Choosing a WordPress Theme — a Comprehensive Guide
Creating a website is exciting. That’s why it’s easy to rush through the process and make some wrong moves. There’s nothing wrong with diving right in. Many people learn better this way, yet more often than not, it’s unnecessary and counterproductive.
A little bit of research can save you a lot of time and effort. There are thousands of themes for WordPress. In fact, there are too many. The biggest marketplace for themes is Themeforest. Currently they have over 6,000 to choose from and more are being added all the time. It can be overwhelming trying to navigate through the sea (or forest) of software to find the perfect theme.
According the almighty WordPress Codex:
“A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.”
The theme you use will dictate the design of your website, how it functions, your workflow and a number of other things. If you aren’t very experienced with WordPress, it’s helpful to do a little digging before you go and put all your content on a particular theme.
The Woes of Choosing a WordPress Theme
Many times beginners will find out that a premium theme that they like, but end up paying for something that isn’t appropriate for their project. They are either stuck with that theme or they have to buy a new one. I got lucky when I purchased my first theme. I didn’t go in blindly, I did plenty of research and asked around.
My first foray into plugins was a different story. I rushed my purchase and ended up having compatibility issues, basically rendering the plugin useless. So I had something I didn’t even need. There’s nothing worse than using the wrong tools for any task.
That’s why we created this guide – to help you find a theme that works for your project. This way you get the features you need and don’t end up with something that will be a problem down the line. Use this guide to choose your WordPress theme, paid or free.
Where to Find WordPress Themes
There are thousands and thousands of WordPress themes. Whether you are downloading a free theme or a premium theme, find a reputable vendor. Below are a few places that have high quality themes from skilled authors. There are other reputable places to find themes. I am only listing places with themes I have tried personally.
Themeforest – This theme directory is well organized and it contains some of the best themes on the market. It’s part of the Envato marketplace, a place where legitimate sellers upload quality software. In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel I should mention that this blog is part of an affiliate marketing program with Themeforest. If you are looking for a premium WordPress theme that is the best place to start. Feel free to click any of the links on our site to help us out.
There are over 6,000 themes in their directory. The author’s there have built their businesses on customer service. Authors of top tier themes on Themeforest provide WordPress users with solid support and strong documentation. Themes on this site are the cream of the crop.
Elegant Themes – While we don’t have any affiliate marketing programs with them, they produce some very nice themes. Their themes are visually appealing and they perform well. The support is also solid. They also sell plugins and their blog is quite helpful. They aren’t as big as Themeforest but have good products. You can find themes like Divi , which also features a powerful page builder called, the Divi page builder.
Mojo Themes – Again, we don’t have any affiliation Mojo, but it wouldn’t be fair to leave them out. Other than having a cool name, Mojo Themes has some of the highest quality themes on the market. If you’ve ever used Bluehost you have probably seen Mojo themes. They have package deals through the host provider. You can buy themes for business, online stores, portfolios, blogging and more.
Make a Checklist and Check it Twice
There are themes for eCommerce, business, blogging, multi-purpose, non-profits, online portfolios, magazine sites and many more. Check out our WordPress theme repository for more premium themes.
Say I was making a small business website for a law firm. I’d make a simple checklist like the one shown below. You can get more specific later on, but make sure the theme you choose enables you to build the site you want easily.
Before you go out and download a theme for WordPress, ask yourself a few questions. What do you want to do with your website? What are your needs? Make a checklist of all the features you require before you start and answer the following questions:
What niche do you plan to use it for? I listed a few of them above, but there are many themes that are specifically designed for certain niches.
What do you need to display? Think about how many pages the site will have and what you will put on them. This includes all the elements and media on your site like social media buttons, info boxes, media, contact forms, sliders etc.
What features do you need? You might need a calendar, a shopping cart, a credit card payment gateway, etc. How is the site going to change in the future? Consider how your site will evolve. Are you going to be able to build new pages and post new content easily?
Is this theme scalable for growth? Starting out simple is key, but you need to estimate the growth of the site. Does the theme have the potential to give you features to handle that growth?
Finding the Right WordPress Theme
Once you have a clear idea of how your site is going to play out, you can consider some of the attributes that prospective themes have. On Themeforest, almost every theme has a list of features. Check the features list to find out what the theme can do. Below are some key points to consider over when you are browsing themes.
Consider your target audience – Do some research. Find websites of the same niche and look at how they are constructed. You don’t need to copy them pixel for pixel, nor should you. Just browse some websites to get ideas. Cater to the preferences of your target audience. You don’t want to turn away potential visitors. Obviously you wouldn’t want to use a hipster theme like Ronneby for a construction business.
Theme Options – The theme options are where you will be making changes to the layout, adding logos, changing colors schemes and more. Think about how flexible you need your theme to be. Will you be making lots of changes? My advice is to keep it simple, don’t get a theme that is bloated with more options than you know what to do with. Better themes will come with a child theme included for safe customization. If the theme you like doesn’t come with one, it’s very easy to create your own child theme. If you don’t know how check out my post on Creating a Child Theme in WordPress.
Buyer Feedback – Check out the rating of the theme as well as feedback from customers. Often times looking at the lowest ratings or negative comments can help you get a feel for any issues you may run into. Generally speaking, the rating systems are reliable. Comments from both sides of the spectrum help give you an idea of what you can expect.
Performance – The theme you choose will have an impact on things like page load speed and UX. If you are going to be running lots of plugins or displaying resource heavy media, make sure your theme and server can handle it.
Page Builders – This is a big one. Most themes come equipped with page builders. If you want to create new sections and pages on your site, a visual page builder will help. Many themes now come bundled with Visual Composer, which is a great tool for those who want to create pages without coding.
Other themes like Enfold and Avada have their own native page builders that are great too. You can drag and drop elements into the page or add shortcodes.
Supported Plugins – Plugins are what makes WordPress so powerful and helpful. Find out which plugins are supported by the theme. Are you going to be selling products or services? If so makes sure that the theme is WooCommerce ready. Most themes come with a few plugins. Look at your list of required features to see if there are any plugins bundled with themes that will be useful. More and more themes are coming bundled with excellent plugins for free like LayerSlider and Slider Revolution
Scalability – Is this theme ready to handle growth. If you know that you will be adding features like user forums or building large directories, make sure that your theme has those capabilities.
Support and Updates – Will you be receiving future updates? You can get a gauge of how happy current customers are with the support by reading reviews. Check out the reviews as well as the support forums to see what people are saying.
SEO – SEO is important to anyone who wants to have their site found. Having a responsive website is a must. You need to have a theme that works well on mobile devices as well as desktops. WordPress is great for SEO. Check out some of our SEO tips for more ideas of what you’ll want.
Pricing Models – There won’t be large variations in prices, but there are a few kinds of pricing models. There’s a one-time fee. Recurring payments for ongoing support and theme clubs that give you access to a number of different themes. These are just examples of the most common ones. There are many variations on pricing models you’ll find.
Free vs Paid WordPress Themes
There are excellent free themes that are better than many paid ones. If free is what you are after, you can find fully tested themes in the WordPress Theme Directory. If you just want to run a simple blog or personal site, a free theme may be just what you are looking for. Free themes like Adamos are useful for a barebones WordPress website. On the other hand, you may run into some issues when using free themes.
- Free themes may not be updated regularly
- They may not have all the features that a beginner needs
- Support for free themes is limited
- Free themes take more work to develop
- The quality is typically lower than a reputable paid theme
I prefer paid themes when I can use them. There are many premium (goes down smoother than if we said “paid”) themes that are great. I find that the themes I’ve used like Enfold and Jupiter are quite reasonably priced. Especially when you consider how powerful they are. If you or your client can spare the money, it’s a very affordable solution.
10 years ago this wasn’t the case. If you wanted to make changes on your website, you would need to hire a developer. Many times with WordPress, a theme can take place of many tasks a developer would handle.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire a developer if you need one. There are many WordPress designers and developers that are very good. But with a theme you don’t have to pay someone $20-$120 an hour to make a changes to the design or add a function. For many small businesses and personal websites, buying a theme is well worth it.
We hope that this guide can help you narrow down your choices and hone in on the perfect WordPress theme. If you are looking for a premium theme, Themeforest is sure to have something that will fit your needs. If not there are plenty of free themes to take a look at.Just make sure you cover all your bases and don’t rush in too fast, otherwise you may be shopping for another theme sooner than you’d like. Feel free to share and let us know if there is anything you think we missed in the comments section.
Wow, very useful, thanks!