Finding the right theme for a WordPress-based site can be a seriously challenging task.
Not only can you get themes from the WordPress site itself, but there are a number of other sites that offer paid and free themes for WordPress.
Themeforest and Woothemes are you two examples of sites that offer a wide range of themes.
The sheer amount of choices means that you could literally spend days looking at them all
Why Take the Time?
With so many themes out there, why not simply pick one that looks nice and go with it?
It’s tempting to take this approach – but the theme you choose is integral to your site.
After all, the theme affects what people see when they visit your site, but it also does much more than that.
For example, a theme might define what elements you can and cannot have on your site.
A theme may also make some tasks much easier to achieve than others.
So, a theme doesn’t just affect the appearance of the site, it also affects its functionality.
That’s why getting your theme right is so important, even if it takes you time to find one that works well with your site or your idea.
Paid versus Free
It often seems stupid to pay for a WordPress theme when there are so many free ones out there. Realistically, you can probably find a free theme that looks like you want it to if you do enough searching.
However, the way that a theme looks is only one small aspect of what a theme actually does.
If you are using your website for any form of online business, then getting a premium theme is actually a really good idea and might be critical to your success.
WordPress offers a range of different free themes, and some of them look really nice. The problem is that most people who make a site end up using a free theme.
This means that your site ends up looking very similar to thousands of other ones out there.
To make matters worse, most WordPress themes don’t allow you to make all that many changes to the overall appearance, so you can expect there to be other sites that look like yours.
If you are working on a personal blog, then this might not be such a bad thing, particularly if you manage to pick a theme that suits your topic well.
However, if you have any type of online business, being similar to other sites is a really bad look and it can be enough to mean that your audience doesn’t take you seriously.
Premium themes are used much less often than free ones, and they also often offer more flexibility in terms of appearance.
This means that when you have a premium theme, it is much less likely that someone will have a similar theme to you.
Additionally, if someone does have a similar theme, they are probably a better quality site, so this will help your reputation rather than harm it.
Design and Coding
Most of the time, premium sites are designed better than their free counterparts.
This kind of makes sense, because people are more likely to put a lot of work into something that they are getting paid for rather than something that they are doing for free.
Many people use premium themes as a profit source, and they end up putting considerable work into the themes to make sure that they stand up against the competition.
Free themes tend to be generic, which makes them suitable for blogging and for new sites.
However, premium themes are often designed with a specific purpose in mind.
For example, one such theme is Figero from the site InkThemes. This is a theme that is specifically designed to promote a single product, which isn’t an unusual approach for people in affiliate marketing or those selling their own products.
Using a theme specifically designed for eCommerce (selling products) can be particularly important for people trying to make money online, because it minimizes the amount of setting up that the user has to do.
In fact, many themes that are targeted in this way tend to make it easy for people to do the tasks of setting up online stores. Trying to do this in a non-specialized store is considerably more difficult and makes it easier to make mistakes.
Even more significantly, specialized themes are often designed by people who are experienced in the field. For example, the theme site StudioPress uses something it calls The Genesis Framework for all of its themes. This framework is specifically designed with online business and SEO in mind, making it easier for people to optimize their site for SEO and get it ranked.
Having a theme built by people who understand the field that you are trying to operate in is a very important thing. It means you are much less likely to run into problems or incompatibility, and overall, it should be faster and easier to do what you are trying to do.
A final thing to consider about the design and coding of a website is that free websites will sometimes contain malicious coding or encrypted links. This could end up getting you in trouble with Google down the road, or simply not make your site function as it is supposed to.
Support and Updates
Premium themes earn their developers money. In general, this means that the themes will offer significant support and will update regularly.
With a free theme, there is a risk that the developer will suddenly stop caring about the theme you are using, and stop updating it. This can be a major problem because the online environment changes so much and a theme that doesn’t update can leave you left out of the loop.
If you are picking themes from the WordPress website itself, then you can normally see when the last update was pretty easily.
With a premium theme, most developers will make it pretty clear what type of support you are provided with and what updates you get.
For example, StudioPress breaks down its support like this:
With information like this, you know exactly what to expect before you actually purchase the theme, which can be very important.
Not all Themes are Created Equal
Whether you are looking at a free or a paid WordPress theme, it’s worth taking the time to do background research into the theme itself and who created it.
Realistically, anyone with enough knowledge can create a theme, so there is a lot of variation between one theme and the next. There are also no standards for quality in place, so you can’t be certain that a theme is any good, even if it is a premium theme.
Most of the time, premium websites really do offer better designs, coding, support and are more unique, but this isn’t always the case. There are actually some really good free themes out there and likewise, there are some really bad quality premium themes.
The best way to figure out the difference between the two is to look at the company responsible for creating the theme and the reviews for the theme.
For example, there are some companies, like WooThemes and StudioPress that focus pretty much exclusively on developing themes for WordPress. These sites have a lot of experience in making themes, and they aren’t likely to create poor quality products, as that would decrease their reputation.
In contrast, if you are trying to buy a theme from a site that only offers that one theme, then you are putting yourself at a bit more risk. The theme might still be good, but you are dealing with a less experienced developer, which can be a bad thing.
You do still have to consider the developer of a theme even if you are purchasing one directly through WordPress. WordPress does provide links to who actually created the theme. Clicking on that link will often take you to the site of the theme developer.
Free or premium, it really is worth taking the time to research your theme and work out whether it will meet your needs and provide the level of support that you are looking for.
Changing your Mind
WordPress themes work by changing the overall appearance of your site, but they don’t change any of the underlying code. This means that you can switch themes relatively easily and often if you are so inclined.
For example, many people start with a free theme and then switch to a premium theme once they have developed their site further. Personally, I think that this is a good approach for most people because using a free theme for a while gives you an idea about what you are looking for.
Technically speaking, you can change your theme as often as you would like, however, for audience experience this isn’t a good idea.
The reason for this is that most audiences like consistency.
They expect your website to be more or less the same each time they visit it. Dramatically changes in appearance or navigation can be seriously confusing, and may lose you users if you do it too often.
Changing your theme every so often can be a good change of pace, particularly if you find one down the track that works much better for your needs.
This means that the trick is to change your theme only on rare occasions when you feel that the change is beneficial for your overall site.
Personally, the only time that I would do rapid or frequent changes in theme would be when the site was first live.
At that point in time, you don’t have much of a dedicated audience, so you can make tweaks and figure out your perfect theme then without too much concern.
Things to Consider
So, when you are looking at a theme for your site, what are the things you need to look for?
Even though themes don’t change the underlying code of your website, there is still a lot of difference in what themes have to offer.
For example, some WordPress themes support one, two and three column formats, letting users choose the columns that their site has. However, other themes might not support all of these formats, and it is pretty common to find themes that only offer one and two column format.
There are even some themes that support a four-column format, although most of the ones that I have found don’t.
This means that if you have a specific way that you want your site to look, the restrictions of the theme might not let you do that.
Another variation is in the sidebars. It’s not uncommon for a theme to offer a bar on the right-hand-side, in addition to one at the top and one at the bottom of the page. However, sometimes you will find that themes don’t provide all of these, or that they offer a left sidebar as well.
One of the things that some people like on their sites is a slideshow. This allows for different images to be cycled through and typically allows either the image or the text to act as a link to the actual content.
This is an example from a friend’s site:
Slideshows like this can be a useful tool for showing off important posts or for highlighting categories, but once again, it is something that only some themes support.
One good thing is that if you’re using WordPress to find themes, there is a filter that can help out with this, which lets you find themes that meet specific requirements.
However, I find this approach a little limited, as there are many things that it doesn’t consider. Additionally, it is limited to themes sold on WordPress, so you are on your own if you are looking at ones from different sites.
Matching Your Theme to Your Purpose
Realistically, there is no single answer to what is the best theme, because everyone’s needs are different.
A theme that is perfect for one particular person or site might be completely unsuited for a different site.
This means that you have to shop around and consider your own needs and what different themes have to offer.
For example, a simple blog site doesn’t have a need for that many options, so it’s worth looking at the appearance of the WordPress theme. Personally, I think that for a blog site, it’s worth choosing a theme that supports one or two columns, more than that starts looking a bit silly for that type of site.
Realistically, if your site is going to be simple, then having a complex theme doesn’t really make sense. A complex theme would simply give you more headache without really improving your functionality.
In contrast, a site that makes use of eCommerce requires a bit more consideration with a theme. In particular, you need a theme that will support all the features that you need and one that makes it relatively easy to sell things.
A good trick is to have a look at similar sites to yours and consider what aspects of their theme that you like.
Check Features Carefully
Some WordPress themes have features that do similar things to plugins.
For example, many themes designed for SEO will actually have everything within the theme, and make it difficult (or even impossible) for you to do SEO through WordPress plugins.
This can be great if you plan on using that theme indefinitely, but realistically it’s very likely that you will change your theme at some point in time for whatever reason.
So, if you have a theme that handles all your meta descriptions, title tags and that sort of thing, you would lose all of that as soon as you switched from the theme.
This means that you have to seriously think about what would happen to your site if you were change themes. If the changes would be dramatic, it might be worth rethinking what theme you are going to use to start with.
Many people find it difficult to pick themes because there are so many different ones to choose from. For any given site there are multiple different themes that would be highly effective and there are many more themes that wouldn’t be any good at all.
I can’t go through every theme out there and give you my thoughts on them, but I can show you some of my favorite themes and why I like them so much.
This theme comes from MyThemeShop and is designed with SEO in mind as well as the overall speed of use.
The theme itself offers two appearances, based on whether you are interested in a minimalistic appearance or whether you want a more complex one.
Personally, I like the way the theme looks overall and there are quite a few options. It also offers free updates and support, which is certainly desirable. However, it is more of a simplistic theme, and it doesn’t look like it supports some features like multiple columns.
This theme would be perfect for a blog site, although it wouldn’t work as well for an eCommerce site.
This is one of the themes that WooThemes offers and honestly I like most of the themes that the site offers.
In particular, the Fresh News Theme has a number of different elements, including sidebars and different boxes for each post. This is the type of theme that would work really well on some sites but not so well as others.
The site is certainly more complex than the previous one I mentioned, but it would work well for sites that have multiple different categories, like an authority site.
Additionally, it’s very likely that many of these elements are optional, so you could make the site simpler if you chose to.
It’s a site rather than a specific theme, but I am particularly impressed with the themes that StudioPress has to offer. I like the way that the themes are designed for SEO and internet marketing in general.
One of the ones I particularly like is the Foodie theme. It is a third-party theme (which means that StudioPress didn’t develop it, and offers limited support for it). However, I love the minimalistic look of the site and I think it would look fantastic on a site that was image heavy.
I final theme that I particularly like from this site is the Magazine Pro theme. I really think this one would be a good pick for an authority site or any affiliate marketing site.
It provides a good way to highlight specific posts, host a blog roll and also easily add in an opt-in form.
The lines of the theme are also very sleek and I think there are a lot of advantages to the theme.
It might seem tempting to just pick the first decent theme you find, but taking the time to go through them and find what works for you is really worth the time.
Any Google search will turn up a number of different sites that offer themes as well as individual themes for sale, so there will be something that will work for you if you take the time to look for it.
Even if you are just limited to free themes, there is still a lot to choose from.
My biggest piece of advice is don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the appearance of a theme is everything. While the appearance might be very relevant, you can end up with a site that looks great but doesn’t perform at all.
Realistically, that’s worse than having a site that looks average and works beautifully.
Another option with a theme is to ask for other people’s opinions. I’ve found that Wealthy Affiliate is a great place to do this because the site has such an active community. At the same time, Wealthy Affiliate is where you can learn more about websites and making money online – which is perfect if you are a beginner.