I was talking to a friend today about themes for a WordPress site. You see, he wanted to move away from a dated and unsupported theme and he wanted my advice on which theme to go with.
I actually get that question a lot and it something that is very, very, hard to answer definitively.
Now that WordPress powers roughly 25% of the websites in the world, the supporting marketplaces have grown exponentially, especially the theme market.
This means that you have literally thousands upon thousands of free and premium themes to choose from.
How then, can you make an informed decision about what theme to choose for your site? By following my guidelines below you can find the perfect theme for your site, regardless whether it’s an affiliate marketing site, a business site, a client site or even your own personal blog.
Narrow Your Choices
With there being so many themes, you need to narrow down what sort of theme you want. Sometimes this is straightforward; sometimes it can be a little blurred.
You need to start by understanding your own website, your visitors and your needs. This is made somewhat easier by the fact that WordPress themes are in general categorized already for you.
These themes are generally suited for standard blogs, or any site that provides information over the course of time. If you update infrequently, this is usually a good style to go with.
Styled on physical magazines, this theme type is perfect for news sites or any site that offers a wide variety of information and is updated frequently.
If you have a business that sells a product or service (rather than an internet marketing style business), then you could choose a business theme. These are often styled in a way to come across as professional and offer sections that can show off features and facts about your business. They are well suited for sites with the need to promote one or more services or products, with a blog playing second fiddle.
Ideal for designers, photographers etc, but can be used for any visual heavy site.
Some themes are very narrow in focus and target specific types of business and business styles. For example, there are themes for directory sites, hosting sites and restaurant sites. These aren’t always a requirement; you can sometimes use a more generic theme.
These themes make it easier to set up a good looking online store. Often you still need to pair them with an e-commerce plugin, but they make showcasing your wares that much easier.
As you may have guessed, this style of theme is a jack-of-all-trades and can be tweaked and twisted via the settings to provide a variety of different styles.
Finding Your Source
There are dozens of places (probably more!) where you can find WordPress themes. Some of the most popular are:
- Elegant Themes
- Mojo Marketplace
The list really does go on. How then can you pick which places to check out and which to ignore for the sake of time and energy?
Honestly, I’d recommend picking a marketplace such as Themeforest, plus a couple of individual foundries such as Elegant Themes or WooThemes from either the first page of Google or through peer recommendation.
After that it’s simply a case of locating the type of theme (Blog, Magazine, etc) and checking them out.
Or is it?
Before you go ahead and purchase or use a theme, you need to make sure of a few things:
Does the theme get updated regularly? It doesn’t have to be daily or even weekly, but seeing that there are consistent updates goes a long way to confirming that the theme is still being actively maintained.
This is especially important when it comes to free themes as the authors don’t have the financial motivation to keep the theme up to date.
If you get stuck or a problem arises, it’s usually paramount that you can get quality and quick support.
You may think that free themes equal no support and premium themes equal great support, but it simply doesn’t work that way.
Use your due diligence and check the theme authors support system if it’s available to you (the support section in WordPress.org, the comments on a ThemeForest theme page, the forum for an independent theme supplier, etc).
You want to make sure that queries are being answered within a decent time frame (24-48 hours for a premium theme, but allow free theme authors more leeway – remember they are not being paid for it!).
As well as speedy responses, are the actual queries being handled and resolved well?
Good support is one of those things that you rarely put to the test but when you do, you need it to be outstanding.
Personally I’ve given up using free themes. While they can be great and support can be wonderful, most often I’ve found premium purchases from sites like Themify to provide an overall better experience.
If you do go premium, then price is something you need to consider. Most themes hover around the $70 mark nowadays, but some can be gotten for less, and some a little more.
If you think you may need several themes in the coming months, then I would suggest looking at the various club memberships you can buy from sites like Elegant Themes, Themify etc.
These clubs, generally offer a large number of themes (20-70+) for a relatively low yearly price; all in all a huge saving!
Form vs. Function
There’s always been a big debate in WordPress circles as to whether themes should be purely for style and looks (form) or have the capability to do things like events (function).
You’ll tend to find that themes on marketplaces have more functionality than themes chosen from an individual vendor as they need to do more and more to stand out from the crowd.
The problem I have with themes that provide a lot of function (even seemingly simple things like shortcodes and custom post types), is that if you ever decide to change your theme further down the line you will end up doing incredible amount of work to fix up old posts that used the themes functionality but that your new theme doesn’t have or does differently.
Of course it’s up to you if you want to get a theme that has all the bells and whistles on it, rather than a simpler theme, but go into that purchase knowing the cons that come with heavy functionality themes.
Can You Build It?
The last consideration you need to make is whether the theme comes with a built in builder system.
These systems allow you to create complex looking posts and pages with drag and drop ease.
Generally they are very good at what they do. The main issue is as mentioned above: if the builder system is built in to the theme, and you change themes, say goodbye to that content as it is locked up in your database.
Most good theme authors provide this sort of functionality as a separate plugin: one that integrates seamlessly into their themes as well as being usable with themes by different authors.
The Bottom Line
Choosing a theme can be difficult due to the sheer number of them available, but by narrowing your choices and choosing a theme based on your needs you can find the perfect one for your site.
Personally I’d recommend checking out the club membership over at Themify.me: their themes are varied and fantastic, their support is excellent and the price is right.