Unsurprisingly we get asked this question a lot. And by a lot I mean almost daily. Some people swear that WordPress is the best for ranking high in search engines, while others give anecdotes of how Google dropped them to the ninth page by switching.
Let’s go over what affects SEO. And if you don’t know the basics, read up on our post about beginner SEO questions. The main factors (very generalized), are keywords & content, backlinking, and onsite optimization.
Keywords & content
It should not come as too much of a surprise that the content of your site is the driving force behind how search engines rank and show your site. Changing content can both lower or raise your rankings depending on the search phrase.
The reason people most often associate a move to or from WordPress with change in rankings is because moving to any CMS often entails content changes. Sometimes this is in the form of new more targeted content, which obviously helps your ratings. Other times, you may get lazy and forget to migrate your old blog content. Is losing your blog and possibly 75% of your site’s content going to hurt your rankings? Without a doubt.
To better understand how a search engine like Google sees your content, take a look at this tool.
If you put in your website, you’ll notice that it’s completely lacking of images, color, and any form of design. Search engines only pay attention to the actual content on the site, and several html tags. In this respect, WordPress is no different to any other web platform. The only advantage it may have is an easier method of adding content for beginners.
There’s not a whole lot we can say here. Someone else linking back from their site to yours has absolutely nothing to do with WordPress. It’s not even something you can directly control from your site.
In fact, I would even go as far as to say that this is a mild advantage in the WordPress arena. WordPress gives you a number of tools and there are tons of plugins available that make it crazy easy for others to share or link to your content. This can be done on any site, but a plugin just reduces the amount of time it takes.
On-page SEO Factors
Up until now, we’ve just been eliminating where WordPress might or might not hurt SEO, but this is where it starts to matter. WordPress is built on PHP and uses a relational database (usually MySQL) not unlike the majority of CMS’s available on the web.
This is nothing new and PHP simply outputs to HTML. This means that there is nothing special about WordPress or how Google sees it. You can in fact easily modify WordPress to output HTML in a way that no one could possibly know you were using WordPress.
So final verdict is that anyone claiming the WordPress CMS has anything to do with rankings is 100% full of BS.
Now going back to the link we used earlier to check how I search engine sees our site- let’s say that Google does choose to crawl and database way more information than it needs to. Let’s say that Google really wants to (I don’t know why) punish or reward sites on Google. What on earth is stopping someone from using WordPress-like HTML on a non-WordPress site or “normal” html on a WordPress site? Nothing- and no, Google doesn’t care that you’re using WordPress. It’s pretty ludicrous to think that Google genuinely cares if you’re using a CMS or has some personal vendetta against WordPress sites.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s cover some areas where using WordPress could hurt your rankings.
There are quite a few factors that make up your site speed and if you’d like to read more about it, check out our quick site speed optimization guide.
WordPress gives users a lot of control. And while this is one of the best things about the CMS, it’s also its biggest drawback. Users can add as many different plugins, themes, and images as they want. Sounds great, right? Not really, it’s one of my recurring nightmares.
Both WordPress themes and plugins are an invaluable tool that make WordPress what it is. Unfortunately, there are no strict coding standards or size restrictions that people have to abide by. Bootstrap is already loaded in your theme? No problem- let’s load it again in this plugin! Need tons of icons? Sure, here’s another 300kb for your site.
My point is that with so many users running 20+ plugins on a site, it’s easy for a page that should have been about 200kb in size to run around 3,000kb. Think your safe with just your theme? Think again. WordPress themes have become more and more bloated over the years. As marketplaces like ThemeForest continue to grow, theme authors continue to add as many features as possible to keep up. This translates into a large number of files that bog down your page speed.
If you have an ecommerce site, forum, or other application that’s relatively larger, this is only made worse by the massive number of SQL calls needed for WordPress to pull all the information from these various plugin and theme features.
Tags and Formatting
Remember how I said earlier that WordPress had nothing to do with your content? I lied… kind of. Every WordPress site’s frontend is determined by a theme. If you get a theme that has poorly formatted tags (and yes, there are many from the top themes on ThemeForest), your search rankings may suffer.
For example, search engines will give a lot more priority to title tags and H1 tags on the page. If your theme has styled these manually or used them in the wrong place, it could significantly reduce your ranking.
WordPress is by no means a bad CMS and it’s frustrating hearing over and over again how bad of a CMS it is. WordPress itself is simply a content management system and has zero affect on your SEO.
Themes and plugins, however, can significantly hurt your rankings. It’s very possible to optimize these and make WordPress a great site, but you have to take a deep look at the code to understand where you may be penalized.
Struggling to figure out why your WordPress site isn’t ranking? Give us a shout or leave a comment below!