How to Choose the Right WordPress Theme
Hi there! Hope you’re all doing well and had a great sunny summer 🙂 Holiday season is just around the corner and we bet some of you are already looking into starting a new online shop or personal blog as part of your new year’s resolutions. Regardless of whether you have technical knowledge of WordPress or not, we hope this article on choosing the right theme for your website will be helpful.
I briefly touched on that topic in my article My New Year’s Review Working at Webdesh: What I’ve Learnt About Creating WordPress Websites all the way back in the beginning of 2020. Today we’re back with more insights and useful tips.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but pays us a % out of your purchase if you buy an item through our link. Thank you for the support. We would only recommend services and tools we use and truly believe in.
What is a WordPress theme?
In order to understand this article better, we must begin with answering the question: “What is a WordPress theme?”
To put it simply: a WordPress theme is a tool, which helps you change your website’s layout and styling. Different themes sometimes come with different plugins, which provide different functionalities you may want your website to have (from our FAQ page).
The theme is the driving force behind your website and we strongly advise you to do some research and make an educated decision prior to making a commitment. When it comes to us choosing a theme for our website or our clients’, see below the main indicators we are looking for.
Reviews & active installations
Starting with something that is often overlooked, but ultimately very important. Building a trust with the theme author is essential, as they will be responsible for a big part of your website in the future, especially in terms of:
- Regular updates – to ensure compatibility with WordPress versions and other plugins
- Good support center – in case you experience issues
- Plans for the future – are they listening to feedback from users or optimizing their product to comply with other softwares’ needs (i.e. optimizing it for speed and to comply with Google’s page speed recommendations)
When choosing a theme, our initial action is to go to its webpage and read about it. The catch is you are only going to read what the authors want you to know (and that is totally understandable). No one is going to plaster over their Homepage that “the theme is kinda slow” or that “their support is not that great really”, so where do you look for this information?
- Go through the theme reviews. Pay attention to detail: whether most people liked the theme, but hated the support or vice versa; whether there was a point when reviews suddenly went south; what are the main components people leave bad reviews and send bug reports for.
- Search for a number of active installations. If there are lots of people using it, this usually means the authors are doing something right.
- Explore the author’s credibility. Seek how long they have been developing themes, reviews about them, how many sales they have, etc. This information is presented in a very neat way on ThemeForest – one of the biggest and oldest repositories featuring WP-related software. There you will find badges that are applied to users based on different [positive] criteria – this is definitely something you want to be looking at.
After you have explored all the basics, put all pros and cons on a scale and see which tips it 😉
Let us preface this by saying that WordPress has builders of its own – Classic editor (old) and Gutenberg (current) that work with all WordPress themes. If you are just starting with WordPress, Gutenberg may be a fine option to explore, but for more complex solutions we prefer using Elementor.
Most modern themes you find online will indicate what builders they work with. Our recommendation is to take a detailed look at the builder(s) that are compatible with it, as they dictate how you’re going to do the actual building of the website.
Some of them are simple drag and drop builders with a live preview, making them most suitable for people who don’t have a lot of experience and technical knowledge. Others are more advanced and rely on you having some HTML and CSS knowledge.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you can’t pick another builder to use with your theme even if it hasn’t been explicitly listed. In fact, most modern builders claim to be compatible with any WP theme that is “well constructed according to WordPress guidelines” (as stated on Elementor’s help center).
Something to consider when choosing the theme is whether you’d like to use a pre-made demo (template).
In case you choose to work with a pre-made demo, keep in mind that it’s already built using a specific builder and you don’t have much flexibility to change that. You can, of course, try changing the builder after the demo has been imported, but it is not advisable, as it poses risks for breaking your layout and general design.
If, however, you’re starting from scratch but don’t like the builders suggested by the theme authors, here are some ways you can check if the theme is compatible with your desired builder:
- Search in the builder’s help center if it’s compatible or not compatible with your theme.
- If no information is available, contact the support centers of each to ask if they have knowledge of that, for example through people having reported issues in the past.
- Sometimes you won’t get a straight answer from either of the above, so the next step is to hit up the forums – search for similar topics to yours and see what they’ve been answered / what has been discussed.
Another very important question to ask yourself is: “Am I building an online shop or am I planning to introduce an online shop in the future?”. On a WordPress website this is done with a plugin – WooCommerce.
Most modern themes don’t have issues working with WooCommerce, but do look for indicators when picking one. From our years of experience, time and time again, we see businesses who have two separate websites – one for the info part and one for their online shops. Although this can be a good strategy in some cases, oftentimes it is due to this exact reason – they hadn’t planned ahead and considered WooCommerce compatibility. This ends up costing them double in all aspects: almost twice as much resources for creating each, twice as much time and effort learning to work with each, two websites to maintain and support, etc.
This poses a very similar question to the point above: “Do I want to add an extra language now or am I planning to add one in the future?”
If either of these answers is yes – then definitely search for the “translation ready” mark (and with which plugins it’s compatible with, we recommend WordPress Multilingual) 😉
The logic here is absolutely the same as for WooCommerce and multilingual compatibility. Whether you want to sell courses online or integrate Zoom to have online sessions with clients, make a plan of all functionalities you wish to incorporate into your website beforehand. Doesn’t matter if you want to have them from the beginning or add them later on. Then, you have 2 paths to take:
Path 1: search for themes that have this or similar functionality added to it;
Path 2: find a plugin(s) that provides this functionality and find out whether it is compatible with your theme
Up-to-date & support
One of the biggest indicators and red flags to look for when choosing a theme is which WordPress version it is compatible with. Always pick a theme that has been tested up to and is fully compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
Another key part is support – is there an open/subscription forum and/or ticketing system where you can send your questions and get help from the theme creators. Take a look at how many of the threads have been resolved, how much time it usually takes to get an answer, and how active the support team is. Sometimes, even with a lot of technical experience and knowledge at our disposal, we can’t predict what may break after an update. The best people to turn to in these cases are the ones who wrote the software, so it’s essential to have some channel to reach them through.
Lightweight & fast
Website speed is a key factor for your website to perform great – from being an enjoyable experience for your viewers, to improving the SEO score. It is true that the theme is only a part of having a fast website, but we should always strive to select one that is optimised for speed and compatible with caching and speed optimization plugins.
Based on all factors we talk about in this article, here are a few we recommend you start with!
With its authors claiming it’s “Made for speed. It is the most lightweight theme available in the market and offers unmatched performance.”, we surely put it to the test in our latest projects and we can confirm it’s making a point. Take a look at some websites from our portfolio that are built with Astra:
Get Astra Pro for free when you subscribe to our Support Service!
Created by Elementor’s authors, “Hello” theme seems to be “Built for speed” (as read on their website). Three of the top qualities according to them are:
- Loads in 1/4 Second
- Only 6 KB
- Dazzling Performance
Another popular WordPress theme that “is a lightweight WordPress theme that focuses on speed, stability, and accessibility. ” The authors claim you can achieve 100% PageSpeed scores: “At just 7.5kb page size, 2 HTTP requests, and zero dependencies, the free theme provides the perfect foundation to help your site hit 100%”
“Super fast performance”, “Loads in Less than 1 Second”, “Reduced Weight” – these are only some of the compliments you can see on the theme’s homepage. With up to a 100% PageSpeed score, less than a second load time and down to 28KB file size, Neve definitely deserves the place on our list!
“We Made Divi Fast. Super Fast.” – we sure know that 2022 has been big on speed optimization for the theme’s authors. Divi now comes with a whole additional panel of settings you can fine-tune to speed up your website.
Personally, the theme and builder are not our cup of tea, but they definitely deserve the recognition for the effort put into the products.
Whatever path you take when choosing the right theme for your website, have in mind that it’s not the only factor that contributes to a fast website, A scores and 100 percentages, but it does help to pick one that is written in a clean way.
Especially if you choose to take the path on your own instead of hiring a web studio to create your website, you would want to make sure the theme you pick is very well documented. Even if you have some knowledge of WordPress, believe us when we tell you that these pages will be your best friend from start to finish – from getting started & setting up, through building pages & adding functionalities, all the way to tips & tricks & hacks to make your site even better. Video tutorials are also a huge bonus if you learn best from visual guides.
I said it almost 3 years ago in 2020 but it still stands true today:
Plan, research, dedicate your time and knowledge towards this task that is sometimes viewed as a no-brainer. We really hope this article answers some of your questions and serves as a guide when embarking on the journey to build the best website.
As always, feel free to leave any comments below or contact us if you need help choosing your WP theme 🙂 See you next time!
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