WordPress SEO heavyweights

Disclaimer: This is not another article about WordPress SEO plugins and nor is it about SEO agencies. We suggest you use the Yoast SEO plugin but we could’t suggest a SEO agency even if we wanted to.

In this article we analyzed Google’s results pages for several WordPress related Keywords. We wanted to determine who are the players getting most of that traffic, how they are achieving their results and what others can do to aspire to reach similar levels.

WordPress SEO has become extremely competitive and lucrative. All WordPress related Keywords combined generate millions of monthly visitors.

Some of them generate hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in Sales, Affiliate Marketing and Advertisement.

Ranking for some of the most competitive keywords is virtually impossible for new Websites. This because a handful of unbeatable giants dominate the most valuable SERPs and they’ll be hard to dethrone.

There are hundreds of websites and blogs dedicated to promoting WordPress News, products and services. Very few are those who mastered SEO and were smart enough to heavily invest in WordPress SEO to outrank the competition.

Are other websites forced to live off these giants leftovers? No, at the end of this article we will explain what you can do to excel without even ranking in top positions for your most competitive keywords.

WordPress SEO analysis: Themes

In the WordPress Themes Niche, 3 websites dominate the SERPs and without a doubt enjoy the highest visibility.

They are ThemeForest, Athemes and Colorlib.

Just look at the table below, the dominance of these 3 players is beyond obvious.

Envato’s themeforest.net is the clear winner here, especially because they sell at least 1 product for every niche. The other 2 players instead, in most cases will refer the traffic to another vendor to collect affiliate commissions. In a lot of cases to themeforest.net itself.

KeyWordEnvatoAthemesColorlib
Business WordPress Themes213
WordPress Photography Themes241
WordPress Multipurpose Themes132
WordPress eCommerce Themes152
WordPress Directory Themes126
WordPress Magazine Themes321
WordPress Real Estate Themes142
WordPress Portfolio Themes241
WordPress church Themes356
WordPress Restaurant Themes142

WPBegginer is the only website that come close to these 3 being in top 5 positions in approx 50% of the above SERPs. Honorable mention goes to Codeinwp, which also appears in the top 10 for most of the keywords.

I used this free keyword rank checker tool to check results for the above keywords.

You can try with other theme niches too, the results will be pretty similar, especially if the niche is highly profitable.

WordPress SEO analysis: Plugins

While for WordPress themes the 1st position is always occupied by one of the 3 website previously mentioned, for WordPress plugins the situation is quite different.

The top position (often beyond position 1) is occupied by a wordpress.org plugin’s page. This because the most successful plugins today, take advantage of wordpress.org to offer a freemium business model.

They release a free version of their plugin on WordPress.org and either a pro version or they sell add-ons/extensions for the free version on their own websites.

Those who don’t have strong enough domains to compete with huge link magnets take advantage of their WordPress.org page.

WordPress.org is one of the top worldwide website, so it’s hard to compete with it.

WPBeginner is the only website that is constantly present in top positions almost in all high traffic WordPress plugin related SERPs.

Colorlib, Codeinwp, Envato’s Codecanyon appear in the top 10 of most SERPs. WPMUdev also is more present, but nobody really shows the dominance that we saw in the Themes niche.

WordPress SEO analysis: Hosting

WordPress hosting is an extremely fragmented and saturated market with multiple players making hundreds of millions of dollars.

After the WordPress.org page about hosting that outranks everyone and only promotes 3 hosting providers: BlueHost, DreamHost and SiteGround, it is WPBeginner that ranks n2.

They also promote BlueHost, DreamHost and SiteGround, but they also include HostGator and InMotion Hosting.

GoDaddy is the 1st WordPress Hosting provider to rank in postion 4, while Bluehost ranks 6th and WpEngine 7th.

The average monthly search for the keyword “WordPress Hosting” is between 10k and 100k per month with a suggested bid of $18.05 USD.

This means that Hosting Company are willing to pay at least $18 USD PER CLICK to appear on that SERP as ads.

wordpress hosting seo

That is literally a gold mine. I’m sure these WordPress Hosting companies are willing to pay a lot to constantly appear in the page that occupies the second position of the organic search results.

Kudos to WPBeginner for achieving such an outstanding result.

WordPress SEO analysis: Services

Search results pages of WordPress services like WordPress website fixes, WordPress themes or WordPress plugins customization, WordPress support and so on are mostly dominated by direct operators.

For once, websites who provide the service directly in most cases are dominating the SERPs of their own niches.

These are sites like : wpfixit.com, fixmywp.com or wpcruve.com

WPBeginner is the only website that doesn’t provide services directly that appears in most of these SERPS top positions about WordPress Services, consolidating its SEO leadership in the WordPress industry.

How do this websites out rank their competition?

We used few tools to evaluate what SEO techniques are used by these websites and what makes them so successful.

Backlinks are definitely still the most important ranking factor so we used ahrefs.com to put these websites’ backlink profile under the lens.

We use Moz.com open site explorer to determine the domain and page authority (Useful to predict ranking potential in search engines based on an algorithmic combination of all link metrics).

Majestic for their trust and citation flow (Trust flow is determined tracking clicks from a set of trusted websites, while citation flow tracks the number of backlinks).

We’ll also check each website one by one to determine how frequently they publish new posts.

If they refresh old posts or only keep writing new articles.

How carefully they treat other factors of their onsite SEO and how picky they are in term of accessibility, css and html validation.

Themeforest.net

According to ahrefs, there are +273k domains referring themeforest.net for a staggering 621 million backlinks. We know that what really counts are the number of domains and not the number of links, because Google will only count 1 link per domain.

Still as per to ahrefs.com, themeforest.net ranks for approx 774k keywords with 379,000 pages indexed by Google.

Of the over +273k domains, 115 are from .gov domains and 1160 are .edu domains. Surprisingly most of these very valuable links are site-wide footer links.

The key to themeforest’s exceptional backlinks profile appears to be their very successful affiliate program, most of their authors participate in it to gather an extra chunk of revenue from the sales of their own themes.

Themeforest has approx 7000 authors with at least 1 sale. Adding all the affiliate marketers who are not Envato authors that are promoting Themeforest’s products through their websites and you’ll end up with a very high number of very relevant backlinks. Some of extremely good quality.

Envato also owns a powerful network of websites like tutsplus, codecanyon and many others, all these websites are obviously linking to themeforest too.

Another type of backlink that themeforest receives in huge quantities are from articles titled : “How To Choose A WordPress Theme” or similar. There are thousands out there, from huge websites like smashing magazine to your local WordPress website fixer. You can be sure that 80% of them will have a link to themeforest.net.

Of course there are backlinks generated by PR that comes with great success, lots of case studies and also, as we previously mentioned, a lot of footer site-wide links.

Themeforest.net content is constantly evolving, there are new themes added daily and the forums are very active.

Themeforest.net HTML and CSS does not pass W3C validation and neither it is fully accessible.

Their score on Google Page Speed is 78 / 100 for desktop (Needs Work) and 64 / 100 for mobile (Poor).

Themeforest traffic as specified by Alexa is the highest between the website analyzed.

Colorlib

According to ahrefs there are +69k domains referring colorlib.com for a total of +66 million backlinks.

Still as per ahrefs.com, colorlib.com ranks for approx 335k keywords, with 17,200 pages present in the Google index.

Of the over +69k domains 20 are from .gov domains and 580 are from .edu domains, again most of these very valuable links are site-wide footer links.

Infact, the vast majority of Colorlib’s backlinks come from site-wide footer links. Colorlib.com owns 11 free themes on wordpress.org actively used on almost 200k websites.

A good number of these websites, probably around 30% did not change the default footer text and left the link back to colorlib.com.

Another good source of valuable backlinks for Colorlib are the blog posts organized as lists. If a blogger is writing an article about “how to make money with a real estate portal” to help their readers to get started, there is a high chance they will link to a post on Colorlib about the best WordPress Real Estate Themes like this one: https://colorlib.com/wp/real-estate-wordpress-themes/.

Colorlib.com publishes new content daily, minimum a couple of new articles per day but sometimes many more than that.

Colorlib.com HTML and CSS does not pass W3C validation and neither it is fully accessible.

Their score on Google Page Speed is 53 / 100 for desktop (Poor) and 58 / 100 for mobile (Poor).

On MOZ.com, Colorlib Domain Authority is 95 /100 while the Page Authority is 94 /100

On Majestic Colorlib Trust Flow is 81 /100 while the Citation Flow is 72 /100

Colorlib’s traffic as specified by Alexa ranks n° 3 between the website analyzed.

Athemes

According to ahrefs.com there are +78k domains referring athemes.com for a total of +83 million backlinks.

Still as per ahrefs.com, athemes.com ranks for approx 144k keywords with 24,800 pages indexed by Google.

Of the over +78k domains, 24 are from .gov domains and 505 are from .edu domains and again most of these very valuable links are site-wide footer links.

In fact, the vast majority of athemes’s backlinks come from site-wide footer links. Athemes.com owns 21 free themes on wordpress.org actively used on over 200k websites.

A good number of these websites, probably around 25% did not change the default footer text and left the link back to Athemes.com.

Just like for Colorlib, blog posts organized as lists are a good link magnet for Athemes.com.

Athemes.com too publishes new content daily and they also edit old content too very frequently.

Athemes.com HTML and CSS does not pass W3C validation and neither it is fully accessible.

Their score on Google Page Speed is 67 / 100 for desktop (Needs Work) and 71 / 100 for mobile (Needs Work).

On MOZ.com, Athemes Domain Authority is 96 /100 while the Page Authority is 86 /100

On majestic Athemes Trust Flow is 64 /100 while the Citation Flow is 74 /100

Athemes’s traffic as specified by to Alexa ranks n° 4 between the website analyzed.

WPBeginner

According to ahrefs, there are +16k domains referring wpbeginner.com for a total of +7 million backlinks.

Still as per to ahrefs.com, wpbeginner.com ranks for approx 507k keywords with 5,880 pages present in the Google index.

Of the over +16k domains, 5 are from .gov domains and 71 are from .edu domains. Most of these very valuable links are editorial links given to tutorials by webmasters resources page of Universities or Government sites.

In fact, the vast majority of wpbeginner’s backlinks come from editorial links thanks to their incredible collection of tutorials.

Just like Colorlib and Athemes, WPBeginner publishes blog posts organized as lists too and these are bringing good backlinks just like for the other 2 websites.

WPBeginner publishes new content frequently (max 1 per day), but not as much as the other Athemes and Colorlib.

WPBeginner HTML and CSS does not pass W3C validation (for very few errors), but of all websites tested so far it is the only one that is fully accessible.

Their score on Google Page Speed is 76 / 100 for desktop (Needs Work) and 65 / 100 for mobile (Needs Work).

On MOZ.com, WPBeginner Domain Authority is 82 /100 while the Page Authority is 84 /100

On majestic WPBeginner Trust Flow is 61 /100 while the Citation Flow is 57 /100

WPBeginner’s traffic as specified by to Alexa ranks n° 2 between the website analyzed.

Results

While many would say that Themeforest is the clear winner, I think WPBeginner is a top contender if not the real leader.

Themeforest.net is definitely a bigger entity with more traffic and indexed keywords,the content on themeforest.net consists mainly of themes product pages and those are edited by a huge community of developers.

Thousands of developers vs a small team of individuals.

WPBeginner.com started as a 1 man show and now has several authors working for it, but the size of the 2 companies is incomparable.

WPBeginner is capable of ranking almost 90 keywords for each indexed page, while themeforest 2. (colorlib 19 and athemes 5).

While themeforest dominates the themes niche, WPBeginner dominates the tutorials, hosting and services niches. It is between the top website promoting plugins and it is not so far from Colorlib and Athemes in the theme niche.

That’s why I decided to award them the top position. Obviously it is just my personal opinion.

Lessons learned

I learned some valuable lessons while doing this research.

1) Footer site wide links can still be good backlinks, especially if they are coming from high authority websites. It is probably better to keep taking advantage of them and eventually disavow links coming from bad sites.

2) Great content is still what brings more genuine editorial backlinks.

Creating great tutorials brought high quality links to WPBeginner (who has never linked to one of their tutorials?).

Curated lists of themes brought many links to both Athemes and Colorlib, but it’s their free themes (they are content as well and of great impact) that brought most of the links.

The same happens with themeforest, themes are its content and everyone links to them, especially if they can make few dollars out of it.

3) Affiliate programs can still bring lot of good links, if you don’t have one, you should create one and keep promoting it.

4) Because HTML, CSS and Accessibility validation don’t appear to have much of an impact on SEO and rankings, you should focus on creating great content and getting backlinks rather than wasting time on over optimizing your website. Optimizing all other aspects may help you overcome that last position when you are already killing it with backlinks, otherwise you are wasting your time.

5) Google Page Speed score seem to have no impact as well, however all 4 websites are blazing fast. This should teach us to stop being obsessed about metrics and look at the big picture. If your site loads in 4 seconds because you are on a shared server, but you score 100 on Google Page Speed, you are NOT doing a good job, if you score 64 but your site loads in 900ms stop worrying about it, you are good.

6) You need constant work to get to the top, you need to publish new articles as frequently as possible, update old posts and pages to avoid stale content. Remember that quality +2k words posts attract more social shares and links. More links will bring more traffic and better rankings, better rankings will bring even more links and more traffic, it’s a snowball effect. It may take time, but you should never give up.

Conclusions, what can we do to get our share of traffic?

First of all, follow the lead of who’s outranking your website. Creating great content will bring great backlinks.

Be present in all websites that rank better than yours. In most cases we are talking about WP resource websites, so they’ll be glad to promote your products, especially if you pay them for it.

I say in most cases because sometimes you’ll find websites that will not answer your request to pay for advertisement, either they don’t like your products or they switched their focus, in both cases you better move on.

Being present in most high ranking website will help you create a brand, which should be your main focus, rather than focusing on ranking for specific keywords.

When we started our journey we were on top of the WordPress Directory Theme niche with GeoTheme.com, however that specific keyword never brought that much traffic, we stopped focusing on it and we started focusing on creating a brand.

GD brand vs generic keyword

Our visibility increased exponentially and today GeoDirectory related keywords generate a lot more traffic than the generic WordPress Directory Plugin related keywords.

We also started targeting mid and long tail keywords through content marketing.

For example we target keywords like:

  • How to make money with a business directory website (long tail)
  • How to monetize a directory website (long)
  • Yelp Clone WordPress (mid)
  • listingpro vs listify (mid)
  • listable vs listify (mid)

and many many others.

This is what worked for us, what is working best for you? Feel free to share your experience in the comments down below!

6 thoughts on “An analysis of the WordPress SEO heavyweights

  1. Hey, Paolo!

    This was an interesting article to read. But not a surprising one. I come from a Marketing background and I have done the same research many times. I actually data mine this data a lot to keep on top of such stuff — coz I love data.

    BTW, I don’t agree with many of your conclusions, though, I can see where you’re coming from to this point. Especially, I’d like to let you know that this advice in particular that “Footer sitewide links can still be good backlinks” is very very dangerous.

    I unintentionally stumbled on this gold mine back in 2009 when my first widget plugin got me 30,000+ backlinks. After one year, Google introduced a Penguin update that panelized my entire design blog for that.

    I fought very hard to get back at the same level of traffic which was more than a million views per month but was only able to recover 50% of it before I sold it for good.

    So, I’d say be cautious of that practice. There’re a lot of factors that matter. One of them is the domain-age. If you have been doing the same thing for over 15 years then you stand a better chance but if you try and bank on that NOW then you might lose what good traffic you have and that’s a horrible conclusion.

    Just play safe esp. if your domain age is around or less than five years.

    • Hi Ahmad,

      thanks for your comment!

      I used to have the exact same vision as yours, I remember especially this article on WPMUDEV about their penalty.

      However, it appears that is not that black and white. The relevancy and authority of the website providing the footer link can change everything.

      Google has changed its policy about penalties in the last few years. I believe negative SEO made them change, cause after the Penguin update it became too easy to target a competitor’s website and make it fall in Google’s SERPs sending them tons of auto-created spammy links from crappy domains.

      Now it appears that they tend to ignore these bad links and of course you can always disavow any links coming from bad websites. It goes without saying that you should always monitor what is coming your way and try to only keep links from relevant high authority websites.

      Because what they do not ignore are the good links. If the footer link comes from a high authority relevant website, or better a .edu or .gov site, it appears to be helping rather than penalizing.

      Of course they have to grow organically and not have tens of thousands popping up at once.

      Athemes ranks for the keyword “Sydney” just because of the huge amount of footer links coming from “Good websites” using its Sydney theme.

      In any case it appears to be working very well for both Colorlib and Athemes.

      Below are a couple of articles that I’ve read while writing this post, that kind of confirmed what I thought:

      https://www.creativecali.com/site-wide-footer-links-good-or-bad-for-seo/
      https://searchenginewatch.com/2016/06/07/are-related-sitewide-footer-links-the-key-to-dominating-google/

  2. Not sure how I can reply to your direct comment, Paolo!

    But yes, you are right that things have changed a lot. The negative SEO time was exactly when I sold my blog and got rid of other blog properties — also became a ghost blogger to keep it out of the routine-bad-soe’ers.

    Anywho, guess all I can say is, taking care of such things and building an entire strategy around it works better than going ballistic one just the one strategy.

    Good read anyway!

  3. Nice overview, I learned a lot actually. It’s a good reminder of what TF and CF are used for (as we get in our habits and preferences for a certain tool). Great breakdown of the themes, plugins and hosting.

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