Most beginners feel overwhelmed when it comes to selecting a theme for their WordPress site. There are thousands of free and paid options. Each theme looks better than the other. How do you choose the best theme for WordPress? In this article, we will share the 9 things you should consider, so you can choose the best WordPress theme for your site.
Why You Should be Careful When Choosing a WordPress Theme?
WordPress is used to create all kind of websites. That’s why each theme caters to a different market.
Your WordPress theme should complement the content of your website. For example, if you are starting a blog on politics or social issues, then you would want a theme that improves readability.
Many WordPress themes come with tons of customization options. If not coded properly, these options can make it difficult for you to change themes or use other WordPress plugins. You will be locked into that theme or will have to pay a developer to help you switch.
On the other hand, some WordPress themes that look really great can actually make your website incredibly slow. No one likes slow websites, particularly Google, which prefers to rank faster websites higher.
Your theme is the face of your WordPress site and plays an important role in how users as well as search engines perceive it.
You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘All that glitters is not gold’.
Having said that, let’s take a look at the steps you can take to make sure that you select the best theme for your WordPress site.
1. Strive for Simplicity
Many WordPress themes come with lots of colors, complex layouts, flashy animations, etc. Sometimes you may need those things, but in most cases you don’t really need all that.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
~ Leonardo da Vinci
Look for a theme that has a design layout that helps you support your goal. It needs to look good but without compromising on usability and simplicity.
Make sure that the theme’s presentation style is not overly complicated. The purpose of web design is to help users find information they need and to help site owners achieve their goals at the same time.
If a theme looks great but does not help you get new business or subscribers, then it is not a good theme. It is also not a good theme when your users can’t really find their way around your website.
2. Responsive is Not Optional Anymore
Responsive themes adjust their layout across different screen sizes and devices.
A significant number of web traffic is generated from mobile and other handheld devices. Depending on your website’s topics, this number could go even higher than 50% of your traffic.
Google shows mobile friendly websites on top in their mobile search results. Regardless of your site’s topics and demographics, all websites need to be responsive and fully mobile ready.
Most WordPress themes are already responsive by default. But there are still sellers who are selling fixed width layouts that are not mobile friendly at all. Make sure that the theme you are choosing for your website is mobile friendly.
Testing a Theme for Mobile Readiness
The easiest way to test whether a theme is responsive or not is by resizing your browser screen. As you resize your browser screen, you will notice that the theme’s layout will adjust itself to the screen width.
For more thorough testing you can copy the URL of theme’s demo page and paste it in Google’s Mobile Friendly Test page.
Please note that this test will show some warnings, regardless of how good a theme is. Lookout for any red flags like text too small, content wider than screen, etc.
3. Browser Compatibility
Your users will be using different browsers. Your theme may look perfect on the browser you use, but there might be something broken in other browsers.
This is where browser compatibility comes in. Most WordPress theme developers test their themes rigorously by using sophisticated browser compatibility testing tools.
They may clearly mention this on their website. But if they don’t, then you can always run some basic tests to check the theme on different browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.
Don’t forget to test on different browsers on mobile as well.
4. Supported Plugins
The real power of WordPress comes with WordPress plugins. These plugins make it possible for you to do anything with your WordPress site.
While there are plenty of WordPress plugins, some are must-have WordPress plugins for every websites. Like Gravity Forms, Yoast SEO, W3 Total Cache, etc.
Make sure that your WordPress theme supports all popular plugins. If you are unsure, ask theme developer about it.
5. Translation + Multilingual Ready
A large number of WordPress sites are not in the English language. You may be creating a website in a language other than English. Maybe you have plans to create a multilingual WordPress site in the future.
Make sure that your WordPress theme is translation ready and supports multilingual WordPress plugins.
6. Page Builders
Page builders are WordPress plugins that allow you to create page layouts using drag and drop user interface.
Many premium WordPress themes come with page builders pre-installed. Some of these page builders are used by that theme developer only.
Using such a page builder to create landing pages can produce a lot of unwanted code. If you ever switch the theme, then those pages will require a lot of cleaning up.
You should choose themes that are shipping with one of the most used page builder plugins. You can also purchase these page-builders separately to use with other themes as well.
7. Support Options for When You Need Help
One downside of using a free WordPress theme is that there is no guaranteed support. While some developers provide excellent support for their free themes, many free themes have no support option.
If you mess up your WordPress theme, then you will have to figure it out on your own. You can also end up paying a third-party developer to solve the tiniest problems.
Make sure that you select a WordPress theme that has good documentation and support option. Most premium WordPress themes offer detailed documentation with 1 year of email based support.
8. SEO Friendliness
Your WordPress theme plays a crucial role in your site’s SEO friendliness. A good looking theme can still generate poorly coded HTML, this could affect your site’s performance on search engines.
It could be difficult for beginners to analyze a theme’s source code on their own. This is why many premium WordPress theme developers will let you know that their pages are optimized for SEO.
You can also take a look to see if the page generates proper HTML5 by checking it with W3C Markup Validation service. However, please note that the W3C tool will generate many warnings which are nothing to be worried about.
9. Ratings and Reviews
Another solid indicator of a WordPress theme’s quality is ratings and reviews provided by their users. If the theme is sold on a third-party marketplace, then you will see customer reviews.
For free WordPress themes, you will find the ratings section just below the download button. It will show the number of reviews and stars given by users. If you click on 5 stars, then it will show you all the reviews that gave the theme 5 stars.
Almost all WordPress themes can get a few bad reviews. but if the number of bad reviews is unusually high, then you should read them carefully.
Should I use a free or paid WordPress theme?
One of the fantastic things about WordPress is the tens of thousands of different free themes that you can choose from.
But, what’s more exciting to me, is that there are paid/premium themes that are made by web designers or web design companies and constantly updated with the latest and best features and functions.
Some of these themes even use their own frameworks which take the basic WordPress functionality and add their own custom dashboard that allows you to build your design and blog posts totally differently.
Here’s a quick comparison table I made to show you the difference between the free and paid themes:
Free WordPress Themes
Free to install.
Install from WordPress Dashboard theme selector
Available on WordPress.org and individual sites.
Support available from WordPress forum community.
Updates dependent on creator but often lags behind.
Code quality varies widely depending on skill of creator.
Single theme often used on 10,000 other blogs or more.
Sometimes contains malicious code when downloaded outside of WP
Paid WordPress Themes
From $10 to $100+.
Download Zip file and upload inside WordPress Dashboard.
Available from theme maker sites like ThemeForest, Studiopress, etc.
Support available from theme maker for set period of time.
Usually updated regularly as part of paid service.
Code quality usually more professional.
Less downloads and usually able to customize design more.
Less likely to contain malicious code as regularly updated by developers.
In this post I’m going to focus on both free and paid WordPress themes, but I’d like you to remain open to the idea of purchasing a premium paid theme because often they will turn out to be more comprehensive, better designed from a visual point of view, and less work to manage.
Some WordPress theme recommendations
Let’s take a look at some WordPress themes that might be good places to start.
Keep in mind, there are literally hundreds of thousands of themes out there so it’s impossible to give a comprehensive overview of it all. This is just an introduction to a few themes that meet our criteria.
Twenty Fifteen by WordPress // Free
The default theme by WordPress from a few years ago, Twenty Fifteen, is a lot better than people give it credit for. It’s clean, simple and does exactly what a blog needs.
One of the good things about this theme is that the simplicity of it’s default layout means that you can customize it really easily to achieve something special. Logos, branding, etc. all stand out really well, and it is really beautiful on mobile devices.
Unicon // $59
I’ve used the Unicon theme for two different websites now and have really enjoyed how robust it is in terms of customizations and built-in options.
I have to confess, the code of this theme really isn’t as good as it should be and there are some small mobile issues that I’ve had to fix myself. But that being said, it’s got so many options and uses WP Bakery so you can really turn this in to anything that you want.
I’m hoping that some of the code will be patched up soon because the support staff for this theme are really great. Definitely give this one a go if you want to build a big website with a lot of different landing pages, shops, etc.
Avada // $60
The Avada theme is the most successful WordPress theme of all time with over 400,000 downloads. Needless to say, the reviews for this are amazing!
Avada really is a powerhouse of a theme when it comes to all the things you can do with it. If you mouse over all the options in the menu you’ll see that there is pretty much a function for everything from sliders to megamenus to landing pages and video backgrounds.
This is a great theme to use if you want to be able just build anything you want, but it’s probably overkill if you need a simple blog with just some written content. Other than taking a little time to get to know it, it’s hard to fault.
Davis // Free
One of my favorite WordPress themes ever – the beautifully simple Davis – is just perfection when it comes to minimalism and speed.
This theme only has three PHP files and weighs in at 60 KB, which is absolutely incredible and means there is such a lightweight base to work with and incredibly fast load times.
To me, this is what a good blog looks like because the focus is on the content and whatever photos and images you add. You can change the fonts and typography to match your own style, but the emphasis will always be kept on the content.
X Theme // $49
The X theme is one of those templates you see occasionally and go, “Wow…”. It is beautifully designed and full of features, while still being easy to use.
I have seen this theme used on some really complicated websites that use a lot of images and even multi-languages.
One of the great things about this is that the support staff seem really willing to add new features and help you out if there is something new that you need. Super powerful theme with drag-and-drop simplicity that I think even beginner WordPress users will find quite intuitive.
How did you choose your WordPress theme?
I’d really love to know how you choose your current WordPress theme. Did you find it on a theme website or did it come from a recommendation? Similarly, do you have any other tips for people who might be looking for their first WordPress theme?
Please leave a comment below and let us know!