Are you looking to create a website? Are you considering going with WordPress, but don’t know much about what to look out for or how to choose a theme? Whether it’s your first website or you are looking to replace an older website built with a website builder, WordPress is a new reality for you.
There are a lot of terminologies and intricacies you probably aren’t that familiar with, but in this article, I will give you an overview about what you need to know before purchasing your first WordPress theme.
What’s a theme?
Using a theme is mandatory. If your website runs with WordPress, you do have to choose a theme to run the website with.
A theme is like the skin of a website.
A freshly created WordPress website looks pretty generic and naked. After installing WordPress, there is already a theme pre-installed, and there are two to three other themes available to switch to. These are the default themes that are provided by WordPress.
A theme gives a website its unique touch. It takes all the content stored in the website (posts, pages, sidebars, headers, – everything) and by virtue of its coding, it determines how this content is organized and displayed to the website visitor.
It may control the look of the menu bar, of the header and of the footer. It may determine the options a blog post can be display, it may determine the way a logo can be displayed, or it may rule the color sets a website can use. It has the power to enable or disable hundreds of features. In other words, it determines the visual logic displayed.
Selecting a theme
The most basic differentiation to make is on the monetary level. I firmly believe the theme’s price shouldn’t be the major factor when making your decision, it is however, a valid option for categorization.
There are many free themes offered in several websites like in the WordPress-owned market place. I’ll reflect on the disadvantages that come with free themes in the last part of this article, but the reason why I believe a theme’s price shouldn’t be the significant factor when choosing a theme is because the premium themes come to a price somewhere between $60-90, which is nothing when compared to the cost a hired web designer will charge.
The most important things to consider
Not every theme provides what you need for your unique website project. There are however, a few things that are not really negotiable and which you must be sure of before making a choice.
1. Does the theme fit the website’s purpose?
Themeforest is a popular market place for themes. If you browse around there, you will notice there are a lot of categories for WordPress themes available, like Real Estate, Non Profit, Education, Wedding, Photography, Food blogs, etc. There are also a lot of multi-purpose themes available that are adaptable and customizable to special demands you may have (see the last part of this article: Customizing a WP theme).
2. Does the theme require a lot of quality images to look nice – and do you know where to get them from?
All the attractive sliders you see in the demo models require professional shots. Wide-angled images are supposed to promote your business – are you sure you can come up with enough resources for that?
3. Does the theme vendor provide limited or unlimited support?
Check the creator’s support guidelines and how long after date of purchase they are willing to provide support to you.
4. Is the theme responsive?
A theme that looks great on all mobile devices is a must-have. Don’t go for anything less. To verify that, enter the URL of the demo site into Screenfly and check how it looks on different mobile devices.
5. Browser support
Not every browser displays the same content identically. Look for information about whether the theme looks good in various browsers before purchasing it. If the vendor doesn’t provide that info, you can use a tool like Browsershots to do just that. Enter the theme’s demo URL and check whether the theme looks good in various browsers.
6. Theme updates
Make sure that the purchase of a theme enables you to get continuous updates. This is an important consideration for security purposes.
Switching a theme
After you have set up a website with pages and posts – a few month or years down the road, you might want to give your website a facelift. A new theme will do just that, it will give your website a more modern, fresh and sophisticated appearance.
That’s when the big BUT comes into play; unfortunately, switching a theme is not that easy.
I mean technically it is, but it might require a lot of adjustments.
After switching a theme, there is often a considerable amount of customization work that needs to be done to get the website into an acceptable state.
The reason for this is the incompatibility of the coding that was applied when creating the themes.
As you noticed, I am making use of vague wording. I am vague because there is no way to make a general statement about this. It’s always a single case.
One might be lucky and have to invest only a few hours for the website to look nice again.
But more often than not, it will take a ton of additional work to rebuild the site. Just make sure you consider the need for additional time and financial resources when switching your WordPress theme.
Customizing a WP theme
We are blessed with an incredible abundance of awesome looking themes these days.
But this abundance makes it sometimes really, really hard to make a decision. Particularly for a website-newbie, as this might be a really overwhelming task due to an unfamiliarity with the tech vocabulary that the themes are described with, or not knowing what to expect or what to look out for in the selection process.
One important thing that you will want to consider is that your selected theme may need a considerable amount of customization. From the look of a site, one simply cannot determine how much it has been adjusted to special demands to fit a certain purpose of business.
When it comes to customization, the fact of whether your chosen theme is a free or a premium theme will determine the ease of adjustments.
The most time-intensive themes to change are free and/or inexpensive themes. If you find a free theme and like about 80% of it, but want to add or remove something from it, you will come to realize that small changes will actually require a lot of work on the back-end. Free or low-cost themes are priced the way they are because there wasn’t much time or effort taken to create them. Often times, they are not even intended to be modified or changed. With these themes: WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get. If you want to customize anything in the theme, it will cost you.
Premium themes are themes that come with a huge amount of features.
Actually, they are more than themes. They are frameworks. Each framework has its own unique interface and dashboard. Learning each one of these frameworks is like learning a new language, but it’s not that hard. Many theme frameworks, like the Divi-theme come with a drag and drop interface, which significantly enhances the learning process for a website newbie and makes customization so much more quick and effortless. There is no need to mess around with code.
For this reason, choosing a premium theme which costs around $60-90 will save you a considerate amount of time and money in the long-term. Even if you are a website newbie and don’t have enough confidence to build your website yourself, it will prove to be advantageous to hire a designer who focuses on a single framework and is a well experienced expert in customizing this framework. It will cost you many, many hours less to get the customization done than compared to a theme that needs to have a written new code.