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How to Select the Right WordPress Theme for Your Next Project

WordPress has become the CMS of choice for millions of site owners. Here's some good advice on selecting the right WordPress theme for your next project.

How to Select the Right WordPress Theme for Your Next Project

WordPress has become t.h.e. content management platform of choice and accordingly, there are a dizzying array of themes out there, ready to dress up and update your website’s look and feel.

How to Select the Right WordPress Theme for Your Next Project

So, having made the obvious choice, the big question is; ” How do you find just the right theme for your website that will install hassle-free and meet all your needs?” If you go the out of box route (versus a custom design which is much pricier) there are hundreds if not thousands of choices, but your decision making process is relatively simple. All you need to do is: Know what you’re looking for; know where to look; know what to avoid; and do a bit of  background checking in order to make a qualified decision. Let’s look at each of these:

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1. Know what you’re looking for

Ideally, you should have a list of desired features before checking out any single WordPress theme. Here are some examples of what this list might consist of:

  • Responsive layout
  • Content slider
  • Widgetized footer
  • A certain color scheme
  • Ability to disable sidebar in certain pages etc.

You could group features together, so you’d have essentials, optionals and nice to haves. This will make it easier for you to look for themes that have features you need and ignore the ones that don’t.

Going theme shopping without knowing what you’re looking for is like calling plays without checking the playbook. You might end up winning, but it’s not likely.

2. Where to Look for WordPress Themes

There’s three types of places to find themes: the themes directory, an established theme shop or a theme marketplace. Here are some pros and cons for each.

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Pros: All themes are free and they go through a very thorough review process before becoming publicly available. Most popular themes are well supported and thanks to a rating system you can easily filter out the bad ones.

Cons: Support is not guaranteed. You might find the themes have fewer features than commercial ones, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Check out Themes directory.

Theme Shops

Pros: A few Google searches can tell you what to expect from a theme shop. For more established ones, support is usually somewhere between great and legendary and their code is top-notch.

Cons: Not many. Some might tend to overdo things and throw in features that are best handled by plugins, others might require purchasing a license that allows you to use any of their themes when all you need is one. This is usually the most expensive of three options, but still much cheaper than custom design.

Some of the best known WordPress theme shops are: WooThemes, Elegant Themes, StudioPress etc.

Theme Marketplaces

Pros: You can find any sort of theme you need. Some marketplace theme authors are world-class WordPress developers and designers.

Cons: There’s a bit of a flea market feel to theme marketplaces. Easiest way for a theme to stand out is for it to list a ridiculously long list of features. More features equals more features you don’t need equals more things that could break, so beware.

ThemeForest is the most popular theme marketplace, by far. But before you pull the trigger, ask yourself if the main reason you’re buying a theme is that it has “600+ Google Fonts” or “8 different sliders to choose from”.

3. Know what to avoid

Before pulling the trigger and buying a theme, you need to know what a theme should and should not do. Allow me to use a quirky analogy to best illustrate what I mean.

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Let’s picture a carpenter hard at work on a project, wearing his work coveralls and wielding his nail gun. As the project progresses, at some point his coveralls get so worn out that he needs new ones, well before his nail gun or the rest of his tools need replacing.

How to Select the Right WordPress Theme for Your Next Project

Now imagine if his tools were inexplicably designed to only function while the original coveralls are worn. So getting new coveralls means the carpenter needs to replace all his tools as well.

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Still with me? Think of WordPress themes as clothes, WordPress plugins as tools. Beware of themes that have plug-in functionality built-in. A hammer should work regardless of which pants you’re wearing.

[pullquote]Never let your theme handle a feature you’d like to keep using after you replace the theme.[/pullquote]

A good example here is a theme that has some sort of “SEO framework” built-in. AND, your title tags, meta descriptions, noindexes and what nots, all handled by the theme. You see, moving to another theme would mean losing all that.

Recently WooThemes, a premier WordPress theme shop, ditched their own SEO framework and advised their users to move to Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin instead. Anytime a programmer advises you to use someone else’s code, they have a very good reason for it.

4. Background check

The fact that WordPress themes are inexpensive doesn’t mean you don’t have to do some research. When was the last time you bought something online without reading some reviews first? Finding reviews for a theme or theme shop is literally one Google search away, so treat them the same way you’d treat a new TV.

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If things go wrong and your site gets messed up because of a poorly chosen theme, it’s not just the theme you’ll be paying for. Most themes don’t come with a get out of jail free card, and you’ll probably need to hire a developer to clean up the mess. WP developers, in case you are unaware, get a bit more expensive than that LED TV mentioned about too.

I’d like to know what your experiences choosing a WordPress theme are. Do you always buy from the same author? If you have any positive or negative stories, please share them in comments.

Image credits: Titanas (WordPress badge), daily sunny (construction workers)


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Slobodan Manic

Website optimization consultant at No Hacks Marketing

Web consultant with 12 years of experience with CRO, technical SEO, web analytics, performance optimization and web development. Co-founder of ... [Read full bio]

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