Today we’re going to talk about choosing a theme for your WordPress website. A lot of people, myself included, just want to pick the prettiest theme they find, click install, and head to the coffee maker. But like most things in life, there’s a lot more to it. Read on for some important pointers on making the most of this high-stakes decision.

WordPress is much more than just a website. It’s technically a content management system because it not only allows you to host a website for yourself or your business, it can also be used as a membership directory, an e-commerce site, a custom web application platform, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. In order to have the capabilities needed to take on these different roles, the WordPress system itself is pretty complex. There are a lot of moving parts, but the three most important components are WordPress’ core files, WordPress themes, which provide the look and feel of the website side of things, as well as providing specific built-in functionality, and finally plugins, which extend the functionality WordPress provides by adding additional features or enhancements.

In this post, let’s look at the best practices for choosing what could be considered the foundation for your WordPress website – its theme. Choosing a theme for your WordPress website is important well beyond the influence it will have on the look and feel of the website itself. Themes also provide built-in functionalities that are oftentimes specific to one set of business requirements or another — this is a big deal if you need your website to fulfill specific business functions and goals. Additionally, choosing a WordPress theme will also impact the sites overall security, durability, and the ease with which you can modify or add to the existing site content.

Before you commit to a WordPress theme, make sure to check out the tips below to make the most of this important decision.

What are your needs?

Make a list of features that you know you’ll need on your website and use that list as some of the criteria for choosing your WordPress theme. Some obvious things to consider would be whether or not you need e-commerce, if you’re going to be hosting a membership directory, or if you’re going to have a website that will feature a lot of large format images or video content. While almost any functionality you can imagine can be added to WordPress after the fact by installing plugins, it’s best to try and get as many necessary features as possible that are already integrated into a well-crafted theme. A great example of a theme that does a stellar job of supporting a specific niche is the BuddyBoss theme for LearnDash. This theme integrates with one of the most popular learning management platforms in the world and adds enhanced features to create a fantastic LMS experience for both users and WordPress administrators. You could start with a more generic theme and bolt on the needed functionality for learning management later, but having these features built into the theme means easier support, simpler site architecture, and potentially lower overall cost.

Free is nice, but you often get what you pay for

Again, because WordPress is so popular, there are thousands of themes available. Many of them are free and, while some of those free themes look really pretty, and perhaps even include a feature or two that check some of the boxes on the requirements list you made in the exercise above (you did that, right?), there are some caveats to choosing a free theme for your WordPress website. The first one is to make sure it’s well-coded. “But I’m not a developer!” you say – that’s ok. Just be sure to check out the reviews that often accompany themes wherever they’re available for download. If the theme doesn’t have a lot of positive reviews – and if it doesn’t have many reviews period – you should probably avoid it. Stick with free themes that are popular and, if possible, themes that are developed by companies (not individuals) that have been around for a while. The second caveat to choosing a free theme is that you want to ensure that it will be supported for years to come. Themes need to be updated regularly to address security issues, bugs, and even to add new features from time to time. It would be a bummer if the theme you carefully chose and built your website on was abandoned a year later because the developer moved on to other things, or got bored. Always go with a recognized theme developer – it doesn’t take too much effort to determine if a product is coming from somewhere reputable, or is maybe something put out there as someone’s side project or hobby.

Making website updates

Another important thing to consider when choosing a WordPress theme is how easy the theme makes it to change the text, image, and video content on your website, or add entirely new pages when you need to. Do you want the ability to handle these tasks yourself, or is this something you’d prefer to hire a WordPress developer to deal with? Whatever your preference is, these days the WordPress theme ecosystem is moving more and more towards using graphical-based page builders. These products allow folks who are not technical to easily add and change things on their websites. Many off-the-shelf themes have page builders integrated into their backends, and some themes are specifically designed around supporting an integrated page builder – essentially erasing the line between the two and creating what’s known as a theme builder. Though more arrive on the scene every year that are worth checking out, a great theme builder that we love here at Huckleberry Branding is the Divi theme – and an added benefit of using a theme builder is that you’re not wedded to a site that’s mostly designed out of the box. The entire WordPress site can be made to look exactly how you want it to look – it’s a complete custom solution.

Less is more

A final consideration (at least on this list) when choosing a WordPress theme for your website is having an awareness of what you don’t need. Loads of features bundled into a theme can mean that the theme will be more bloated. This can potentially impact the performance of your WordPress site. When you’re looking at themes that are for purchase, extra features can also drive up the price and you’ll wind up paying for things you probably won’t use. Try to choose a theme that comes with only what you need and, if there are one or two things missing, you can always shop around for plugins to fill those gaps. These days, search engines (with Google leading the way, of course) are placing a higher and higher premium on website performance. If SEO, and ranking well in search, are important considerations for you, then WordPress theme performance is crucial. Opting for a streamlined, fast theme that provides just the core of what you need will go a long way towards keeping your website snappy.

Wrapping up

Choosing the right WordPress theme for your website is definitely a time consuming and potentially tedious process. But, if you do your homework and put in the time upfront to make an informed decision, it will absolutely pay dividends for years to come. The end result will be a secure website that provides your visitors with an enjoyable and useful experience, is easy to edit and maintain, and is SEO-friendly.

Thinking about setting up a WordPress website, or have questions or issues with an exiting WordPress installation? We love all things WordPress, and love talking about it, too. Give us a shout – we’d love to hear from you!

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