If you are new to WordPress, settling on a theme for your website can feel a little overwhelming. With thousands of themes to choose from, it may be hard to know just where to begin. Yet, selecting a WordPress theme is one of the most important decisions you’ll make during website design and can determine the very success of your site. If you pick the wrong theme, it will cost you in lost traffic and conversions. Worse still, it can be difficult to switch themes later without the assistance of a WordPress developer.
You have to keep in mind that each WordPress theme will be compatible with a certain target market (see, for instance, these photography WordPress themes). To get it right from the get-go, following a systematic process of shortlisting and zeroing in on the best theme is the way to go. Here are some of the essential elements that should go into any such checklist.
Many themes come with plenty of flashy animations, complex layouts, and catchy colors. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things and sometimes, you’ll actually need them to build a site that aligns with your objectives. However, for the most part, these are bells and whistles that can blur your ability to accurately evaluate the core functionality of the theme.
As with anything, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Your first reason for choosing a theme should be its ability to facilitate the realization of your site’s goals. A nice looking website can bring in visitors but if it isn’t usable or navigable, these visitors will not be interested in returning or recommending your site to their social circle. Select a theme that’s easy on the eyes but isn’t unnecessarily complicated.
Long gone are the days when responsive design was a nice thing to have but that you could do without. With a sizeable proportion of web traffic originating from mobile devices, a responsive website is essential. That and the fact that Google prioritizes mobile-friendly websites in its mobile browser search results means you could lose out on invaluable traffic if your web pages aren’t responsive.
The good news is that the majority of WordPress themes are inherently responsive. You still have to check though as there are still vendors who produce themes that aren’t mobile friendly. You can test if a theme is responsive by resizing your desktop browser screen. If the layout adjusts as the screen width changes, then the theme is responsive.
For more comprehensive results, copy the theme’s demo URL and paste to Google’s Mobile Friendly Test page. Not every warning there will be substantial but keep an eye on red flags like the content being wider than the screen or the text being too small.
3. Browser Compatibility
Google Chrome is the world’s most popular browser. According to StatCounter, Chrome’s market share exceeds 60 percent. So some WordPress developers and site owners test a theme on Chrome and fail to establish compatibility with the other leading browsers such as Safari, Firefox, UC Browser, Opera, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Edge.
Yet, it’s important to recognize that the nearly 40 percent market share held by the other browsers is substantial. In addition, browser popularity varies across geographic region, age group, and income strata. The browser that you didn’t test a theme for could be the one that the majority of your target market use.
Most themes have been tested for compatibility with all major browsers but if that isn’t stated explicitly on the page, there are free automated tools online that you can use to check that.
4. Supported Plugins
Basic WordPress is of itself a great content management system (CMS). Nevertheless, the power and success of WordPress have largely to do with its vast inventory of plugins. There are more than 50,000 WordPress plugins that massively expand the things you can do with a WordPress website.
That being said, plugins aren’t created equal. Also, too many plugins can be counterproductive as they could slow down your site. A number of plugins could easily be categorized as must-haves. Examples include Yoast SEO, Gravity Forms and W3 Total Cache. Make sure the theme you choose can work with all key plugins. If it isn’t clear, contact the plugin’s developer for clarification.
5. Multilingual and Translation-Ready
English is by far the most popular language on the Internet. Still, millions of websites aren’t in English. If you expect to have a sizeable non-English speaking audience for your WordPress site, make sure the theme you choose is translation ready and does support multilingual plugins.
There are thousands of free WordPress themes. One of the biggest downsides of going with free themes is that support is non-existent, ad hoc or unpredictable. Sadly, some paid themes suffer from mediocre customer support too. If theme support is not up to speed, you may find yourself alone when you run into configuration problems. Constantly reaching out to a third party developer can be prohibitively expensive for an individual-owned site or a startup website.
At the minimum, choose a WordPress theme that has robust support and exhaustive documentation.
7. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If your WordPress site will be like the overwhelming majority of active websites on the Internet, most of your site’s traffic will come from Google Search and, to a much lesser extent, Bing. Ergo, ensuring your pages are search engine optimized is crucial.
Not all themes are equally SEO-friendly. A nice looking theme can have poor underlying HTML code which could have a negative impact on your site’s search engine results ranking. Analyzing a theme for SEO compliance isn’t something the average WordPress website owner can do on their own. Fortunately, many premium theme developers will provide a quick checklist of the SEO elements their theme is optimized for.
8. Reviews and Ratings
It’s hard to go wrong with ratings and reviews. It’s highly improbable that an excellent, world-class theme that ticks all the right boxes would have an overwhelming number of negative reviews and low ratings.
Of course, there’ll always be a couple of biased overreacting reviewers who may be blowing a small one-off problem out of proportion. However, aggregating hundreds or thousands of reviews and ratings ultimately give you an average score that is a pretty good reflection of how well the theme performs. For WordPress themes, check just under the download button for the ratings. Any theme with an unusually high number of negative ratings is one you want to stay away from.
WordPress themes can be the fuel that propels your website to the next level. That is however dependent on your making the right choice of theme in the first place. Choose the ideal WordPress theme for your site by applying the above tips.
We hope you enjoyed and found this article useful. If you like it, take a look at some of these articles:
- Best WordPress Plugins
- 8 Web Design Trends to Try in 2019
- Introduction to SEO Image Optimization: How to Make Your Images Searchable