Guide to Choosing the Perfect Theme for your WordPress Website

Will Rogers once famously said, “You will never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Perhaps you’ve met someone in life who didn’t make a good first impression and upon a second meeting with them, they make a better impression, but somehow you just can’t get past that first impression. In the digital world, the effect is often the same. If a user visits your website and feels frustrated, put off, or simply unimpressed, there’s an excellent chance they will not return. The first impression a user gets from your website can be the difference between abject failure and complete success.

WordPress is the platform of choice of over 75 million websites, including heavyweights such as the New York Times, CNN, Mashable and eBay. Activity on WordPress sites is prolific, with an aggregate of 342 posts per minute being added to WordPress sites around the world. WordPress is the number one platform among business websites, and in the 11 years since its inception, it has soared in popularity for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is free and open-source, easily scalable, 99% SEO friendly, easy to use and easy to customize.

One of the hottest aspects of WordPress is the availability of themes – many free, some premium, and all easily customizable in color and design. Choosing the right theme is essential in establishing your brand, but given the number of themes available, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and frozen with indecision. This guide is designed to help you drill down on the most critical factors in your quest to choose the perfect theme for you website.

Price

One of the first considerations many people have in choosing a WordPress theme is price. There are many free options available, and many premium offerings. Your initial thought may be why I would pay for something if I can get it free, and that’s a good thought, but there are some important reasons why one might choose a premium theme.

Free themes offer great color and design, and of course, they don’t cost anything, but customization options are limited, and the theme’s author may not offer ongoing support. Premium themes offer a multitude of customization options beyond the ability to change colors and fonts, ongoing support, and regular maintenance and updates.

Professional WordPress themes don’t need to cost a fortune. It can make sense to purchase a number of themes as part of a bundle package. Web-Dorado offers 11 premium themes from $40 all-in, and priority support is an available upgrade.

If you’re running a business website and planning to make serious money, a premium theme may well be worth the small investment.

Does it Have the Right Features?

Consider what features you need in your theme. Is it responsive? Do you want a full-width layout or a sidebar? Do you want a footer with extra widgets? Is a landing page supported? Are additional page layouts available? Best practices in choosing a theme dictates that you select a theme with functionalities such as sliders, galleries and custom post types that are separate from the design, meaning these features are provided via plugins rather than incorporated into the theme’s design.

The Developer’s Reputation

You may want to consider the track record of the theme’s developer. All developers have to start from somewhere and you can certainly take a chance on a new developer and have it work out great. However, established developers who have a number of themes and a high number of downloads are your best bet. These themes have been tested for quality and usability, making it unlikely you’ll run into complications with the theme itself or when you begin adding plugins.

Avoid Bloat

It’s critical that you choose a theme with all the features you need, and maybe a few in the wings for growth, but an excess of features you will never use increase the likelihood of complications. Additionally, choosing a theme with a high number of built in features increases the risk of getting locked in to a theme, limiting flexibility in the future. Remember, with so many plugins available for the WordPress platform, your theme does not need to be the ultimate solution.

Updates

The WordPress platform is updated frequently, and with major updates, changes in how certain bits of code work can occur. As a result, you’ll need a theme that is maintained and updated regularly, lest you run the risk of your theme not functioning properly after an update.

The Look

Design is always a key factor in choosing the right theme. You should have an idea in mind of how you want your finished website to look. Consider too your niche and look for a theme reflective of that. For example, a fashion designer that does children’s clothes may have a very different look to their website than a designer of women’s haute couture. One may prefer primary colors with big blocks and thick borders; another may want something understated and seamless, with watercolors. Consider your industry. The type of theme used by a corporate entity may be entirely different from a bakery or bookstore.

The Sweet Spot on Customization

Downloading a theme and using it as-is runs the risk that your website will look like every other site using the same theme. Nearly all themes are easily customizable through a control panel. If you’re not strong in design, consider a theme that gives you a small number of customization options. If you feel competent in this area and want a high level of control, choose a theme with a high degree of customization that allows you to make it uniquely your own.

Responsiveness

Keeping in mind that 50% or more of your traffic will come from mobile devices, you need a theme responsive to different screen size and fully mobile-ready. Most WordPress themes are responsive by design; however, some have fixed width layouts that do not orient well at all on smartphones and tablets. You can easily test responsiveness by resizing your browser to ensure the theme adjusts properly to screen width. If you notice the text is too small or content is cut off, these are red flags warning you a theme is not mobile ready.

Browsers

Remember your users will be coming to your site via a number of different browsers, and while your layout may look great on Firefox, for example, it might be broken on Chrome, Explorer, Safari or Edge. Most themes are rigorously tested for browser compatibility. Test your theme by viewing your website on all commonly used browsers, including mobile browsers, to ensure full compatibility.

Plugin / Language Support Compatibility

It could be said that plugins are the real power behind WordPress, with a plugin available to do nearly anything on your website. Therefore, it is critical that you choose a theme that supports WordPress’ most popular plugins, such a Yoast SEO, Gravity Forms and W3 Total Cache. If you’re uncertain whether a particular plugin is supported, check WordPress’ community forums, or contact the theme developer. Also, consider whether a theme supports multiple languages. For business websites especially, multilingual support and compatibility with multilingual plugins is a must.

SEO Friendly

The success of your website can be profoundly affected by its SEO friendliness. A theme with poorly coded HTML can bog down your site and affect its ranking on search engines. Many WordPress developers will let you know their theme is optimized for SEO, and you’ll do well to stick with these themes. You can also take a peek at the efficiency of HTML 5 coding with W3C Markup Validation Service by going to https://validator.w3.org/, entering your web address, and clicking the check button.

User Reviews

One of the best ways to get a feel for the quality and usability of a theme is to look at the ratings and reviews left by those who have use the theme. Look just below the theme’s download button and you should see the number of available reviews and a star rating as determined by users. Any theme can be subject to a bad review here and there, but overall, a well-designed, efficient and user-friendly theme should have a vast majority of good reviews and high star rankings.

Choosing a theme for your WordPress site can be difficult with so much to consider. Relying on the advice above can help you winnow the field a little and determine the most important things to choose and what to avoid.

Web developer Richard Sutherland has been working with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and other content management systems for over a decade. Graduating from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Richard has held a number of prominent website development roles at major companies such as Samsung, ASDA and Prudential.

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