5 Simple steps for choosing the right WordPress theme
If you’ve ever looked for a WordPress theme, you’ll know that it can be a daunting task. As the world’s most popular open source CMS, there’s no shortage of designers and developers creating some very nice looking themes. A search for ‘wordpress themes’ brings a seemingly endless list of files and styles for you to choose from, but how do you make sure you’re getting something that is high quality and will make a positive difference for your site? Well, we’ve outlined 5 important things to keep in mind as you set about making decisions:
It doesn’t matter how pretty the theme looks – if the design or structure of a theme could make it at all difficult for people to actually use, don’t bother with it! Your website is there to communicate with users, and it’s more important that this communication is clear and uncomplicated than having a sexy aesthetic. Reviews can be helpful for figuring out if the theme is end-user friendly, but your best bet is really just to put yourself in users’ shoes and navigate around the theme’s demo. Does the structure make sense? Is it clear how to move between pages? Are display elements (like sliders, captions) easy to interact with?
Though we recommend using the superb WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast on your wordpress site, installing (and hopefully configuring) this plugin does not guarantee magical compliance with SEO standards. Yoast’s plugin only controls a selection of settings, and sometimes a theme’s structure can override or interfere with the plugin’s ability to make helpful changes. The most common issue we run into in themes we’ve worked with is the improper use of headings.
For example., it’s very important for SEO to have one (and only one) H1 on every page. Many themes either don’t use H1 tags on all pages, or have multiple H1s on a page (when displaying a list of blog posts, for instance). Thankfully, a few small tweaks to the theme’s files can usually sort out issues like this, but it’s a much better bet to select a theme that handles headings and other SEO elements out of the box.
Google now says it will begin penalising sites that are not mobile friendly. You can read more on this change here, but the important take away is that if you’re choosing a design for your WordPress site, then it’s strongly advised that you ensure it behaves well across devices. The best way to do this? Test it out! Most themes will have a live demo available for exploring – take out your phone, borrow your friend’s tablet, and see how the demo looks for yourself. No extra devices to hand? There are some great tools for previewing pages on different screen sizes out there.
Whether it’s the ability to easily change the basic colours and text that the site uses or the number of page and post templates available, the design flexibility of a theme can be a make or break factor. No matter how beautiful a theme’s demo looks as you navigate around, you’re always going to need to change things to make your site feel like, well, your site. It can be a bit tricky to preview the back-end controls for a theme because demos usually only show you the theme’s front end display, but keeping an eye to the theme’s description and reading reviews of people who have already used it are good places to start.
Support and documentation
Though you hopefully won’t need ongoing support for your theme, it’s often the case that there will be some hiccups as you’re configuring the theme to reflect your brand and meet your needs. In these cases, choosing a theme that has good documentation on how to make customisations and some form of support (e.g. an active forum) can save you valuable time down the road.
wpmudev has a great run down of some more considerations to bear in mind when you’re setting up a site and choosing a theme.