How to Choose a WordPress Theme for Your Website
With millions of WordPress themes to choose from, making a decision can be overwhelming.
Seriously, you only need to spend a couple of minutes on Etsy or Behance or Themeforest before you get sucked down a rabbit whole that can become hours - even days - spent searching for the holy grail of themes.
Choosing the right theme for your blog or business is so important for your overall brand, because the way it looks and functions will directly impact how your customers view your business. Of course you can change themes as often as you like - it's not a permanent decision - but that can quickly become expensive, and even confusing for your regular viewers.
Below are my top tips for choosing a WordPress theme that you'll fall in love with:
1. gather inspiration
Obviously any successful project starts with a bit of research, so have a look through all your most visited websites and make notes of what you like and dislike about them. Googling things like 'inspiration website design' will usually provide you with plenty of fodder to look through and analyse too!
2. Work out your needs & preferences
Rather than go with the theme that has all the features you could ever need (I'll explain why that's bad below), scale it down. Make a list of your absolute necessary features - whether that be a grid layout portfolio section, or a prevalent sign up form box - and then make a list of features that would be nice, but aren't deal-breakers (eg. parallax images or accordion boxes).
3. Treat your website as an investment
Whether you're hiring a designer, or building your website yourself, it's probably going to cost you some kind of initial outlay of money, and the theme will be a big part of that. Some theme's are cheaper than others, but you shouldn't be focussing on value here. You need to bear in mind:
- Your website is your online shop front, and is key for your brand
- A cheap theme could be a false economy; it may be buggy and poorly maintained, and you'll need to buy a new one sooner
- A cheap theme may suit your business now, but don't you want to future-proof it? Look for a theme that can grow with you
4. Look for Excellent Reviews & get referrals
The best way to find quality theme developers is to ask experienced designers and developers who they use for their clients' websites and who they would recommend. I suggest joining Facebook groups such as DesignHer or GirlsOnWp to seek advise and recommendations.
If you're not part of a group like that, and you prefer looking through sites like Themeforest, make sure you filter your search for themes with high ratings. When viewing a potential theme, take a look to see how many reviews there are and what people have written - it could give you some useful info before you buy!
5. Test the Demo site & look for other examples
Most good theme developers will have a demo site set up for you to view the features and layouts available. Spend time looking through the demo whilst ticking off features on your 'needs' and 'preferences' list, and don't forget to view it on your mobile too!
As well as this, try and search around for real life businesses and bloggers using the same theme, and see how they have customised it to suit their needs.
6. Always read the features carefully
Don't get caught out by a crucial missing feature once you've already purchased the theme, as many developers won't offer refunds if you failed to read the features list. Make sure it has everything you need (and might need in the near future) before buying.
7. Always get dedicated theme support
Most developers will offer a free period of theme support when you purchase a theme, and sometimes the option to upgrade your period from, say, 6 months to 12 months. How much support you need is up to you, but I'd suggest a minimum of 6 months to give you enough time to use all the features you need and make sure they work properly.
~ Huge amounts of shortcodes make your life harder, not easier
Shortcodes can seem like a useful, quick way to include fancy features in your website, but actually they're a total pain if you ever change themes (it's likely you will!). Shortcodes that come with a theme are unique, so if you change theme, the formatting will change or disappear. Trust me this is not fun to sort out on larger sites...
~ Stick to well known drag & drop editors
Drag and drop editors are often marketed as a huge plus when buying a theme, but in fact they are, more often than not, buggy as hell! There are a couple of well-known good ones that some themes use as a standard, so keep an eye out for them, and try to avoid obsure, less-well known ones if you can.
~ Always back up your site before installing a new theme
In case you end up with enormous formatting problems (or even a broken website due to a buggy theme), always back up your site before you install the theme you've just bought. I've written about keeping your site secure with back up plugins before.
~ Always create a child theme
As a guide I always immediately install a child theme on my clients' websites. You can do this easily using a plugin like One Click Child Theme, or by creating a file in your FTP. This just means that if you do an update for your parent theme, your website will retain how you've customised it if something goes wrong.