Choosing the Right Theme for Your WordPress Site

responsive-web-design-540x340WordPress themes are a relatively easy way for site owners, web designers or complete beginners to create a professional looking, fully functional WordPress site with minimal effort.

There are thousands of both free and paid themes available, so where do you begin, and what are the features you should look out for?

Functionality Comes First

For WordPress beginners and non-code-savvy users, design and appearance will often be the most important factor when choosing a theme. This is understandable, but it is usually the functionality of the theme – including features like plugins and widgets – that will be of most value in relation to the success of your site.

Key features to look for in a WordPress theme include:

  • Native Page-Layout Designers

    Plugins like visual composer and page builder are very common in paid themes and they can be major time savers if your site is likely to require a variety of page templates. These plugins also make it relatively easy for less technically minded individuals to edit and create new pages, without the use of html or shortcodes.

  • Built In Widgets and Post-Types

    If you’re building an e-commerce site, then you would expect to see well-designed pre-made widgets for things like ‘best selling products’ or ‘product categories’. For a business site, you might look for a ‘recent projects’ or ‘testimonials’ post-type that allows this content to be displayed in a visually pleasing way across the site (eg. in sidebars, footers, larger homepage widgets etc.)

  • Relevant Bundled Plugins

    Lots of themes come bundled with plugins (as already mentioned) – so take some time to investigate exactly what you are getting. Usually you would expect to find things like slider plugins and mega-menu makers in the mix – but don’t assume anything. If there is a plugin you would expect or need that isn’t bundled, try to find another theme that ticks all of your boxes.

Design Considerations

Style and appearance should be secondary, but in practice it’s hard to separate functionality from design.

Some considerations:

  • How Easy is it to Change the Design?

    Most modern themes include ‘theme options’ backend pages (more recently these are becoming merged with the native WordPress ‘Customize’ panel). If possible, try to get access to the theme’s backend, so that you can play around with this. Again, don’t assume that things will be as easy to change as you might like them to be. It’s not possible for theme designers to allow every element on the site to be individually tweaked. So, if there are a number of design issues that you don’t like, it would make more sense to find a theme that would be less of a chore to alter.

  • Make Use of the Demo Site, Again and Again

    Before purchasing, make sure that you take a theme through it’s paces. How is the responsive design and functionality? Are there any CSS issues that you spot? The theme designer may thank you for pointing these out – and you certainly don’t want to be responsible for fixing these yourself after installing.

  • Support

    Following on from the previous point – check the support policy of the theme designer or company. Most paid themes will offer free support up to a point. If you intend on making significant alterations to the site (for example, adding custom CSS, custom templates) you will probably find it best to get all your support issues sorted before you begin to make your customisations (as the theme designer is unlikely to offer support beyond the bounds of the original product).

A Few Final Tips

  • Check Reviews

    The major theme marketplaces like Themeforest include reviews, so have a good read through these. It may also be worth checking if there is a support forum for the specific theme you’re looking at – so you can be aware of any issues ahead of purchasing. If there are no reviews or feedback, check the date of when the theme was made available. It could be that it is brand new (a ‘1.0’ of the theme) and you would probably want to steer away from this until the theme has been updated a few times and attracted a few positive reviews at least.

  • Don’t Expect Perfection

    Themes are a great way to get a ‘head start’ on your site. They are not a ‘silver bullet’ solution – every theme will need tweaks and changes to deliver the specific site brief. In some cases it may make sense to start with the most basic of themes (or even no theme at all) in order to produce the particular specifics of your site with minimal complications.

In conclusion, test and check any theme in detail before purchasing and make sure it includes features that will save you time. As usual, it helps to have a clear brief before you begin your theme search and to be ready with a list of ‘must-haves’ that any theme should include.

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