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Jeff Bradbury

What should I look for in a WordPress theme?

What should you look for in a WordPress theme_

The other day, I was approached, as I have in the past with a very simple question. An educator friend of mine is looking to redesign their homepage using WordPress and asked me: “If you were going to buy a new WordPress website theme … what would you buy?”

I have certainly written about this topic in the past, but I quickly realized that the answers I gave him started to look completely different than those I typically give.  I wasn't trying to be difficult by any means, but I know that my answers were far from what he was looking for.  Traditionally, when someone asks me about website themes, they are looking for things such as vendor choice, feature recommendations, or even the good old Free/Premium conversation. These are great things to focus on in the short term. These are conversation topics that you ultimately need to have because they are choices based on the visual aspects of the website.

In today's post, we are going to take a look at the “Other 10 things” that you need to consider when choosing a theme for your WordPress website.  Things that sometimes require phone calls to your hosting provider and things that may require you to do a little research beyond the initial demo's that theme developers provide you.  Let's jump right in as these are in no particular order of importance.

How long has the theme been on the market?

One of the big things you should look at when considering a theme is age.  A brand new theme probably comes with a few bugs here and there.  I'm not saying that you should never give version 1.0 of a theme a chance, but I believe it's always best to go with a proven product.  Your website is your visual representation of your business. For this reason, I generally do not advise looking at the themes that recently have been released … that is unless you know that the company is a proven theme developer who often updates their themes every few days or weeks.

Recently, I purchased a theme who was only in it's first few updates.  It was a nice theme, but one that still had plenty to prove.  What unfortunately ended up happening was that I ultimately decided not to use the theme and in doing so wasted my money.  Best advice for anyone is to look at themes that have not only kept up with the times but have a track record of being updated consistently and on a regular schedule.

How long has the theme developer been creating WordPress themes?

Just as I stated above, it's not only important to go with a theme that has been around the block, but with a developer that has been around the block.  Does your theme developer have a portfolio of themes?  What is the update cycle on those themes?  Is the theme one person or did the theme come from a fully staffed company?  Sometimes these questions can make the difference between having a nice web theme and one that never gets updated.  I will purchase a theme from a reputable company any day over a developer when it comes to my business websites.  If I'm simply making a website for a conference, or for a small project then the answer might different.

How do they support their themes?

There are many ways that WordPress theme developers support their themes. Before purchasing any theme, you should look into their method of support. Do they have a healthy community forum on their website? Do they promise 24-hour support? Are they willing to go in and inspect your website if something is broken?  Knowing about your theme developers post-purchase support system is vital if you don't consider yourself a professional WordPress developer.

What do the customer reviews look like for both the theme AND for the company?

When choosing a theme, it's always best to look at the customer reviews.  This sometimes isn't the most accurate representation of a theme or developer, but it does give you a good indication over what requests are made once someone has purchased the theme and what types of headache's you might be in for once you own the theme.  Look to see what the response time is also for the theme.  How does the theme developer response?  I once found a theme developer simply respond to every customer with “Please see documentation” …. it aggravated the customers and ultimately cost the developer some business.

How close are we to the next WordPress major release?

This one might be a bit trivial, but when you are looking to update your theme, take a look at the WordPress forums and see how close you are to the next major release.  For some themes, updating is easy as going into your dashboard and hitting an update button.  For other themes, you must first deactivate and delete your theme before installing and activating the update.  Either process is not difficult, but it is not something you want to do twice if you can help it.  With a new version of WordPress just being released I'm sure that I will be soon working on all of my client sites to make sure their themes and plugins are compliant with the new version.  Best to check things first when choosing a launch date for your new web project.

What features does the theme come with out of the box -vs- what features are you looking for in a theme?

How many times are you looking to have something added to your website and you hear someone say “there's a plugin for that.”  Sometimes this can be a good thing, and sometimes this can be a bad thing.  Assuming you don't have the chops to build your own theme or create your own custom code, it's best to find a theme that meets most of your needs.  That way you don't have to burden your website down with heavy resource draining plugins.

Unless you are a professional WordPress developer, you are probably going to settle for whatever features a theme gives you or whatever plugins you can find for free.  Make sure that you have a balance of a lightweight theme and a minimal amount of plugins to keep your website running smoothly and efficiently.

What does the dashboard look like? How many features are you allowed to adjust?

Every theme developer has their own way of creating the various customizations that go into tweaking the visuals on your website.  Some developers are sticking to the WordPress Customizer while others are creating very elaborate menus with hundreds of buttons to switch on and off.

It's pretty fair to say that free themes have minimal options to adjust where premium themes have more options in their dashboards.  The more you dive into the world of WordPress theme developers you will get used to what each developer brings to the table.  I tend to recommend themes based on their dashboard options much more than I recommend them based on the visuals of their websites.

Is the theme “Heavy”?

As mentioned above, some themes come packed with a million features.  Do you want Mega Menu, Revolution Slider, Portfolios, Testimonials, 45 different Social Share widget items?  Even if you are not using all of these, extra features slow download time.  It's best to test your website speed out first right out of the box rather than spend a ton of time creating something beautiful only to find that it's the thee that is slowing your website down rather than your content choices.

Is anyone else in your peer group using this theme?  If the answer is yes, how can you customize the theme to make it look different than the other website?

For most, you are going to choose a theme, move some widgets around and call it a day.  What happens if you are all finished with your website and then realize that your competition also is using the same theme and your website looks just like their website?  I recently had a very nice theme on TeacherCast. I used it for 2 years and was very happy with it.  No sooner did I update my theme and transition to the current one that I realized that one of my guests just redesigned their website and guess what … started to use my old theme.  The good part about this is that the theme in question is very valuable and even put side by side, nobody would probably realize that it was the same theme.  My guest probably doesn't even know that this has happened.

Making sure you see what your friends are doing with their websites is a good way to make sure that you aren't going to end up having your site look like another.

What happens if you don't like the theme after purchase? What is the return policy?

Ok, I admit it … I like to purchase WordPress themes.  At one point, TeacherCast was split into 25 (no kidding) different WordPress websites each with their own theme and function.  It was a fun experiment, but it was a mess.  Needless to say, I have played with my share of WordPress themes and spent a few bucks on them.  I am also not ashamed to share that on multiple occasions I purchased premium themes at 1 in the morning, tested them and decided they aren't for me only to purchase second themes a few hours later.  The theme you are looking at now was purchased at 3 AM only because the one it replaced was purchased a few hours later and didn't pan out for the needs of TeacherCast.

This is your business and doesn't settle.  Sometimes, you have to eat the cost.  Sometimes, a theme can't be returned because of the nature of how WordPress works.  Sometimes a theme is built so it can only be activated by using a purchase code and for that reason, the developer might be able to deactivate the code and give you your money back.  Simply put, know what you are getting yourself into before you put both feet in.

What do others think of the web theme when they see the demo?

In this post, we have discussed several things you can do to make sure you find the perfect theme.  However, nothing compares to the cold hard opinion of a trusted friend.  Every theme has a demo page.  There is no harm in sending the link to your friends and asking them to try it out.  See if they can imagine your business using that website.  See how they think the navigation should look and how the widgets can be arranged.  Some of the best choices I have ever made when purchasing web themes is to NOT purchase the web theme due to recommendations from friends.  This is best known as: USE YOUR PLN.

Where can we go for help and support to learn more?

There are several places that I turn to for my WordPress knowledge here are a few favorites

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It doesn't have to be this difficult ya know …

As you can see, there is more to buying a WordPress theme than simply choosing the one that is the prettiest.  Where other website platforms might make it easy to choose any of their pre-made themes at will, the vast world of WordPress.org is a bit more complicated due to its many moving parts.  Of course, if you are using a platform such as WordPress.com or Edublogs, you can feel free to select any of their templates and plugins and they will be sure to work 100% of the time.

If you DO want to purchase a theme … I recommend

Let me know what you think

The choice is yours and TeacherCast is here to help you in these decisions.  If you have any questions about this post or would like to share your tips and tricks, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

About the author, Jeffrey

Jeff Bradbury, creator of TeacherCast, and father of the famous @EduTriplets is the Coordinator of Instructional Technology at Westwood Regional School District. Thanks for checking out TeacherCast today. Please take a moment to find me on all of my Social Media channels!