For most small company’s websites, they will be looking for a WordPress theme to get their online presence started.
This is because WordPress is the top content management system, and purchasing a premium theme is much cheaper than getting a custom one built.
What’s not immediately apparent is that your premium theme could quite easily end up costing more than a bespoke theme unless you take some time in finding a theme that is right for your business.
This article will highlight the process you need to take when deciding on what theme isn’t going to drive you mad in a few months time.
To get the boring bit out the way, you really need to know your target audience. Yes, it is important that you like the design of your website, but not nearly as important as it is for the people who could be making a purchase, or hiring services to like it.
So it’s vital you have that persona in your head before you continue.
Let’s get to it!
#1 – Are you going to be extending your theme?
This question is very important as lots of themes are very restrictive. This means adding new functionality and styles might not be as simple as you would initially believe.
If you are planning on heavily extending your theme, you should either go for a very simple theme that just provides styles and layouts for the typical pages, or go for a completely bespoke option.
I realise that the bespoke option is quite significantly more expensive, but at least you will have the additional functionality working correctly and looking good from the start.
The simple theme option should allow for basic styles to be passed into the extra functionality, this could reduce the overall development time of the new functionality.
If you were to go for a complex theme with lots of options, then adding features is likely to take significantly longer.
#2 – Always shop around
This is where you really need to put your researching hat on.
There are thousands of themes to choose from, both good and bad. So it’s worth spending some time looking around on different websites for the theme that will suit your business most.
As there are thousands of themes, it’s likely one will exist that provides functionality very similar to your requirements.
So before you start shopping around, build a list of required and ‘nice to have’ functionality.
Required might consist of a shopping cart, or portfolio page as these are both critical to your online presence. ‘Nice to have’ could be a slideshow that turns images upside down; quite why you would want that I’m not sure, but you get the idea.
#3 – You must read the reviews
Reviews are vital when picking a theme.
Seeing a 5 star rating next to a theme doesn’t cut it. You need to go through the reviews and find the ones that talk about the technicalities.
At some point in the future, you will probably want to modify the theme, give it a bit of a customised feel.
This is all well and good, but if you picked a theme that is brilliant out the tin, but rubbish when you need to develop it, then you have just increased the time required to make those modifications.
Read through the reviews and look for ones from WordPress developers. If you Google the theme name, you should find resources away from the website that is selling the theme, make sure you read those too.
Remember this theme is representing your business; you don’t want something that’s going to be a headache a year or two down the road.
#4 – Check out the theme authors profile
I’ll let you into to a very badly kept secret – developers re-use code.
Developers don’t like to write the same functionality more than once; that means if they have created something similar in the past, they will grab that code and modify it slightly.
This is especially true when it comes to themes.
Therefore you must Google the theme authors name, find out what other themes they have created or projects they have worked on and read up on what others thought about them and their functionality.
If they don’t have an online profile, it’s probably because they are new to the game. Your guess is as good as mine on whether they will be trust worthy or not, so that’s your call.
But the majority of theme developers will have made a number of themes in the past.
If you find a free theme by that same author, then download it and play around a little. It is likely that the free theme will contain similar (maybe slightly primitive) functionality to the one you are thinking of purchasing.
#5 Does the theme come with good documentation
Documentation is essential if you are not a WordPress coder.
The majority of premium themes will have little bits of extra functionality that is hidden away, like adding icons or short codes.
If the theme doesn’t have good documentation, then you are going to spend hours after purchasing your theme trying to figure out how to add them.
Good documentation should contain straight forward information on how to complete any theme specific functions. This could be how to change the background colour, or how to add a second column.
Good documentation can save you having to rely on a developer answering your questions when you’re sure how to complete something within the theme – this again will save you both time and money.
#6 – Does the theme come with great support?
Similar to number 5, website support is very important.
There are quite a few theme developers who won’t provide any support for their themes, this is only OK if there is a large community of people who are currently using the theme as you can post your question in a forum and hopefully receive an answer.
In the best case scenario, the theme developers will also have a support team. This will allow you to get any bugs in your theme, or questions you may have responded too quickly and released as a theme update.
If you have a developer handy, then theme support isn’t essential as your developer will be able to help you out as well, but this will obviously be another expense.
As a personal recommendation, I would always say any theme developed by StudioPress. These themes run on a framework called Genesis which has been optimised in terms of search engine compatibility, speed and maintainability.
As a developer myself, it’s also very easy to work with and customise, making extending a theme nice and easy to do.
This website is currently running on a modified theme from StudioPress, so worth taking a look.
Other great sources include WooThemes, the themes these guys create have brilliant admin options that are very easy to use and customise. It’s worth checking out one of their free themes to see how their admin options work before purchasing, they also have brilliant support!
If you’re after a framework to power your theme, and have decided against Genises, then Thesis would be the next one to look at.
Their popularity has decreased slightly with the growth of Genesis, but there is a huge community of people who support it, and an equally large number of themes to pick from that use Thesis as their framework.
Finally, ThemeForest contains thousands of standalone themes. This website is extremely popular as developers and designers from all over the world can submit themes and sell them here. This means that there are plenty of both great and terrible themes, so make sure you read those reviews and find out more about the theme author and their previous themes before purchasing.
Over to you!
I’d love to hear about your experience in purchasing a theme. What did you look for and are you happy with it? Please let me know in the comments below.