How to select the best WordPress theme for your website
WordPress is installed on almost half of all new websites – and it’s no surprise – given that it’s open source, free to download, supported by developers everywhere and has the widest variety of design themes available over any other CMS – it’s a great choice for many website owners. Most web hosting companies, such as InMotion Hosting, have a one-click install process to make it easy to get started with WordPress as well.
However, when it comes time to design your website and choose a theme, the choices can be daunting.
As a professional web designer, I get asked all the time how business owners and bloggers can set up an amazing and professional website in WordPress.
In order to create a professional-looking design in WordPress, you’ll want to pick out a theme that is easy to use, professional, mobile-friendly and allows you to achieve the design style that connects with your audience.
The good news is that there are a few tricks to choosing the best WordPress theme, and following them, you can create an extremely professional website presence.
While there are some other places to find quality WordPress themes, by and large, the best place to go is themeforest.net – it’s a repository of themes from designers all over the world, so you aren’t being restricted to just one author’s designs – and it’s where I’ve found nearly all the best themes I’ve used on client’s sites.
1. Choose a WordPress theme with social proof
Choose a theme with a rating of 4-5 stars and at least 20 sales. Not all themes are equal, and newer publishers may put out a theme that looks great with their content, but is very hard to update or configure.
Why this is important: You’re just starting out – there’s no reason to take a chance on a theme that may be buggy, have a poor interface or some unknown problem with it.
2. Choose a responsive theme
A responsive website adapts it’s layout based on the screen size of the visitor’s display – so that it is viewable on virtually any desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile phone.
Why this is important: Almost any modern theme is responsive, and there is no reason to even look at a theme that is not responsive given how many great choices there are. As of April 21, 2015, Google will begin penalizing sites from search results that are not mobile-friendly.
3. Choose a WordPress theme that includes a page builder
A visual composer or page builder allows the site administrator to modify content elements through a more intuitive interface than is available with a basic WordPress site.
How to know if a theme has a visual composer or page builder: There is not standard terminology for these components, but two popular ones you may find listed in the theme description are “Ebor Template Builder” and “Visual Composer.”
Why this is important: Most modern themes have multiple elements on either the home page or content-based pages, often stacked one on top of another. The underlying HTML that creates the layout for each of these elements can be incredibly complex, and without a special interface for a non-techy person to interact with, the site owner can get stuck managing a lot of complex code to adjust design components.
4. Don’t use a free or low-priced theme
A quality theme will cost just $40-$65 usually, and is well worth it.
Why this is important: It may sound like a good idea to keep your costs down by choosing a cheap or free theme, but the amount of time you most likely will spend trying to work with it is just not worth it.
5. Choose a WordPress theme based on your style preferences
Most likely, you want your website to be branded in a way that connects with your target audience. If your audience is men, you’ll want a more masculine theme. If you’re targeting women interested in healthy eating, you’ll more likely want a style that is warm and inviting.
Why this is important: While it is often reasonable to customize a theme’s fonts and colors, the stylistic elements – such as how the site feels – is what you should consider. Looking at your choices, which theme looks most like a site your audience would connect with.
6. Choose a WordPress theme that includes pages that work for your content
Think through your website pages and then review the pages available in the theme demo. If you know a blog is a central component of your site, do you like the way the theme’s blog posts are laid out? If your site will have a photo gallery, services page or about page, do you see a layout in the demo that is set up well for your content? Think about your site homepage as well – often themes will come with multiple layouts for the homepage – but make sure you like one of them.
Hint: Generally a theme with more demo pages will fit your needs better than a theme with just a few (less than 8) demo pages.
Why this is important: While you can create new pages once you set up your theme, it’s much quicker to set up your site pages if you can start with example pages with layouts you can modify, rather than having to build new layouts or start from scratch.
7. Consider your preferred navigation style
Consider your preferences for your navigation – based on how you like to interact with sites, but also the amount of menu items you plan to have:
- Most themes have a horizontal navigation that spans the top of the site, but some have a vertical menu which can be more restricting. [ Example ]
- Some themes have a menu bar “sticks” to the top of the page once the site visitor scrolls down? [ Example ]
- Some themes have hove over menus with “mega menus,” which allow for text and images to display as part of the hover over display[ Example ]
- Some menus are not visible until the site visitor scrolls down or clicks an icon. [ Example ]
- The placement and size of the menu bar can affect the room available for your logo [ Example ]
Why this is important: It is so easy to overlook the importance of navigation (also called a menu bar) when selecting a theme, but you will find, once you are customizing your site and sharing it with others, that navigation plays a huge part in how the site is experienced.
8. Choose a WordPress theme that includes demo content
When you first install a new WordPress theme, it rarely looks at all like the demo site. This is because the theme does not have the menus, pages, photos, homepage layout or content set up the way it is set up in the demo. To get your site looking like the demo, it is required that the theme creator provide (and you import) something called the demo XML.
How: You’ll want to make sure your theme has demo XML, also called sample data, available before purchasing the theme. This can be hard to find in the theme description, since it is written somewhere in the theme description rather than as a feature listed in the right column. Look for the words “XML”, “Demo XML” or “Sample Data.” If you can’t find it mentioned, ask the theme author before purchasing.
Why this is important: Without the demo XML, the basic look of the site is available, but you are left on your own to re-create the homepage and other page layouts, which can be incredibly time consuming.
9. Choose a WordPress theme that is well-documented
The more documentation, which at the least should include instructions but may also include training videos and tutorials, the better.
Why this is important: A well-documented theme not only tells you that there is a resource to turn to, it also shows the theme author’s dedication to making the theme user friendly.
10. Consider extra features
Extra features that are beneficial are included plugins, vector icons, for builders, custom widgets, shortcodes, easy font-changes and/or color customizations. Additionally, if you plan to include an online store right away, you’ll want a theme that is WooCommerce or shopping cart compatible. While added features are nice, none of these alone should be the deciding factor in selection of your theme compared to the points above – they are just bonuses.
There are so many beautiful, professional WordPress themes being created on a regular basis. By using these guidelines, you will be better able to sift through the choices, and find the one that will best suit your needs.
And while you may find that hiring a web designer to help walk you through all the choices, or further customize the design (customizing a WP site can have a steep learning curve), may be the best way to save your valuable time, if you’re up for going it alone, this will get you well on your way.
Best wishes for an amazing website in your future!