How to Choose a WordPress Theme: 13 Critical Elements to Choose From

With a market share of 58.9%, WordPress is by far the leading web content management system. As more people and businesses rely on WordPress, more themes are created each year to meet the growing demand.

But with so many themes to choose from, finding a great theme that meets your needs can be a painstaking and time-consuming process. It also means that you’re most likely to make a mistake in the theme you choose.

How can you make sure you choose the best theme for your needs?

It’s impossible to go through the thousands and thousands of themes that are out there. It’s even impossible to review all of them.

That’s why the most effective thing you can do is understand what you should be looking for in a theme. Looking for these things can help you make sure that you’re choosing the right theme.

  1. Understand the Difference Between Themes and Plugins

The sole purpose of a great theme is to provide you with a layout and style that you’re going to love. That’s where it starts that’s where it ends.

Plugins, on the other hand, were created to add functionality to your site.

This distinction is of vital importance because themes that provide added functionality through the theme’s core files will make you cry in the long run.

Though investing in a super-functional theme, may seem like a good idea at first, it won’t seem like such a great idea when you find out that all or most of your theme’s functionality is part of the theme’s core code. I say this because one day you’ll want to change your theme. And when that happens, you’ll find out that your great looking website will have to be built again, from scratch.

And while using a functional theme may not necessarily be a bad idea, it certainly is if the functionality of the theme is built into the coding. Such a theme was not planned correctly. Said another way, a functional theme is a good thing only if it comes with bundled plugins and takes into account your future needs.

That’s why most of that trouble, if not all, could be saved by using a lean theme that is bundled with plugins; the theme provides the look, and the plugins provide the needed functionality. In addition, the theme should also be compatible with other popular and important plugins so that you can add performance abilities to the theme without losing essential functionality or content.

If a theme will limit your ability to change it in the future, don’t choose it to begin with.

  1. Your website should serve its visitors (a beautiful website is not enough)

Your website was created to give visitors what they need. As the owner of your website, you want your visitors to be happy and get what they want. Therefore, in addition to being beautiful, the design and layout of your website should also be user-friendly. I see many great looking websites, but if I don’t understand how to navigate through it, I abandon the site and find one that can help me get what I want. It’s crucial that the theme you choose enforces the principles that will help you achieve the goals you have for your website. You can’t do that if your theme is not both great looking and easy to navigate.

  1. Lean Coding

Themes that are overloaded with features and functionality are heavy, full of long code and may even have bugs that are hard to find. Web sites with massive code take longer to load. Avoid using heavy themes because you’ll drive your site visitors away.

Instead, choose a theme that has added functionality coded into separate plugins so that you can enable only the code you need. This will quicken your site’s loading time and help keep your visitors where you want them –  browsing your site.

  1. An Up-to-date Theme

When choosing a theme, it’s really important to make sure that you’re choosing a theme that is up-to-date and compatible with the most current version of WordPress. You can make sure that your theme will be kept up to date by looking into the company behind the theme. Which brings me to my next point.

  1. Add Any Type of Content

When building your website,  you must be given the ability to use and manage different kinds of content: articles, pages, team members, testimonials, products, services and more. Different themes provide you with various options:

  1. Some themes only use posts and pages as their data type. As a result, they are limited in the types of content they allow you to create.
  2. Other themes allow you to add specific types of content, but this functionality is added to the theme’s core files; so though you can add team members, or real estate listings, your content and theme become rolled-up in one and can no longer be separated. So now if you change the theme – tough luck. You’ll no longer be able to access your content.
  3. Many other themes make use of lately popular page builder plugins to add content. However, this too is wrong. Let’s say one wants to add team members to the site and would like the team members to appear in many places on the site, a person that has used only page builder elements, will find himself having to add the team members again and again on every page on which he wants them to appear. Needless to say, this is an extremely inefficient and unwise way to work.
    Page builders should be used to build unique page layouts. They should not be used to manage content. Content management and functionality should be provided by WordPress core and relevant plugins.

Themes that use the above methods should be avoided. Instead, look for themes that allow you to add different types of content by using bundled plugins or other plugins. Plugins will enable you to add the content you need, as you need it. The plugin will create it, store it and manipulate your content while the theme will organize its look and feel.

  1. Manage Content Independently

Some of what makes WordPress such an incredible platform is that it has changed the rules of the game. Today, a well developed WordPress theme will let you manage your content quickly and easily. You no longer have to rely on your webmaster to manage your site’s content. If you are a webmaster or web developer, this means peace and quiet, since your clients can now be in control of their content.

  1. Your Content Belongs to You

I’ve already mentioned a few factors that would cause your content to be lost should you choose to change your theme. However, I can’t state strongly enough –  if a theme threatens your access to your content in any way shape or form (even if it is only in the future), run. As fast as you can. You own your content, and you should be able to easily access it at any given moment. Period.

  1. A Theme that Supports Languages including RTL

If you’re considering having a site in more than one language, it’s important that both the theme and the plugins you choose support other languages – including RTL languages where relevant.

Once you have these in place, it should be super-easy to add a language at whatever point you wish, as opposed to having to build your site again.

  1. A Proven Track Record

Choose a theme designed by a company or agency that has a proven track record. This means looking for experts in the field of WordPress development – companies that have been a part of many large and varying WordPress projects, have developed great themes and have built customer requests into their projects. No less important is a company who has taken the time to nurture long term relationship with clients.

Not looking for a great company behind the theme can leave you tearing your hair out.

  1. Bundled Plugins

A website should give you all the functionality that you need. When you buy a theme remember, it’s not the theme that needs to be super-functional, it’s the whole package. That’s why the theme you buy should come with bundled plugins. When your theme comes with great plugins, provides you with all the functionality you need on your site, and you can enable and disable any plugin at any time, you know that your site will be faster and smarter.

  1. Mobile-friendly

As more people use their mobile devices to browse the internet, it’s crucial that your website is mobile-friendly. Sites that are not mobile-friendly will drive visitors away. To make matters worse, Google penalizes such sites, and your site will drop in search rankings, bringing even fewer people to your site.

If you’re looking to build a successful website (one that people visit often), don’t even think about buying a theme that is not 100% mobile friendly.

  1. Theme Documentation

The theme you choose should be user-friendly. And yet sometimes, you need just a little further detail to explain something that is unclear to you. Theme documentation should be easy to understand and should also include videos and great screen shots. If these are not available, consider choosing a different theme, because it may mean trouble down the line.

  1. Updating is Easy

Once in a while your theme’s code will be updated by the author and you’ll need to update it too. And when you do, it should be quick and painless. Great themes allow you to update the theme at the click of a button. If you can’t do this with the theme you’re considering and instead you need to export your files and then use FTP to upload them, rethink your decision. You can do better.

What elements of a theme are most important to you? What features do you look for in a theme?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.