Choosing a theme for your WordPress site is a decision you should spend a little time with. While it is easy to change your theme without rebuilding your site, if you change your theme often, it can confuse visitors who may have gotten used to the banding and feel of your previous theme.
So how do you choose a theme? I know a lot of people will put “WordPress theme” into their favorite search engine, and start clicking away from there. This may work for some people, but it’s not an advisable process for most instances.
Let’s go back to our house analogy for a bit. If you were building a new house, would you just start pouring a foundation and putting up walls and what not without thinking about what fuctions the house needs to accomodate? How many bedrooms do their need to be for your family members? Do you need an office, or guest room, or one room that does double duty for both of those needs? Do you have younger kids that need a designated play space, or older kids who maybe need a quite space for studying? Do you need a large dining room for large family gathers, or a small breakfast nook for easy mornings? Now that you’ve identified what you need to have in your house, you can start to plan what these spaces might look like and where they will go in the house, and how big your house needs to be.
The same process applies to your website. While some themes may look fantastic, if they don’t accomodate the functions that you need, or require space to be filled by functions you’re not going to use, they may not be the best choice for you.
I’m going to add here that the preferred way of creating WordPress themes is to keep design and function separate, so while you may not find a WordPress theme that includes the specfic functions in it that you are looking for, you can usually tell from the demo if it is at least designed to accomodate what you need.
Also, look at the kinds of content that are in the demo and decied if you have corresponding or similar content that will fit in that place. For instance, some themes are designed with a large, attention-commanding graphic at the top of the page (referred to as a hero image), or the layout incoporates graphics at different sizes or is more designed for frequent blogging versus a more static brochure style site. Look critically at the example areas of the demo site to see if you will be able to fill in those kinds of areas, and if not, will the site still look as appealing?
Some general tips on choosing a theme:
- Beware of free themes available “out in the wild” on the internet. There’s no vetting process for these, and you could end up with spam and malicious code in your theme unknowingly. I’m not say that they are all bad, but the bad ones are out there and can do irreparable harm to your relationship with your customers, your web host, and the search engines.
- Choosing a free theme from the WordPress.org Theme Directory (Repository) is generally safe, as each of the themes in the Repository have to be vetted by professional theme developers to make sure they meet all the specifications that WordPress requires and are absent of any malicious code. Typically you can get support of the theme developers though WordPress.org support forums if you run into any problems.
- Premium theme shops offer updates and support in exchange for the license fee. Some shops have annual license fees for continuted support and access to updates, while some shops offer lifetime licenses. Know what the license terms are.
- If you’re going the premium shop route, make sure you know their refund policy. Much like shopping for clothes, sometimes a theme may look great on the demo site, but may not be as flexible as you need it to be under actual use. If there’s no refund policy, check with pre-sales support to ask about that, or ask if it can accomodate the specific use that you need for it.
- The theme should be Responsive. This one isn’t really optional. Responsive design has been around long enough, and search engines factor mobile-friendliness into your search rankings. If the theme isn’t responsive, it’s not worth your time or money. If you’re not sure if a theme is Responsive, a quick test is to resize your browser window across several different sizes and see if the design adjusts accordingly. Or you can check it against Google’s Mobile Friendly Tester.