Ok, you’ve made up your mind and chosen to select WordPress for your new website. Now, how to choose the perfect WordPress theme for your yet-to-come site? The question is looming ahead of you, and you feel terribly aware of the challenges that such a choice is throwing at you.
It might be difficult, considering how wide the palette of available options is. And how a randomly-chosen theme can make or break the website owner idea of what perfect means…
But there will be guidance for your selection. How about starting by sticking to a plan?
Draw a Plan to Pick the Right WordPress Theme for Your Website Niche
A plan is useful as to give you directions, what to look for, in what place and how to narrow down your searches. If you take the time to think about a theme as a roadmap to building a beautiful website, you take the time to think about success.
You should first be aware that some WordPress themes are for specific niches. Such niches might be portfolios, business, corporate, blogging, galleries, events, e-commerce, etc. They are built with particularities for those niches, including some elements or completely ignoring other ones. They are built with the end user in mind, and that user is you. Do not let the occasion fly away. Plunge into articles that list WordPress themes specialized for your niche and start evaluating the options.
Before narrowing down your searches, you should also have a clear idea of the style that will bear your footprint in the website/blog/store. Should you look for modern blogging themes, or maybe sporting blogging themes, or else some furniture e-commerce themes? Do you want to speak to your readers in a professional tone, a more personal one, casually or stylishly?
You have to sort out the WordPress themes that will be present on the final list for making a decision (a theme for the niche you need, in the style you want). And to do so, you need to know basic stuff regarding what a theme is, in fact, which are the types of WordPress themes and how to search for a perfect WordPress theme in the wild online world.
First and Foremost, What is a WordPress Theme?
A theme is destined to control the graphical interface of a website, being built upon underlying files that contain the code for the templates.
Most WordPress themes include code that generates the overall design or style of your site, styles for the font, colors, page layouts and any supplemental details that help customizing a website.
What Are the Types of WordPress Themes?
WordPress themes fall into several categories, each with its specificities and catering to different business needs.
Site-builders / All-in-one WordPress Themes
Site-builders have all encompassing features, that might be applied to a wide range of websites, regardless of their niches. Their strength resides in the very wide range of available customization options, which gives them high flexibility over other themes.
To make yourself an idea of what such a theme might include, you may want to test Mesmerize.
Specialized Themes/Niche Themes
These themes are made especially for those that don’t want to mess with additional features they can’t take immediate benefit from. They are super specialized themes, also restrictive in terms of customization options. They will position your website well in the niche it represents, but they will not have the style you might want to opt for.
Free WordPress themes
These are the basic templates you can work with. They come free of charge, in a wide range of styles, but also with limited customization possibilities. They give no guarantee as to theme maintenance and updates and provide limited to no support for advanced customizations. At the same time, they offer little in terms of font customization, photo galleries insertion, plugins integrations, etc. So, they have weaker performances, and higher vulnerabilities to data hacks. Free of charge, they are no less free of risk.
Premium WordPress themes
Premium themes offer higher quality. And high quality comes with a price. You have to pay to get them, but you also get access to regular updates and constant, satisfactory support (in most cases). This guarantees that the developer has not abandoned the theme and that he/she is constantly working on it, so the theme should meet the latest quality standards. Premium themes are designed by professionals, so they are better coded and compatible with the latest WordPress versions, as well as with many of the most popular plugins.
One of the main advantages of using premium themes is that they come with complex features and functionalities. This way, the final website will be unique, and differentiate easily from other websites built using the same theme.
Freemium WordPress themes
This term designates a combination of “free” and “premium”. You can choose to have the free theme, play with its styling and design powers, then upgrade to the premium version and benefit from additional features and support.
WordPress starter theme
As the name suggests, a WordPress starter theme provides the skeleton of a theme, upon which you have to build to get the real WordPress theme you want. Underscores or Sage fall into this category, to name just a few such starter themes.
How to Search? Restrict the Options
First things first. The best way to start searching for the perfect WordPress theme is to go to WordPress themes websites and directories.
Here is the information you can check for the themes listed in WordPress
One way of considering some themes being added to a short list is to check for reviews. If there are positive reviews, you can parse them to have a look into what is mostly appreciated for that product. If there are negative reviews, you should carefully read them and find possible issues users faced when working with a theme.
Making some comparisons, you can easily gauge the value of each product that was submitted to analysis, select some themes you find appealing and let aside those that left you in doubt.
Active user base
The active user base refers to the total number of active installs of a theme, from users that decided to select that product and started building their website from those templates.
Themes with large numbers of active installs show a high popularity degree, and also how well a theme can retain its users. The figures are accurate in determining a theme popularity, as they show how many users have the theme up and running for their own websites.
Last update of the theme/how frequently the theme is updated?
Update frequency is indicative of the theme being maintained up to par, in terms of compliance with WordPress quality standards. Frequent updates do not leave room for security breaches and ensure that new features and fixes are constantly added. Also, the theme should be compatible with the latest WordPress version. A suitable theme is constantly updated, and its author will check for and solve any compatibility issues that might arise. Otherwise, some of the functions that WordPress uses can become deprecated and no longer used.
Theme looking modern and professionally designed
The frequency of updates also says a lot about how the theme is maintained at present standards regarding style and design. A theme looking modern and professionally designed is a much better choice than one respecting the design principles of several years ago.
A Case Study
Let’s pick an example. In WordPress.org, the Mesmerize theme comes packaged with 40+ reviews, gathered from the theme launch up to the present. Many of them are positive reviews, which signals customer satisfaction with regards to their choice. The theme has recently been updated. The number of active installs of the theme exceeds the limit of 20,000, which might encourage newcomers to opt for it as a best fit.
WordPress comes with suggestions for free, ready-made themes. So, the question that you might ask now is whether it is wise to opt for one of the free WordPress themes, or else select its premium version.
To Choose Free or Premium WordPress Themes?
We’ve already tackled this in the previous section about the types of WordPress themes, we will no longer insist on the difference between free and premium products. However, in the decision-making process, there are 2 distinct criteria you might want to consider: best product and price.
Naturally, if you want to pick the perfect theme for your new website, there will be some additional costs. You will need to make improvements, adjustments to tweak and refine your website from time to time. Finding the right theme will pay off in the long term. So, let’s focus on ways to find the best WordPress themes that should be put on a short list.
Best WordPress themes include best configuration options, and advanced customization. You want your new website to benefit from unparalleled style and design, and to do this you need access to options that guide you through the customization process. Every little bit of detail should be adjustable – the way you want.
With some luck, the themes on the short list will provide extended documentation on how to customize your WordPress theme. Free themes are limited to only few customizations and might not include a documentation.
In the meantime, Premium WordPress themes are appropriate candidates to the best choice, as they have extended documentation, as well as an intuitive interface guiding you through the customization process.
1,2,3… Choose a Premium WordPress Theme
You looked through the WordPress.org data and you chose to go for a premium WordPress theme. Now, let’s have a look at your plan (discussed about earlier), and see if any of the selected themes matches your criteria.
When speaking about the selection of the perfect WordPress theme, your niche specificities come first. You have planned a structure of the website in advance and you already have a sense of the ideal layout that will delimit sections on your webpages.
The essential part is looking for a theme that is well supporting your niche specificities, and not vice-versa. There’s no need to struggle to adapt the niche particularities to the WordPress theme layout, rather look for the other way round.
The perfect WordPress theme needs to have a clean structure that fits well the purpose of your website/blog, in whatever niche. This will result in how the site looks like, content and layout put together.
For more details, keep reading on.
Your WordPress theme must have:
You might want your content to be on two columns or three columns, or your articles to appear according to their importance for the readers:
- You might need to choose a template for an ecommerce site. Therefore, a card layout might be a good option. This layout type enables you to present the information as if the elements were printed on cards.
- You might need to select a template for a small business site. Therefore, you should look for a natural content structure, a clean and tidy layout, spaced text and the possibility to break text with photography, etc.
- You might need to choose a template for a portfolio site. Therefore, the layout should include tables with containers for each project or lists for adding as many projects as you want.
- You might, as well, need to pick a template for a blogging website. A modern layout should include grids for presenting articles and their associated images within some placeholders.
The combination of colors should sustain the brand. This way, the logo colors will reverberate into a splash of colors underlying the website identity, helping your visitors browse through the content easily.
Here is an example from MailChimp:
Thus, the ideas they get from the content will turn into memorable ones. And they will want to revisit the website whenever the occasion comes up. Or whenever they might like to spur the occasion to come up.
Beautiful and easy to read typography
For visitors of the website/blog to easily follow your text presentations, you have to use a typography that is simple to read. Make sure that different typography options are included in the WordPress themes on your short list, otherwise you might want to reconsider the theme selection.
Easy to follow navigation
For a high user retention rate, simplicity is key. Keep things simple and easy to follow navigation, and readers will come back to your website more frequently.
Although the process of looking for simplicity might require some complex research steps, it is worth making the effort.
Below is an example of a simple and useful navigation:
For a professional looking website, you have to put your stamp on the footer content, the same way as for the header of the web pages. Look for options to customize the footer layout and content, and the research will pay off.
You chose your theme, now test it!
Now that you have a restricted list of themes to choose from, you should put them all to test.
- You can check loading speed, as fast performance will trigger a low bounce rate and a higher user retention.
- You can check time on page, as a higher time on page will result in better user engagement.
- Verifying SEO-friendliness is also good, as better Google rankings will result in higher visibility of the website in search engines.
- If the theme is responsive, chances are that the website will perform well on mobile and you increase the reach of your message.
Let’s take a deeper look at what these tests imply:
Test mobile responsiveness
Responsiveness is no longer optional, it is rather a requirement. Your website should look fine on any mobile device, being adaptable to larger or smaller screens, from fonts to layouts. Take the Google test for mobile responsiveness, and see if the shortlisted themes get a decent score.
You have to look for a theme that allows at least minimal changes in terms of Search Engine Optimization. Thus, you should be able to customize the titles and descriptions for all the website pages. You should also evaluate the page readability, etc. Check to see if the theme is compatible with the most common SEO plugins (such as Yoast SEO or All-in-One SEO Pack), which simplify the optimization process.
Test how fast the web pages are loading
Page speed is a key factor in evaluating the quality of the pages within a website. Therefore, when choosing a WordPress theme, you should be careful with the amount of time required for loading a webpage. For a page speed test, you can simply use Pingdom.
WordPress theme working well on all browsers
One very important aspect is to check if the theme is working well on different browsers (Chrome, IE, Mozilla, Safari, Opera, etc.). To do this, you simply have to test the WordPress theme in different browsers. You have to see whether there are differences in content display.
Compatibility with the most common plugins
To create a website the right way, you have to pay attention to the theme compatibility with the most frequently used plugins. Sometimes, in the theme description, you will find this information. Do not pass over, note down its compatibility with plugins such as Contact Form 7, WooCommerce or WPML. You might need it later. In fact, the theme should be compatible with as many plugins as possible, you might need them in the future.
Translation-ready WordPress theme
There might come the time you want your website/blog to go international. You will then need translation tools for duplicating the website pages in the target languages where you want your content to be understood. Check if the themes on your shortlist are translation-ready and give the themes that include this feature an edge.
WooCommerce-ready WordPress theme
This feature is useful only if you plan to open an online store. But if you want to stay away from online merchandising, do not be too demanding of the theme you choose.
Support, fast replies from the support team, refund policy
Last, but not least, check if the shortlisted WordPress themes come with a reliable support service. Send emails and check for fast replies from the support team. And pay attention whether there is a refund policy in place for the respective theme.
That being said, you should be armed with all the data for making a decision. You should choose the perfect WordPress theme for the new website.
And the Winner Is…
…What you give the best vote to. Free or premium, probably freemium, the new theme has to hit the balance between appearance and functionality. It has to register best scores for both.
Once you are able to name the winner, there’s no need to look further. All that remains is cross the fingers, make the effort of customizing the theme and focus on delivering the most valuable content. Visitors will soon recognize you put in the website… the best of you!