How to select a WordPress theme

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Buying a premium WordPress theme, and having it customized is an excellent way to avoid much of the expense associated with traditional web design.

But, with so many themes available, the selection process can be confusing. How does one theme differ from another? What should I focus on when comparing? What is important, and what is not?

In this article, we identify several key considerations that will aid in your purchase decision.

Find the basic design functionality you will need

The first impulse is to find a theme that looks great. We tend to spend most of our energy searching for a core design that looks like what we imagine – or hope – our website will look like.

While it’s logical to do so,  I suggest looking past appearances, and focus on the basic functionality you will want for your new site.

Let’s take an example. I recently customized a WordPress theme for an attorney. As it happens, there are many, many premium WordPress themes available for attorneys.

We began our search by looking at Themeforest.net, a theme marketplace website. Currently, there are over 50 themes developed for attorneys on Themeforest  – and most looked great. So, how did we make our decision?

We begin by listing the core design functions we wanted for the initial site development. In this instance, they were basic, but it was still helpful to create a list:

  • Flexible home page layout
  • Masonry blog
  • Landing page capability
  • Transparent header capability
  • In-line contact forms
  • Service grids
  • Online appointment setting

The plans for phase two of the website development were unusual for a legal website. The attorney planned to create online discussion groups – or forums – for a wide range of legal topics.

He believed that the topics would eventually grow to be outside the parameters of his practice. To provide a more relevant experience for the forum users, he wanted the ability to provide an online directory for other attorneys to advertise their services. He wanted the attorneys to be searchable by service type and location.

To meet his these needs, we needed to find a theme that contained the initial functions and an online directory and forum capabilities.

We spend some time looking at the various legal themes available on Themeforest. Predictably, most had the features in our initial list. However, we could not find any that offered directory and forum capability.

We then decided to look at non legal themes, and eventually chose a directory theme with integrated forum capability.

It’s easier to customize design than add functionality

As a web designer, it is much easier for me to alter the appearance of a theme than integrate new functionality.

Most of the larger premium WordPress themes offer similar design capabilities. The biggest difference is the design tools they provide.

Some of the themes bundle 3rd party design tools like Visual Composer – a drag and drop page builder, while others incorporate their own builder.

The challenges of adding functionality

While it is possible – and easy – for a web designer to easily add functionality to any WordPress theme with a plugin, it is best to use as few plugins as possible.

Plugins can cause security problems, decrease page load times, and hamper overall performance.

Here is a good article from Corephp.com on this topic:

The Dilemma With WordPress Plugins

The issue with adding new plugins to what is usually an already-cluttered plugin directory is that you are adding yet another resource-hog.

Plugins don’t always run seamlessly and often eat up more resources than they are worth.

Part of the reason for this is that the plugins are often coded “in a vacuum.” Coders create the plugins not taking into account how they might interact with certain WordPress themes. And they can’t take this into account. There are way too many options and variables to take into account.

So even if the plugin works as it should in terms of functionality, the code itself might not get along as smoothly as it should with the theme you are running on your website.

Understanding the potential danger of plugins, we go to the next consideration as you ponder which theme to select:

Avoid a theme with excess functionality

What is excess functionality? The easiest answer is that a theme that contains functions you don’t require is excessive.

You may have seen the new ‘mega themes’. These are WordPress themes that seem to have every capability imaginable. They are popular because they are versatile, and they offer a lot of functionality for a low price.

There are benefits to these themes, and there are drawbacks, as capability is often added with plugins.

This is not to say that all ‘mega themes’ are problematic. To the contrary, there are several that are extremely well designed and offer top performance. One of my favorites is Enfold.

Reputation

Evaluating the reputation of someone we are considering buying from is our best – and in many cases – our only way of making an informed decision.

Reputation checking is a big issue on freelance websites that offer profiles of web designers and other service providers.

Websites like Yelp have created an entire business by publishing reviews of merchants and service providers. One of Yelp’s appeals is their internal policing system which claims to weed out phony reviewers.

Whether they have or not is up for discussion, but at least an effort is made to present honest reviews to anxious consumers. Unfortunately, no such effort exists for developers of premium WordPress themes.

The most we have to judge the quality of a theme, and the willingness of the developer to resolve problems and answer questions is what we can find online – which is very little.

Perhaps the closest we can come to finding the good and bad of a developer is to consult the theme description page on Themeforest.net.

screenshot-themeforest net 2016-07-23 15-54-43 copy

In the ‘Reviews’ section  of the tab, purchasers of the theme can provide their opinion:

screenshot-themeforest net 2016-07-23 15-58-12

In my option and experience, while helpful, more information can be gathered by reviewing the ‘Comments’ and ‘Support’ sections:

screenshot-themeforest net 2016-07-23 16-02-10

These two areas are somewhat more helpful, as the developer responds to questions. It gives some insight into their willingness to address problems.

While imperfect and limited by the information available, it is still important to check the developer’s reputation. You never know what you will find that may guide your purchase.

Examples of work, or a showcase of user created websites

When you choose a web designer, the first thing normally checked is their portfolio. After all, what better way to judge their ability.

The same concept holds true when making a decision on what theme to purchase. Naturally the demo looks amazing, but how have individuals fared when working with that theme?

The first place to look is on the developer’s website, or possibly their support area. The more established they are, the more likely they are to have such an area.

A great example is StudioPress. Developers of the Genesis framework, and many child themes, they offer many examples of the work created with their framework.

screenshot-www studiopress com 2016-07-23 16-16-44

Conclusion

There is no doubt that finding the right WordPress theme is a challenge, but it’s important to remember that a good web designer can customize just about any theme you select.  For a successful result, find a theme that has the functionality you need and a proven track record of successful developments.

Postscript

For examples of various theme formats, have a look at some of our favorites:

Business WordPress themes
Wedding WordPress themes
E-Commerce WordPress themes

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