A theme is the visual backbone of your WordPress site. It plays a large part in determining how visitors navigate your site and with what amount of ease. A great theme will help draw visitors to your site and make them want to look around. It portrays what your site is about within seconds of entering the URL.
If you want to build a great site, it needs a great foundation. With thousands of available themes on WordPress.org alone, and more added every day, it’s getting harder and harder to pick just one.
It may be tempting to pick any random theme to avoid the frustration of comparing such a high volume of options. Don’t do this. If you want to build a great site, it needs a great theme. This means you need to do a little thinking and research before you settle on one.
There are a variety of considerations that will help make this job easier. We’ve put together a list of tips to lessen the task of finding a theme. The tips are written in an order that logically allows you to narrow down possibilities.
Free or Premium?
This is the first question to answer, as it will determine where you go to find a theme and what to expect from what you find. The pros and cons of free and premium themes are similar to those for plugins.
Depending on the site you want, free themes may suit you just fine. The key is to choose a theme with good ratings, frequent updates, and support through the theme’s support forum on WordPress.org. By choosing a free theme, you may have to accept your theme will not be perfect when it comes to each of these.
Premium themes are often available for a small price. These offer ongoing updates and excellent support. You’re likely to get more customization and better design with premium themes. Once taking a premium theme from a known brand you can also feel confident that the theme is following security standards and has been checked against most of the popular plugins and does not show any conflicts.
Go to the Right Place
If you’re looking for free themes, it’s best to go to WordPress.org. These themes have been inspected and are generally safe (read more about these standards here). Be careful when downloading free themes from untrusted, outside sites. The theme you download may be a ploy to make your site vulnerable to an attack.
A helpful way to start is to view the popular themes on WordPress.org. These are themes that people like to use, and there is usually a good reason behind this.
If you want premium themes and don’t already have a favorite theme developer in mind, there are many options:
WooThemes is a top site to find premium themes.
ElegantThemes produces some great themes.
Another is Avada, which offers beautiful themes for many different types of websites.
Of course, you can find many more theme developers by searching the web and researching the favorites of other WordPress users.
Do your Research
There are many great blog posts out there that recommend themes with great design or that fulfill various needs. Tip: make sure the posts are up to date, as new themes are constantly developed.
You can also research what themes your favorite sites use with WPThemeDetector.
Consider your Needs
Once you’ve picked a place to find your ideal plugin, start your search by narrowing the field.
It’s good to sit down and decide what features you want. Focus on design instead of functionality, as functionality is more likely achieved through plugins.
Beyond looks, you might want to choose themes with responsive design, as more and more people are using mobile devices to surf the web. Also, it’s useful to find a theme that is SEO-friendly. Most themes will specifically say whether they are responsive and SEO-friendly.
You might want to look for a theme that supports different page templates, which will give you options when you go to build your site.
Filter out themes that likely won’t suit the type of site you want. For example, if you are looking to create an online store, a theme created for bloggers isn’t the best choice.
Don’t just think of your immediate site needs when picking a theme, consider what you will want in the future and whether the theme can expand with your site. Of course, you can always change the theme, but it will save you time and hassle if you have a theme that can carry you farther than the first version of your site.
The adjustability of a theme is important to consider. If you choose a customizable theme, you can alter what the theme developer provides to suit your particular site. With customization, you know the preview of the theme is not a set in stone version of how your site can look.
The majority of themes allow you to customize at least the basics like background image and color. Some offer custom widgets, sliders, and other more advanced features.
Customization is about balance. Don’t choose a theme on the basis of fancy features. If you’re not a designer, customizing a theme can turn a beautiful theme into an unappealing site. No one wants that.
The best way to approach customization is to find a theme that allows basic customization, but is based on strong design. Again, the theme should serve as the backbone of your site, not the whole body.
Is it secure?
Security vulnerabilities within themes are a common way sites can become infected. Avoid this by making sure you use a secure theme.
Use ThemeCheck to make sure the theme you choose is secure and well coded.
You can search previously checked themes or upload your own. If the theme gets a low score, it has many critical alerts. It’s safe to avoid these themes.
There’s also a popular Theme Check plugin you can add to your site to make sure the theme you are using is up to WordPress.org’s standards.
Conflicts with Plugins
Researching what other WordPress users say about themes can also provide insight on plugin conflicts.
There are ways to test potential themes without completely committing. One way is the WP Theme Test plugin, which lets you explore new themes while still showing site visitors your old theme.
Another plugin that offers more ways to test your site is Nelio AB Testing. This is useful for seeing whether a theme improves your conversion rates. It can tell you whether changing your current theme will improve your site.
Can you easily change the theme later?
This ties in with customization. If you choose a theme with loads of customizable sliders and page types, it may be really hard to switch. This is important to consider.
Let’s face it, you might eventually need a change. Staring at the same theme might get old.
It’s perfectly fine to change themes, just make it easier on yourself by choosing themes that can be easily switched out without compromising the integrity of your site. The possibility of this happening can be minimized by following some simple steps.
Check Site Speed
Make sure the theme you choose doesn’t slow down your site. There are many tools that can help you do this.
With GTMetrix, you can receive a rating for your site’s speed and details on what is slowing it down. If you check your site after adding a theme and the rating is significantly lower, avoid the theme.
You can also easily compare between two or more themes using GTMetrix and review the amount of load each one of them is brining. Once looking at the numbers coming from GTMetrix please don’t consider only the scores but also look at the total page size and the number of requests.
If you answer all these questions and still have a list of several possible themes, chances are any one of them will be good. The goal is to find a theme that easily integrates with the site you have in mind.