Do you need some tips for wading through the thousands of WordPress templates? With all the designs and features, small business finds choosing a WordPress template overwhelming, if not downright frustrating. Here are some tips for evaluating WordPress themes to ensure their functionality meets your business needs.
WordPress Template Design Tips
Design is your website’s first impression. Pick uncluttered designs with easy-to-follow navigation. The tone and style should match your business: A hot pink paisley scheme is more fitting for a fabric store while a blue graphic-oriented theme is more fitting for an architect.
Look at multiple theme galleries to compare designs and value. For example, a free theme may lack a some functionality and flexibility, but if you like the design, you likely can find a premium (not free) theme with a similar look that offers more features. Premium themes are usually under $100, which is a small price to pay for good support, well-tested code, and easy-to-use functionality. Or if you are familiar with WordPress and can do customizations confidently, you may not need the extra features so you may be able to find a free theme that looks similar to a premium theme design you like. To avoid malware and viruses, use a reputable theme vendor (read reviews of vendors to decide). Here are a few reputable places to start:
- Web2Feel (free)
- WordPress Theme Showcase
- WordPress Theme Directory (free)
Things to consider for choosing a design:
- While more of a feature than part of the design, an overriding decision upfront should be whether you want to invest your website in a responsive design or not. “Responsive” means that its display optimized for the device the user is on whether it be a smartphone, tablet, or computer. If you want this flexibility, you must only look at responsive themes which will cut your options down. You will have plenty of options, just much fewer than if responsive is not important to you.
- Does the feel your style or brand?
- How will your logo and images look on the theme?
- Does the theme look like something you have seen a lot so it does not feel original? The more unique it is, the more memorable your website will be.
- Does the theme support your business needs for displaying information about yoru products or services?
- Business themes focus on descriptions of services and/or products including client portfolios.
- News or magazine themes feature articles with images, often by multiple authors.
- eCommerce themes include key elements you need for an online store such as a product catalog and shopping cart.
- Portfolio themes focus galleries to showcase art, photos, and images.
- Industry-specific themes meet the needs of a specific industry such as real estate, education, sports teams, etc.
- Blogging themes focused on (duh) blogging have the simplest layouts.
- Does the theme offer more than one style? Some themes, usually premium, offer color variations.
- Will you use video? Some themes make it easy for you to embed videos.
- Do your business plans include using ads such as Google Adsense? Some themes make are optimized for placing advertisements.
- Imagine your own images and content in the design or imagine it with no images at all, do not get distracted by the well-curated art in the demo.
Many WordPress themes have a demo or preview mode that lets you see how a theme works before you decide to use it. Take time to investigate how a theme works if it offers this option. After finding 3 to 5 designs you like, evaluate how easy they are to customize.
Customization and Features
WordPress template customization not only makes the website special but also makes it less template-like. Even if you are happy with the theme’s colors and fonts now, it is a good idea to make sure it is flexible in case you do want to make changes later. The good news is that there are many WordPress plugins (applications that help you easily customize your site), but if you select a theme with built-in functionality you have fewer working parts that can break. Things to consider for customization:
- Does the theme allow for easy insertion of your logo in the heading?
- Can you change the footer contents?
- Can you easily customize fonts, colors, backgrounds and layouts through a user-friendly options panel?
- Is the theme widget ready?
- Does it support or use WordPress 3.0 menus?
- Is it optimized for WordPress 3+?
- Does it require you to install 3rd-party plugins?
- Does the theme support search engine optimization (SEO)? Usually, a plugin is used, but if the theme supports SEO, it is a bonus.
- Does the theme come with social media follow and share buttons? Again, this is an easy plugin scenario, but a bonus if supported in the theme.
Lengthen the lifespan of your theme by using one with up-to-date programming techniques such as HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery. Avoid Flash (especially if you plan to use SEO) and themes more than 3 years old. Look for WordPress themes tested on many browsers. If the developer did not test theme properly, users may encounter problems with your website when using older browsers.
Free or Premium WordPress Themes?
Research theme marketplaces by reading reviews and comments on individual theme pages. You’ll likely not find a theme that has absolutely no problems reported, but evaluate how those problems were solved and how satisfied current users of the theme are. Common problems to avoid are themes with compatibility problems with popular plugins, themes with bad reviews, or themes that require many changes to perform like the demo. Also, check any URLs commenters leave to get an idea how the theme is being used by other businesses.
Free WordPress themes are tempting, but they usually offer limited or no support. If you are well-versed in using WordPress, this may not be a problem, but if you are a novice, or don’t want to be bothered with your own troubleshooting, a small investment (under $100) will usually provide you with a support forum and often the theme developer directly participates in the forum or provides email support. Search for such a forum before deciding to use a theme. Also, look for documentation and read forum comments to gauge the helpfulness of customer support.
If you are really sold on a free theme, download it and try it out before creating your website with it. If you choose a premium theme, you won’t have the luxury of testing it before you buy, but if you have done do your homework as described above, you can confidently purchase the theme that most closely meets your needs. Personally, I think most premium themes are worth the cost if you get a good support forum.
What have your experiences been with choosing a WordPress theme? Comment! Need help with your website, contact us!