According to the company’s statements, around 34% of the World Wide Web websites are now based on WordPress. So it’s no wonder that the selection of themes is huge and that there have been large marketplaces for purchasing these WordPress themes for a long time.
As a freelancer, I am also faced with the question at the beginning of every project: Which theme is most suitable for this web project? That’s why in this article, I will show you what I pay attention to when making my selection or what I attach great importance to.
The purpose or type of website
First, you should be aware of your website’s purpose and what type of website it is. Is it a blog, a business website, an online shop, a marketplace, or a news portal … – the transitions are very fluid, but many themes specialize in certain areas.
Note: this is just about the type of website and not the industry you are in. So you need as a car dealership does not necessarily have a theme specializing in car dealerships, but rather that the website of a car dealership is probably a business website. Therefore a business theme would most likely come into question.
The rough concept and the required features
Choosing a topic is much easier if you already have a rough structure and/or design for your website; from this, and together with the type of website, the features that your website needs arise. In the best case, the theme already brings these features with it.
So if you already know which features you need and which elements should be placed where you are looking for the right theme, you can look out for whether this can be achieved with the theme or whether individual adjustments are necessary. Features can be, for example, a calendar for an event or a booking form.
Individual (special) features
Of course, it also happens that websites have certain special requirements, which, of course, have to be considered in advance when selecting the theme. If you are want to implement an online shop with WordPress and rely on the WooCommerce plugin, the theme must also support this.
If your website is aimed at an international audience, on the other hand, you have to check in advance whether the theme supports multilingualism and which plugin could be used for it. It can also be important here that the theme also masters right-to-left (RTL) text output.
I would always check such special requirements first because themes can be sorted out very quickly and easily.
Responsive & SEO
Since more visitors now access websites via smartphone than via desktop, it is an absolute must these days to design the website to be responsive or mobile-optimized. But here’s a little all-clear: meanwhile, almost all themes – especially the premium themes, of course – are responsive and optimized accordingly for mobile devices. Nevertheless, you should check every theme for it!
For search engine optimization (SEO), there are also special themes that have completely focused on this. In my opinion, these special SEO themes are not necessary, as the popular premium themes can do this very well.
Every theme should always be compatible with the latest version of WordPress. And – in the case of shop themes – with the current WooCommerce version. Ideally, there is an update immediately after such version jumps. At least with larger version jumps or security-relevant changes.
Judging when a theme needs an update or not is not that easy for ordinary users. If the so-called changelog is freely accessible, you can possibly read out how intensively a template is maintained. If there was no update for months or even years, then the answer is usually: hands-off. Publicly accessible support forums will also show you whether there are frequent error messages with the theme after a version change of WordPress / WooCommerce.
Expandability: administer or develop yourself?
Some themes resemble a complete website builder. Using their own user interface, laypersons can adapt their design and page structure to such an extent that an infinite number of variants are possible theoretically. That sounds good at first, but it has some disadvantages:
- The abundance of functions, of which mostly only a fraction is used, slows performance very quickly.
- Complex themes usually require significantly more maintenance and updates. In addition, problems can arise more quickly if the version of WordPress / WooCommerce changes.
- You can quickly click together on a design that differs significantly from the original appearance but also looks inconsistent and mixed up. And you are no longer satisfied with the actual “beautiful” design. It is not for nothing that experienced theme web designers spend a lot of time planning a certain template down to the last detail.
- Modular themes that can be “clicked together” very comprehensively are often difficult to develop yourself (more on that in a moment)
WordPress purists, therefore, recommend using a theme that can only be administratively adjusted to a limited extent. But it runs faster and more stable. Then you have to think all the more beforehand whether the design really fits your project.
Are additional plugins necessary?
Some theme demos are extremely stylish and extensive but do not mention the fact that additional plugins have to be installed for the functions shown. This is not a problem as long as:
- The additional plugins are not chargeable, or as long as this is openly stated and still fits into your budget planning
- Appropriate extensions are suggested
- The developers ensure that these are also supported by the theme in the future
- These are well-known plugins that receive regular updates
Typical features that are often outsourced to existing plugins are, for example, sliders, contact forms, or the connection to social networks. It is even better for you if the theme developer trusts proven add-ons that he himself could not offer and maintain permanently.
Marketing and monetization
If you want to earn money with your blog or your WordPress site, you depend on the greatest possible reach. A theme should – in addition to a search-engine-optimized design – have the following features, among other things, so that you can market your content optimally:
- Suitable areas as well as widgets for placing advertising banners (some of which still work quite well) and internal advertising media
- Easy integration of tracking tools such as Google Analytics
- Comfortable recommendation of articles or products in the social networks
- Optional: Predefined templates for designing landing pages
- Widgets for the most read or most commented posts
- The link to similar posts at the end of the blog article
The last two points addressed help to increase the number of posts read per visit/visitor. The more likely it is that readers will click on an ad, sign up for your newsletter, buy a product, etc. In addition, the page views per visit are an important SEO factor.
Support & Documentation
Especially with a pro theme, you should pay attention to how quickly, competently, and comprehensively the support reacts to inquiries. If the support forums are not open to the public, it helps to ask the provider a “Before You Buy” question via the normal contact option. If the developers do not react or react only inadequately, the later support is usually also not far off.
Also, ask for documentation and whether you can see it before you buy it. This not only shows the exact scope of functions. If the theme’s instructions are clearly structured, this will save you a lot of hassle when setting up your blog or shop. Ultimately, good documentation or a comprehensive FAQ area saves support inquiries, from which both sides benefit.
Scope of delivery
This point also mainly applies to paid templates. Clarify the following points before buying, and if necessary, check with the developer:
- How long is the license for the theme? Perpetual, or does it have to be renewed after a certain period of time?
- For how long are updates and support included?
- Is the license valid for one project/domain or for several?
- Are there any pictures from the demos that you want to use as well? Who has the rights to it, or can they be freely integrated?
- Are the most important design elements as Photoshop files (.psd), vector graphics, etc. included so that you can modify them if necessary? For example, this applies to logos and header graphics that you want to modify and continue to use.
- Does the provider even allow graphics created by them to be modified and used in your project?
In particular, you should clarify the points mentioned, which address legal issues, with every free theme. This is the only way to avoid the risk of unsightly warnings.
In order to generally assess the quality of a topic, ratings are suitable, such as those given at https://wordpress.org/themes/ . If many users report problems there that are not dealt with in support, you will hardly enjoy your new website.
With many pro themes, it gets more difficult: If these cannot be bought in a marketplace that allows ratings, the only thing left to do is to research in WordPress forums. If this does not help you, you can also ask the theme developers for references: Where is your dream theme already being used successfully?
It takes a lot of effort to take all of the above into account. But after all, the design is the central element of your website or online shop. So you should take your time to choose so that it doesn’t mean straight away: After the relaunch is before the relaunch.
Premium themes vs. cheap themes vs. free themes
A comprehensive comparison of (“expensive”) premium themes and cheap or free themes should not be listed here. Rather, I limit myself to the advantages and disadvantages of premium themes and the disadvantages of cheap and free themes.
Note: “Premium Themes” means above all the top sellers and the most popular/popular themes
Note 2: The following points are, of course, very generalized, and there are some exceptions, so the following always applies: check each theme individually!
Benefits of premium themes
- more features (mostly or mainly because of the page builder) -> this makes you more flexible
- many customization options
- better code
- better support
- better documented
- higher update frequency -> faster adaptation to WordPress updates
- Individual adaptations are easier to implement because, on the one hand, the code is usually better structured and, on the other hand, it is easier to find developers who already know the theme and have worked with it
Disadvantages of premium themes
Because premium themes are packed with features, they tend to be “bloated.” Understandably because they naturally want to reach the largest possible customer base.
As a result, however, they bring an enormous number of features that are usually not needed or used, which puts an unnecessary burden on the website’s performance. A lot can still be gotten out here with subsequent optimization work, which means that despite the abundance of features brought along with the premium themes, a very high-performance website can be built.
Disadvantages of cheap and free themes
The advantages of premium themes describe what free or cheap themes usually don’t offer. As a developer, what bothers me most is that the themes inherently have fewer features, and there are fewer (uncomplicated) customization options.
A few more general criteria
As soon as you have a few themes shortlisted, a few more factors should be checked. In this case, I ask the following questions:
- Does the theme have a page builder, and if so, which one?
- How are the ratings of the theme?
- Can I bear the listed points of criticism?
- How are the update cycles, or how often is the theme updated? (frequent updates are a good sign)
- When was the theme last updated?
- How quickly does the support respond, and how satisfactory are the answers? (Here, it can be worthwhile to just test a question to get a feeling.)
- Is there a single developer or a whole team or company behind the theme? (Even if, as a freelancer, I naturally have a heart for lone fighters, I prefer it if the theme was created by a team, as these themes are usually updated more frequently.)
- How detailed and helpful is the documentation?
If you want to implement a website with WordPress, it is worth investing time in the selection of topics; after all, the WordPress theme forms the basis for your website. For this reason, I would never base the choice on price – in the end, the hours that you or a developer you may have to get help invest are significantly more expensive.
In general, the price range for WordPress themes is not very wide. However, investing € 10 or € 20 more right at the start can be very worthwhile. Especially since a later change of the theme is associated with a lot of effort and carries the risk of damaging the ranking of your website in the search engines.
From my point of view, you can’t go wrong with the top seller/premium themes because they cover almost all features and only cost a little more than other themes. They both offer more customization options and are generally more “future-proof.”