Choosing a Theme for your WordPress site can be both super exciting and very daunting. However, as the backbone of your website, it is something that is very much worth taking time to choose properly.
For those right at the beginning of their journey, I’ll just quickly explain what is WordPress theme actually is.
Essentially a WordPress theme is simply a collection files. Collected together these files will modify the way your site is displayed. However, your theme will not actually alter the underlying software of your site. So, in the same way that makeup can change the look of your face, without actually altering your face, your WordPress theme is simply decoration for your site.
Just like your branding, you want consistency when people land on your site. So when you choose a WordPress theme you need to stick with it, which means making sure that you choose a theme that is functional, representative of your brand and flexible.
So before we get into some of the technical things you might want to keep an eye out for, let’s talk about you and your business.
Your Business Purpose
Anyone who has taken our ‘Design a Profitable Blog’ course will probably be having a traumatic flashback over the word ‘purpose’.
With any business decision, as well as design, you should always consider your purpose. What is it that you want your visitors to do when they come to your site? And why do you want them to do that?
For example, if the main thrust of your website is to get readers to go to your blog posts, there is no point buying a theme that looks really pretty but is set up to promote eCommerce functions. Equally, if you plan on having a lot of text content on your website, you won’t want a theme set up for portfolio displays ie focused on showcasing pictures.
- What is the purpose of my site?
- Does my site require eCommerce options (now or in the future)?
- What do I want my homepage to display?
For example, the purpose of your site is to display your blog posts on travel. You want your homepage to display your blog and you don’t want eCommerce right now, but you would like the option to sell your travel photographs in the future.
In this case you would be looking for a WordPress theme with an emphasis on large amounts of content, with the ‘blog’ element being the focus for the theme and with the option to add eCommerce.
As you grow and evolve as an individual, it is likely that your business will grow and evolve with you. That is not to say that your business will dramatically change niche, but you might find yourself wanting to expand into other areas or explore new avenues with your business.
So, you will want to make sure that your theme has the capability to adjust and change with you. In practical terms you will want to check the extent that you can alter your theme.
For example, can you add or retract a sidebar for your page? Can you display different post types? Do you want the same layout for all your pages or do you want to be able to alter the look on different parts of your site?
Check the flexibility of the theme layout to make sure you can make all the adjustments you might want now or in the future.
CSS & Other Options
Whilst I thoroughly recommend having at least a basic knowledge of CSS, if you aren’t fluent in coding language you will want to explore the theme options. Most themes have a user friendly panel that will allow you to change things like colours and fonts without diving into the code. However, some of these panels can be very limited in what they offer or, alternatively, can overwhelm you with options that you will never want to touch.
There are also plugins like Themify and Visual Page Editor that let you build pages without coding. Often referred to as ‘What You See Is What You Get’ WYSIWYG editors, or drag and drop builders. Whilst these options are usually quite straight forward to use for non-programmers, they are a little limited in what they can do. So I recommend having a very thoroughly play around with any demos that are offered by the developer, to make sure that you can customize what you want.
Related: An Introduction to CSS For Beginners
If you are thinking of adding eCommerce functionality to your WordPress site, then you are likely looking at WooCommerce. However, this isn’t to say that if you buy a theme that doesn’t come ready set-up for WooCommerce that you will never be able to add it to your site. Not at all.
The only difference is that if your site comes already set-up for WooCommerce, then it will have already created custom styles for the WooCommerce plugin. This means that your WooCommerce shop will already come styled in the same way as your theme.
If you were to buy a theme that does not have this styling already built in, it would mean that you would have to customize the CSS yourself, in order to match the shop to the rest of your theme. This, of course, is not beyond the realms of possibility, but if you don’t have the time or don’t want the hassle of doing this then it is advisable that you buy a theme where WooCommerce is an option.
Similarly, there may be other bits of functionality that you want for your website that you don’t want to install yourself. For example, an Instagram feed or a slider gallery etc. All of these things you can install yourself, however if there is particular function that you have your heart set on, then it is more than worthwhile trying to find a theme that comes pre-loaded with it.
However, whilst it might be tempting to just choose a theme that has all the options, be aware that having a theme packed with every plugin on the planet may have some unwanted side effects. If your theme has hundreds of features it could well slow down your site.
And why is site loading speed important? Well in a nutshell, first, KissMetrics reported that a one second delay in loading time can result in a seven percent reduction in sales. Ie, people leave and don’t come back. Secondly, it is a factor that Google takes into account in it’s SEO algorithm.
Basically your site needs to load in three seconds or under.
So try to avoid themes that have loads of unwanted features, as well as those which pack the theme with loads of large file formats like full width images, moving backgrounds etc. That’s not to say stay away from themes that have big pictures, just avoid sites that are overwhelming you with media.
Pro Tip: If you are not sure about a site, check out : Pingdom Website Speed Test
You can enter the address of the ‘demo’ site your prospective theme is using. The key results to note are how fast the theme loads and how many requests the site makes. Remember, you want to keep it under three seconds.
This may seem completely obvious but the best way of finding out about a theme is reading the reviews. Not only will this allow you to see if users have had problems with the theme but it will give you an idea about how the developers handles complaints or queries and the time it takes for them to answer.
Another thing you should keep in mind when reading through the reviews is security.
Now, I don’t want to worry you but security is something you need to be aware of when it comes to your website. There are plenty of really good plugins that will help you with this, once your site is up and running. However, it is something that you should definitely consider when buying your theme.
Unfortunately the developer probably isn’t going to put a big label on their theme saying ‘not safe’. However it is still worth while making sure you go through the theme reviews as this is a factor that users are likely to report back on.
It is also worth noting when the theme was last updated. Not only is this important from a security point of view but more recently updated themes are more likely to be up to date with the current coding standards, which will have an impact on your SEO as well.
I read an article recently, on choosing a theme, that stated you should consider whether or not you want your website to be mobile responsive. ie that the website automatically transforms itself to look good on mobile device.
I think in this day and age it is a irrelevant question. Your website needs to look good on mobile.
You can check out all the statistics at Smart Insights but their latest stats shows that, in the US, 51% of people are accessing the internet through mobile, compared to 42% on desktops.
Which is to say that if you are alienating people on mobile, you could be putting off over half of the Internet readership. Now obviously these statistics will vary sector to sector and country to country, but in any case, these are pretty compelling statistics to say that your site needs to be responsive.
Not to mention the fact that Google will punish you for not having a responsive site. And let’s face it, you want to stay on the right side of Google.
Basically: make sure your theme is mobile responsive.
When it comes to something as important as your theme, if you have the money to invest, this is where I would invest it. When it comes to WordPress themes you can be looking at anything from free, to $50 or $200. A decent premium theme is probably going to set you back about $50, which, considering the time, effort and expertise which go into creating a theme, I think, is a pretty good deal.
However, if you are just starting out and perhaps are just testing out WordPress and aren’t sure whether you want to commit, then a cheaper or free theme could be what you need.
Indeed, a free theme will unlikely come with many unwanted or complicated features. Whilst this is limiting, perhaps in the long run, when you are starting out it might be easier to learn the very basics of WordPress without being distracted or confused by a myriad of extra options.
The draw backs to free themes are, often, it is difficult to put you own ‘stamp’ on the theme, as they often all look very similar to each other. They often require an ‘attribution’ as well.
Also, whilst more and more free themes are well coded now, there is always the chance that a free theme isn’t quite up to scratch. However, a more pressing concern is that free themes are unlikely to come with any support systems, whether that be a detailed guide to the theme, email ticketing or live chat options.
The most important thing, I would say about free themes, is that they are rarely updated. Or, at least not as frequently as paid themes. Given that WordPress updates frequently, it is a real possibility that you theme will become outdated. This may lead to functionality problems with your theme, as well as additional concerns like security.
At the end of the day, when it comes to something as important as your WordPress theme, I would err on the side of caution and go for a premium theme. If you are just testing the waters and are uncertain about WordPress then a free theme may be just what you need for you to make a decision.
However, if you know you are here for the long term, I would skip the free version and go directly to scoping out the best premium themes.
So, to conclude, I would begin by narrowing down the themes based on their content and purpose. Find themes that will fit the purpose of your website and will allow for any customization or adjustments that you might want in the future.
Once you’ve narrowed it down, look through the review for that theme and the theme developer. Take note of any issues that users report, especially in regard to poor code, security and any other serious issues. Also observe the responses, both in helpfulness and timeliness, from the developer.
Here are few places to get you started:
BluChic* (I actually went ahead and became an affiliate for Kathie because I think it’s nice to support small businesses – and because her themes are just so.damn.pretty – if you’d like to get to know her a little more first you can check out her interview with us)
Do you have any WordPress Theme recommendations? Help out a fellow Girl Boss and share them in the comments below!