SEO and WordPress Themes: Custom vs. Off the Shelf

For a WordPress website, the choice between a custom theme and a commercially available theme can significantly impact the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) of your website. Understanding the SEO benefits associated with each is crucial for making an informed decision that aligns with your business goals. In this guide, we’ll explore the distinctive advantages and considerations of custom WordPress themes and commercially available themes when it comes to optimizing your website for search engines.

Custom WordPress Themes

1. Unique Design and Structure

  • Custom themes allow for a unique and tailored design, avoiding the cookie-cutter appearance of many commercially available themes. Visitors value originality, and a custom design can positively impact user experience, indirectly influencing SEO.

2. Optimized Code and Performance

  • Custom themes are crafted with your specific needs in mind, leading to cleaner and more optimized code. By including only the features you need, code bloat. This contributes to faster page loading times, an important factor in SEO ranking algorithms. Prebuilt themes often have multiple options for every type of page, and can contain 3x-4x as much JavaScript and CSS markup as is actually needed for the final product, all of which has to be downloaded with every page of the site.

3. Flexibility in Content Structure

  • Custom themes provide the flexibility to structure your content in a way that aligns with SEO best practices. You have control over heading hierarchies, schema markup, and other structural elements that contribute to search engine visibility.

5. Tailored SEO Features

  • Custom themes can integrate specific SEO features and functionalities tailored to your business. This may include advanced schema markup, custom meta tags, and other on-page optimization elements that enhance search engine visibility.

6. Regular Updates and Maintenance

  • With a dedicated development team, custom themes can receive regular updates and maintenance. This ensures that your website stays current with evolving SEO best practices and search engine algorithms.

8. Improved Security Measures

  • Security is intertwined with SEO, as search engines prioritize safe and secure websites. Custom themes can be fortified with robust security measures, reducing the risk of vulnerabilities that could impact SEO rankings. In addition, unless a commercially available theme is scanned line by line for security vulnerabilities, there is no way to know for sure that the developers or another party has not inserted a backdoor or malicious code.

Prebuilt Themes: Convenience and Lower Price

1. Ease of Use and Quick Setup

  • Commercial themes are often user-friendly, enabling quick setup without extensive technical knowledge. However, the convenience might come at the cost of some SEO customization options or optimizations.

2. Diverse Design Options

  • Commercial themes offer a range of design options, but they seldom provide the same level of uniqueness as a custom design. In our experience, it is usually possible to achieve 95% of what you want with a prebuilt theme. However, the remaining 5% can sometimes either be impossible or require expensive customization that negates most of the value of using a commercial theme.

3. Code Complexity and Performance

  • Commercial themes, while feature-rich, can come with more complex code and unnecessary features. This can potentially impact website performance and page loading times, influencing SEO rankings.

4. Structured Content Limitations

  • Commercial themes might have limitations in how you can structure your content. This can impact SEO, as certain structural elements like heading hierarchies and schema markup play a role in search engine algorithms.

5. Inclusion of Unwanted Features

  • Commercial themes often come with a range of features, not all of which may be necessary for your website. Unwanted features can contribute to code bloat and potentially affect website performance.

6. Dependency on Theme Updates

  • The SEO performance of a commercially available theme is dependent on regular updates from the theme developer. If updates are infrequent or cease altogether, it can leave your website vulnerable to security issues and impact SEO. Hiring a professional developer to keep your theme updated will often cost more in the long run than a custom theme, as he or she will generally not be as familiar with the codebase.

7. Responsive Design Variability

  • While many commercial themes are responsive, the quality of responsiveness can vary. Some themes might not provide an optimal mobile experience, affecting SEO rankings on mobile devices.

8. Security Concerns:

  • Security vulnerabilities in commercially available themes can pose a risk to SEO. Search engines prioritize secure websites, and a compromised theme could lead to penalties in search rankings.


As a WordPress development agency, we are obviously biased towards the use of custom themes. However, as an SEO agency, we can honestly say that achieving good search ranking is far easier with a custom theme than with the vast majority of prebuilt ones. That was why we branched out into theme development in the first place, from our original emphasis and expertise with SEO. If SEO is important to your business, a commercial theme only makes sense if you simply can’t afford a custom theme, you need to get SOMETHING online as quickly as possible while a custom theme is being built, or you can’t find a developer with proven SEO expertise.