How do you evaluate a theme for your site?
There are some things you should be thinking about no matter what type of site you have.
Here are some pointers whether you’re looking for a theme for a brand new site or your site needs a fresh coat of paint.
Don’t get hung up finding a theme just for your industry or interest. There are many general purpose themes that will work for just about any kind of site.
Here are a few well known free themes I’ve used for me and others. They might just work for you:
And here’s more to help you choose your theme:
Transcript Of This Video
No doubt, making the right choice for your WordPress theme is a big decision. While you can always change your theme, it’s best to stick with a theme and work everything out. What is a WordPress theme? In case we don’t know, it’s what sets the art direction, the style, the topography, and the layout. I look at it as the skin of your website. In addition, your theme will include various functions and features that will be unique to the theme. Themes are of two kinds, “Free” and “Premium.” There are two major differences. Yes, obviously one you have to pay for and one you don’t, but with a premium theme, you get many more features. That sounds like a really good idea, but if you’re starting out with WordPress, don’t go to the premium theme yet. I’d rather you focus on all the fundamentals of learning WordPress and not getting confused by the various features that can be included in a pretty complicated theme. So, stay away initially from premium themes and work with the free themes. There are plenty of great free themes that you can make wonderful websites with. The other thing I like about free themes is that you can test them. You don’t have to pay for anything, you install the theme and test it. Now, what do I check for when I’m looking at a theme? One thing I look at is, “Does the theme have documentation? If so, where’s the documentation?” If I can see the documentation before I buy a premium theme, I want to know that it’s documentation that I can understand. If you buy a premium theme, the documentation should let you make a website just the way you see it in a demo. OK, that’s important, so check out documentation.
What about support? What if you have a question or a technical issue that has to be worked out? Where are you going to get support? For free themes the only place you’re going to get it is on a theme support forum, and the support for those kinds of things can be very spotty. If you buy a premium theme, you want to check in advance what to expect for support. What’s the turnaround time if you ask a question? How can you ask a question? Do they accept support by email?
Is the theme frequently updated? Now, truth be told, most themes are not frequently updated, but they are updated from time to time. Especially when there are major changes to WordPress itself. I always like to check, “When was the theme last updated?” Even, “When was the theme first released to the public?” And “How many installations are there?” That’s a really important thing as well. I look at ratings and reviews, but I keep an eye out on this because they can be skewed. It’s very hard to know whether or not they’re honest ratings and reviews. It’s pretty easy to trick the system. Be careful, relying a lot on ratings and reviews, but I do take a look. The last is, “Is the theme WooCommerce compliant?” WooCommerce is the most popular and widely used WordPress e-commerce plugin, so you might say “I’m never going to sell anything on my website,” and that could be true but I’ve seen a few cases where people start out that way, and then they say “I want to sell something.” Then the question gets to be, “Is the theme WooCommerce compliant?” So why not just start out with making sure that the theme is WooCommerce compliant? Many of them are, but not all of them. So, where do you get a theme? The easiest way to get a free theme is by using the WP admin or WordPress.org. I showed that in the video called Installing Your Theme. Then you can buy your theme from various vendors, and there are lots of vendors out there to buy your themes. The biggie is Envato, they’re a marketplace for all sorts of WordPress products, and they’re trusted. What it is, is a marketplace. Many different designers and developers are selling their WordPress wares, if you will, their WordPress themes and plugins on Envato. You get a demo site, you get all kinds of things, but you don’t get to download and test the theme unless you buy it. Then there are great services, one of them’s called Elegant Themes and another one’s called StudioPress. I have a little more to say about those in a minute or two, and then I’m just listing– aThemes, BeThemes– You get the idea. There are thousands of individual, generally very small companies and studios that sell the themes that they’ve created. Now, there are different types of themes. No, I’m not just talking about “Free” and “Premium,” I’m talking about the kinds of themes that are what I call “Ready-made.” Just install them, and they’re ready to go. In addition to the ready-made, we have frameworks. Even though you can use a framework as a theme, that’s perfectly fine, generally, the frameworks are basically a foundation for another theme. Genesis made by StudioPress and Divi made by Elegant Themes are two very popular and widely used frameworks. Then we have free frameworks, one of them is very well-known called _Underscores and the other is called Bootstrap. _Underscores was what was used to create the 2017 theme, the 2016 theme, the 2015 theme, and many other themes. What this means is that when a developer makes a theme, they don’t start from scratch, they start from existing code, and they build on top of that. That’s the whole principle of a framework.
What about testing, and what to look for when you’re doing it? You want a test to make sure that the theme is responsive. A responsive theme is one that will work on desktop computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, refrigerator browsers, car browsers, everywhere. The design transforms appropriately for whatever environment it finds itself in. There’s a lot of things to consider. Most themes today are responsive, but if you go back a couple years ago, that was not the case. Even though a theme can be advertised as responsive, I will always test it out in every way that I can as much as possible until I am satisfied that it is responsive. Then, does your theme have page templates? What’s a template? If you want a landing page, if you want a page with no sidebar if you want a page that has full screen with different layouts. Those are templates that are within the theme.
Many locations, many premium themes will have several menu locations built in. In other words, they give you the option to have a horizontal menu or maybe two vertical menus, maybe a footer menu compared to a free theme that may give you just one option where your menu is going to be located on your page. Then, does the theme have any special widgets? Widgets are commonly used for blogging, but not just blogging. I’m always going to be looking at what special widgets are available with the theme, and then what kind of custom design options are built into the theme. Is it possible for me to change the layout? How would I do that? What about changing font and color, and different things that deal with design? How is that incorporated into the theme itself?
Take my advice please and follow the things that I’ve just gone over here in this video. These are things that I have learned over the years looking for themes for myself and for my clients. The more time I spent doing that, the better results I always got.