Choosing A WordPress Theme: Looking Beyond The Aesthetics

With literally hundreds of thousands of WordPress themes to choose from, often many of us spend much of our time hunting down the perfect one for our website.

Many who look at a possible theme for their site start by trying to find something with the right "look" to fit their personal needs.

However, when it comes to choosing the right theme WordPress theme, there is actually more that should be considered than just the "look" of the theme alone.

In this article I'll be covering 5 major features that should be considered when you're trying to pick a WordPress theme so that you can find one that has, not only the right look, but also everything else you'll need.

1. Theme Backend Usability

login_form

What is the first thing that almost everyone does when looking at a theme for their site?

Generally, they preview the theme to get an idea of what it will look like.

When previewing the demo or screenshots of a particular theme, you often find that the product is talked up.

You read things like:

Built in jQuery homepage slider!

or

Multiple theme color options and fully responsive!

This sort of thing makes it sound like the best theme ever. It's supposed to.

However, seldom do they ever give you a tour of the backend of their product.

That is, you don't really know what your WordPress Dashboard will look like when you're in the Theme Options area in your WordPress dashboard.

Since just about every theme is coded differently, the backend options that you will find from theme to theme will vary accordingly.

Unfortunately, this means that some will be more difficult to navigate or make it harder for certain changes to be made to your theme than you perviously thought.

For example, if you're completely new to WordPress and themes, you'll likely come across common themes like Genesis and Divi in your search for a good WordPress theme.

Both are great products and some of the best themes around, however, the backend options for these are very different.

Easily Change Colors with Divi Theme by ElegantThemes

Customize Font and Colors Easily Using The WordPress Customize Option for Real Time Editing

Divi as well as most all the themes at Elegant Theme make changing font, font color and size, logo placement and much more, very easy to do. Most customization's can be done with a few clicks of the button.

This makes it easy for seasoned designers as well as new users alike to use the theme and design it to their liking.

The Genesis framework and child themes, though wonderful for many reasons, is very different from Divi and thus has a very different backend user experience.

Genesis Portlight Theme

For Example, The Free Portlight Child Theme Has A Custom Homepage Option While Many Child Themes Do Not

Customizing Genesis generally requires CSS coding for front-end style manipulation. This would not present an issue for someone who can code, but can be frustrating to someone who doesn't have that knowledge.

What's my point with all of this?

It's that even though these are two great themes, you as the user may need to do a bit of digging before purchasing a theme for merely the "look" of it.

This is especially important if you plan on buying a theme, as you don't want to end of up with something you're not happy with.

If you need something that needs a lot of customizing, the backend options may either make that easier or harder for your depending on the theme and your personal coding abilities.

If you're looking at a relatively popular theme, chances are that there are some decent reviews out there that can give you a better idea of what the backend options are, and what they look like.

Some theme authors though do give you a demo of the backend or upload videos to YouTube to help give you and idea of what the dashboard may look like.

Either way, once you find a theme that you like the look of, do a bit of research to make sure that the backend options of that theme will make getting that same look possible for you, and that it has the customization options that fit your abilities as well.

2. Theme Functions

woocommerce

Another thing to consider is the functions that come or can come with your desired WordPress theme.

When first starting a blog, you may be simply looking for a nice layout for your site, however, you may later realize that you need more from your theme than the one you have, which can mean spending more money and time. (ugh)

If you plan to, or would like the option to expand your site later on, it's good to think and plan for those options now.

For instance, say you decide that it would be nice to have the option to eventually add an e-commerce store your website. It may not be a pressing issue for you now, but you know that eventually you would like the additional monetization option.

With that being the case, you should decide on your e-commerce store plugin of choice (i.e. WooCommerce, Jigoshop, WP E-Commerece ECT.) and start looking for WordPress themes that have that functionality or that allow you to easily add it to your theme.

I previously mentioned Divi and Genesis.

Divi works with WooCommerce right out of the box and Genesis allows you to add the functionality via an additional free plugin. If you'd like to see a comparison of these two themes, see our article below:

If you're looking for a starting point for theme with WooCommerce support, the obvious choice would be Woothemes.com, however, it's not the only option.

Other great places that have WordPress themes that are WooCommerce ready are:

There are other functions that you may like either now, or down the road on your site.

Would you like to add a forum to your site? In that case you may turn to bbPress and will need to make sure that the theme you pick is compatible with that plugin as well.

Thinking ahead will save you time, money and the hassle of dealing with the stress of spending both.

3. Theme Coding

CSS igniter

The CSS Igniter Themes are an example of great coding

Another area that is often overlooked is the code of the WordPress theme that you like.

There are WordPress best practices when it comes to coding a theme, however, not everyone follows them and truthfully, some are just plain terrible.

Sure, they look nice on the human eye, but those little digital spiders that go crawling through the web and your site are not looking at the physical appearance of things. They're looking at the code.

Now I'm not telling you that you should learn everything there is to know about PHP, CSS, HTML and function files in order to spend hours pouring over the code in a theme to decide if it's worth using.

Psh! Even I wouldn't do that!

Instead, you should take into consideration things like who built the theme  in question to help you decypher whether the code is actually up to par.

Many reputable theme shops like CSS Igniter, Tesla Themes and Elegant Themes are known for pumping a variety of themes with consistent high quality code.

And they don't skim on things in their free themes either.

A large issue that comes up in many free themes on the market today, is one of two issues, if not both.

One, they've been coded with bad motives and actually have malicious code that will harm your site and possibly, attack your server. (Can you say, yikes?!)

And two, the author just didn't code things up to par. For example, perhaps the SEO coding for the theme is bad or they have too many scripts to load that's bogging down your page load speed.

The second one is harder to decipher, but Raelene Wilson over at WPMU DEV wrote a great piece on free WordPress themes that includes a quick way to check if a theme has malicious code.

If you're going for a free theme, I highly recommend you read her post.

Whether you decide on a free or a premium theme, it's always best to buy or download from a reputable source.

It's sort of like buying a car. Would you buy from that shop down the road trying to pawn off that Gremlin as a classic Mustang, or would you go to a dealership with a good reputation who's known for selling high quality cars?

Likely, (and hopefully) you'd choose the latter.

The same reasoning should apply to your picking a WordPress theme.

4. Browser Compatibility

Is your theme compatible with popular browsers

Ah yes. Lest we not forget ye olde browser.

This part is sort of an extension of the section above as it does have to do with the code, but I wanted to outline it in its own section.

One thing that you should double check with a theme, is what browsers it does or does not work with.

Though many themes generally work across browsers like Google Chrome or Safari and Firefox, many people still use Internet Explorer.

As much as I hate that browser (web designers will understand why - *facepalm*) people still use it so it's important that you check to make sure that things are up to par with the browser compatibility.

Older themes that haven't been updated tend to have this issue, and should be avoided. But I'll touch on that in my next point.

 5. Customer Service

Elegant Themes has great customer service

Elegant Themes is an example of great customer service

When you're looking at a theme, many don't think about Customer Service until they actually need it.

This can become a major headache, especially if you choose a free theme for your website. Not to say that all free themes have this issue, but when it comes to customer service with free themes, usually, you get what your paid for.

Nothin'.

Even some premium themes can have this issue if the author isn't fully dedicated to keeping up with updates for their themes. However, this is less of an issue with established theme shops like StudioPress, CSS Igniter, Elegant Themes and the like.

Whenever I am asked 'Which is better? Free WordPress themes or Premium themes?', I generally answer, Premium. Why?

Generally it's because of the customer service and support you get from those.

Going back to my illustration about cars... buying from an established theme shop is the same as getting a warranty on your new car.

If there's an issue with it and things aren't working as they should, the "warranty" will cover it. Your themes will be updated to keep up with WordPress core updates. You'll have access to documentation, support forums, help desks and so on.

This is usually not the case with many free themes, unless they come from a similarly established theme shop or author.

Just know that many free themes come with downsides that really, well... stink.

Final Thoughts On Choosing A WordPress Theme

No matter what you choose, whether it be a free WordPress theme or a premium one, just do your research. There are great and rather common free themes out there that can be exactly what you need.

I've even used free Genesis Child Themes because of how amazing the code and authors standards were in creating it.

If you're unsure of where to start for a theme, check out these theme shops below:

Kris and I have had the pleasure of working with many of the owners and the minds behind these shops and thus, we can speak for their character which is part of why we like to recommend them.

Did I miss any point that you guys think should have been included? Comment below and let us know if you found the article helpful.

 

Divi 2.0 WordPress Theme

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About Ariel Rule

Ariel is a WordPress Web Designer specializing in the Genesis Framework, and is also a freelance writer for hire. When she's not writing or designing websites for her clients, she is helping others learn how to make money online.
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Comments

  1. Hello Ariel,

    Great posts. You have lots of details and clear to understand at the same time. I visited you website and I'm very impressed.

    One question, you mention CSS, do I have to know it to use Elegant themes?

    Thanks,

    George K. Chamoun

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