In your effort to have a successful WordPress site, one of the biggest choices you’ll have to make is selecting a theme best suited to your needs.
How do you pick just the right theme?
The magic answer is: There isn’t any magic answer!
Everyone and every business has different needs, so there are no Golden Rules.
Here’s some advice from someone who has answered this question countless times as a WordPress site developer and instructor.
Before you buy a theme – which is what most people jump to do when first using WordPress – STOP! Learn WordPress with a free theme. A free theme invariably has many less options and features than its premium alternatives. I’ve seen too many people give up with a premium theme because they didn’t bother to first learn a simpler free theme.
A Few Things To Keep In Mind With Free Themes
1. Many Good Sites Use A Free Theme
There are many decent free themes despite what some may argue. Add a few good plugins and that may be all you need.
Besides, your site visitor could care less if your theme is free or purchased.
2. If You Buy A Premium Theme That You Don’t Use, You’ll Probably Waste A Lot Of Time
Money is not the issue here. Most people can afford even the priciest of themes which can top out at about $100. But if you abandon the theme you purchased, I guarantee you’ll waste a lot of time. Likely it’ll be because you didn’t bother learning just what WordPress themes do and how they work.
Think of a free theme as a premium theme on training wheels.
3. You Can Always Change To a Premium Theme
That is the beauty of WordPress and themes. You can change your mind. Switching to a paid theme is no big deal. Your content remains in place if you decide to change your theme.
Let’s Go Shopping
When I’m vetting a premium theme to recommend for a client, these are the criteria I’m usually looking at. Take them into consideration because (in most cases) returns are not allowed.
Every premium theme has a demo site. Take your time and go through it carefully while considering these criteria.
For the time being, stay away from themes that use Page Builders.
Gutenberg, the WordPress block editor that was released in WP v5.0 at the end of 2018, works much like a Page Builder itself. Asking two Page Builders to work together is a task that WordPress does not like to do.
If you choose one of these themes (and many premium themes have built-in Page Builders) keep in mind:
- Page Builders that use ShortCodes are a problem.
- Page Builders that let you edit a page on the front end (not in the WP Admin) – like Divi and Beaver Builder – are ok.
Having said all that, you can still use the Classic Editor plugin and have your site work as if Gutenberg does not exist. But really, think of using Gutenberg as it requires no plugin.
Since you can expect 50% or more of your site traffic to come from something other than a desktop computer, your theme MUST be responsive. Fortunately, most themes are, so finding one will not be difficult. Make sure to test out any demo site in tablet and cell phone displays. Don’t just use the emulators that demo sites provide to simulate what your theme looks like in a mobile device. Give it a test using the real thing.
I’m also checking to see if Retinal Display is supported.
What page templates come with your theme may be crucial to what your site needs. Page templates could include:
- Full Width Page
- Right Sidebar Page
- Left Sidebar Page
- Landing Page
- Archive Page
- Home Page
- Contact Page
- Portfolio Page
Font And Layout Options
What choices do you have to change the typeface, font color, and font size that’s built into your theme? Does your theme have an option to use downloadable web fonts? Aside from the templates which ship with your theme, what ways are there, if any, to alter page layout?
These options can be very handy but will certainly add complexity to working with your theme that you wouldn’t experience with most free themes.
You might not be building an eCommerce site from the get-go, but I’ve seen more than one site owner wanting to add eCommerce to their site post-launch. While there are many options to set up an online store, the WooCommerce plugin is a solid choice and the most widely used eCommerce option on the web.
WordPress itself is not ready for translation out of the box. For that you’ll need a theme and a plugin. Keep open to the idea that eventually you’ll want this option for your site.
Don’t Have SEO Built Into Your Theme
Some themes give you the ability to add your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) metadata, page titles, and custom URLs in the theme feature.
What happens if you change your theme?
Your metadata, page titles, and custom URLs will not transfer to the new theme.
Best way to handle this is to ALWAYS use a plugin such as Yoast SEO or All In One SEO to handle your SEO data. That way, if you change themes, your SEO data will be safe and transfer nicely to the new theme.
While there are many plugins that will allow sharing content with or linking to the social mets, determine whether your theme has these capabilities built in.
Note: As of early April 2020 there is now a Social Profile block built into Gutenberg so you may not even need a theme or plugin to have social links on our site.
What special widgets, if any, come with your theme? Usually they are used to carry out whatever the theme’s developer has designed for the theme. Note: This maybe difficult to determine from the theme’s demo site.
What should you expect when you have a question about your theme? Is it possible to hear from the theme’s developer if that’s what’s needed? How long will it take to get an answer for your query? If a theme is very well known (such as Genesis and its child themes or Divi from Elegant Themes), your support may be community based and you are not likely to be in touch with the developer.
Spend as much time as you can reading about your theme before you buy. If you can’t understand the documentation, if it is poorly written or not written for you, then don’t buy it. If you like video instruction (as we all do at WP Apprentice 🙂 ), see if videos are available to help you. You may even find a good video on YouTube to help you make a decision about your theme.
Reviews And Ratings
It’s always best to read opinions from those who don’t have a commercial interest in the theme. You’re likely to get a sense of the speed and quality of the support provided for your theme.
Will you be getting lifetime updates for your theme or will updates be limited for a period of time?
In The End
Since you can’t download and test drive a premium theme as you can with a Freebie, you’ll need to take your time when choosing a theme that is right for you.
To do a thorough job of choosing a theme, take into consideration your skills with WordPress. After all, if you’re not up to working with a premium theme, then don’t buy it. But if you’ve done your homework learning the basics with a free theme, then go for it!