Are you trying to choose a WordPress theme, but don't know where to start? This article will give you all the answers!
Aesthetics are part of your business of course, and as such, they are regarded with much attention whenever we have to make any design decision. People spend a fantastic quantity of time dwelling over the tiniest detail - and rightly so. A minor change in the position of a button or a slightly different contrast can make a massive difference in the behavior of whoever is on your page.
WordPress users are quite lucky when it comes to choosing the way their website will look. The CMS has a long history behind it (in fact, about 12 years of development, if this article from WPLift is correct).
You can find literally hundreds, if not thousands of themes available and usually at a pretty reasonable price. WordPress developers did an amazing job so the rest of us can have the widest possible choice when we have to decide how our website will look.
Today, we'll be looking at the best practices when it comes to choosing the perfect WordPress theme for yourself, so buckle up.
Choosing the right WordPress theme is very important
For those of you who already work with the platform, you know that installing a theme on a newly developed WordPress site is a very simple job, and usually it will take you a couple of fo minutes.
Changing to a new WordPress theme, however, especially if you already have a of content and/or use specific options (say, a custom feature that exists only in that theme) may result is serious issues.
This is also true for cases when you try to switch between themes with different editors. To allow more freedom to users who aren't coders, WordPress developers created something called "Page Builders" or "Website builders". Some of the most popular WordPress Page builders are Visual Composer, Elementor, Divi, Oxugen and Beaver Builder.
Unfortunately, because they are totally different editors, if you try to switch from one theme to another (that uses page builders, of course), it's extremely likely that you will end up with something like this on your pages:
Because large chunks of the text on your site will be written through modules of the builder (say Visual Composer) once you deactivate it, the page would not display correctly.
This is only some of the issues you may have in case you end up having to change your theme completely. Aside from technical difficulties (which, of course, you can avoid by hiring an agency), a redesign can cost you a lot of money and effort. If you are an e-commerce site and actually sell products or services, you need to be extra careful, as any interruption of your store (especially if you have many visitors) will cost you revenue.
What can go wrong?
I truly love WordPress, but honestly, I cringe when I think how many things have gone wrong with all the templates I've seen through the years.
There were cases where the theme was lacking specific options and didn't allow integration with additional plugins. There were instances were the theme was way too slow even after throrough optimization and required rewriting the code from a professional, which, of course, costs additional money.
I remember distinctly a theme that would look broken on Mozilla, of all browsers - probably one of the most popular browsers in the entire world. It was a horrible experience, as it took us months to actually realize that, and we kept losing visitors in the meantime.
Most people when choosing themes look mainly at the aesthetics and while there is nothing wrong with choosing a theme because you like the design, making a proper research on said theme is crucial.
How to Choose the Right WordPress theme?
I'm finally getting to the point - because so many friends and customers have asked me for help with choosing WordPress themes over the years, I thought writing an article where my experience is thoroughly described and systematized.
Think about what you need
Whatever your business is, it's very likely that you have specific needs when it comes to your site.
Say you offer consultant services of some kind - you might be looking for a feature that will allow your customers to book your services online, right? Or, if you're an e-commerce, perhaps you'd like a specific and more detailed type of filter that's already built-in.
Of course, you can search for a plugin that performs such functionalities; however, there is always a chance that this kind of plugin doesn't exist, that it doesn't perform well, or that simply isn't compatible with your theme.
Choosing a theme that offers already whatever you need (or at least the most crucial features) is always a good course of action, as it saves you additional efforts.
You also need to think about other things, like is functionality more important to you or aesthetics? Do you know how to work with a specific page builder already and if so, are you looking to work with it again?
A good practise is to visit the sites of your competitors (whether they are local competitors or not) and see if there is anything missing from your plan. Very often, you may find a small option or an idea that you can then develop into your own concept.
Usually, when you buy a theme, there will be an option to see the demo and full list of its features - this is where you need to look if this is the right theme for you. In my experience, multi-purpose themes come with a lot of demos, but they generally look similar and don't have any particular options, while themes specifically designed for a given business are packed with way more features.
Opt for a premium theme
If you are just starting with your online carrier, you are a small blogger or your website is basically a presentation device, then you can probably just surf through the hundreds of free themes in the WordPress repository.
If you are looking for a more professionally-oriented site, though, chances are free WordPress themes just won't do it for you.
While you may find a lot of good-looking free themes, the main issue there is their limitation in functionalities, and as we said, these may be problematic to add later in time.
Getting a good theme is an investment, like any other thing in your business, and it's not even that high; most themes you'll find at the famous marketplace ThemeForest are about $50.
That is really a cheap price, considering that a custom theme can cost you up to 10 000, according to WPBeginner (they also have a very interesting article on custom WordPress themes, if you're interested)
What you need to stay away from are stolen/pirated themes. Do not got anywhere near them (and that goes for plugins too)!
Just like with regular software, pirated themes are basically stolen from the developer who's selling them and then released for free use. I know it's tempting to avoid the extra cost, but you should keep in mind that pirated WordPress themes will come with no updates, no support, and in many cases packed with a virus.
This means that you may either end up with an infected with malicious code site (just like pirated software that can infect your computer) or your theme will get outdated at some point and become an easy target for hacker attacks. From a security point of view, this isan unnecessary risk.
If you are using third-party services (like an agency or a freelancer) make sure to ask them whether your theme is legally purchased. Better yet, purchase it yourself - in some cases, companies purchase the themes through their own accounts and later, if for some reason they stop working with you, the theme may remain in their account.
If for any reason you are unable to make a purchase right now, I would suggest to search a little bit and try out a free theme. Just Google "free WordPress themes" or try with your niche "Free (whatever business) Wordpress themes and take your pick.
Check technical specifications
I know this sounds a bit scary, but we are not going to get deep into the technical rabbit hole. Instead, I'd like to point out something that you should probably look for when you open a theme description.
Let's take a standard look at how themes are displayed in ThemeForest (again, huge marketplace)
So, at the top you will see a Featured image of your theme, which is designed to attract your attention. We already said that you need to check the demo version (whose button you can find at the top left corner - it's called Live Preview).
What you need to look next is the section on your right, where comments and ratings appear. You can also access them through the tabs above the Featured image. This is important, because you can learn a lot about the theme by the comments of the people who already bought it - you can see what challenges they faced, what are they happy about etc. Just like with any other purchase online, do your due diligences.
Next, you're going to the section below, which starts with Last Update. This is a VERY important section.
You see, in WordPress, updates happen quite often due to security patches, new features etc. These updates usually occur every few weeks, and as repeatedly said by the WordPress community and experts, it is strongly advised that you follow through with them.
Aside from the new options, updated versions prevent website attacks by patching up vulnerabilities exploited by hackers.
To keep being compatible with the newer versions, themes and plugins are also updated with regularity. Of course, they also release new options and newly developed features.
An important part of the entire WordPress ecosystem is to update everything, otherwise, this may result in incompatibility between the components.
So, most developers will update their themes 2-5 times, and when they stop releasing updates, sooner or later you'll bump into the issues I described above. To ensure your theme is good to go, first, check when it was last updated and then search for something called Changelog (usually at the bottom of the page).
The Changelog shows all the release of the theme with the respective dates they've been released on.
If the theme hasn't been updated in over a year, it's likely never going to be updated again. Also, if updates are extremely infrequent, you need to consider if you are planning on adding a lot of additional plugins, which can later result in incompatibility.
From this section, you need to check another two fields: Guthenberg optimized and Compatible with.
Guthenber Optimized will indicate whether this particular theme has been designed with the new WordPress editor in mind (if you haven't heard about Guthenberg, you can check this article).
The Compatible With will let you know which plugins have been already tested with this theme - usually these are very popular plugins, like the WooCommerce, WPML etc which are a bit more complicated.
Keep in mind that sometimes though even the popular one won't be there, so if you already purchased a specific plugin and you're concerned whether it may be in conflict with the theme, you can write to the developers first and try to ask them (or check the comments we mentioned earlier)
Finally, assess your technical skills
After we've gone through checking the fairly understandable technical specifications, now we need to dive in deeper.
WordPress themes (as WordPress itself) have been created specIfically for people who aren't experts in the field of coding, so they can easily change colors,text and pictures in their sites. Page Builders (such as Visual composer) are making things even easier, as now you can design entire pages through them.
That being said, many themes will require at least some understanding of how page builders work and perhaps basic HTML/CSS skills. This is especially through for themes with minimal option of styling, where anything a bit more extravagant will require custom coding.
So the questions you need to ask yourself is this - do you have enough technical knowledge to make changes yourself?
If the answer is no, you have a couple of options.
You can buy a theme that very closely resembles the design you have in mind and make minimal changes later.
You can choose a theme that has a Page Builder and learn how to work with it - for the majority of the popular builders there are many instructional materials, including videos (like this or this or this Youtube channel) The positive here is that many of them also have add-ons, which allows them to create almost anything you may need on your site (for example forms, price tables etc)
You can hire an agency or a freelancer to work on your site. The good news is that they will do it quickly and efficiently, the bad - that if you need to change anything major in the future, you'll likely have to pay again. Usually, hiring a professional gives the best results (because, after all, there is a reason people specialize in specific professions!) so if you can afford it, this is likely the smartest path to take.
I know this was quite long, so let me give you a final advice and you can go for that cigarette break - whatever theme you decide to buy, let it sit for a couple of days. I know it's not scientific, but this technique (used for other types of shopping as well) have helped me see countless problematic points through the years.
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