First impressions are everything.
In the online world, you only have seconds to capture and retain a visitor on your site. That’s why choosing your WordPress theme shouldn’t be an afterthought.
It defines your site’s personality and user-friendliness. If you select a theme that doesn’t match your overall marketing strategy or is challenging to navigate, you’re going to lose visitors and diminish your online impact.
In this article, we’ll explain exactly what a theme is and offer some pointers on selecting the best theme for your WordPress site.
What is a Theme?
A theme, simply put, is the overall design of your website. Fortunately, WordPress makes it easy for you to swap out themes so that you can see which one you like best, even before your site goes live.
WordPress does a fabulous job of separating content from design. That’s why you can update your theme years from now and you won’t have to go back over all of your posts and pages and make any changes. All of your content will automatically respond to the new theme.
It’s worth mentioning that using theme-specific shortcuts can lock you in. These shortcuts don’t typically transfer between themes so you may end up having to re-work your content.
Basically, there are two very important parts to a theme:
- The look and feel: This is the aesthetics of your site. It includes the color scheme, the font family and size, the structure of the layout, and various types of advanced user interface elements (for example, sliders). You can think of this part of the theme as the site’s personality.
- The navigation: You want people to be able to move about your website freely, right? To make that happen, you’ll have to offer a navigation menu that’s very intuitive. That way, your visitors can go straight to the category or page that they’re looking for.
Where to Find WordPress Themes
So where do you find a theme? In the WordPress universe, you have two options: free or premium.
As you’re probably already aware that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, you can guess that premium themes tend to be more professionally designed and offer better support. They also cost money.
However, that’s not to say that free themes are a waste of your time. If you’re brand new to WordPress, you should experiment around with some free options so you can get an idea of what it’s like to use different themes with the same WordPress content. You’ll be able to see how your content “adapts” when you change themes.
If you’re planning to use your WordPress site to present a professional appearance online, you may end up considering a premium theme. When you buy a premium theme, you’ll almost always be provided with support. Premium themes usually have more functionality and allow easier site customization than free themes. Also, you have a much wider selection of designs to choose from and you’ll even find companies that specialize in themes for a specific industry.
If you’re looking for a free theme, you really don’t need to look any further than the WordPress.org Theme Directory. That site is constantly updated with countless free themes that you can install on your own website.
If you’re looking for a premium theme, you have several options.
- ThemeForest. For many people, this is the “go to” place for premium WordPress themes. However, the site does have a poor reputation in the WordPress community. Some disagree with ThemeForest’s licensing and feel they promote themes focusing on style over substance.
- StudioPress. Creators of the highly popular Genesis Theme Framework, StudioPress offers an excellent selection of minimalist themes that are well designed and developed. While these themes offer some customizability, if you want to make drastic changes you’ll likely have to do some coding.
- Elegant Themes. While there aren’t as many selections at Elegant Themes as you’ll find at the other sites, the quality of the themes that are offered there is outstanding. With a yearly membership option that’s not much more than the cost of a single theme, you’ll have access to all 85+ of Elegant’s themes. This is a great option for the indecisive.
- Themify. Another site that offers some well designed themes. They also offer a yearly membership giving you access to all of their themes.
How to Pick the Right Theme
Now that we’ve covered what a theme is, it’s time to go over some pointers about how to pick the best theme for your WordPress website. Obviously, some of the decision will be a matter of opinion based on your own understanding of your site. However, there are also some principles that are “best practices” when it comes to selecting the right theme.
It Must Be Responsive
If there is one word that must absolutely, positively be in the description of the theme that you plan on using, it’s this word: responsive.
Why? Because that word means, in a nutshell, that the theme will adapt to any device that’s being used to view the website. In other words, the site will look like it was professionally designed for a desktop monitor if it’s viewed on a desktop monitor. However, if the site is viewed on a smartphone, the the theme will adapt in such a way that it appears to the visitor that the theme was specifically designed for a smartphone. A responsive theme will adapt to any device.
In this day and age, it’s absolutely essential that your website is mobile-ready for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. Google is now rewarding mobile-friendly sites and giving them a boost in the mobile search results.
Beyond that, you’re going to lose visitors if you try to force-fit a website designed specifically for desktop displays into a smartphone. There’s no use trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Fortunately, almost all contemporary themes are responsive. However, be sure to look for that buzzword just to be safe.
Pick a Theme Specific to Your Industry
Are you running an e-commerce website that sells high-tech gadgetry? You probably don’t want to use a theme designed specifically for fashion.
Basically, you want your theme to “look the part.” Each theme has its own personality, and it’s best if that personality suits your business model and is appealing to your target market.
Fortunately, a couple of the sites we mentioned above do a very good job at categorizing themes based on industry. That way, when you visit those sites, you can view only the themes that you’re likely to download.
Don’t Overcomplicate It
If you’re fairly new to WordPress, and impressed with all it has to offer, you might be like a kid in a candy store when you browse through various professionally designed themes. With that mindset, it’s tempting to fall prey to the theme that has the richest feature set.
Resist that urge.
For starters, think about what your website actually needs before looking at themes. Avoid allowing theme demos to convince you that you need a particular feature when you really don’t. Otherwise, you could install a bloated theme with a bunch of features that you’ll never use and possibly slow down the performance of your site.
Second, complicated themes can be user hostile. They may look really slick as your viewing them, but all the links, sliders, and sidebars that they offer might be information overload on people who visit your site.
Think about some of the most famous websites in the world. They tend to be noticeably uncomplicated. Look at how easy it is to navigate through BuzzFeed, for example. Check out The Huffington Post as well.
The bottom line: Keep your theme as simple as possible.
It Should Be Easy to Customize
It’s not likely that your theme will be everything that you want it to be right out of the box. You’ll likely need to make some tweaks, rearrange some elements, and customize it in a few different places.
That’s why you should be certain that the theme you get is easy to customize. Go through the description of the theme and look for some marketing text that explains that it can be customized. If you don’t see that, and you still really like the theme, be sure to ask the developer about how you can customize it.
Usually, themes that can be customized have a section in the WordPress back end that offers several options for you to tailor-fit the design to your liking. For example, you can change the font family that’s used in posts, the overall color scheme, the line spacing, the size of the subheaders, the color of the titles, and much more.
If you’re a hardcore web design enthusiast, you’ll find that almost all modern themes allow you to add your own customized cascading style sheet (CSS) code. That way, you can change the design in any way that’s only limited by your imagination.
Wrapping it Up
Now you understand the concept of a WordPress theme and how to go about finding the best one for your WordPress website. Take a few moments to start browsing some theme libraries and create a short list of your favorites. Then, decided on which one is best.
How do you choose the best theme for your WordPress site? What kind of criteria do you use when shopping for a theme? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.