WordPress theme directory page on a laptop screen

Navigating the WordPress theme landscape

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Last week I went over some ways that can help you better navigate the WordPress plugin landscape. But the same can be said about the WordPress theme landscape as well.

There are tons of themes out there that can fit your needs. But picking the right one can be the difference between a great experience for you and your readers and pure frustration. It’s the most important decision you can make when setting up your theme.

So how do you get a theme that looks good and works the best for you? Here are some tips for picking that right theme.

Make sure the design fits what you need

I feel like this probably doesn’t need to be said, but it is worth repeating in every list about selecting a theme: make sure the design is what you want and need.

Naturally, the first thing you’ll want to do is to get a theme that looks good. And of course, you’re going to want to make sure that the theme helps your website stand out and look modern in today’s world.

But you also need to make sure it has everything you need functionality wise. Does it have the special page templates that you’ll need for various services and other items. If you’re going to be selling online, is it built to be compatible with WooCommerce or some other e-commerce plugin. If it doesn’t have what you’re going to need for your website to be successful, it’s useless.

Make sure each of these conditions are met before taking your next steps.

Buy from reputable sites

I said this when I discussed WordPress plugins, but it really bears repeating with themes as well. Make sure you’re getting your themes from reputable outlets. Otherwise you might be setting yourself up for failure.

A great place to start is the WordPress Theme Directory. All of the themes here go through a rigorous check before they are even allowed to be shown here. These themes are free, so the quality can be hit or miss. But they are still a lot quality themes you can use and be confident with.

Also, StudioPress sells a lot of great themes that go with their Genesis parent theme. These are top notch quality both is design and underlying code. These you will have to pay for, but it’s worth it in my experience.

Outside of that, there’s also Themeforest, which can also be hit or miss, and Mojo Marketplace.

And actually, one thing I didn’t know until the Pipdig issue came up, but apparently there are a number of themes being sold on Etsy. I would stay away from those. I have no idea if Etsy does any sort of quality control with those themes, and it just feels ripe for something to go wrong.

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Check for added functionality

Another thing to look for is whether the theme adds functionality to your website. This seems like a very innocuous thing at first, but it can have troubling consequences down the road (as I have found out before).

If you purchase a theme that adds functionality inside the theme itself and then decide to switch, you will lose that functionality. That means any shortcodes, custom post types, custom taxonomies, etc., will be gone. I had that happen to me once. Fortunately, I knew enough about WordPress code to save those items and incorporate them into a custom functionality plugin.

The solution to look at all of the features for a theme and to ask the theme author about how they are adding those features. If they are doing that in the theme, that’s not a complete dealbreaker. There are a lot of great themes that do that. Just know what you’re in for if you want to change themes and start developing a plan to mitigate those issues if you ever change.

Also, I just want to note that themes in the WordPress Theme Directory do not add any functionality as that’s a restriction set by the review team. So all of those themes are good to go.

Review other sites who use that theme

Another great thing to do is to review other websites that are also using this theme. This will give you a chance to see it in action outside of the standard demo.

Admittedly, this is a bit trickier to do, and if you’re on a time crunch it might not be possible. But I would look at the people who have reviewed the theme, especially those who gave it high marks, and see if you can navigate to their site.

From there, play around on the website. See what it has to offer. Look to see how that site owner might have changed things from the default of the theme. And see what plugins they might have added for added functionality.

Seeing all of this up close on a functioning website will give you great data on whether or not to use this theme.

Stay updated

Finally, make sure you stay updated with your theme. That means making sure your theme is updated at all times and to stay updated with all of the news about the theme.

The former is pretty easy to do. But the latter requires a bit more effort. If the author is on Twitter or if the theme has a Twitter account, follow it. If not, or in addition to that, every now and then search out the theme on Google to see what the latest news about it might be. And if there’s an issue like Pipdig’s, you’ll see it there and then be able to take action.

Again, this list isn’t an end-all be-all list of things to help you navigate the WordPress theme landscape. But it is a great place to start. And it will help you really focus in on the things that matter in picking the right theme for your website.

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