Practical Ecommerce

SEO and Selecting a Magento Theme

One of the best ways to implement any cart is to select a template that is close to what you want your site to look like, and then use a professional designer to tailor it to your unique needs. Magento has literally thousands of templates and it can be a little daunting finding one for your site.

I have been using Magento for two years, and have come to the decision to refresh the design for one of my sites. Being an experienced Magento user, I have a good idea of what to look for under the hood. I also know what pitfalls can arise in using a template having had experience with my existing sites. So I have drawn up a list of points to look out for. So far, despite days of research, I have found nothing that ticks all the boxes, so it will have to be a compromise decision.

The main pages that Magento can display are as follows

  • The Home page
  • Category page with a list of sub categories
  • Category page with a list of products
  • Search result page (list of products)
  • Product detail page
  • Basic About us/terms etc. pages

Now in my opinion the design has to

  • Look professional and fit in with what you are selling
  • Be designed for ease of navigation and conversion
  • Be optimised for Search Engine Optimisation
  • Be upgradeable when you upgrade Magento

The first is personal judgement, the second depends in part in what you are selling and how complex the navigation needs to be to properly categorize your range, and the third and fourth are something every designer should get right (but so few do).

So bearing all this in mind, the points to look for are:


What support does the supplier offer? Do they just offer 3-6 months of support and upgrades, or do they offer any kind of guarantee that they will allow you to download any future versions of that theme when Magento is upgraded. Magento is currently version 1.6.1 (and 1.6.2) and version 1.7 is due out soon. Any theme you pick should be available on these versions. Further looking at their portfolio of themes, what did this supplier do with any theme they developed for 1.2 or 1.3? Did they leave any customer dead when Magento 1.4 was released (version 1.4 significantly changed how themes are developed)?

Your web designer should be able to advise technically whether the template has been properly written using the recommended Magento structures. This would help any upgrade.

Search Engine Optimised.

This is a big one. Magento is said to be great for SEO, but this is only as good as the content. A good template must help with this to properly present the content. There are many points to look for and I have yet to find any template that covers them all.

Headings. Every page should have just one main heading (H1) and it should be be the main subject of that page (NOT your Logo or Site Name). So for the product detail page, this should be the product title. For the Categories page this should be the category title. For the search results page it would be nice if this was the search term used.

Headings under the main heading should be done in a well ordered hierarchy, for example:

  • H1
    • H2
    • H2
      • H3
      • H3
    • H2

It is unlikely that you should need any headings lower than H3. The content of the headings should be relevant to the page too, and use related keywords. So for the product detail page I would prefer the H2 headings to be the product titles of any related products, and not the “quick overview” and “detailed description” that it so often is.

On the category pages, the H2 headings should be sub-categorys (if they exist) and the H3 each product title. If however there are not sub categories then the product titles should be H2.

The navigation links should be “NoFollow” for the layered navigation. This is because the layered navigation filters results, and if followed will simply offer up duplicate content. The navigation links should not be headings because they are not normally relevant to the actual content of THIS page.

The design should include breadcrumbs. I am amazed by how many designers take out the breadcrumbs to make the design look “clean”. Breadcrumbs not only help with SEO, but they also help the customer navigate around your site.

All images should have relevant alt tags, and should be suitably optimised.

There may be other points, but these would be more dependent on your actual content.


An Ecommerce site is there to make money. Not to look pretty. A point that some designers forget. So on every page there must be a clear call to action. Either to quickly encourage the visitor to dig into the store, or to buy the products.

On the product detail page, the Buy Now (or Add to Cart) button must stand out, be above the fold, and preferably near the price.

On the category and search result page it must be blindingly obvious how to buy the product, or how to get more information.

On the home page it must be easy for the visitor to quickly see what you are selling, and how to purchase.

The cart and checkout buttons must likewise stand out. What is the point of getting a customer to press buy now if they then cannot find out how to checkout? A first time customer may not realise that the pretty basket icon hidden in the corner of this nice “clean” design is the way to checkout.

Product images are important. They should stand out. If you have high definition images it is nice if the customer can pull them up and see the detail. These large high definition images should not be pulled in by the template on the initial load, but only when the customer clicks on them. Any zoom/enlarge function must be intuitive, and preferably not obscure the call to action buttons.
My particular annoyance is those templates that pull up large detailed images which obscure everything and are not obvious how to get rid of them.


Navigation is very dependent on your content. For Magento, more than any other cart, it is necessary to plan your navigation before you add your first product. This is because you need to decide what data to hold for each product (attributes) and which of this data will be used to help find a product. For Magento, a product does not just sit in a hierarchy of categories it can also be found using layered navigation. I tend to think of layered navigation as a way of filtering a large list of products into a more manageable display. It is also a way of reducing the need for overcomplex menu structures and convoluted menu hierarchy.

If you can devise a powerful, but simple menu structure, then you do not need a template which has all the bells and whistles on menus. A template menu structure must be there to help guide the customer to easily find the products they are interested in. It may be that you need icons, images, video examples, descriptive pop ups etc. etc. on a menu. It may be sufficient just to have a clear descriptive list of obvious categories. If you do not need the fancy features, make sure that either your template does not have them, or the unwanted java scripts are not loaded.

Look and Feel

This is entirely subjective, and a good designer should be able to tidy up any theme. That said make sure that the theme developers have not been lazy, but that they have done a consistent design on all the pages, not just the home and product detail, but also the search results, the categories and all the other page types. A good site design is there to encourage the visitor that you are a well established site, that they can rely on you to deliver, and that they can trust you. The design is therefore what your target audience should expect and like, and not necessarily what you like. Although your professional designer can advise you, the audience is YOUR customers, and YOUR products so you are the expert here.

So all the above points are worth looking for. I suspect that like me, you will not find any template that does them all. A good professional web designer will be able to fix any and all of the above. The trick is to buy the template that is closest to what you want and needs the least fixing. If you find the perfect one, please let me know.


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  1. aurumltd May 18, 2012 Reply

    Hey Richard…good article. I am in the same boat, looking to upgrade my Magento theme. Any recommendations on the best themes you have found so far?


  2. aurumltd June 1, 2012 Reply

    Bump from before…..still interested in a good theme, please let me know.

  3. Richard Stubbings June 6, 2012 Reply

    Best theme for what? The question is too vague, the potential answers too many. I quite like the themes on and find that their support is fast and effective.

  4. Duncan September 26, 2012 Reply

    So I’m trying to decide between Magento and Yahoo Stores and you make Magento sound relatively problem free once it gets going. I am familiar with yahoo Merchant Solutions but I don’t want to part with 1% of revenue which is at least 10% of profit in even a great scenario. I also dislike Hosting solutions for the reasons you have described before.

    You have great coverage of Magento as a platform for the budget minded on your blog. Most "Authorities" recommend Magento only if you plan to do a million or more in turnover and really scare the heck out of you when they describe the platform.

    I’m just starting out translating a brick and mortar store online by using a subset of the products I currently sell in the physical store. I do have some budget to spend, like under US$5000. I’m willing to spend $100 a month on hosting if need be.

    I’m not adverse to getting my hands dirty but I do need a developer even if its to install a template and tweak. However many of the developers in the US are fairly high priced.

    Can you recommend any Magento developers in the UK or anywhere else that can install a template or custom develop and hand hold for a reasonable price, like say under US$ 5000?

  5. Richard Stubbings September 26, 2012 Reply

    Magento is fine once set up. It requires a steep learning curve to get going, or a developer who knows what they are doing. I am afraid that I cannot recommend one as mine is employed by me for me.

    I would however suggest that you use a US developer as you are in the US, and your target market is in the US. Not just because you will speak the same language, understand the culture etc, but you will be on a similar time zone.

    Your budget seems fine. You should have no problem developing a site for that kind of money.

  6. Duncan September 28, 2012 Reply

    OK, Thanks for the advice, all your posts and responses on Magento are very helpful

  7. Brian A. November 27, 2012 Reply

    Great article with very practical advice. On which themes are the best, I have purchased, installed and dropped more than I can count and finally found my favorite spot for magento themes at

    They have them grouped into categories, but most themes can be used for any store. I am using the ultimo theme to move our volusion store selling convertible tops to magento.

    I recommend looking at the more recent themes listed as they more often have the newest features like responsive designs, featured product sliders, and built-in extensions…and many of the newer ones have built in customization panels in the back-end to control colors, sliders, page layout and more.

  8. SBA January 14, 2014 Reply

    Hi Richard, thanks a lot for this very useful article. May I ask what you think of this theme:

    Thanks a lot!

    On another matter, I was surprised to read that you recommend to put navigation links in “nofollow”, as I had read the contrary in several forums, such as these:

  9. Anna Victoria March 16, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for sharing nice article. I like to suggest one multipurpose and fully responsive Magento 2 theme Kosmic: