In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to choose the best WordPress theme for your website. I compare free / paid themes, their responsiveness, SEO, simplicity, compatibility and many other criteria. And all of this on a real example.
So, I have domain name and also the correct WordPress hosting chosen. I just installed WordPress and I see a pre-set basic theme on my website. It is important to realize that the overall appearance (design) of a website depends on the theme chosen.
Most WordPress themes contain predefined text colours and fonts, layout elements and widgets, and many more details and styles that contribute to the look of the site.
The best thing about WordPress themes is that with a bit of luck you can get an excellent look of your website without having to write a single line of code.
I consider choosing a WordPress theme an important thing. So, I sat down and thought about what I expect from the future theme. Below, I name main requirements I have focused on.
Table of Contents
Free vs. paid WordPress theme
First of all, you need to think about whether and how much you would like to invest in a theme. Check your budget and decide accordingly. At the same time, it is important to remember this fact: not all paid themes represent excellent products and not all free themes are low quality products. As it is said, it can happen that you find excellent free WordPress themes and terrible paid themes.
Sometimes, it is the case that because some themes are free, the authors of them don’t have enough time to deal with them. This means that many free themes are not updated in time. Thus, at some point you get stuck. WordPress itself is often updated and there is a good chance that your theme will not work after the update. There are also free themes for which you will not find help and support. Thus, you will have to handle problems yourself.
I regard the theme’s responsiveness as a matter of course. More than 50% of my visits come from mobile devices and tablets and this number is expected to grow in the future. To select a WordPress theme properly, I tested them by enlarging / reducing the browser window, or via the Google resizer tool.
If you have a tablet and a mobile phone at hand, I recommend that you test the demo directly on these devices. From my own experience, I know that in some cases the theme can be completely different on a real mobile device than when trying to imitate such a device on a computer. The reason may be the technology and approach by which the theme is programmed (a specific reason may be, for example, another operating system device – Android / iOs / Windows Phone …).
Support for browsers
We follow the first requirement here. In addition to various types of devices, it is desirable to test demo themes on various types of browsers – Chrome, Firefox, safari and Internet Explorer. Alternatively, you can test the theme for other less-used browsers like Opera and so on. Therefore, I recommend taking this fact into account when making a selection of WordPress theme.
Web design is purely emotional. Theoretically, a selection of WordPress theme should be based on blog type and audience. But I take it from the point of view that it will be my own website and I will be looking at it practically every day, so I want to please my eye as well.
It is important to remember that a web design should always be subject to a website’s visibility level (the so-called UX – “user experience”). This means that it makes no sense to have a beautiful design if visitors to your site are confused, lost, disoriented and clueless when being there. Therefore, I would customize the choice of WordPress theme.
Specifically, for my blog I had a side scrolling menu as a requirement because I just love it. Furthermore, I had an idea of a minimalist design and a home page list of articles in the form of a masonry look or grid look of multi block sizes:
Here, I will include a number of WordPress theme requirements you might have and which you should know before choosing a theme:
1. Multilingual support
If you are planning a multilingual website, the theme should support multilingualism, such as wpml or polylang plugins. I personally use wpml, which I have already successfully deployed on several websites. I have no experience with the other one yet, but both have good references. Thus, when choosing WordPress themes, I recommend considering the possibility of multilingualism in the future.
2. eCommerce support (eCommerce solutions)
If you plan to include eCommerce, you need to consider this when choosing a WordPress theme. Make sure that the theme you chose supports this. Specifically, it should support, for example, the most popular ecommerce solution for WordPress – the woocommerce plugin.
3. Theme language
It would be nice to have the theme translated into the desired language / languages (in my case Slovak). Or at least it should include a .POT theme for translation. But do not despair even if it does not contain .POT, we can help using Loco Translate plugin, however, it is time consuming and technically more difficult
4. Support for different post formats
WordPress allows you to set its format as part of the post editing (the so called „post formats“, see the picture below). But it is up to the theme creators to see if they can work it out. For example, I plan to use quotes, videos, and galleries in my blog, and I want them to display accordingly. Therefore, I will require for my theme to support various post formats.
5. Theme Speed
Very substantial fact for choosing WordPress themes. Of course, that I want to have a fast website, so that I do not discourage the visitors to the blog or googlebots (Google’s robots that will index my site). That’s why I tested the theme demo through pingdom:
I think the most important indicator of the result that I received from the tool is the page load time. If this time is up to 2 seconds for the demo theme, it is acceptable, because we can cut it significantly in our real blog. This is done by choosing quality hosting, installing a plugin cache for speed and optimizing image sizes. I use (and consider the best) caching plugin called WP Rocket. To optimize image size, I use the EWWW Image Optimizer plugin.
I would like to explain at a glance why I use (and why I would recommend for you) hosting from bluehost. They have the automatic installation of WordPress, which is good for a beginner, but it also saves time to advanced user. In the installation, the WP Rocket and EWWW Image Optimizer plugins are already included, set and server tuned. Their servers have SSDs. The result is a very high web speed, as you can see on the example of my blog above. And I think it’s cool :).
6. Page builder presence
It’s kind of visual page folder. It is a tool by which you can create inside content of pages from different elements and place them variously. The best example is to show it in the picture:
The picture shows Divi builder, which is one of the best. In general, a page builder may be part of a theme (for example, divi builder is also part of a divi theme), or in the form of a standalone plugin. Therefore, even if the theme you ave chosen does not contain a page builder, you can install it as a plugin. The best rated builder in the form of a free plugin is Page Builder by SiteOrigin.
I don’t need a builder on my blog, so I exclude this requirement when choosing a WordPress theme. On the contrary, I will even require that my theme does not contain any. The reason for this is that every extra theme feature, as well as every plugin used, contributes to reducing the speed of a website.
7. Theme code quality
As a programmer, I can judge the quality of the code even from a demo page, but it can be difficult for a layman. The theme may look beautiful, but the background may be “ugly” code. One option is to run the theme through a code validator from W3C, which is an international organization responsible for standardizing our internet (www).
Do not be scared if this tool displays some code errors, it should be borne in mind that most of the available themes will have some shortcomings. It’s just about that your theme is not a flood of bugs :).
And finally, the most important thing at the end – why should we be interested in the theme code quality? Because a badly programmed theme can hurt our SEO substantially. And we don’t want this at all.
I would like my theme to include documentation, so I don’t have to fool around where and how to set up individual theme elements. Unfortunately, many of the free themes from wordpress.org do not include documentation, so it takes us extra time to find and test what, where and how to set. In contrast, many paid themes at the largest theme retailer have a high level of documentation (they are „well documented“). It is one of the requirements that a vendor requests from theme creators. Therefore, I customize the choice of WordPress theme.
Ultimately, it is up to each of us to decide if we want a documentation theme. But as for me, I need it. I already had the opportunity to try a lot of different themes at work or privately, and each had completely different settings (in other words, there are no uniform WordPress rules to organize theme settings). I’m of the opinion that time is money and I don’t want to waste it on unnecessary searching for the settings, I rather spend my time by writing posts.
Does is take a lot of work to do the customization?
If you have only little WordPress skills, you should definitely go through reviews and comments on the theme. Of course, the demo version can look fantastic. But if you want to place six images instead of five in a particular section and this must be done using some program, there might be a problem.
So, click the theme through in the demo version and review it. Read the description and instructions for setting up the theme. Thus, you will get a picture of how easy it is to adjust. Another important aspect is related to setting the theme. Is this theme setting section user friendly, intuitive, easy to use? A great place to check this are screenshots on the theme website. You can see how the theme organizes each setting section here.
Compatibility with plugins
You probably have some plugins you need to make the website work. It’s important to check that the theme supports these add-ons. As for free WordPress themes, it’s easier to test and check this compatibility – just install them on trial. But if you have chosen a premium theme, a possible solution is to ask its creator for information.
Is theme SEO optimized?
It’s amazing to have a nice website look. But remember that a website must exist for search engines too. SEO optimization of WP themes can be checked manually. There are also online services to show you how theme is SEO friendly. Again, if you choose a premium theme, the creator should be able to offer you all the important information about it.
What about social media?
As for social media, it is always possible to add them as a WordPress plugin. But since social media is becoming increasingly important in the online environment, it would be nice to have integrated social media already within the theme.
See themes collections
For inspiration, you can view TOP 30 WordPress themes for specific purposes:
- WordPress themes for companies
- WordPress themes for free
- WordPress themes for e-commerce
- WordPress themes for photographers
Choosing WordPress theme – conclusion
When I have the requirements elaborated, I will continue with finding the theme itself. But I’ll keep that for the next article. I hope this post has brought you something new, whether you’re a beginner or advanced user of WordPress.