I build WordPress websites. As a result I’ve dealt with a lot of WordPress themes. I’ve had some great experiences that have made building a site a dream and I’ve had some utterly awful experiences that have resulted in me wanting to tear my own hair out. This is especially painful when you realise you’ve paid for the pleasure.
In an effort to spare others some of the frustrations I have experienced, I want to share my process of how to choose a theme. There are a series of checks I run the theme by to see if it will be up for the job.
This is a list of those checks and questions. I’ve made it in order of what I find important. It may look pretty but if it’s a dog in the backed then you may be creating more work for yourself than needs be.
- Is support offered? – Theme support is essential. Without it you can find yourself in some sticky situations. It could be an incompatibility issue with a plugin or it could simple be a bug that has been missed by the developers. Good support should allow you to ask the developers about issues and to get solutions from them. It may vary how they can help but basic forum support is a must. Check for the following support attributes.
- Is there support policy true? – I’ve found several theme developers claim to offer support via a forum but when you get there it can be a bit of a ghost town. Make sure that any support forums are active and that the answers to queries are appropriate and fair.
- The Developers Capacity – Is the developer a team or a one man army? Often in cases where it’s a one man army or a small team, they will not have the capacity to support a very popular theme. There are only so many hours in the day and unless they are getting paid, they wont be interested in helping you for free. (To begin with they might be helpful but as time goes by, they will have other priorities)
- Updates – Regular updates and a sign of a good theme.
- How recently was the last update made? If there have been no updates made in some time then this could be a sign that the theme is no longer supported.
- How frequently have updates been made? If it’s regularly update this can be a good sign that the developer really takes pride in the theme and wants to keep it as up-to-date as possible.
- Do updates coincide with WordPress versioning? If some updates coincide with WordPress core updates then this too is a good sign that the developer is keeping the theme up-to-date.
- Age of theme – Age is important because there’s nothing worse than finding a gorgeous theme that’s gonna be visually perfect only to find that the developer decides to discontinue support the following month leaving you in the lurch.
- Is it the developers flag ship? – if it is then they are more likely to offer good support and updates. If not, then you could fid the theme is about to be shelved.
- Quality – Anything we purchase we expect to be of good quality. With themes there are various ways of measuring this. For the purpose of this article I’m taking build quality. There are a few things I have come to expect from premium themes:
- Speed -Does it load quickly? – Use tools like Pingdom, Google Page Speed & GTMetrix to see if the stock demo theme loads nice and fast.
- Compliance & Compatibility – Check to see if the theme follow web standards and compliance. This can be interpreted differently as some will want to have compatibility going further back on older browsers. A simpler method might be to see if it loads well in a slightly older version of Internet Explorer.
- Check out the theme developer – I will often look in to the theme developer to get a feeling on what they are like. If their own website is full of bugs and errors then I might think twice about buying something they have made.
- Ease of use – Some might be surprised that this comes down low on the list. Some common things I look for are:
- Is it reliant on other plugins? – Some themes rely heavily on other plugins to run properly. If they are integrated well then they will often supply the updated plugins with the update theme. Find out of the theme requires plugins to run and if they support them also.
- Is there a custom CSS editor? – at a very basic level you’ll need this functionality. You need to be able to edit the theme to match the brand of the client.
- Is there a decent theme options page? – A good theme will have a good and concise theme options page where you can define the logo, colours, fonts etc of the theme. This is often where themes can become cumbersome and difficult to use.
- Does it use short-codes? – These make life easier. They allow you to use some of the themes extra visual elements quickly and easily.
- Does it use Page Builder system? – These make life even easier! These act as a visual click-and-drag interface to help you easily create diverse layouts for your pages without having to be a coding junkie. Epic time-saving tool here.
- Can you load the demo content? – It’s really helpful to be able to load up the demo content form a theme. You may have liked the theme originally for its layouts and page structure. Being able to upload the demo content helps speeding up the process of creating your ow pages.
- Popularity – This can be a help or a hindrance. High numbers can mean it’s great to work with but it could also prove difficult to make look unique.
- How many downloads? – If the theme has been downloaded over 10 thousand times then we need to make sure that our site, using the theme, isn’t going to look exactly like hundreds of other sites. If it scores well on Ease- of use then it should be simple to make look unique.
- Good Ratings? – Some theme sites have rating systems. These don’t always reflect the quality of the theme as they can simply be based on how the theme looks.
- Reviews? Has a review about the theme been written? Is it informed and unbiased? Like ratings, reviews can be hit and miss. Read several reviews and then make up your own mind.
This process has been refined over a number of years but it’s still sometimes hit and miss.