How to Choose a WordPress Theme

When it comes to choosing the right WordPress Theme, there is a right way and a wrong way. And both may be right for you.

First, let’s look at what people look for and what influences them in the decision process with a WordPress Theme, and the myths of their reasoning.

Comparing the same 2011 WordPress Theme - the light and the dark version - totally different.

The default WordPress 2011 Theme has two versions, dark and light. By changing the background image, these two sites on the same Theme are completely different.

How much does it cost?

First of all, the majority of WordPress Themes in the WordPress Theme Directory are free. Before you start investing in a WordPress Theme, stick with free Themes so you can test drive them.

If you fall in love with one and lack the web design experience or time to modify it, contact the author and hire them to fix this to your liking.

A paid or premium WordPress Theme is no better or worse than a free Theme. Don’t believe the hype. You are usually paying for support or additional features you may or may not need. Price does not dictate quality.

Does it feature full customization?

Almost all WordPress Themes offer customization of the header art, background colors or images, and a few other options.

What do you need customized?

If the WordPress Theme has all the features you need, then consider it customized to your needs. If you need more functionality, consider adding a WordPress Plugin with the features you need.

If you adore a specific WordPress Theme, contact the author. They will be willing to make modifications for a fee.

Can you change the layout?

How many ways do you want to change the layout? Put the sidebar on the right or the left? Have two sidebars on the right or left and none on the other side?

Pick a Theme with the sidebar placement you want to see if that is the layout you really need.

If you need to move things around, consider one of the modular WordPress Themes that allow you to shift areas around within the site design and layout.

Does it match your business or content?

Did you buy or rent your home because of the wallpaper or paint color on the wall? No. You chose it because it had the number of rooms you needed, the location was right, and it fit your budget.

Choose a WordPress Theme accordingly. Is the sidebar where you want it. The header tall enough or narrow enough to meet your needs? What about the footer?

Then look at the colors and artwork. You can easily change all that, redecorate the whole thing to meet the needs of your business or content.

Always look for the architecture first. The paint job and wallpaper can be changed later.

Will it grow with your business?

I have a WordPress site with over 3,000 articles and growing. I’ve seen WordPress sites with no posts just Pages or Custom Post Types (like Pages). You can do anything you wish with your WordPress site, and most Themes will handle it, if you choose wisely. Or you can change the Theme design or structure at any time, or totally switch Themes.

Think of the big companies that use WordPress. Here’s a list to remind you.

If their sites and companies are growing with WordPress, so will yours.

Is it SEO friendly?

There is a lot of confusion over WordPress and SEO. We often forget that SEO has nothing to do with the Theme and everything to do with the content.

Write clear, understandable, and keyword rich content, title your posts and Pages with purposeful titles, and your SEO issues will be taken care of.

Don’t believe the myth that the right WordPress Theme will make all your SEO woes disappear. Without quality content, no Theme will help.

Does it include tracking and analytic features?

Few WordPress Themes including tracking and analytic features. These are added with WordPress Plugins.

If a WordPress Theme is promoted as having these features built in, they are Plugins. And they may not be the right programs for your site’s needs. Choose your own.

Can you monetize it?

Some WordPress Themes are promoted as being particularly adaptable to monetization. That is true, but what do you mean by monetization?

For some, it means selling books or products. For others, it is services. For others, it is offering advertising.

Think about where and how you wish to promote your wares, offer your services, or feature ads. Check the specifics of the Theme to see what it offers compared to your specific needs.

Most WordPress Themes can handle general marketing and promotion without special features. There are also many WordPress Plugins that will add these features.

How many others are using that Theme?

Just because everyone is using that Theme, doesn’t mean it is right for you.

Just because millions are using that Theme, maybe you should use something else. If we’ve seen it once, we’ve seen it a thousand times dressed in different clothes.

While the number of users for a particular WordPress Theme might indicate its popularity, it doesn’t mean it is the right Theme for your needs.

What to Consider When Choosing a WordPress Theme

When it comes to choosing your WordPress Theme, think of it like you are building a custom home.

You don’t go to the architect holding up paint swatches and insist that the bedroom must be this exact color green.

The questions you would get back are how many rooms, how many floors, what size do you want the rooms, where do you want which rooms, and so on.

They don’t care about the paint job.

By choosing a WordPress Theme because you like the header art, the blue border, the font, or some other interior design feature, you are building a home with paint.

Here are my tips for choosing a WordPress Theme.

Will it hold what you create?

What content will you be publishing?

Creating a travel or photo blog? Will you be featuring photographs as your primary content? Consider choosing a WordPress Theme with a wide content area, possibly even without a sidebar. Let your photographs be held like a picture in a matted frame, with room to breath.

Will you just be using words, occasionally images? Then a narrower content area might be in order.

Will you be promoting or announcing many events and wish to feature them prominently in the sidebar? A wider sidebar might be a good start.

Do you want to promote the various categories of topics on your site, breaking things down by Tutorials, Resources, and News? Will the site’s design, navigation, and sidebar make it easy or difficult to do so?

Look at all of your needs for content and promotion, navigation and links, and determine where they need to fit into the architecture of the site.

Look at the bones of a site like you would the blueprint of a house. Is there enough space in each room? Is the layout conducive to traffic flow? Is there enough bathrooms for each resident in the house?

By studying the bones and framework of the site, ask yourself it if will hold everything you wish to fill it with.

Will it complement what you create?

It’s difficult to ignore the paint job and art work when exploring WordPress Themes.

Find one that intrigues you? Print it out in black and white. Cover up the graphics with sticky notes.

Look at the bones and see if this site will allow you to set the frame for your content and complement it.

Just as you explored whether or not the Theme would hold what you create, will the Theme’s design compete or complement your content?

Will you be sharing video and other multimedia? Video and images tend to clutter up a site in the content area, so a simplistic or minimalist style WordPress Theme design and layout might be perfect for the busy content.

Will you be showing off photographs, artwork, or graphic images? Will the design complement or compete?

If you are just publishing words, your stories and expertise, then the site design elements may stand out even more as they frame the content.

If you need special features or accessories, check the options to see if they are available for that Theme.

Is it easy to understand and navigate?

Look at your needs for your site through a visitor’s eyes, not yours. What will they be looking for first? Next? The most? How will they find what they need?

Make a list of what are the most important things a visitor must know or find within your site. How will these be featured?

Will you have many Pages? Is there enough room in the header and sidebar navigation areas to highlight those navigation links?

How will you promote and feature those links? Is there room for lists, badges, icons, or other graphics to direct the visitor’s eye to the information they need?

How will the visitor move through the site? How will they know how to use the categories, tags, archive, and search features?

Test it out and see if the site is clear and easy to understand and navigate.

How easy is it to make it do what you want?

Know what you want to do on your site? Can you do it easily or will it require some work or extra education to figure out how to make it work?

The goal is to have a site that is easy to use. While you are constrained by WordPress default features, what features do you need and does the WordPress Theme make it easy to accomplish these?

Some WordPress Themes offer customization of every aspect of the Theme. Some make this easy, others make this complex. If you are setting these elements once, once might be enough, but what if there is an area of the Theme you will need to update regularly, like an announcement or feature area. Can you access this easily?

Some Themes feature a slider or featured post option. How hard is that to use?

If you have to jump through hoops to get something done, consider looking for a Theme that might make this easier. There may not be one, but if there is, or a WordPress Plugin that will do the job, it could be worth the hunt to save time and confusion in the long run.

Does it do what you need?

Buyer’s Regret is normal. “If only I could…”

Avoid the “If only” regrets by planning thoroughly what you want before you begin your hunt.

And if it ends up not being what you need, switch Themes.

Again, I strongly recommend beginning with the free WordPress Themes in the WordPress Theme Directory. This will give you a chance to experiment and test what it can do before you become invested in the Theme. WordPress makes it easy to switch.

Are people using it happy or complaining?

Check the WordPress Theme Directory reviews of the Theme. Search for reviews of the Theme on the web. What are people saying?

While we tend to hear more from the complainers than the praisers, evaluate their comments carefully. If they are complaining about a specific feature, and that is a feature you need…gather what information you can so you are making an informed decision.

How to Test a WordPress Theme

Once you have picked out a few Themes and installed them, it is time to test them.

To test a WordPress Theme:

  1. Get the WordPress Theme Post Sandbox Content and paste it into a test post.
  2. Activate each Theme one at a time in the Appearance > Themes panel.
  3. Look at each pageview to see how the post and the other contents are displayed. Note how the content is displayed and look for what changes or stays the same. Check the:
    • Front Pageview
    • Single Post Pageview
    • Page Pageview
    • Category Pageview
    • Tag Pageview
    • Search Pageview
    • Author Pageview
    • Look at the top, sides, and bottom carefully.
  4. Go into the Administration Panels and look for the Theme options, typically under Appearance, though some Themes will feature their own main Panel for options.
  5. What is customizable? Are they easy to change?

Go through each Theme and make notes answer the above questions to see if it holds your content, complements it, and does what you need it to do.

The 2011 WordPress Theme front and single post pageviews. Notice the front page has a sidebar and the single post does not.

The 2011 WordPress Theme front and single post pageviews. Notice the front page has a sidebar and the single post does not.

You will soon feel more confident about what you are really looking for in a Theme, which will speed up the hunt. It will be slow going at first, but soon you will know exactly what you want, thus your search will go much faster.

What You Need to Know About WordPress Themes

There are a few things you need to know about WordPress Themes.

  • Every WordPress Theme is different from another, even if they look the same.
  • Most WordPress Themes are actually rebuilds, based upon the different default WordPress Themes that come with the default installation of WordPress.
  • If a specific functionality is built-into a WordPress Theme, it will not be there if you switch Themes. This is why many promote the use of WordPress Plugins which work in spite of the Theme.
  • All WordPress Themes may be edited and changed. To protect your editing and personal customization, it is highly recommended that you create a Child Theme, a duplicate copy of the Parent Theme that imposes its will (design will) upon the Parent Theme to overwrite design elements and functionality. This will protect you from losing your customization when the Parent Theme is updated.
  • If there is something really bothering you about a WordPress Theme, change it. If it is not important to your readers and a little thing, live with it. Rarely will you find the perfect Theme, just as you will never really get the perfect house.
  • If the WordPress Administration Panels notify you that a Theme has an update, do not wait. Update immediately. While some updates may add functionality, most updates bring fixes and resolve security issues. Keeping a Theme regularly updated will usually cause no harm to your design or complicate things.
  • If you really love a WordPress Theme and your business site is dependent upon it, donate some money to the designer and developer or hire them to improve it. Share the wealth.

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