Looks matter, but it’s what’s underneath the design that matters more. Installing a badly built theme by a crappy wordpress theme developer can be crazy-making. Over the years I have used so many different themes and there are more bad ones than good ones! Pay for themes – that’s how developers stay in business and continue to upgrade and take care of your theme PLUS you generally have developer access which is a huge deal. It means that you can ask questions.
Here are a few things to think about before you choose a theme:
- Responsive: You need to build for a mobile site (first, in some cases). The documentation might state that the theme is fully responsive but test it by looking at it on your phone. Google offers a mobile-friendly testing tool that will assure that Google identifies the site as responsive for mobile sites.
- Child theme: Use a child theme, always! You want to avoid editing the core theme because good developers are versioning their themes, supporting them, and providing updates and if you touch the core theme you can’t overwrite it when an update is released.
- Documentation: Select a theme with documentation or videos that provide step-by-step implementation tips. After you install a theme you will look at it with total and utter confusion if there is no documentation available because all themes are different and you need to figure how a developer organized the theme.
- Support: Theme designers often host forums that you can join and support threads. I always test a developer on their response time before I buy a theme (I NEVER use free themes).
- Frameworks: Theme Frameworks can have shortcode libraries, a variety of widgets, custom functions, script library integrations, and some other capabilities.
- Browser capability: On desktop and mobile, those are Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera. Developers often ignore problematic browsers like Internet Explorer. However, IE continues to have a heavy base in the enterprise so f you’re building a site to attract corporate prospects, it better work on Internet Explorer (Yuck!).
- Plugin dependencies: Be sure to check the documentation and see that you don’t need to purchase more licenses. It’s not that you should avoid these themes — but you want to know the costs up front.
- Page builders: Some themes look absolutely amazing when you view the demonstration but when you open up a page for editing, you might find you need a third-party composer to build the page. Some composers are fantastic but other composers add hoards of stupid code and complexity that can cause upgrade problems down the road. I have used TOO MANY bad page builders and now know which ones to avoid!
- Search Engine Optimization: This might take a little extra analysis or some help from a professional but ensuring the template structure of your pages is programmed well is critical. It’s important to ensure you’re using heading tags (especially h1, h2 and h3) within the template.
…and of course, it’s smart to take a look at the theme developer’s ratings and reviews!