Choosing a WordPress theme for your business is a deceptively easy task. So many themes will show you beautiful examples of websites built with their software. Often the final product doesn’t match up to those expectations for a variety of reasons. Here are some guidelines to help you evaluate and choose a WordPress theme for your business.
WordPress Theme Marketplaces
The first concern I have when someone says they found a great theme is where they are looking to begin with. Many businesses are trying to keep costs low by using low-cost shared hosting options. This can work just fine, but remember that when you low-cost host then tries to sell you a WordPress theme, it is not purely because they think it’s a good fit for you. These arrangements make the host more money, but can you trust that these are the highest quality themes? Probably not.
What I look for in a WordPress theme marketplace is an even playing field, diversity in theme authors (I don’t recommend buying a theme from a one-man shop that might go out of business), documented theme standards, etc. I do recommend Themeforest.com and yes, I can earn affiliate credit from that link.
There are some premium theme shops that operate like a small agency as well. I have recently shifted to preferring one theme shop versus bouncing between the leading themes at Themeforest. My current preferred theme is the Core Theme from Themefuse.com. This is primarily because their approach to theme features is surprisingly similar to how I had built my own custom themes for years. The real benefit to shifting toward their themes has been the quality of design, extensive documentation, and great support. Check it out!
Evaluating the support of a theme can be achieved by looking at the public forums available for the product and seeing how often the author chimes in on the conversation. Some themes are only maintained on weekends or the author doesn’t offer very helpful responses. Look for authors willing to provide code snippets, specific links to documentation, and overall polite interactions in the support forums. Many theme marketplaces will also provide separate author and theme ratings. Be sure to check those out when you choose a WordPress theme.
Theme Essential Features
It’s important to note that a theme is primarily responsible for creating a framework around your content. We’ll discuss the content trap later, but your focus should be on the features provided around global elements such as header and footer, tools like widgets, and enhancements to the typography, buttons, and treatment of images. Many of the flashiest features of themes aren’t frequently used and might belong in a plugin instead. Make a list of desirable features before you start looking at themes so you don’t get distracted by the non-essential flashy elements.
A quick import of sample content can give you a massive head start in building a professional website from a $50 theme. These imports usually eliminate hours of guesswork around theme settings and content configuration. Just make sure you really like what you are importing or you’ll spend even more time deleting and undoing the work that import just did for you.
Future Theme Updates
Some of the most popular themes are frequently updated and therefore have a much longer shelf-life than others. Some of the most successful themes like Avada and U-Design have been updated so many times, you get the equivalent of a new theme every year from them. A theme that hasn’t been updated in the past six months should be regarded as dead. Too much change in the WordPress world to stay stagnant like that.
The Content Trap
Ok, the big issue here for me is how the theme respects your content. WordPress has always inspired developers to find creative ways to store and display content due to the limited features of the WYSIWYG editor provided on posts and pages. From custom post types to re-purposed widgets and even theme settings pages, theme authors find un-orthodox ways to store content. This becomes a problem if you ever want to change your theme. And that was likely one of the most important features you liked about WordPress!
I even encourage clients to prefer certain theme builder plugins like Visual Composer over other options that are tied to specific themes like Cornerstone because you don’t want to be totally tied to your theme for the life of the website. The way around this for themes like X is to provide so many optional configurations that you’ll never need to change your theme. Maybe that will work for you…but I’d rather know that if the X theme was found to have a massive vulnerability tomorrow that I could immediately change it out without losing the majority of the layout of my website. More and more of the leading themes are looking for ways to make their page builder plugins standalone to fix this problem as well.
Essential functionality for a site should also not be locked up in a theme but located in plugins which could be maintained if the theme is changed. Many premium themes follow these rules by locating specific functions in recommended or required plugins that come with the theme. This is a good solution to what could otherwise be a messy situation.
Oh yeah, design matters too when you choose a WordPress theme! The problem is that each theme tends to offer so many different design options, that its hard to feel you are comparing apples to apples. What I will say about design with these themes is that you want to like the design 100%. There is another trap aside from the content one, and that is the “just a few tweaks” trap. Chances are you will spend way more time making tweaks on a third party theme than custom building one if you decide you don’t like it 100%. Do not assume everything is easy to change with a theme. That is generally not the case.
So get out there and evaluate themes before you buy them. Remember, it’s not the $50 that is wasted when a bad choice is made, but your time and effort. Making an informed choice when choosing a WordPress theme will save you many hours and many headaches.
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