniture set big enough for all of your future pool parties.
Moving day soon approaches, however when you walk into your new backyard you notice something odd. The backyard you hoped for is perfectly laid-out however after some exploring you notice 99 fences, 11 pools, 9 decks and 19 patio furniture sets. All these backyard elements are the ones you didn’t choose for your perfect combination, and all are perfectly camouflaged to appear out-of-sight.
Sounds ridiculous right? No contractor would fill your new backyard with 138 different elements and just cover them up so you can’t see them, but this is exactly how themes are developed.
When you purchase or download a free theme and manipulate it into your perfect website, the other code doesn’t just disappear. That un-used code sits camouflaged in the backend of the server taking up valuable space and using valuable time to load. In addition to un-used code, if you add in any one of the available 52,000 “plug-in’s” your website may need to function correctly, you talking about a seriously slow website, which equals loss of traffic and lower search engine rankings.
But don’t take our word for it, check out the following case study.
Phong Huynh is a software developer from Toronto, Canada. Huynh originally built and managed his website within the WordPress suite and eventually migrated his code outside of the WordPress CMS to save money and increase his websites load speed.
Page load speed is the time it takes to download and display the entire content of a web page in the browser window, this is process is measured in seconds, but stages of the loading process is measured in milliseconds.
It is recommended that a website loads in less than a second in a desktop device and less than 3 seconds on a mobile device.
Below is Huynh’s website comparison test from the WordPress platform to a static platform.
Huynh also made the switch to increase website security and to reduce the amount of plug-in’s needed to function. Read Phong Huynh’s complete study here.
The first half of our blog was focused on Technical SEO and a Theme’s inability to perform On-Page SEO best practices; but what about plug-ins like Yoast SEO, Jetpack and Woocommerce?
WordPress plug-ins serve several purposes, they provide contact forms, SEO tools and ecommerce platforms, but did you know that all these essential features can coded directly into a website without a plug-in?
One of the most popular plug-ins developed for WordPress was built by Joost de Valk in 2010 called Yoast SEO. It is common for website owners to fall into the misconception that this plug-in will provide the essential SEO functionality where the website’s theme falls short.
Let us be the first to tell you, this is false.
First of all, Yoast SEO is not free. The Yoast SEO team, does provide a freemium plug-in for those only interested in limited features, but for premium, you will have to pay $89.00 a year. Still, $89.00 verses possibly thousands you could have spent on an SEO company is still not bad, but if Yoast SEO does what SEO companies do, then why do SEO companies still exist?
Because it doesn’t.
Tom Dupuis is an SEO expert in Denver, Colorado. Dupuis lives and breathes WordPress and even writes blogs on how to optimize your website on the WordPress CMS. In October 2018, Dupuis wrote a blog called “Yoast SEO Premium Review: An Honest Review”.
In his review Dupuis states that Yoast SEO actually “does not directly improve SEO in anyway” and “their updates do not keep current with Google’s algorithm.”
Once again, you get what you pay for.
Based on the skill level of the average template developer a theme website can have 10-30 plug-ins to function correctly (all which can be built with code in a custom website). With every plug-in added, the page load speed gets slower and slower.
So, why do we believe that theme or template websites are bad for SEO and bad for business? Because from a website functionality point-of-view, themed websites are not optimized for SEO and without SEO your business cannot grow online without significant advertising investment.
Does that mean businesses should refrain from WordPress, Wix, Drupal and Squarespace? No. As a Content Management System, these platforms can be incredibly useful and can allow creative marketers and entrepreneurs to manage and grow their website.
However, when using these systems your website should be build with custom code with little to no plug-ins added to improve the functionality of the website from a qualified website designer and developer. The website should also be monitored and maintained by a dedicated employee, department or agency and a strategy should be in place to improve the websites overall on-page and off-page search engine optimization.
So, how do you know if your web designer is building your website correctly? Don’t ask them if your website will be custom, in fact don’t even ask them if it will be built on a CMS. Ask them if they will be using HTML and CSS to code your website from the ground up without any theme or template.
Like we said before, you get what you pay for and with a custom-coded website, you will be happy you made the investment.