Choosing a WordPress Theme or Template can be an easy task or a lengthy process depending on what strategy you take to arrive at the most suitable theme for your WordPress website. I’ve put together this comprehensive report on choosing a theme and it’s well worth the read. So lets begin…
There are virtually an unlimited number of WordPress themes or templates to choose from so what is the best strategy when choosing one? Firstly, let’s do a quick search in Google for a couple of common search terms:-
What do we notice between these two numbers? Obviously, ‘Free’ is and will always be the thing that people talk about when choosing WordPress Templates because they already have free blogging software, so why pay for a template or theme?
Let’s look at the things you should consider when choosing between a Free vs Premium WordPress Theme
PRICE vs VALUE
And the winner on price is the ‘Free WordPress Theme’ but wait, a Premium Theme does actually have something to offer and it’s called value. Let’s not mistake the differences between price and value. What’s that old saying “You get what you pay for”
Here are some reasons why you might pay for a premium theme
PROS OF PREMIUM THEMES
Regular Updates – WordPress has one of the strongest development communities on the Internet and consequently there are new release and bug fixes almost weekly. If you want to keep safe and stay updated then your plugins and templates could be impacted. Getting a critical update done to a theme is a lot easier when there is a real business behind it and their livelihood depends on positive customer feedback. Contrast that to a free theme that may or may not be updated so quickly depending on the developers real life distractions, such as paid work.
Unique Design – As seen in the earlier Google searches, the masses move towards free themes, which makes your Premium Theme less likely to be seen on every second WordPress blog. A unique design is paramount to standing out in a really busy crowd, and sure your content might be great, but you must first capture the attention of your passing readers. With a new blog being created ever 3 minutes, you want the edge that a unique design may give you.
Documentation – A Professional WordPress Theme will not keep you guessing about how you customize the theme to your tastes. Documentation is usually provided with Premium Themes, plus you could always read the related theme support forum for more tips and tricks.
Prompt Support – So you have a question that needs answering, then raise a support ticket, because premium themes hire people who are paid and are waiting for your call. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a developer of a free template to get back to you when your site breaks after a critical update. As previously mentioned, you can also expect quick replies from a Premium Themes support forum.
No Link Love – The first thing you want to do when you get a Free WordPress Theme is to check that the link back to the developer is set to ‘no-follow’ because leaking link juice could hurt your Google Page Ranking. You shouldn’t expect a hard coded link to the developer of a Premium Theme, and if there is it usually only a quick tick on a check-box to permanently remove it.
PROS OF FREE THEMES
The Price – Free is great if you are just creating a new blog, or are a first time blogger. But as you get more serious you should consider the value that a premium template offers.
Simplistic – Free Templates are sometimes packed with a lot less configurable features, which can help get a blog up and running quicker.
Limited Features – Sometimes the additional features that are packed into a Premium Template to appease all customer expectations, can be confusing and complicated. Free WordPress Templates tend to have just enough to get you going, which is sometimes all you need.
WORDPRESS WEBSITE DESIGN
Most bloggers are creative people and design is forefront in their minds. A blog is usually an extension of yourself, so when in public don’t you like to look your best? Here are a few things to consider when choosing your WordPress Theme.
Website Design – When you pay for a theme there is an expectation you are getting something of value. Companies that sell premium themes usually have a number of staff responsible for different aspects of the theme. This may include programmers and graphic designer which have strengths in their particular field. Consequently, you can expect a top notch design and fully compatible template with the latest WordPress releases. Usually developers of free WordPress themes are either good at coding or great at design, but rarely will you find a theme developer that is good a both, if you do please let me know.
User Experience Design – Or UX as it’s commonly called, is one of the reasons why a reader may linger on your website just that little bit longer. It’s that intuitive behaviour that you might appreciate when surfing the Internet but didn’t realise it was actually a design element. A good premium theme has these obvious UX design elements built into it, so your job as a blogger is made much more simpler whilst still providing a great user experience for your readers.
Responsiveness – This might seem like a buzzword, but it actually describes the responsiveness of your theme to different window sizes and it matters. In the new age of mobile devices including Smartphones, Tablets, Smart TV’s and now Smart Watches, the screen size can no longer be taken for granted. Furthermore, Google now boost the search ranking of websites with a responsive theme design when the readers are searching via a mobile device. When looking for a theme or template be sure to only use the ones that have a responsive design, or expect to rank lower in search results than those with one.
Did you know you have less than 10 seconds to impress a new potential reader? The longer your WordPress website page takes to load, the more chances you have of loosing your reader, before they’ve even given you a chance. Tough crowd isn’t it?
Your website page load speed matters and Premium Template providers know that your experience matters to the success of their business. There are a lot of tricks you can use to ensure your page loads quickly, and if you think those fancy premium template designs just look great, they are usually optimised for fast page loading. You can use a site like PINGDOM to give any potential new template demo a once over. At the very least when you are ready to go live with your site, give it the PINGDOM Speed Test to see how you rate.
Pro Tip: Aim for a Page Load speed of less than 2 Seconds and a page size of less the 1 MB
Free Templates although may look good, may not take the page load times into consideration.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION
Unless you have deep pockets and are happy to pay for all your Internet traffic, you will want to consider Search Engine Optimisation for your website. Although the term SEO is a little outdated** there are still some basic rules that are are relevant to search engines like Google and Bing. These elements include Heading tags, alt tags, good image naming conventions and of course page load speed as we just discovered.
When choosing a theme look for ‘SEO Optimized’ or ‘SEO ready’ in the themes description to ensure you are not going to be penalised for a poor performing template.
** SEO now commonly referred to as Inbound Marketing
Often the easiest way to bypass a building’s security is through the front door, and the principles of website security are very similar. It’s important to ensure your theme gets regular security updates as threats become available. Do your due diligence when using free wordpress templates as they often come with a no responsibility disclaimer.
If you have a professional blog, then you want to ensure you can get the relevant security support when you need it. Paying for a theme or template usually comes with theme security support and a peace of mind.
Always, use the community forums to search for feedback on how good a theme is regardless of whether it’s free or not.
Remember, you are a Blogger and a writer, not a developer, so the usability of a WordPress template actually makes a big difference to your productivity. It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles a Premium WordPress Template has, it might not just right for you. In most cases either Free or Premium, you should be able to find a place where you can demo a theme, before committing to the installation and configuration process.
Ideally you want a demo that also provides access to the back-end so you can also play around with the settings. At the very least you shouldn’t waste your time with themes that don’t have comprehensive screenshots as a minimum. But, as stated earlier, there are so many themes to choose from so don’t waste your time on configuring the average ones.
THE BEST WORDPRESS THEMES
Well if you are still with me, I guess you are expecting at least a few recommendation for theme options. It’s hard to be impartial when I have been using Themify on a regular basis for a while now. Initially, I went though the process of of trying to find a free WordPress theme, but quite frankly I wasted a lot of time, that could have been used for my writing. You see all the free templates had one or two things going for them, but I struggled to find a complete package. Eventually, I found Themify and now use them exclusively for my WordPress templates. Why?
Themify have so many different modern styles of responsive templates that’s more than you could ever want. If you need a Landing page, Event page, Personal page, Magazine page or even a Portfolio WordPress Theme, Themify have you covered. In fact their Landing Theme covers all these styles in just the one theme. You need to see it to believe it. I was like Wow! can you really get all these styles from just one theme.
Another Premium Theme that has great support and popularity is the Thesis WordPress Theme because of it’s flexibility and skin customisations. It’s a little more expensive than Themify but there is some great work being done with Thesis Styled Websites. Check out their showcase to find out if there is a style for you.
There is only one modern WordPress Theme that I can recommend and have used because the rest didn’t meet my design and flexibility requirements. It called Hueman by Alxmedia and it’s the best free responsive theme I’ve seen. As you can guess, once I’ve found a good theme, I don’t waste any more time looking for anything new. This link will take you to the WordPress templates free download for the Hueman theme.
There is probably more to choosing a good template or theme for WordPress than you first expected, but it’s time well spent. But, the most important take home message is, you get what you pay for and quality does matter.
If you got this far, hopefully it’s blindingly obvious that a premium template is your best option for a professional looking website. And the flexibility of template installation and configuration allow you to swap and choose as you need. Just don’t waste too much time searching for the perfect template, because spending the time on the content will mean more to your readers.
Just remember, no theme is perfect and you may need to make some compromises, but let the theme designer do their thing and avoid too many customisations if possible because, you might be undoing all of their great design and UX work.
Good Luck with your blogging adventure and please ‘Like’ if you found this post useful.