The Top 4 SEO Mistakes WordPress Developers Should Avoid

By Nicole Kohler
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Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a topic that most WordPress developers at least have a minimal grasp on. The general premise is simple enough: if your website is fast, highly linked, and optimized with the right keywords, you stand a good chance at ranking well on Google (and other search engines, if you care about them).

However, a basic understanding doesn’t always guarantee that you’ll develop WordPress based websites or tools that are SEO friendly. It’s possible that you are making one or more mistakes related to Search Engine Optimization without even realizing it.

Here are four of the top SEO mistakes that WordPress developers should avoid, and ways that you can stay on Google’s good side.

1. Installing WordPress on a Subdomain

If you work within an agency or in a client facing role of any kind, you certainly know better than to argue with your customers. However, this is one instance in which you should be very firm: clients should not add their company blog to

With regards to SEO, a subdomain is viewed as a separate domain with its own authority and ‘rating’. If a client is creating a new website and a new blog, and their blog is hosted on a subdomain, this means that incoming links to the blog (where they will probably be creating a majority of their link worthy content) will not pass any authority to their site domain.

On the other hand, if the blog is installed in a subdirectory, as is most common, incoming links will pass authority to the site domain. This can help build a website’s reputation and increase the amount of inbound links twice as fast, especially if the client’s content is mostly housed here.

This topic is one that is regularly discussed by SEOs, especially because there are times in which a subdomain installation might be a better choice. This Search Engine Watch article has more information on the theoretical situations that may lead you to choose a subdomain over a subdirectory, including a reputation management issue or desire to occupy an additional spot in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

2. Aggressive Credit Links from Themes or Plugins

This mistake is one that applies to any developers creating WordPress themes, or occasionally plugins.

Many themes have a credit link in the footer with a link to the creator’s website, which is common practice. However, aggressive credit linking can be a huge SEO mistake.

When you add a credit link to the footer of your theme, or somewhere below or within a plugin, this link essentially appears on every page of a WordPress installation on which it is used. This is known as a sitewide link. Sitewide links can be very powerful, and generally speaking, the more you get, the better your site authority will be.

However, Google’s algorithm has advanced to the point of easily detecting unnatural links, specifically sitewide ones. So if your theme or plugin ends up on thousands of websites, and hundreds of thousands of indexed pages, you could be in trouble. A sitewide link from a few sites may look natural, but from thousands of unrelated websites with different topics? It’s not going to make much sense.

Increasing your own website’s reputation through the use of aggressive credit links simply isn’t worth the gamble. To preserve your credit link without potentially subjecting yourself to a Google penalty, I recommend changing any footer or plugin credit links to nofollow.

Simply add the rel=”nofollow” link to your link as follows:

<a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>Theme by</a>

The credit link will still appear intact, allowing those interested in your work to visit your site, but no value will be passed. Essentially, the site using your theme or plugin won’t be seen as ‘endorsing you’, which won’t boost (or harm) your authority.

3. Not Taking Site Speed into Consideration

There are two ways that the speed of a WordPress installation affects a website’s SEO:

  1. Google prefers faster websites and will give them preference over slower ones in its ranking algorithm
  2. Users prefer faster websites. If users are driving up the bounce rate by leaving quickly because WordPress takes too long to load, Google will dock the site in its ranking algorithm

A study by Moz found that it’s not how long it takes your entire website or page to load that affects SEO and therefore ranking, but the time to first byte. Therefore, if your server is sluggish, or a plugin or dependency is wrecking the time it takes to load WordPress, your ranking (or your client’s) could take a hit.

However, keep in mind that this isn’t all just about what search engines want. Users want faster websites, too. Generally speaking, faster websites have lower bounce rates, and have higher conversion rates as well.

If you’re concerned about speed, you can use a CDN service like CloudFlare or Amazon CloudFront to speed up the load times of your WordPress site. You can learn more about using a CDN with WordPress by reading this article by Jacco Blankenspoor.

We also covered the overall topic of site speed in a recent article: “Speed Up Your WordPress Site“.

4. Ignoring SEO Altogether

Ignoring SEO altogether is, in my opinion, the worst mistake a WordPress developer can make. Ignorance is not bliss, and if you’re doing any kind of work for a client in which you are responsible for ‘making it work’, you owe it to them to have an understanding of how SEO can be used to improve their current circumstances or your own development tasks.

However, even if you work as part of a team, or will be handing your work off to a team in which someone responsible for SEO is employed, it’s still key to have some knowledge of how SEO works and why it is important. If you develop slow, weighty plugins or link heavy themes, or install WordPress without a CDN, you may simply be creating additional work for someone else further down the line.

If you’re new to SEO, or simply want a refresher course, here are a few resources you may find helpful:

What other tips do you have for WordPress developers looking to avoid making SEO mistakes? Have you made any mistakes in the past that you’ve learned from? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and experiences.

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  • John

    Awesome post from you Nicole. By the way, is the Powered by WordPress is already rel=nofollow? Or do I have to do that manually?

    • Thanks John!

      That is a great question! On my WordPress installations, it looks like it’s a followed link, but this could vary by theme. However, I wouldn’t worry so much about a link to, because a) it’s a trusted site, and b) it’s unlikely that you’d be punished for a sitewide link to their site that already exists in a theme, footer, etc. If they put it there, it’s on them, not you :)

  • There are a few great plugins that help with SEO, I particularly like and always install All-In-One SEO pack. It’s easy to use and to teach my clients and has a great feature that makes it easy to send details of XML Site Map directly to Google and Bing webmaster tools. As webmaster tools can be a little scary to the non-technically minded, this simple facility is worth it’s weight on gold and puts the responsibility back in the hands of the content author.

    Great article.

    • Thanks Adam! I remember my first exposure to WMT being absolutely terrifying. Any kind of tool that can soften the blow a bit is a good choice. :)

  • Hi Nicole, thanks for mentioning my article about using a CDN with WordPress, and thumbs up on your SEO article :-)

    • Absolutely, Jacco! It is a perfect resource on the topic. And thank you :)


    Great article, do comments have an effect in website seo?

  • Sneha Thakkar

    All these 4 steps are awesome and without considering this one can’t get good results in search engine.
    As a SEO executive at Arvaan Technolab ahmedabad, I liked the 4th one.
    Neglecting SEO is the biggest mistake, as I believe.

  • Most comment links these days are nofollow links, which means they really don’t have any affect on SEO. However, if you have a relevant link — aka, you’re not trying to spam for attention, or to get people to visit your site, cough cough other comments on this post ;) — you can drop it in there.

  • Hasan Abbas

    tell me if it is like ok at the moment or should i work on SEO and stuff n make it more fast

  • Felix Brown

    Nice Thread..I always avoide KeyWord Stuffing and Over optimization. Thanks.

  • ignorance is bliss…. only when you know what you’re doing and missing. by having a website nowadays, you need to compete with thousands if not millions of related websites.

    and having a website that no one knows and no one sees, is the least a website owner and webmaster needs.

  • Megh

    Hi Nicole I had a question from SEO- Google SERP perspective.

    We have the Corp Head-office in Australia with 5 overseas branches in Argentina, UK,
    Luxumberg, Belgium, China. Each of these Branch offices have their specific
    business units in their local languages. for e.g. South American branch caters
    to Spanish and Poruguese (Brazilian)customers

    We have the company website built on WP . We need to develop location specific sites in local
    languages for the various offices. The debate now is, should we go the
    sub-domain route ( or take the domain route ( or
    the sub-folder or sub-directory route

    If we go down the Subdomain route I want to know: a) Impact on SEO B) Impact on Google SERP C) Impact on lets say a PPC
    Campaign? d) Would there be issues related to canonacalcization?

    Majority of the content on the local sites would differ.