Listener Question: Changing Themes
Today the first thing I want to do is talk to you about a question from Chris over at NicheSiteTools.com. If you haven’t checked that out, I encourage you to go on over there and give Chris a shoutout and tell him Mark says hello.
Chris, I am so sorry that it has taken so long.
He had a great question that came in over the summer that I mishandled in my queue of things to do about how to change themes. He’s changing away from Thesis, which I’ve recommended for a long time, and he wants to know how to do that.
Let’s hear that question from Chris….
Hey, Mark. It’s Chris from NicheSiteTools.com. I have a question for you today in regards to changing themes. I currently use Thesis 1.8.5 and I’m finding it’s not really mobile responsive and I was thinking about doing a redesign for my site anyway.
I was thinking of converting from Thesis to one of the Elegant Themes. I’m curious if you could give some tips and tricks on how to avoid losing any rankings, traffic, and just any gotchas if you’ve done something similar in the past. I wanted to get your opinion and see what you thought. I’d appreciate it if you could let us know.
Thanks so much. I appreciate what you’re doing, as always.
Chris, that is an excellent question.
First of all, regarding Thesis, I still think Thesis as a framework is great. If you’re a developer particular, I think it’s just fine, but I’ve lost interest in messing with Thesis. They lost me when they went to Thesis 2.0. I still think it’s a fine theme, but usability for a guy like me who is not a real developer, who just kind of pretends to do some coding here and there, is really poor. It’s not designed for that, it’s not designed for me. I think it’s really not designed anymore for people who are just kind of getting started in internet marketing and building websites.
I don’t really use Thesis anymore either. I have some legacy sites that still use Thesis and I don’t think there’s any reason to change away from it, it’s still a very good theme, very solidly built. As far as I know, everything is just fine. But from an ease of use standpoint, I don’t recommend it to people anymore.
Elegant Themes, Woo Themes, the Genesis Framework, all of those famous combinations of frameworks and themes I find a lot easier to use. That’s where I’ve been steering people.
I will tell you that in my case when I build a new website, oftentimes I will still use Thesis if my virtual assistant is starting the website, because she’s really good at creating the websites the way that I like them with Thesis. My website developer is also a Thesis guru. So I do still use it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for you if you’re starting out.
If you saw the recent post over at Pat Flynn’s website Smart Passive Income, Pat has been doing some analysis of his stats on the Niche Site Duel and he was recently able to show that his Security Guard Training website has some enormous amount of mobile traffic, but the theme that he’s using isn’t responsive and that’s a big gap for him. He’s made some changes to that theme in that area and all of a sudden dramatically increased his Adsense revenue on the site. That’s a very interesting post.
That just goes to show that you really need to be looking at your stats on these kind of sites and trying to put yourself in the position of people who are using your site to see what it is that you might need to change. In the case of Thesis, particular the older version of Thesis, it’s not mobile responsive. That’s a problem and that’s a good reason to switch away from a theme to get that mobile responsiveness.
Of course, you never know what the effect of that is going to be and you need to test things. The question that Chris asked is what he can do to make sure that there is no negative impact on his site when he changes themes.
First of all, from an SEO standpoint there’s a couple of things that you need to pay attention to when you change themes in order to make sure that you don’t have a negative impact on your site. The first thing is when you change themes that have some infrastructure in them for SEO purposes, like they rewrite the title tags or they rewrite the meta description, you need to make sure that you understand what the result is. Those title tags particularly are going to be used by Google; when they index your site that’s what is going to show up in the search listings.
The title tag for your page is the line that shows up in the Google search results. If your theme does something to change those – let’s say for example that it adds the name of your website to the end of every page, that’s a common thing that WordPress does – that is going to impact your SEO if that was happening before. Generally since that information is usually not relevant to the page that you’re trying to get listed, it’s usually duplicate content. That’s going to be a negative impact, so you want to watch for those things.
The best way to get control over all of this, in my opinion, is to use the Yoast SEO Plugin. We’ve talked about that some on the show. For most themes the Yoast SEO Plugin will override any weird stuff. Maybe not even weird stuff, but any stuff that the theme is doing in terms of SEO, it can make sure that you have control over that.
Another thing that the theme may be influencing is the creation of archive pages, category pages, and other sources of duplicate content on your site. We’ve talked about duplicate content a lot. When you change themes you want to be careful that you don’t do something to instantly create a bunch of duplicates of your posts inside your own site.
We’ve talked about the fact that there are essentially two kinds of duplicate content. There’s your content existing in multiple places on your site – that’s bad, Google really doesn’t like that. Then there’s content in other places on the internet that are owned by other people, in the eyes of Google, appearing on your site making it look like you are duplicating content that’s already on the internet.
It’s the first case that we’re talking about here, where you have all these great posts but in addition to the post URLs themselves you might have category pages that reprint those posts. You want to be careful if you change themes that you either don’t allow the theme to do that or that those pages do not appear in Google’s index. You can do that by “no indexing” those pages. Whatever you do, you want to make sure that all of the content in your site appears once and only once in the eyes of Google, otherwise it makes your site look spammy. You want to be careful of that kind of thing.
Those are the things that I would recommend to check. Make sure you don’t muck with the SEO settings for title tags and that sort of thing. Make sure that your theme doesn’t create a bunch of duplicate content on your site through archive pages, author pages, or category pages.
The other thing that I would say is to make sure you have good statistics in place so that you can observe any changes in clicking behavior on your site. Again, using Pat as an example, when he switched themes on the Smart Passive Income Blog he saw a dramatic decrease in some important page statistics. I’ll also try to find that post for you.
Pat found that the design of the new theme actually effected how much time people were spending on his site and it effected how they were clicking around and clicking through on your site and opting in, all kinds of stuff that was important to him. The takeaway there is if you’re going to change themes, you want to make sure that you have Google Analytics up and running and well installed. Again, I recommend the Yoast Google Analytics Plugin for this to make sure that Google Analytics is installed and properly configured on your site.
You want to have a good history of that up and running so that you can see changes for better or for worse that occur when you change the theme, due to design elements. Maybe your header is too big, maybe your new theme pushes some important links below the fold and now people can’t see them, maybe some menu options that were there on your current theme are gone now and people were really clicking on those. I definitely recommend that you do that.
Another thing that you probably should do before you change your theme is install a tool like CrazyEgg and make sure that you understand what it is that people are clicking on at your site and make sure that either you fix your site with the new theme to improve, maybe people are clicking on something you don’t want them necessarily click on, maybe you improve the usability on your site, or if something goes wrong you’ll have that CrazyEgg data to see what people were click on and what people are clicking on now.
CrazyEgg is a tool you install some code on your website and it allows you to observe users and what they’re clicking on at your site, either in the form of heat maps or live mouse movements. It’s really cool. A highly recommended tool for understanding what’s going on with your site.
That’s what I would do. I would make sure you don’t mess up your SEO, as mentioned the Yoast Plugin is a really good way to do that. And I would make sure that you don’t mess up your user experience, monitoring that with Google Analytics and CrazyEgg.
I hope that helps. I hope you enjoy your switch to Elegant Themes, if you haven’t done that already. Chris, again, I’m very sorry for the long delay. I hope you have an absolutely fantastic transition with your website.
SEO Tips from Alex Miller at Rankings Institute
The next thing that I want to talk about is a prerecorded message that I got for Alex Miller over at the Rankings Institute. You guys know I’m a big fan of Rankings Institute, I’ve learned a lot from those guys to great effect. I asked Alex to come on the show like Andrew did in the previous episode, but the truth of the matter is Alex was so busy preparing content for the recent launch of Rankings Institute that he didn’t have time to sit with us for an entire hour. We will do that in the future, but what he did have time to do and what I was able to talk him into was to give us an SEO tip.
One of the great things about Alex is that he runs an SEO firm for SEO firms, so he’s a service provider to SEO firms. One of the impacts of that is that he is tracking the performance of hundreds or thousands client websites. He knows in aggregate what his clients are trying to rank for, what their rankings are, and what SEO products they’re ordering. So he knows what works and what doesn’t work, and he knows that across a bunch of niches and a bunch of clients, so he can get a really good picture of what these Panda algorithms and what things are happening in SEO.
He has some tips for us that are based on his actual experience across hundreds or thousands of customers at his SEO company. In addition to the fact that Alex is really smart, I have found this to be an incredibly huge competitive advantage for this guy. Alex knows what’s going on based on data. That’s going to be something that separates the men from the boys, if you will, in the SEO game.
SEO opinions are like bellybuttons, everybody has one. Everybody has an opinion, including me, about “I think this works” or “I think that works.” What separates guys like Alex from guys like me is Alex is a guy who actually has data not across a few sites, but across a few hundred or few thousand sites and he can really see what’s going on.
With that as an introduction, let me take you straight to Alex and let’s see what he has to say…
Hi there. This is Alex Miller. Mark invited me recently to jump onto one of his shows to have a talk about the new Rankings Institute course that is coming out very soon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it onto the show, as I’m very busy completing the remaining video content for the new course to be ready. Instead I thought I would just prerecord a little tip for Mark’s listener – an actionable tip that you can implement immediately for your SEO campaigns.
There’s obviously a lot of things that I could discuss, but I wanted to talk a little bit about linking. That’s a very popular topic, of course, and very important when it comes to SEO. I just have a couple tips that I wanted to give.
Our data has shown time and time again that if you are linking to your money site – the sites that you own – using mass links, links generated with software programs, then you are absolutely killing your sites. You want to avoid this at all costs. This includes links such as mass article submissions, mass directory submissions, even mass social bookmarks. I see endless products and services out there offering 500 bookmarks for $5.00. That is pretty much the last thing I would ever order for my money site. I would highly recommend that you stop doing that as soon as possible.
If you are going to do something like a directory submission campaign or a social bookmarking campaign, then you want to do all of those manually and you want to do them in low volume. Instead of doing 500 social bookmarks, why not submit a manual submission to five of the most authoritative social bookmarking sites that are currently out there.
No mass links to the money sites. Actually, on the topic of link volumes, what we are seeing is working consistently well is a low volume of high quality links to your money site. You can absolutely dominate the rankings with as little as 50 to 100 links. That’s not a specific number that’s always going to work for your niche and your campaigns, but we have a lot of sites that we collect data on and we are seeing that using a softer touch approach is working tremendously well.
Links that I would be acquiring would be guest posts through manual blog outreach, for example. Those are the king of kings. They do require more effort, but they are very much worth it. Blog posts that are on high page rank sites are extremely powerful, they always have been and that hasn’t changed. Focus on acquiring much higher quality types of links as opposed to thinking, “I need to get hundreds or thousands of links to my site to get the movement that I’m looking for.”
Please do take that in mind. If you’re doing any mass linking at all of any nature to your money site, then I would stop absolutely immediately. Even if you are using the brand or the URL as anchor text, it’s not a good idea, it’s not producing good results. The only exception is press releases, mainly because those sites have a much higher authority.
I hope this is has helped. If you focus on obtaining a lower volume of high quality links you will see much better results in the SERPs for your campaigns.
Thank you very much for listening to this handful of tips. For those of you who are joining the Rankings Institute, we will see you on the inside. Thank you.
Wrapping Things Up…
That’s some pretty clear advice from Alex. If you’re in the business, as I have been in the past, of buying these junk links – directory links, mass submissions, mass social bookmarks, mass comments, mass anything or mass anything automated – that’s not the way to go on your money site, on the site that you’re really trying to rank for the long term, whether that’s your affiliate marketing site or your site like LateNightIM.com.
In fact, I’ll tell you that over the last eight years of messing around with MasonWorld.com and LateNightIM.com, I have bought a lot of these different kinds of links in an effort to study how these things work and to get the site working better, and those have worked in the past. Now they’re a real boat anchor, they’re a detriment, so I’ve been working hard to clean up this kind of stuff based on what I’ve learned in the Rankings Institute, to great effect.
Absolutely positively follow Alex’s advice here, be very careful and do not use these massive social bookmarking links. It is true that you can sometimes get temporary bumps from some of these techniques, but the truth of the matter is that they never last. A lot of times we’ve seen when people say, “Hey, wait a minute, I see a site with 100,000 backlinks that is ranking,” we’ll go back and look at that site weeks or months later and it will be completely gone out of the rankings because those things just don’t hold up. Eventually Google catches up with that and those sites go away.
So that’s the advice from Alex. I hope you enjoyed that. I’ll be seeing you in Episode 84 really soon. Have a fantastic day and get something done on your business this week.