Using WordPress to build a website allows you to separate your website design from your content. It’s easy to change the look and feel by installing a new theme with just a couple of clicks.
Choosing a good theme is critical to your website’s success, but there are thousands of them out there to pick from. So how do you wade through all of the options to make the right decision?
Let’s take a look at some of the questions you should consider when choosing your next theme.
What’s the Purpose of Your Website?
- Do you post a lot of different content on a regular basis?
A magazine theme might be your best choice, with a homepage that highlights many categories and sections.
- Are you selling a product?
An e-commerce theme that incorporates WooCommerce is best. These themes optimize conversion of site visits to sales.
- Are you searching for a job or building a freelance business?
Some themes allow you to showcase your experience and portfolio and even create an interactive resume.
- Are you creating a blog?
Look for themes that highlight articles with sidebars that allow visitors to quickly find articles they will want to read.
What’s Your Budget?
When creating your new website, you will need to account for the costs of registering a domain and setting up hosting. You should also earmark some funds for your site design. If you don’t have the funds to pay for a custom design, there are thousands of free and premium pre-made WordPress themes.
However, while everyone wants to save money, you might consider investing a small amount in a solid theme for your website. Let’s compare free and premium themes to learn why.
Free WordPress Themes
In the WordPress world, there are a lot of free themes, many created by designers with the intent of offering them as a generous gift to the WordPress world. These themes can often be difficult to find, however.
To find free themes, use the WordPress.org Theme Directory. Sites that appear in the WordPress repository are vetted by a review team to ensure they don’t carry viruses or malware, as often occurs with free themes you might find in a Google search or third-party theme directory.
Many free themes are simply ‘lite’ versions of a premium theme with stripped-down features. You can unlock those features through a paid upgrade. This try-before-you-buy system is can be a helpful option, and is gaining popularity with users and theme designers, but it’s worth knowing about when you start looking.
As with anything you get for free, it’s always important to remember the phrase “you get what you pay for.”
Premium WordPress Themes
For solid themes with developer support and a longer lifespan, consider investing in a premium theme. These might cost between $30 and $200, depending on the company and theme features, but are usually a sound investment at a fraction of the cost of hiring a designer.
Some options for finding a good premium theme include:
- Theme Repositories
You can find themes from commercial a theme repository like ThemeForest.net, which offers customer ratings and overviews of the designers. Since designers are competing for your business, they have a vested interest in user satisfaction, and the customer support is generally excellent.
- Theme Companies
There are many reputable theme design companies that offer a wide range of theme options. For an annual license fee or one-time purchase price, you get several features. Typically you have a license to use the theme on any site you choose, free updates on the theme, extensive documentation, and support from the designer. Recommended theme companies include StudioPress, ElegantThemes, and The Theme Foundry.
- Theme Framework System
Frameworks typically have a parent/child theme system that gives you broad, stable functionality in the parent, and design and custom functionality in the child theme. Some of the more popular choices include Genesis by StudioPress, Headway, Thesis, and Divi, by Elegant Themes. Framework support is a good option for both peer support as well as support from the framework maker. Their consultants know their product inside out if you’re looking for customizations or paid help.
What Kind of Functionality Do You Need?
When building your website, design is only part of the process. You also need to make sure the site has the functionality you need. Do you process membership options or handle e-commerce? Do you need slideshows or special gallery designs for photography?
Themes are a competitive business. Many developers will build in common functionality into the theme, making the design a lot easier for you.
However, the demo site of a potential theme may showcase features that may need additional plug-ins to implement that functionality. Some of those plugins might cost more money. Be a smart comparison shopper and keep an eye out for these add-ons before committing to a theme or framework. Research their documentation or FAQs and find some independent reviews before you click the “Buy Now!” button.
How Often is the Theme Updated?
It’s not enough to just consider the look and functionality of a theme. You also need to ensure the theme you choose gets updated regularly.
WordPress is living software that gets updated and improved constantly. An important security practice is to keep your site updated. You can turn on automatic updates in WordPress to make that happens behind the scenes.
There is a downside to WordPress updates. If a theme designer doesn’t also upgrade a theme to be compatible with the new version of WordPress, there could be problems down the road that cause your site to go down.
Most premium themes will be updated concurrently with WordPress update cycles, but it’s worth confirming this. Always look for theme compatibility with the current version of WordPress, which is available on the WordPress theme directory or on the theme company’s website. Check support documentation if you’re unsure.
Due Diligence Is Key
The beauty of many themes is their simplicity. That simplicity can quickly spiral out of control with some themes, however, with extra features and added expenses you hadn’t predicted.
Remember, you can always change the theme later, customize the stylesheets, and add plugins, so no one theme has to be “perfect” or last forever.
Take your time and look beyond the colors and layout and you’ll be rewarded with the very best version of your project.
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Chelle Honiker is the executive director of the Texas Freelance Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping independent workers start, grow and manage their freelance and gig work or businesses. She’s also the chief barista for the Revien Group, a caffeinated digital project management consulting firm.