4 Factors to Consider When Looking for the Best Theme for Your WordPress Site
Powering more than 30% of all websites — and showing no signs of slowing down — WordPress is an incredibly popular piece of software that helps countless entrepreneurs, bloggers, and designers create websites for their businesses, brands, and personal networks.
With so many different ways to use the platform, the most difficult part of creating a WordPress site is often the very first step: choosing which of the tens of thousands of themes you want to use to drive your site’s design.
What is a Theme?
A WordPress theme changes the design of your website, often including its layout. Changing your theme changes how your site looks on the front-end, i.e. what a visitor sees when they browse to your site on the web. There are thousands of free WordPress themes in the WordPress.org Theme Directory, though many WordPress sites use custom themes.
When it comes to visual elements and organization, there’s no right answer. If you’re launching a movie review site, you’re going to want a theme with great readability. If you’re trying to sell jewelry, you’re going to want a design that is eminently clickable and consumer friendly.
1: How Much Do You Want to Spend?
While the best things in life are free, the best WordPress themes definitely aren’t. Building a website is nothing like finding true love or meeting your new best friend — it’s a practical, time-consuming business, and the designers who are best at their jobs want to get paid for their work.
That said, shelling out $50 or $100 might be outside your budget. Let’s take a look at the factors you should consider before making the decision to hire outside help or do it yourself:
Free Themes: The main upside to free themes? Well, they’re free! Their designs are often simple, and that’s not a bad thing in an online economy where ease-of-use and immediate gratification are in-demand commodities. Before you pick a free theme, you can also check its user ratings, which will give you a good sense of whether it’s a total mess or a practical winner.
The downside? Free themes usually have limited options. If you don’t like the basic template, you’re typically out of luck. Creators who make free themes don’t have any incentive to offer support or updates, so there won’t be any help if you get in a jam, and your website becomes less secure with every passing month.
Premium Themes: Premium themes are made by professionals, so they’re more likely to offer the kind of services that other professionals absolutely must have. Paid themes typically come with pretty decent customer support and are usually more intuitively designed, meaning beginners will have an easier time crafting and launching their site.
If you’re casually launching a small business in your free time just to test the waters and see how it goes, a well-reviewed free theme could be a great way to start out. If all you want to do is write blog posts and share links with your friends, there’s no reason you need to spend any money on a professional theme designed for eCommerce.
Higher goals and standards, however, might mean you’d be best served by splurging on a premium theme. Serious website owners won’t mind paying for a theme that includes the right look, security, and stability that will foster the most online success.
Look for savings elsewhere in the web hosting experience by finding hosts like these that pack a lot of features into very affordable packages. iPage, for instance, streamlines the WordPress hosting experience by including a free domain name and pre-installed themes and plugins.
2: What Do Other People Think of the Theme?
If you’re going to choose a free theme, checking its user ratings is an absolute must. Truthfully, though, it’s equally as important to take a look at reviews before you spend your date night fund on a premium theme.
Finding lists of the most popular themes is a good start for finding designs that site owners enjoy — but don’t stop there. Read a few positive and negative reviews to get a feel for what people like and dislike about the themes you’re considering.
A site’s strengths and weaknesses can mean different things for different users, as well. For instance, poor customer support might not matter to someone who is comfortable exploring a theme’s code or documentation. For less experienced site owners, a user-friendly customizations editor might be more important than the documentation.
You’ll have to take some reviews with a grain of salt, as online comments are usually rife with anger and vitriol. Positive remarks are certainly a good sign of a successful theme, and the absence of user interactions is typically a red flag.
Find an established theme that balances time in the industry along with frequent updates that keep the codebase up to speed with new technologies and security threats. A brand-new theme might have some bugs to work out, while a theme that’s more than six months or a year old likely has some weaknesses and performance issues.
3: What About SEO and Mobile Friendliness?
The best theme in the world won’t mean anything if no one sees your site. Some WordPress themes will give you a head start on search engine optimization (SEO), or the art of rising through the ranks of Google results. Others, however, can actually negatively impact search engines’ perception of your website.
Make sure the developers behind your potential theme seem like knowledgeable, reputable experts capable of producing clean, modern, and efficient code. In addition to ensuring speedy page loads, strong coding signals to search engines that your site is a trustworthy source of information. When in doubt, install an SEO plugin to help identify areas in which you can improve.
Your site’s optimization for appearing on mobile devices can also have a major impact on positioning in search results. If you are reading this on a desktop or a laptop, you are in the minority. More than half of the world’s web traffic comes from mobile devices, and that rate will likely only continue to rise.
A responsive theme is one that will change its layout depending on the device on which it’s being viewed. As more people use tablets and smartphones to access the internet, choosing a responsive theme is an absolute must. When you’re choosing a theme, only consider those with a solution for mobile sites.
There are a few different ways to see how seamless a responsive a theme can be. Start by resizing your own browser screen when viewing a theme’s demo. As you make the window smaller, then bigger, the theme’s layout should change to accommodate the size. You can also copy the theme’s demo page URL and paste it into Google’s incredibly useful Mobile Friendly Test.
Once you select a theme, continue monitoring users’ mobile experiences by testing the site on any device you can get your hands on. Use that laptop you haven’t opened since 2005. Steal your roommate’s weird, outdated smartphone. Go to an electronics store and load your site on the variety of devices they have out for customers to try. If your site consistently looks weird or confusing, look for a more flexible or responsive option.
4: Where Can You Turn for Help?
Whether you’re an experienced eCommerce entrepreneur launching a business that needs to be available 24/7 or a laid-back blogger collecting the hippest memes, you don’t want to be left in the dark when your site runs into a problem.
If you’re new to WordPress, you’re definitely going to need a helping hand now and then. If you’ve been using the CMS for years, you know how bad it can get when a weird glitch leaves you with a site that doesn’t work.
When investing in a premium theme, check to make sure the developers give detailed documentation and at least one year of email- or forum-based support. Most should offer this service, so steer clear of any that don’t.
Want to go the extra mile? Send the developers some questions before you buy. Their response will show you what their customer support is really like — and their commitment to their customers reveals a lot about their commitment to the overall quality of their own product.
However, never fear if a theme’s support system doesn’t blow you away. Here’s another situation where a strong WordPress host like iPage can keep you on the right track. The iPage support team is available 24/7 and has the WordPress know-how to address most concerns.
Feature image: Pixabay
About the Author: Ted Carmichael spends his time covering the entrepreneurs and organizations that are reshaping the world’s economy. Ted contributes his experience in journalism and modern business to HostingAdvice and is dedicated to informing readers about the ideas, technologies, and innovations that are transforming our future.