How to Choose a WordPress Theme: 13 Tips

If you’re building your own website or blog on WordPress, congratulations. Along with 34 percent of the Internet, you’ve chosen a platform that will grow with you and your site. This post will help you choose a WordPress theme that will ensure your site runs well.

One of the first decisions you’ll make will be your WordPress theme. It’s a bit like choosing a paint color for a large room. There are millions of choices, and your selection will influence the look of the room as much as anything else. Choose poorly and you’re stuck with an ugly room. Pick the right color and it will highlight the room’s best features.

It’s great that there are zillions of themes to choose from, but it can be overwhelming. Have you ever been in a store that has so many wonderful things you don’t know where to look? Choosing a theme is much like that.

Although free WordPress themes abound, many users who are building a business site will want a premium (paid) theme. They generally come with more features and a higher level of support for issues that may arise. Although premium theme authors have demo pages that show the theme in action, you cannot actually use it or see the settings and controls (or code, if you’re so inclined) without buying the theme first. Here are some tips to help you buy wisely.

12 Tips to Help You Choose a WordPress Theme

  1. Before you take the first step to set up your site, plan the content. Decide on blog categories and what pages you’ll need. Write the copy or hire a copywriter if you aren’t a good writer. Let your content drive the site design.
  2. Think about the layout of your site. Draw it on paper. Decide where your most important elements should go — links to important pages, text that explains what you do, and your call to action. Have your layout in mind before you look at themes; you can always change it if your search gives you new inspiration, but if you already have an idea of what you want, you’ll come closer to finding it. [Tweet “Fit your WordPress theme to your content, not the other way around.”]
  3. Don’t even think of using a theme that’s not responsive. It’s hard to believe, but, even now, there are still non-responsive WordPress themes for sale. Displaying your site well on mobile devices is essential. Look at the demo page on your mobile device to be sure it will perform well.
  4. Pay attention to functionality and features. Do you need a portfolio? A team section? Ecommerce? For ecommerce, be sure your theme supports WooCommerce, the most popular plugin for selling on your site.
  5. Check performance. You can visit the demo page and run it through speed checkers such as Pingdom or Google’s Page Speed Insights for an idea of how the theme will perform; however, bear in mind that your content may affect performance. Some premium themes are bloated and they will slow down your site.
  6. Free is great, but be careful. There is nothing wrong with using a free theme; some excellent ones are available, but use the WordPress Repository to find a good free theme. You’ll find discussions, reviews, and support requests. WordPress developers review these themes and they must meet strict guidelines.
  7. If you’re going to use a premium theme, buy it from a reputable source. There are theme builders all over the Internet, but just because they call their themes premium doesn’t mean they are well built. Here are a few theme vendors I’ve used and been pleased with:
    • Theme Fusion

      This is by no means a complete list, but there are plenty of themes on these sites to keep you busy browsing.

      Many WordPress users love Themeforest, and there are thousands of themes there, but use caution. When I’m browsing Themeforest, I look for their top authors — they call them elite — and browse their portfolios.
  8. Be wary of a theme that is packed with every feature and the kitchen sink. Once I used a theme like this; it had numerous features that looked amazing on the demo, but they weren’t flexible and didn’t suit my needs at all. After weeks of fighting the theme, I gave up, and a few months later, I noticed that the site owners had removed the theme. (So it wasn’t just me.)
  9. For free themes, you can use ThemeCheck.org to validate your theme. You just upload the .zip file that you download from the theme page. Sadly, this won’t work for premium themes, as you can’t get the .zip file until you pay for the themes.
  10. Read reviews. On some theme purchase pages, you’ll see discussion/support forums. It’s a good idea to read through those to see if there are recurrent problems. If the theme you’re looking at doesn’t have a discussion page that you can access, do a search for the theme name; you may find forum posts, tweets, or reviews.
  11. Check out your favorite WordPress sites for the themes they are using. If a site is a WordPress site, you can find out its theme with this handy site called WP Theme Detector. If you’re more familiar with code, you can view the page source and search for it there.
  12. Be sure the theme is SEO (search engine optimization) friendly. Here are some things to look for: Titles and descriptions for posts and pages, breadcrumbs, mobile performance, site speed. Most authors of quality premium WordPress themes optimized their themes for search engines, but it’s best to check for sure.
  13. User interface. Many premium themes now come with drag-and-drop page builders that help you build great-looking pages with no code. The theme site will generally list this in the features.

WordPress Theme Caveats

  • Use drag-and-drop theme builders only if you’re planning to stick with the theme for some time. There is no standardization and, if you change themes, your pages will break. You’ll still have your content, but the layout will be a mess of non-working shortcodes.
  • Along those lines, beware the evil theme lock. This happens when you use a theme with special features, such as a portfolio. If you want to change the theme, you’ll end up redoing the portfolio because it won’t work on other themes, so you are locked in to that theme. As you may imagine, this can be time consuming. The more you can do on your site with standard WordPress features, the better off you’ll be when it is time to change.
  • Although free themes can be great, you may not receive the same level of support as you do from a premium theme, due to a lack of incentive to satisfy paying customers. You can still search for the theme name and perhaps find others who have dealt with the same issues, but don’t be surprised if the theme author isn’t highly engaged.

I hope I’ve made choosing a WordPress theme just a little bit easier for you. Have some fun and build a great site. Feel free to get in touch if you have questions.

This post has been updated from the original, written in 2016, to incorporate more up-to-date information.

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  1. finnious

    Great post!
    #10 – I like all the info on https://www.wpthemedetector.com I’ve been using whatwpthemeisthat.com for a while but will have to switch :)
    #3 – watch out for Shopify, they just released a WordPress plugin.

    • bethgsanders

      Thanks! I just heard about the Shopify plugin the other day. That will be interesting – I’ll probably try it.


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