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When you activate a plugin that’s not compatible with your WordPress setup, it’s likely to be immediately apparent. If something’s not right, odds are your site will be broken in some way, right away.
Themes are a bit more complex.
If you install a theme and instantly discover it’s bad, consider yourself lucky. Because what a non standard-compliant theme can do to your site over time can be much more damaging than just a few minutes of downtime.
But with so many themes available online, how can you ensure the one you’re about to purchase is safe and secure?
Here’s a short checklist of things to avoid. If you see any of them in the theme you’re looking to buy, I urge you to look elsewhere.
1. Theme Lock-in Effect
Let’s get this one out of the way first.
- Themes are for presenting your content.
- Plugins are for adding features.
If a theme adds features and you use them, one of two things will happen:
- You’ll either never be able to stop using the theme, or
- You’ll have to find a way to transfer those features to your next theme or plugin before being able to move on to another theme
Whichever it is, it will cost you, either indirectly because you will not be able to make improvements to your website, or directly through time or money moving to another theme.
2. SEO Optimization
Another huge no-no. There’s one correct way to handle SEO for your WordPress website and it involves using a plugin. Why would anyone want to set up all the titles, metas, OpenGraph tags, Twitter cards and what not, then lose them because you wanted to move your sidebar to the left?
Just say no.
3. Shady Sources
There’s only one really legitimate place to get free WordPress themes – the official WordPress.org theme repository. Go anywhere else and you’re installing it at your own risk. Every single theme you can find on WordPress.org goes through an extremely thorough review process and gets checked manually by a Theme Review Team member and admin before going live.
Commercial themes don’t go through this review process, so it’s best to buy from well-known vendors. This commercially supported GPL themes list is a great place to start.
4. Doing Too Many Things
Yes, this can actually be a bad thing. If the WordPress theme appears to be a jack of all trades, it’s likely to be a master of none. You’re probably only going to use a fraction of the features offered. You are better off looking for themes that do just the things you need, as it’s more likely to do them well.
5. Support for Old Versions of WordPress
WordPress evolves constantly. Supporting obsolescence can result in slower performance and could mean your theme is not taking advantage of the latest updates.
As an example, the official rule for free WordPress.org themes is that themes must not offer backward compatibility for more than two prior major WordPress versions.
That does not mean the theme is supposed to not work with older versions, but that it should not jump through any extra hoops to make sure it will work with a WordPress version released years ago.
6. Incorrectly Capitalize Word
It is verboten to get capitalization wrong when it comes to the name WordPress—specifically, the P needs to be uppercase. There’s even a WordPress function that filters post content and title and converts Wordpress to WordPress, I actually had to make “p” bold here just to bypass it.
This may seem pedantic, but think of it as a secret sign of the developers who are in the know and connected to the WordPress community.
No big deal for an average user or layperson, but if a theme vendor doesn’t get this one thing right in their description, landing page etc., it’s a bad omen that they may not be keeping up with WordPress standards and/or they are careless with details.
Final Words of Advice
If you keep an eye out for these six things to be wary of in WordPress themes, then you should be fine. If you want extra credit, check out the WordPress.org Theme Guidelines to further evaluate whether your WordPress theme is following best practices.