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 make you crazy. Over the years I’ve seen more bad themes than good ones! Pay for themes – that’s how developers stay in business and continue to upgrade and take care of your theme. You ALSO generally have access to the developer 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: Build with mobile in mind (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 also offers a mobile-friendly testing tool that will ensure that Google identifies the site as responsive for mobile sites.
- Child theme: Always use a child theme! And avoid editing the core theme itself. Good developers support their themes and provide updates, and if you alter 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. All themes are different, and if there’s no documentation, you’ll probably just be left confused trying to figure out how a developer organized a theme.
- Support: Theme designers often host forums with 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, these include 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 sector, so if you’re building a site to attract corporate prospects, it better work on Internet Explorer (yuck!).
- Plugin dependencies: Be sure to check the documentation for any other licenses you may need to purchase. 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 go to edit it, you might find you need a third-party composer to build the page. Some composers are fantastic but others add 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 may take 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!