I’ve gotten a couple good questions about this lately so I thought I would give you my two cents about choosing a good WordPress theme. There are so many out there, how do you narrow down the choices?
Main things to look for in a theme
- What is the site speed? This is especially true on the themes with lots of animations. Are those animations going to cost you impatient customers and Google SEO ranking? Find the actual demo site. (Sometimes you have to view pagesource to see where the iframe is coming from.) and test is on Google Page Speed Insights.If the demo is getting bad ratings, good chances are that your site will too.
- How is the documentation? Are they going to walk you through setting up this theme step by step?
- How is the support? Do they answer support questions quickly or have some gone unanswered for years?
- Do they support updates? I had one customer whose theme broke after WordPress update and the developers just keep telling her they’re “working on it”. Meanwhile she either has a broken theme or can’t update WordPress. Neither are good options.
- What are the ratings for the theme and for the author himself? See what other people say about their experience with this theme and learn from their mistakes!
So with those questions in mind, let’s look at the most common places for finding a theme.
Free Theme on the Web vs Free Theme on WordPress.org
First, any time you get something free, whether it’s a WordPress theme or anything else, you need to ask why it’s free. Sure there are a lot of great people out there who donate their time to WordPress, and that’s incredible. That’s one of the reasons I love this community so much. But still, there has to be some motivation for giving something away.
Even for me. Sure, I write these tutorials for free, but there is a motivation behind it. I hope that you will want to use my services, or click on one of my ads. But also, I am completely self-taught, so this is me paying forward all those tutorials that other people wrote that helped me get to where I am today.
Free Theme Found on the Web
So, there are some people out there like me, who want to pay back the community because they used free themes when they were starting out or maybe they want to give to the community that has given to them. But you also have to watch for other motivations. When you choose a theme through WordPress.org, you know it has been somewhat vetted for good coding standards and being free of malware. When you download a free theme from somewhere else off the internet, you don’t have those kinds of reassurances. I would say know where you’re getting your theme from. Are you about to infect your site with malware or spam? Will you be sending links back to unreputable sites? Consider these risks.
Free Theme Found on WordPress.org
These themes have been somewhat vetted, but you still have to ask yourself why they are free. Do they want you to spend a lot of time setting up the free version, only to realize you really need the “pro” version because it has some feature you can’t live without? Are you okay with the developer’s name at the bottom of the site. (Be careful before assuming you can just remove this. Sometimes the license requires that the link must stay in the footer.)
With these free themes, assume there are going to be limitations, like the ability to move the sidebar where you want it or to add extra widget areas. As with anything that has the option – check the reviews and check the support. Are the support questions answered timely or not answered at all? I would expect to spend some time playing around with several different free themes before finding one that has the functionality that you want, so what you gain in getting a free theme, you may waste in spending your time figuring out the theme. In general, these themes are poorly documented.
Theme Forest Themes
Theme Forest has an incredible number of themes for reasonable prices and the next one is even more flashy and full of features than the last. But beware. Don’t me mesmerized by the flashy animations and forget the basics. Check the page speed! I have seen too many of these beautiful flashy themes that get horrible bounce rates because customers just don’t want to wait for the animations to load. They are already off to the next site.
Most authors on Theme Forest work by themselves, so if they get busy with something else, servicing you may not be their top priority. However, there are lots of well accomplished authors who have great themes on Theme Forest. Your job will be figuring out who is who.
StudioPress may not have as many flashy themes as Theme Forest, but test any of their themes on Page Speed Insights and you will see they get good scores for speed. They also get good scores for SEO, security and customer service. Since there is more than one person working for StudioPress, there is always someone around to answer your questions, if you even have any because each theme is documented in detail. And if the theme itself doesn’t have all the features you want, try one of the many Genesis plugins. Plus, besides the tutorials right on the StudioPress site, there are many other sites that specialize in Genesis tutorials. I even have my own section of Genesis tutorials here.
If you will be creating several themes, buying the framework is a good investment. If you will just be creating one site, you’ll have to decide if the cost is worth it. The framework and child theme that you must buy are much more expensive than most of the themes you’ll find on Theme Forest.
There are certainly other options for finding good, reputable themes.
Woothemes has some great choices and some of them are free. Certainly if you need an eccomerce site, these are good themes to look at because compatibility is included.
Elegant Themes I haven’t used these themes myself, but I have heard good things about them and they have a similar format to StudioPress where there is a company standing behind these products rather than just a single person.
There are certainly a lot more options, but because because I don’t have personal experience with them, I don’t want to list there here. I only like to write about what I know. And all my opinions are generalizations. I’m sure there are some amazing free themes out there with great support and documentation, but I would say they are few and hard to find. What are your favorite sources of themes and have you had good luck with them? I’d love to hear your experience.