New WordPress themes are launched every day and the number of options on offer for giving your website a makeover shows no signs of slowing down.
While choice is a good thing, too much of it can lead to decision fatigue, increasing the chances of you making an impulse buy and ending up with the wrong choice for your project. With so many WordPress themes on offer, this could easily happen.
So to help you with the task of finding the prefect theme for your next project, use the advice and list of items to look for and consider below in order to filter out many of the themes vying for your attention. This should make the task in hand much more manageable and likely to have a satisfactory outcome.
By spending a few minutes understanding what you need to look out for, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort in the long run when it comes to picking the right WordPress theme.
What Type of Website Are You Building?
With so many weird and wonderful WordPress themes out there, it can be easy to get seduced by a stunning design, despite the fact that the theme is best suited to a different type of website to the one you are building.
While most WordPress themes are pretty versatile, it can still be tricky to shoehorn your web design portfolio into a template that was built for a news blog. So although you can modify and repurpose your off-the-shelf WordPress theme of choice, the extra work involved can negate many of the benefits of buying a ready-made theme over commissioning a custom design.
This means that it’s important to be clear on what type of website you are building before you go shopping. Once you’ve decided what type of theme you are looking for you can then limit your shortlist to items that have been designed for that type of website. Multipurpose themes can give you a few more options to choose from, although do make sure you check they include the features you need.
Draw up a List of Required Features
Theme design best practice recommends that additional features and functionality should be kept separate from design. In practice this means they should instead be provided via plugins rather than incorporated directly into the theme code.
However there are still some additional features and functionality you should expect to see in a WordPress theme. This could include responsive design, retina display support, and a range of page templates to name just a few.
Despite this, however, it’s still best to avoid themes that include advanced features, such as custom post types, sliders, and pages builders as part of their core functionality, rather than supplying them via separate plugins. Choosing a theme that uses plugins to provide features and functionality can prevent you from getting locked into a particular theme, with no easy way to change themes in the future.
So before you start shopping, make sure you write up a checklist of features your website will require and ensure that any themes that catch your attention include them; while also keeping an eye out for elements that should be delivered via a plugin being rolled up into the theme.
Third Party Plugin Support and Compatibility
While most WordPress themes and plugins should work nicely together no matter who they are made by, you can still save yourself some time and effort by searching out themes that are compatible with the most important plugins you plan to use.
If you are building an online store using WooCommerce, as an example, it can be helpful to look for a theme that boasts compatibility with this popular plugin. While most themes should work with this plugin, a theme that lists compatibility with it will include all the necessary page templates required to get your shop online as quickly as possible.
Although details of all plugin compatibilities won’t be listed for each theme you look at, for the most important plugins you might be building your site around – such as WPML, bbPress, BuddyPress, or similar – it’s worth checking for advertised support and compatibility.
Pricing: Free vs. Premium
While there are plenty of great (and not so great) free themes to choose from, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider handing over the cash for a premium template for your website. As the market for premium themes is very competitive, prices might be lower than you think, especially when you consider the cost of a hiring a developer and designer to create a custom template.
If you do decide to go down the premium route, there are a few things to consider, as well as a number of different options available to you.
When purchasing a premium WordPress theme you are not only getting access to the template files, but also ongoing updates and product support. As the WordPress software itself is updated on a regular basis, it’s important to look for a theme that will also be updated to maintain compatibility with the latest version of WordPress – and that you will get access to those updates as they are released.
The free themes from reputable sources such as WordPress.org are well worth checking out. However, it’s fair to say that the level of support you can expect will be less impressive than from an equally reputable premium theme outlet.
Different Pricing Models to Be Familiar With
When it comes to choosing a premium theme, you will encounter a number of pricing models:
- One-time fee, including lifetime updates and support
- Recurring payments for access to updates and support
- Theme clubs giving you membership to multiple themes from the developer
The above is just a small sample and there are many variations and combinations of these pricing options available.
While lifetime updates and support in exchange for a one-time payment might seem attractive, you must ask yourself if it’s a financial model that will ensure the longevity of the theme provider. Can they realistically hope to be able to support their customers forever, without collecting regular ongoing payments from them?
Due to this predicament, many theme developers have switched to an annual payment model for providing access to support and updates. While you can still use the theme after the initial period of cover has expired, if you want to continue receiving updates and support then you must renew your license. This helps the theme providers stay in business, and ensures you have someone to turn to should you have any problems further down the road.
Often you will find theme stores offering all their themes for one single price. This can be great value, giving you access to a large selection of themes for not much more than a single theme might cost.
However, don’t let a potential bargain cloud your judgement. If no single design stands out as the perfect WordPress theme for your project, then 20 pretty good themes for one low price won’t be any use, no matter how great the deal.
Another set of options on offer to those in the market for a premium theme is what type of outlet to buy the theme from. The main choices are marketplaces, where multiple vendors list their themes, and theme shops who sell their own products.
Both options have their pros and cons and in the next section we will give you some advice on making the right decision.
Seek Out a Reputable Theme Supplier
As mentioned, two popular places to find WordPress themes are marketplaces and theme stores run by a single developer, or team. ThemeForest is the biggest theme marketplace, while DesignWall is a good example of an in-house theme store.
Buying from a marketplace can offer you a good level of protection and assurance as you are shopping through a large umbrella brand, despite perhaps choosing a theme from an unknown and unestablished developer.
Choosing an in-house theme shop can be a bit trickier as it can be harder to find out how reputable the store is. However, a bit of online research should tell you all you need to know regarding the quality of the themes on offer and the service that is provided for any independent stores that catch your eye.
Pre and Post-Sales Support
Once you’ve whittled down your shortlist and are considering the sources for your new theme, it’s definitely worth spending some time investigating the pre and post-sales support on offer.
Some theme stores and marketplaces allow open access to their support forums and customer communication areas. This gives you a good opportunity to see how they deal with queries and requests for support.
It’s also a good idea to find out how you can get in touch with the support team, such as email, forums, or even telephone, to see if your preferred method of communication is on offer.
Theme Customization Options
In nearly all cases, any theme you buy will need to be tweaked in some way to match your own personal vision for your website. Some themes provide the user with countless theme customization options, all delivered through a custom control panel.
While this sounds great in theory, too much freedom to make changes can result in an end product that has lost some of the qualities that attracted you to the theme in the first place.
Other theme developers take the less is more approach, and give you a few options for changing certain elements of your website from a selection of pre-determined choices.
If design isn’t your strong suit, then opting for a theme that gives you a small selection of carefully crafted options for altering the appearance of your website, or exercising restraint when faced with an unlimited number of choices are the best options.
Some theme developers also offer an additional bespoke theme customization service. If you have any personalization requests that go beyond changing fonts and colours, this is something you should look out for.
SEO, Site Speed, and Usability
Usability is increasingly becoming interwoven with search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines like Google now look at how your visitors interact with your website to help them determine where to rank it in the results.
Site speed and loading times should be mentioned here too as this plays a large part in how usable your website is, and therefore how search engine optimized it is. While your web host will play a pivotal role in how quickly your website loads, choosing a cleanly coded and fast loading theme is critical too.
Avoiding bloated themes packed with all the latest bells and whistles, and looking for developers who advertise the performance of their themes is a good way to find a fast loading, user and SEO friendly theme. Running the theme demos through an online performance testing service such as GTmetrix and Google PageSpeed Insights is also a good idea.
Usability isn’t just about page speed though. Look for adherence to usability standards when selecting a theme, or at least that the design follows best practice guidelines.
For an in-depth guide to choosing an SEO-friendly WordPress theme, be sure to read this post.
When searching for a new theme, whether for an existing website or a new project, the visual appearance of the template will be the main factor when making a decision.
However, by digging deeper into the less obvious properties of the theme, from integrated features, customization options, and page loading times, you can ensure that the templates on your shortlist tick all the boxes on your WordPress theme checklist.
With so many themes on offer today, it can be easy to get distracted, overwhelmed, and even disheartened due to the wealth of options out there. However, by knowing what you want and not losing sight of that you as you shop around, it will make it much easier to find the perfect WordPress theme for your individual needs.
If you have any tips and advice on finding a great WordPress theme and avoiding the turkeys, please leave a comment below.