You know you want to use WordPress, and you’ve got your domain name and hosting company sorted out and now comes another big decision, what theme to use?
It’s not an easy decision. There are millions of themes out there, and it is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of the WordPress directory looking at them all.
So let’s break it down and talk about what to look for so you can feel confident in your choice and maybe save some money and frustration along the way.
There are lots of free themes in the WordPress directory; in fact, your WordPress installation will come with at least one free one preloaded to get started. It’s hard to compete with free, but there are a few points to keep in mind if you want to go that way.
- Not all free themes are well built. Just because it is in the WordPress directory, it doesn’t mean that it’s a quality theme.
- Free themes may not be updated regularly making them vulnerable to hacking. Since it isn’t a profit center for the developer, it may not get the attention that it needs (this is a factor in support, too.)
- Since they are free, download and activate some themes and play around with them. The best way to see if it has the options that you want is to try it out.
A lot of free themes also have a pro or premium versions as well to give you some bells and whistles.
There are also a lot of benefits for premium themes.
- They are often created by a team of professional developers and they usually offer great support and communities.
- They are often bundled with a builder (a drag and drop design interface) and premium plugins that you won’t have to pay for later.
- They offer lots of opportunities for customization so you can create a site that feels unique to you.
Some have a one-time fee of around $50 and some offer annual subscriptions for updates and support. Unfortunately, premium themes don’t give you a trial period for you to try them out before committing, so be sure to check out demo sites and other sites made with the theme (plus the other factors outlined below.)
Your website visitors could be viewing your site from a phone or tablet (roughly around 30% of web visitors is the average), so it HAS to be viewable and accessible on all screen sizes thus having the design being responsive to the screen size. Luckily, most recent themes are responsive but don’t assume it is (you know what that makes you). Look for the term “responsive design” in the tags or description of the theme. Check out the demos of the site on your phone or see out the how it looks in a screen size checker like What’s My Screen Resolution Multi-Screen Checker.
Ratings & Number of Installs
If you go to the WordPress directory and click on a theme, you will see more information about it including ratings, installs and reviews. You don’t want to be a guinea pig for a theme, so be sure that it has at least 100,000 installs and has good ratings and reviews. Look for any red flags about support, especially if users haven’t received timely help from the developer or if an update crashes everything. If anything has less than four stars, run away.
If your theme isn’t in the WordPress directory, Google the theme’s name and the word problems (ex. XYZ theme problems). It’s a good practice to do this before committing to any theme.
Also look to see when the theme was last updated. If the theme hasn’t been updated in over six months, move along.
Check out the WordPress support forum and the developer’s homepage and forum, look around see what kind of comments people are making and how long it takes to get a response from the support team. Keep an eye out for red flags like the theme not being compatible with plugins or not being user-friendly to update.
Options are great, but you’re probably not going to be changing the layout of your website with the seasons. Some themes offer 20+ layouts and 1,000s of options, and while that sounds great, it can lead to overwhelm and a code-heavy site which means you’ll site will be slow to load. Find a theme that has a layout that resonates with you and enough options to cover your inner pages and a blank landing page. (A blank landing page is a page with no header or footer. You can use this to build your sales landing pages.)
What do I recommend?
It depends on what you want your website to do for you. If you only want to blog, then start with the preloaded Twenty 12, 13 or 16 theme. Get your feet wet and become familiar with the WordPress interface before jumping into a fancy theme.
If you want to go for it, then I recommend the Divi theme from Elegant Themes. I love the Divi community, not only the Elegant Themes developers themselves but there tons of expert users that offer great tutorials, tips, etc. The Divi theme comes with the Divi builder which makes adding some pretty impressive stuff to your site easily without knowing code at all. Divi is what I use when I design websites because it is easy for the owner to update themselves. It can be a bit pricey, but it is worth it when you’re not pulling out your hair. Yes, some critics call it bloated as well, but to me the ease of use and not paying a developer to work on your site outweighs all of that.
Another popular theme is the Genesis Framework from StudioPress. Many people swear by it and say that is easy to use and has less bloat. The trick here is that you need to buy the framework and then a child theme (or purchase the Pro Plus All-Theme Package to get all of their child themes) which to me can be a little confusing to a novice without help from a web professional.
Other places to look:
A theme doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment. Chances are you will outgrow your theme at some point or something entirely new will be along to turn our heads in a couple of years. Make the best choice you can based on the criteria here and your design preferences and get going!