With all the hundreds of WordPress theme designers out there, and thousands of themes, how do you choose? What should you look for in a WordPress theme?
This was a question I asked myself when I started this website, not only because I needed a theme for the site I planned to build, but also because I knew I’d be advising and assisting others.
I knew I couldn’t become an expert on hundreds of themes. I also considered my audience — non-technical people. There are lots of excellent sites for the techies among us, but not much available for people who break into a cold sweat when they see acronyms like HTML, CSS, PHP, DNS, etc.
I decided to limit my theme choices so I could really get to know them. So I set myself a task: to find a couple of solid WordPress theme designers with a large number of individual themes, and whose offerings were:
- Well coded
- Up to date
- Well supported
Which led me to two designers: Elegant Themes and StudioPress.
Let me break down why I settled on those two, and why I chose to affiliate with them. (That means, whenever you purchase a theme after clicking its link on this site, I earn a small commission. It helps keep the site running, and helps me keep my prices low for setting up WordPress sites.)
I’m not a programmer or coder, so this was something I really researched. I read reviews by experts, I talked to WordPress experts, and I read reviews by users.
I was satisfied that both StudioPress and Elegant Themes followed best practices and produced clean code.
Variety of Attractive Themes
Each of them offered a large number of themes with several selections among each of the theme categories. (Categories include magazine-style themes, blogs, corporate, tumbler, portfolio or gallery, etc.)
Within each category they offered enough different choices so that almost anyone could find a theme that would work well for their business out of the box.
The themes had to be attractive.
Unfortunately, the interwebs are full of badly coded WordPress themes that are full of security holes. I wanted to work with designers who were committed to keeping their themes secure. Both Elegant Themes and StudioPress routinely hire outside companies like Sucuri to audit their themes. This shows a commitment to security and a commitment to following best practices as well.
Up to Date
“Up to date” means a lot more than whether it looks modern. That’s part of it, of course — fashions on web design change and evolve over time, just like fashions in dress, hair, or home decor.
When it comes to WordPress themes, I look for a designer who:
- provides regular, timely updates in response to changes in WordPress
- updates code when standards change
- ensures the theme follows current best practices
StudioPress is tops at this. Before HTML5 became standard, and before Google started lowering rankings on sites that weren’t mobile friendly, they began coding themes that were HTML5 ready and mobile responsive. Then they went back and renovated older themes to bring them into compliance with HTML5. They made it easy to know which themes were compliant by adding the word “Pro” to their names.
Themes that they decided not to update were simply removed from their current offerings (although they still support them, if you happen to be using one).
All the StudioPress themes that are currently available are HTML5 and mobile responsive.
Elegant Themes didn’t do quite as good a job with updating. While their newer themes are all mobile responsive, for example, they still offer quite a few that are not. Therefore, if you’re interested in one of their themes, you should choose from only those listed as mobile responsive. (Here’s why your site must be mobile friendly!)
Both companies have ticket-based support for their themes. Response times are reasonable, and support staff are knowledgeable and helpful.
If you want to know how to customize something, they’ll tell you exactly how to do it, if it’s simple, or point you to a resource for more in-depth information. If it’s complicated enough to require hiring an expert, they’ll let you know.
Once you’ve chosen a solid theme designer, it’s time to choose a specific theme. Here’s where the process gets very subjective, so let’s use an analogy to make it easier to understand.
When you look for a new place to live, you have some must-have requirements. It has to have the right number of bedrooms, be located in the right school district, or close to work. The price must fit your budget. Maybe you have some special requirements, like accessibility, or that it’s all on one level.
Once you’ve found the house or apartment that meets those criteria, it comes down to design. What’s the layout? Do you like the floor plan? Does it work with your lifestyle? How about the colors — walls and carpet? Is the yard fenced or open? What’s the view?
If it’s in the wrong location or the floor plan doesn’t work for you, there’s no point in looking further. But if you don’t like the colors, well, you can change those without a lot of trouble or expense.
Choosing a specific theme is sort of like that. Find the one that meets your most important criteria out of the box, and be prepared to change the items that are easy to change.