WordPress is a great content management system with literally thousands of WordPress themes to choose from. If you’re not a web developer, it might not be the easiest task, choosing the right one for your website. So we’ve put together this little guide going over what to look for in a good theme, what the different features are and which ones you’ll actually need.
I’m a web designer and developer by day, but I know business owners and bloggers who have never put a website together, might find it to be a pretty daunting task, but hopefully this guide helps.
We’ll be going over:
- Where to find the best WordPress themes
- What to look for in a good theme
- The different types of themes available
- The features you will need
So if you need to put together a small business site, eCommerce shop, blog, or personal portfolio, keep reading and we’ll cover how to chose a theme for each.
Places to Find WordPress Themes
We hope you use this site to find your theme, since that is why it was created but lets get into where good themes come from. There are a few places you can go for WordPress themes. If you’re looking for a free theme you’ll probably want to chose one from the WordPress.org site. The themes might not be amazing to look at but you can at least be sure there won’t be any viruses or malware to deal with. Never install a free theme from other places online as they often carry malware.
If you need a better theme, you’re going to have to pay a little bit for it. Most premium themes fall in the range of $35-$75. Which when you think about it, is a lot cheaper than paying someone to build a site for you. There are many different theme providers, which are essentially website designers and developers who build themes to either sell in their own websites or on a larger marketplace.
On this site we feature themes from a number of businesses who develop excellent WordPress themes and two larger marketplaces were individual developers feature their work. Take a look at our Theme Providers area to see them all.
Premium vs Free Themes
Premium themes are often higher quality than free themes but there are reasons to go with a free theme. If you are a new blogger, just starting up a business or simply want to get a website up and running, there is nothing wrong with choosing a free theme. If you don’t have the time to select a premium theme, not sure what exactly you’ll need yet or don’t want to spend the money yet, start with a free theme. This way you can get a feel for working with WordPress and you’ll start to learn what features your free theme might be missing.
If you need a website with higher levels of functionality, that are better designer or are able to be customized further, then a premium theme is probably the way to go.
What to Look For
Every website is different but these are some of the things that every theme should have, regardless of what you need it for.
Responsive design is a technique web developers use to create a website, or in this case WordPress themes, that work on all devices like desktop computers, tablets, mobile devices or even televisions. The number of people accessing the internet from smartphones and tablets is only going to increase so we feel, choosing a theme that is not responsive should not be done, and we only feature responsive themes here on this site.
Support and Updates
When choosing a theme you probably won’t be able to tell if it was coded well or not but you can gauge the quality by 1) how often it is updated and 2) how good the support it.
Most theme providers will list the updates they make to their themes as well as the date the updates are made. You’ll also want to see if the theme you are looking at works with the current version of WordPress. You’ll also want to take a look at their support are of the site and see how long support requests take to get answered.
Generally, themes that get updated at least yearly and where the developers are active on the support forums, you should be able to feel pretty safe that the theme hasn’t been abandoned. WordPress gets updated about every four months or so, so but themes don’t always need to be updated that frequently. But if they do, you’ll want a theme developer who is timely so that you can keep your WordPress version up to date without your theme breaking.
Make Sure the Shoe Fits
This one can take a little bit of time and consideration to figure out. Basically, you’ll want to make sure that the theme you chose has all the features, you’ll need and not a lot that you don’t. You’ll also want to make sure the design fits with your brand.
You’ll want to consider a few things like:
Navigation Structure – How many pages will the site have, and how many links in the navigation bar will you need? Do you need multiple levels of navigation or multiple navigation areas. The theme you chose needs to have it built in. It helps to create a chart or just scribble out some notes with the pages that will require navigation links so you can get a feel for what you’ll need. Don’t just pick a theme that looks good before doing this.
Template Structure – Most themes have basic templates for blog pages, but if you need something specific, make sure the theme includes what you need.
Design and Layout – Make sure you are happy with the overall design of the theme. Remember you aren’t picking a theme that you like you’re picking one that your audience will. So chose a WP theme that fits the demographic. If you don’t know your demo you probably aren’t ready for a site yet.
When it comes to themes, there are general use themes, but there are also more themes that are created for specific purposes. Generally, the more specific a theme is to your needs the better it will work out for you. So if you’re starting a new blog, choose a blog theme. If you’re creating a site for your restaurant you could chose a general business theme but there are also themes created specifically for restaurants.
These are the main theme types:
- General Use Themes
- Business & Corporate Themes
- Gallery & Portfolio Themes
- Blog & Magazine Themes
- Shopping Cart & eCommerce Themes
But there are also many more themes created for very specific needs or specific types of businesses, blogs, people or organizations.
The Features You Need
Choosing a theme that was created specifically for your websites purpose will go a long way but you also want to make sure it has all the features you’ll need.
Common features you’ll want to consider are:
- Blogging functionality
- Slider or slideshow
- Photo gallery
- Calendar or event functionality
- eCommerce and/or shopping cart
- Member areas and/or features
Don’t Worry About Expansion or Growth
Don’t go for the absolute most feature packed theme because you think you might need something down the road. Get the best theme for what you need right now. If you are 100% sure you will need something in the next year then include it, but if not, just stick to the features you know you must have and ignore the rest.
Most websites get redesigned every 2-6 years anyway. If your website becomes wildly popular to the point were you need lots of new changes/features, that’s a good problem to have, and you can deal with it when the time comes. In the meantime just get a theme that works with your current vision of the site.
Still Have Questions or Not Sure?
It’s OK if you still aren’t sure which theme to chose or you are stuck picking between a couple of theme. It can be a hard decision to make. If you need further advice you can contact your web developer and ask them which one will work best for your website. If you don’t have one yet, now would be a good time to find one.
I usually do most work myself but sometime I’m too busy, in which case I’ll outsource to other developers. If you don’t have the money to work with someone in your local area there are lots of places where you can find competent developers online, such as sites like oDesk and Elance.
Pro Tip: If I have a small budget, I like choosing Russian or eastern European WordPress developers, as they’re often as good as Americans but work for lower wages. Finding high quality designers at affordable prices can be a little more difficult. Sometimes checking out their portfolios on sites like behance.net or dribbble is a good place to find them, but you’ll have to do some homework, as these are design communities and not necessarily always people actively looking for work.