Have trouble choosing a WordPress theme from the tens of thousands of options available? With so many options, it can seem a bit like sticking a needle in a haystack.
Well, design is subjective so I can’t help you pick a theme that matches your aesthetic, but I can help make sure that whatever theme you choose will make your WordPress site successful.
See, not all WordPress themes are created equal, and there are a few boxes that you’ll want a theme to check so you don’t have any problems down the road.
To help you make up your mind, I’m going to share 6 tips to help you choose a WordPress theme that will create a solid foundation for your website.
How to Choose a WordPress Theme
Pick a Lightweight WordPress Theme
Your theme is a big part of the foundation of your website and as such will have a great effect on your website performance and page load time.
I once did a test where I switched from a “normal” WordPress theme to a performance-optimized one and my page load time was reduced by 42%. That is huge!
How fast your site loads is important to everything from user experience to SEO to conversion rates, so it’s not something you can ignore.
If you are looking for a free theme, install it from a test site (you can use a disposable litter box like Jurassic Ninja). Then run it through GTmetrix and see how it works.
For a premium theme, you can do the same with the public theme demo. This is not a perfect method because the theme developer might be uploading some of their own tracking scripts that would not be part of your site, but it should give you a decent idea of how the theme is optimized.
Look for Something That You Can Make Your Own (Via the Customizer)
If you are lucky, you may find a theme that looks absolutely perfect right from the start.
However, the chances of this happening are very slim and you probably want the ability to tweak things to make them your own.
If this sounds familiar, you want a theme that makes it easy for you to make these changes, without the need for any special technical knowledge.
Specifically, you will want a theme that uses WordPress Customizer. This is a basic WordPress feature that allows you to customize various aspects of your theme’s appearance using a beginner-friendly interface and a live preview of your website.
For example, with the Sydney theme, you can customize your website colors, appearance, layouts, and more using this simple interface:
Some themes offer more options than others, so you should check out exactly what you can customize. Also, many themes offer some customization options for free, but require you to purchase the Pro version to unlock all the features, which is another thing to consider.
Remember That Themes Are for Design, Plugins Are for Functionality
When choosing a WordPress theme, it can be tempting to look for a theme that does everything you want out of the box.
For example, if you want to create an event site, you can search for a theme that includes a built-in event calendar feature.
As tempting as that might be, I’m going to tell you not to do that.
In WordPress, there must be a clear demarcation between themes and plugins.
You choose a theme for your design and use plugins to add functionality. A theme should not control its design and increase its functionality.
The big reason is portability. If you choose a theme that controls both design and functionality, you’ll be stuck with that theme for life. On the other hand, if you separate the two, you can always switch between themes as needed.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a ready-to-go solution. Instead of looking for a theme that goes with everything, look for a theme designed to integrate with a plugin that offers the functionality you want.
For example, if you want a theme that offers drag-and-drop layout functionality, you may not want to choose a theme with a built-in builder because it will catch you. Instead, you can choose a theme designed to integrate with a third-party page builder plugin like Elementor. For example, the Elementor team officially recommends the Sydney theme as a great option to pair with Elementor.
Similarly, if you want to run an eCommerce store, you can use a theme like Airi, which is designed to integrate with the WooCommerce plugin for eCommerce functionality.
Or, if you want to launch an online course, you might want the Astra theme, which offers built-in integrations for two popular WordPress course plugins: LifterLMS and LearnDash.
In 2019, many themes will come with a set of recommended plugins, which is a great way to get the best of both worlds. You will still have the out-of-the-box functionality you want, but you can also change your theme in the future if necessary.
Check Responsive Design (No, REALLY Check It)
Mobile traffic now accounts for around 50% of internet traffic, and that number is only growing.
Responsive design is the idea that your website automatically adapts based on the user’s device. So whether someone is paying a visit on their laptop or iPhone, they must still have a good experience.
For 2019, any WordPress theme you find will be responsive, so looking for “Responsive” in the list of features is useless for me to recommend it.
However, just because every theme is responsive doesn’t mean that everyone implements responsive design well.
So here’s the thing: when I say check out the responsive layout of a theme, I mean open up the demo site on your smartphone and play around with it.
How is the navigation? Some themes have really neat navigation menus on mobile, while others are clunky and difficult to use.
What does a blog post look like? Some topics are weird and don’t even display a blog post title in the top half of the page (on a mobile device). It’s a very strange experience for visitors because they have to swipe down to see what the post is about.
These are important considerations because you want mobile visitors to have an amazing experience, not just a good experience.
For example, the Airi theme offers a friendly hamburger menu (easy to touch!) And displays the full blog post title at the top of the fold:
If you use the Chrome browser, you can use its developer tools to emulate various mobile devices without having to pick up your smartphone, which is what I am using for the screenshot above.
Consider the Developer’s Support Policy
Regardless of what topic you choose, there may come a time when you need support.
When this happens, you can ask for help, so it is worth checking the host’s support policy before making a decision.
Typically, most premium themes offer 6-12 months of support and updates with your purchase, with the option to renew to continue receiving support. However, you want to confirm this; you should be able to find the exact policy on the developer’s website:
With free themes, it can be hit or miss. Some theme developers will provide support through the WordPress.org forums, while other developers will not support free clients.
You can find the support forum for a theme on the WordPress.org listing page:
In addition to whether a developer supports it and how long it lasts, you also need to consider the extent of support they receive.
Many developers will be happy to help you with the theme, but that support doesn’t necessarily extend to making the theme work well with third-party plugins you may be using:
Check the Reviews
As with any purchase, reviews are a great way to highlight the wisdom of crowds to help you make the right decision.
Fortunately, it is quite easy to find reviews of most of the WordPress themes that you are looking at.
If you are looking for a free theme on WordPress.org, you can find ratings on the theme list page. You can also click the “See All” link to see the actual text reviews:
Similarly, if you are looking for a premium WordPress theme sold through ThemeForest, you can find the ranking in the sidebar. Reviews are also worth checking out as they can also provide insight into the quality of a topic:
Choose a WordPress theme that sets you up for success:
By following the tips on this list, you can choose a WordPress theme that will set your site up for success now and in the future.:
And we also have many collections of niche WordPress themes that you can explore here. Happy hunting!