You are all set to launch your site. Domain name…. check. Hosting setup…. check. WordPress installation…. check. It is now time to find the right look for your site. Although every WordPress installation comes with a default theme, it is good to find one that defines your site and its content. The right theme can benefit you in many ways:

  • Make a good first impression.

  • Create a unique look for your site which makes it stand out.

  • Provide the right functionality based on your industry e.g. restaurant, hosting provider, university.

  • Help with your SEO rankings.

A bad theme, on the other hand, can bring with it a whole lot of problems including slowing down your site drastically or bringing your site down. Hence it is very important to make the right decision while choosing a theme. This article presents tips that will help you with this decision-making.

Clearly define your requirements

It helps to have a ready list of what your theme would involve. This will bring you clarity on what to look out for and what to avoid while choosing themes.

  • Type of content to be published

  • Audience for your content

  • The industry that you belong to

  • The amount of media that your site will include

  • Role of social media

Having these key points handy while exploring your options makes your task much easier.

Use the WordPress Theme Repository

Some WordPress users tend to skip the free themes as they don’t possess a rich feature set like their premium counterparts. But that’s not always the case as there are many good quality free themes out there. However, you should be cautious about unsafe sites offering free themes, thereby luring you to download them. One of the best places to download themes is the WordPress Theme Repository which is the largest collection of themes available. It also supports search based on tags such as pink, right sidebar, etc.

Rating and Stats

If you are downloading a theme from the WordPress repository, you must always pay attention to the ranking of a specific theme. A rating of 4 and above can usually be considered good. The download count is another indication of the growing popularity of a theme. You can also obtain information of the current trend of a theme using the Stats section.

Feature-rich

Pick a theme that meets all the requirements that you listed at the beginning of your search for a theme. But that alone can’t govern your choice. Many good themes bring with it some awesome features that brings a lot of value-add to your site.

Social Sharing

In today’s web environment, social sharing is a must and themes have to be expandable and flexible with the number of social networks supported. Designers should look at themes which allow sharing across popular social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Incorporating social media into a theme can help your content reach more people as visitors share it with their networks. Although there are plugins that achieve the same thing, a good theme will have these tools built in, eliminating the need for additional plugins.

Responsive Design

Responsive themes automatically adjust the display when viewed on mobile (smaller) devices. With mobile devices ruling the roost today, it is a huge turn-off if one has to adjust the zoom to view your site on their device. Choosing a responsive theme plays a big role in helping you gain a wider audience for your website.

Using responsive themes allows a developer to create a site that is optimized in navigation, readability and load time for different platforms. These themes allow for a single site with a single look to be viewed on various devices without the need for additional themes or resizing by the user. CyberChimps is one such place where you can download free as well as paid responsive themes.

The following are screenshots of a responsive and non-responsive themes.

Widget-ready

Widgets allow you to add elements to your site, e.g. navigation, search etc. It is important that your themes are “widget ready” so that you can customize your theme according to your specific layout needs. With the wide number of available widgets, the possibilities are endless. Though a common belief that widgets have something to do with sidebar, you can widgetize just about every part of your theme. For example, the WordPress twentyfourteen theme comes with three widget-ready areas: a footer area and two sidebars. The primary sidebar is on the left, with an optional content sidebar to the right of the article.

Auto upgrade

Themes that are frequently updated are often the most sought after. Popular themes often have detailed auto-upgrade and update information included in the descriptions and include specific and detailed instructions for use, installation and customization. Even if a theme looks great, customer service is what sells in the long run.

Customization

The market is flooded with tons of themes, some of them being really complex. Though such themes look fancy at the outset, it may turn into your worst nightmare in the long haul. Choosing a theme is much like picking a car. Apart from looking good and grabbing eyes, you want it to be low on maintenance and provide long term service. Hence, picking a theme with a simple design will provide you the flexibility to customize it as you want and probably have fewer bugs. Simply put, your theme should not limit you.

Browser compatibility

Unfortunately, some designers are quite lazy when it comes to ensuring their theme works on all browsers. If the designer works primarily through a particular browser, such as Firefox, then the theme will look great on that browser. However, the design could be completely messed up on Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer.

The best way of checking any theme for browser compatibility is by using a service such as BrowserShots. When you enter the site URL of the demo page, it gives screenshots of the design on all the popular browsers. That way you can spot any errors before picking a theme.

Take a demo

What better way to know how good a theme than to test it for yourself? While doing the trial, look out for the following aspects:

  • Navigation

  • Structure

  • Layout

  • Display

The WordPress Repository has a Preview option to help you get the real look-and-feel of a theme. Other premium themes also have their own demo sites to do this.

Support

Any software is bound to have bugs at some point and themes are no different. It is the support which can make a big difference. A free theme doesn’t guarantee support, but a popular one will have many support forums where you are likely to find a solution to your problem. A premium theme comes with a dedicated support team that will help you solves your problems quickly. Whatever be the case, ensure that you have some sort of support going for you.

Check for Reviews

User feedback goes a long way in helping you decide on a theme. The WordPress repository includes a Reviews section where users are free to post their opinion about the theme.

You will also find reviews and comparisons on the Web, posted by enthusiastic bloggers and experts in the field, for e.g. Best Themes of 2014

Documentation

This is probably one of the most overlooked aspects while selecting a theme. How often do you read the documentation before buying a product? We tend to assume that it isn’t required until we are faced with an unpleasant situation. It is a similar case with themes too. Having good documentation will go a long way in minimizing issues from cropping up later on.

Free or Premium

There are free themes and then there are paid ones. So which one do you opt for?

Free themes are obviously free, making them a big attraction. Besides this, they give you the flexibility to try as many as you want, at no extra cost. On the flip side, free themes most often lack support, are poorly coded, may not include advanced features, and aren’t frequently upgraded. Imagine this – You downloaded a free theme and customized it to your liking.  Now WordPress releases a new version and you find that your theme is incompatible with it. Sometimes not paying for a free theme results in a bigger price later – time, money, and frustration.

Premium themes from reputable companies come with high-quality standards. They are designed keeping functionality in mind and hence provide a rich set of features. They come with a good support team to help you in times of need. These themes are regularly updated and hence security issues are minimal. You can find a good collection of premium themes at TemplateMonsterWooThemes, ThemeForest, Themes Kingdom, etc.

Checking your Theme

Once you have made the decision on a particular theme, it’s a good idea to scan it for malicious code to ensure that the code is clean. The Theme Authenticity Checker is one such plugin that scans your theme for malicious code and displays a detailed list at the end of it.

One such example is as shown below. A base64_decode() occurrence has been pointed out by the plugin. Once we have such a list of possible issues, we can scan through and analyze them one by one.

Another way to choose a theme:

Use a WordPress theme and plugins detector – find the best looking WordPress website that would fit your needs, put the URL of that site in the theme and plugin detector and find out exactly how it was built. You will get the theme name and where you can download it, a full list of plugins etc. All you need to do now is go download the themes and plugins and attach them to your new WordPress site and make them your own.

Conclusion

These were some handy tips that help you when it comes to choosing the right theme. Hope this helps you in making the most strategic, wise, and long-term decision possible.