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Massive Google Ranking Drop after WordPress Theme Change



3:24 am on Oct 3, 2013 (gmt 0)

Back in June I was ranking at the top of Google SERPs for most of the keywords on my website. My organic traffic was between 1,000 and 1,500 visitors per day on average. I have incredibly high quality natural backlinks from major media organizations. However, around the same time as the Google Penguin 2.0 algorithmic update in May/June I also changed my WordPress theme. This is when I started noticing a decrease in search traffic.
Since then, my organic visitors have decreased to between 100 and 200 per day, a massive drop. I believe the problem may have something to do with HTML issues with my website that happened when I switched WordPress themes. The Penguin update shouldn’t have affected me because all of my backlinks are natural and not the spammy types that Google was targeting. Although, I am really not sure what the issue is.
I need a diagnostic run on my website to check for any SEO and HTML problems that may be affecting my SERP rankings. I would then need the problems with my website fixed in order to reclaim my position in the Google search results.

Any thoughts or suggestions about what I can do myself ?

[edited by: aakk9999 at 1:48 pm (utc) on Oct 3, 2013]
[edit reason] Forum Charter [/edit]


4:09 pm on Oct 3, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Welcome to WebmasterWorld, policonflict!

The first step should be to analyse when and where from the traffic has been lost:
- Has your loss been gradual or did you have sharp drop?
- If you did have a sharp drop, does the date of this drop coincide with some known update?
- Have you lost the traffic accross the board on the site, or on selected pages only?
- Has the traffic loss been more prominent in some countries than the others?
- What kind of HTML issues did you have when you switched WordPress theme? Has the issue been fixed AND previous effects rectified (e.g. if you leaked many duplicate URLs, have these been redirected to their canonical version or similar)
- Have you tried switching back WordPress theme, if so, what happened?


4:14 pm on Oct 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

Hi aakk9999,

Thanks for the welcome and the suggestions.

I have tried changing my theme back to the old one so I will wait for a while and see if my rankings improve.

Thanks again!


5:53 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm very interested in the outcome of this. Please post what you've been able to correct. I have no axe to grind regarding Wordpress, I like the whole plug-in, go to any host, etc notion of it. But I have real concerns about it's seo vulnerability. Updates coming in to the site from who knows where and at any random time. Plugins from developers, and to what degree those developers have full understanding of innocent mistakes that can kill rankings...is concerning.

Lots, and now millions, of folk are putting, almost blind faith into WP, that all is just fine on the seo front. And those millions may in itself be part a growing seo issue as to how Google perceives millions of lowly-newbie sites coming online enmasse. Personally I've recently acquired new clients with WP platforms. The Maneuverability and seo plug-ins are great, but the sites seem oddly difficult to improve rankings. I have more clients with crazy good rankings, poised to launch into new WP platforms. I'm pretty concerned. I'll be doing diligent before after ranking tests. And I encourage webmasters to be doing them more diligently as well. (although. it may be too late after the fact).


6:12 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have experienced the same thing with wordpress. I do not have any evidence but I believe this can be caused by code bloat. Some wordpress themes have more code than they need or it is all loaded before the content. I only use a couple of themes now, both are premium themes. You get what you pay for.


6:27 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

when a WP theme is changed, are the URLs of the pages changed, too?


6:54 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month


And all my sites are in WordPress and they all do swimmingly. Better than swimmingly. And much much better since I migrated to WP. As with everything, it all depends on implementation. Hosting matters. Plugins matter. Theme frameworks matter. But this is not unique to WP, it's true of any platform, and to some degree, it's true of any site.

(We do have a WordPress forum here where these discussions would be more than welcome)


9:00 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Policonflict, as aakk9999 suggested, the thing you really need to do is check the date and shape of the decline. If was rather like falling off a cliff, it's almost certainly an update/algo change by Google. Compare the date to known Google updates.

If it was more gradual, and began not long after you changed themes, it could be theme-related. If that's the case, your switch back should start working.

I wouldn't usually expect a giant drop like that from a theme change, though it might have changed your internal linkage or other less obvious factors. Good luck!


9:34 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Or... It may be that users didn't like your new theme and that had an adverse effect on certain visitor metrics. In my rather recent experience, a drop in user experience has a far more drastic effect over the short term than a large improvement does. It takes less time to jump off a cliff than it does to climb up it.


11:40 pm on Dec 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member lucy24 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time Top Contributors Of The Month

Did the theme change involve any substantive change to the HTML that search engines see? That is, something above and beyond colors and fonts. Another possibility that I've seen suggested hereabouts is that when a search engine finds really major sitewide changes, it triggers a full re-indexing.


12:09 am on Dec 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Did the theme change involve any substantive change to the HTML that search engines see? That is, something above and beyond colors and fonts.

Excellent point Lucy.

For example theme change may have changed the way the menus work - perhaps from the siloed menus where the second level opens on click to a hover menus (mega menus) that expand to show all submenus when hovering over the main nav menu link.

Whilst on the surface nothing much changed (as until you hover, the menu structure may look the same), in effect the way the site is interlinked has completely changed: the hub pages are not emphasised and the same anchor texts (from the drop down menu options) are shown on every page of the site, diluting the hub page focus.

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