Choosing The Right Theme For Your WordPress Site (Continued)

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Back in June 2015 we published a great article entitled Choosing The Right Theme For Your WordPress Site which covered the fundamentals of choosing the right WordPress theme for you. If you haven’t already, please take a look here. In this article we wanted to delve deeper at on what you should be ticking off your theme selection checklist.

Make a list of required features ahead of time…

For instance, does your site need to be ecommerce ready, have social media platform functionality, include specific custom post type structures and widgets you need? Will all these features be baked in to the theme or will the theme, at the very least, enable you to achieve your desired result? Making a checklist and identifying key features before you begin your search will help you focus on these requirements and not be distracted by more cosmetic and less essential elements.

Choosing between free Vs premium themes

When choosing between free and premium, a big factor is your technical competency. Experienced WordPress developers tend to gravitate toward free themes from reputable sources (covered later) because they are less bloated with template builders and features which make premium themes code heavy, enabling developers to take a bottom up approach in customising there WordPress theme. One of the  biggest gains of this approach is a site that loads faster in to the browser, improving user experience and receiving a healthy leg up in Google’s ranking system.
In contrast to this, premium themes have found a position in the market place for those who are less experienced with WordPress. Premium themes tend to be loaded with more features and templates enabling users to take a top down approach to development, by whittling away the things the don’t need to craft there bespoke website. One of the cons of this approach is often a website that is slower to load but this may be acceptable trade off to get the website you want. The great thing about premium themes is that they often come with support which often includes availability of the author to answer questions, assistance with reported bugs and issues and help with included 3rd party assets.
If you choose to go down the free route, be careful. Historically free WordPress themes have a bad reputation. Themes from non reputable sources have been know to be poorly code and even have malicious code injected in to them. Things have improved on this front over recent years but we at Marketing Signals would only trust free themes from the WordPress Theme Repository.

Is it responsive?

This goes without saying. Page views on mobile overtook desktop views back in 2016 , with Google reporting that more than 50% of search queries now performed on mobile devices and this number is growing fast. Google cite responsiveness as a important ranking factor.
To test a WordPress themes responsiveness from a desktop machine, go to the theme demo site you want to test, let it load, then make your browser screen narrower. As you do this, if the site has a responsive design, the elements from the web page will collapse down on top of each other, but you will still be able to see the whole page by scrolling.
From your smartphone, load the theme you want to test in to your mobile browser. If the website looks exactly the same as it does on your desktop machine in full browser width view but in minature then the theme is not responsive.
Alternatively check how the theme renders using ami.responsivedesign.is

Check reviews

User and/or customer reviews are your most powerful resource at your disposal in vetting your shortlisted WordPress themes. All product and services pick up the odd bad review but if the bad reviews are unusually high then take this as a bad sign.
At the WordPress Theme Repository, on the theme download page, you will find lots of very important pieces of information. Number one, when the theme was last updated. The more recent the update, the more confident you can be that the theme will be compatible with the latest version of WordPress you are most likely using. Two, active installs. A high amount of active installs is testament to the themes quality. Three, the star rating. This speaks for itself. Finally, Number four, just below the star rating is a link to the support forum. Head over to the forum and take a look at the support requests and make a note of how recently support requests are answered. The more recent and frequent, the better.
All the above equally apply to WordPress themes on premium theme marketplaces. Themeforest, for instance has the star review and amount of sales are right in the themes list view. Just double check when the theme was last updated and it’s compatibility with your version of WordPress unlike the WordPress Theme Repository, Themeforest themes may still be available to buy while support from them has been discontinued. If you are leaning towards a premium theme, don’t be afraid to message the author with any questions you may have. They are usually only too happy to help.

Checking your chosen theme

With your chosen theme active on your website, install Theme Check . This handy plugin enables you to check your theme is up-to-spec with the latest theme review standards. This plugin runs the same automated tests that WordPress.org uses for theme submissions.  Though the results can be very technical, tech savvy users will find the results very useful in heading any issues off at-the-pass.
We hope this rundown helps you choose the perfect theme for website. Did we miss anything? Please leave a comment below and let us know your top tips in your theme selection process.
Gareth Healey
Gareth Healey About the author

Gareth has close to a decade of web design and development experience, with specialist skills in WordPress, Graphic Design and Photoshop. He is responsible for all website builds and maintenance.

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