It’s tough to make a decision. Especially when you have several options to choose from, and all the options seem good enough. But what sets the better apart from the good, and how do you then pick the best?
You need to take an objective approach. Weigh out your options against a defined metric.
When it comes to WordPress themes, the metrics are:
- Responsive Design
- Information Architecture
- Theme Options
- Plugin Compatibility
- Theme Overheads
- Documentation & Support
- Cost (since we’re talking about premium themes of course)
Let’s take a look at why these factors are important, and how to test your theme for them.
1. Responsive Design
You want numbers?! I’ll give them to you. But please, for the love of design, choose a RESPONSIVE theme! 63% of users use mobile devices to go online. In the United States, 25% access the internet solely using a mobile device.
Google said this: “Smartphone users are a significant and fast growing segment of Internet users, and at Google we want them to experience the full richness of the web….. To improve the search experience for smartphone users and address their pain points, we plan to roll out several ranking changes in the near future that address sites that are misconfigured for smartphone users.”
Translation: Your website has to work well on a mobile device.
If you’re planning on creating a different website for mobile devices, good for you (although you’ll have to maintain two sites, be ready for that). If not, you’ll need to make your website mobile ready, and that means you need a responsive theme.
So when you’re looking to purchase a theme, how do you know if it’s responsive?
It will say so on the features list. But DON’T BELIEVE that! TEST for yourself.
Every theme on sale offers a demo. Check the demo on several devices to test if the theme is seamlessly displayed.
2. Information Architecture
This is a tricky topic to define. So I’ll quote Steve Jobs here.
Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”.
And it’s true.
While you think a theme probably decides only the colors or font of your website, it also controls the layout, the navigation options and several user interface elements.
The theme will decide how information will be laid out on the site- a.k.a. Information Architecture. This is a very important measure when choosing a theme.
Let’s take the example of this very site. It’s built on Genesis. The advantage Genesis provides us, is the multiple layout options. If you notice, our blog pages have a sidebar, while our landing pages don’t. We can decide this based on our preference.
Or take for example, the position of the menu, the size of the header, the size of the footer, and so on and so forth.
All of this is important. Because the DESIGN of the page, which is the layout of the page, will decide how a visitor interacts with your website. For the visitor that is how your website “works”. It’s not just the functionality, it is the position of content, and the discoverability.
Now a theme won’t tell you how to place the content on your website. But it can make your job simpler. So when choosing a theme, focus on the layouts (or rather templates) a theme provides, focus on navigation options provided, or the footer widgets available.
3. Theme options
Not many, but adequate.
The theme you choose should provide adequate theme options, without having to dabble into code.
For example, you must have noticed we have a mega menu on our site. Our theme didn’t offer a mega menu, we coded it ourselves. Which was okay for us, because we are a WordPress services company. We have pro developers who can handle these changes quite easily.
If you wanted the same menu, and your theme didn’t provide it, you would either have to invest effort creating the mega menu yourself, or you’ll have to spend some bucks and hire a developer. Either way it would be an overhead.
Or let’s say you wanted to change the color pallette of the theme. There are themes which provide admin options for the same. And this can help if you didn’t want to code/tweak the styling. Theme options are especially needed when the theme is a child theme, because you won’t be able to override the settings provided, without using a plugin.
It’s better to get the decision right to begin with. This however does not mean that a theme which provides myriad options is the best theme to choose. There is no such rule. I said ‘adequate’ remember. Do note if the theme options are relevant to you.
4. Plugin Compatibility
Let’s imagine you’re a chef. Would you pick a library to sell your food or a restaurant? A restaurant right?! That’s the difference between a theme built for a plugin, and a generic theme. A theme built for a plugin would work seamlessly with the plugin. It’s built that way.
I’m talking about plugins which introduce an entire system here. Like an e-Commerce, LMS, Event Management, Social Network and so on.
Based on our experience with WooCommerce, I can tell you this- If your theme is not compatible with WooCommerce, it’s mighty difficult to change the single product page template. You’re layout might break or look awkward.
You’ll have to invest effort in making the theme compatible with the plugin. Whereas it would have been a simpler to just choose a theme which was compatible with the plugin in the first place.
But remember, it should be compatible with the plugin, not dependent on it.
5. Theme Overheads
Don’t get me started on how some themes are HEAVY, SLUGGISH, and very very BAD. They can directly affect user experience and increase bounce rate. Not good. We wrote an entire post on why we shifted to Genesis, and it was well worth it.
But theme overheads can mean theme dependency as well. Some themes are dependent on plugins. The WPLMS theme for example. It’s a great theme and we’ve worked with it a bit. But it depends on several plugins. So if you plan on sticking with the theme forever (which is a pretty long time), you can choose such a theme.
Themes tie you in with Custom Post Types. Not a good idea when you want to switch to a different theme. There is a reason why functionality should be added into plugins. It just makes your life much easier when you want to switch to a different theme.
How do you get an idea of theme overheads?
Apart from reading reviews and checking out the demo, you can check if the theme is heavy by using online page analysis tools like GTmetrix. Test the demo link of the theme (not just of the homepage, but of random pages), and check the grade displayed.
6. Documentation & Support
The fact is many people underestimate the importance of good documentation and product support.
Good documentation guides you through theme setup, helps you with the options provided, and keeps you up to date with theme changes.
Support is what you’re paying for. So it better be good. I know the importance of good support. Because I know what it feels like when you innocently update a theme, to end up staring at a blank screen, to then begin to panic, to then frantically raise a support request, to then get no response, to then send a nasty email, to then change a theme! It’s a great ordeal and I don’t wish it upon you.
Support is important, even if you think you don’t need it.
7. The Price Tag
So what’s the difference between a free WordPress theme and a paid one? The price tag of course?! 😀 When choosing a premium theme you’ll probably end up asking yourself, is the theme worth the price tag? Well my thoughts are, if the theme has good reviews, is lightweight, is compatible with a plugin you intend to use, has good documentation, and great support, you shouldn’t bother with the cost. 🙂
A theme is the foundation of your website. So on your quest of buying a new theme, I hope I’ve helped you out a bit. If you still have a few doubts be sure to leave them as comments, in the comment section below!
Happy theme hunting!