Choosing the Right Website Theme
Our tips to select the best theme for your new website.
People build theme websites for the same reason they buy boxed cake mixes. It’s a lot of work building something from scratch! You can save time and money buying the assembled parts. Themes are pre-written packages of code you can use to build your website. They’re a lot like pre-fab houses in that the structure of your website has already been built. Once you select a theme, you get to modify it, changing things like the site colors, text, and images. We use them when we build WordPress websites for our clients.
Thing is, there are hundreds of thousands of themes out there. Finding the right one can be overwhelming. Which is why we’ve outlined some tips to help you with your search.
How to Pick a WordPress Theme
Before you start your search for the perfect theme, you want a list of all of your website needs. Like, do you need different portfolio layouts? Do you need a blog? Do you need donation capabilities? It’s really important to find a theme that offers most (if not all) of your desired layout and functionality requirements. Having a list handy makes it easy to screen them quickly.
Got your list? Ok good. It’s time to head over to ThemeForest, our favorite place to search for themes. Once you’ve entered a keyword into the search bar (like “business”), ThemeForest makes it easy to sort by ranking and the number of sales.
Once you buy a theme, you can’t return it. This is why we look at “Best sellers” and “Best rated” to guide our search. If themes have worked well for others, we can generally assume they’ll work ok for you. That’s not to say you can’t buy a newly published theme. You just don’t have the benefit of reading other people’s experiences with it.
You’ll notice that some themes are free while others have a price tag. The more comprehensive and robust themes have a purchase price. We always recommend paying for a theme versus using a free one because… well, you’ll get what you pay for.
Searching for a theme can take time, which is why clients ask us to do it. We typically select 3-4 themes we like best because comparing a few strong themes side-by-side helps clients more clearly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Evaluating themes can be a bit tricky. The things you notice first—colors, fonts, images— can all be customized. So you don’t want to judge a theme by those features.
Instead, look at the structure, capabilities, and functionality of the theme. Look at the page templates it offers. Test the navigation. It’s a lot like looking at the structure of a house and ignoring the color of the carpets.
Look for themes that provide a page builder, a plugin that allows you to create your own page templates. Even if you like a theme’s current page layouts, content needs to change and it’s nice to have the flexibility to create custom pages to support your content.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how easy or hard a theme is to customize just by looking at it. But having your list of needs, looking at reviews and sales, and closely examining the structure can help you find a good theme.
When looking at themes, it can be hard to see past the theme templates colors and images. So we wanted to illustrate just how different a final website can look from the original theme template.
We built Wagner Murray’s website using the Bateau theme—the original theme template is pictured below. Compare it with the final Wagner Murray site. Very different, right? You’ll notice that the flow, structure, and page layouts are similar. But the tone and color are completely different.
When looking for a theme for Wagner Murray, we knew that we needed one with robust portfolios since that structure can’t be heavily modified. What we liked about Bateau was that it offered many different portfolio layouts and, based on the theme’s descriptions and reviews, it promised a user-friendly page builder. The many demo sites that used the theme showed just how versatile the theme really was.
Further Customizing Your WordPress Themes
One way to further customize your site is with plugins. Plugins are pieces of software that integrate with WordPress theme sites, allowing you to add additional functionalities to your website without having to know how to code. Plugins usually come in free and premium versions.
PayPal, for example, is a third-party company that created a plugin so that the payment system could be used with a theme site. Whatever capability you need, there’s probably a plugin for it.
While plugins are great, you don’t want to overload your website with them. Otherwise, you risk slowing your website down and opening it up to more security breaches. A good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to just 5-7.
While coding skills aren’t necessary to build a theme website, they are a BIG help. Custom coding can add more capabilities. Sometimes plugins don’t work exactly how you want them to. An agency or web developer can modify plugins to match your exact needs. When that doesn’t work, they can create custom code from scratch.
For example, our client Safewaze wanted help creating a new homepage that had custom animations and a feature section that could show different types of content (products, videos, and programs). It wasn’t possible to make these changes using their theme page builder. So we custom designed and coded a new homepage and integrated it with their current theme. This allowed them to refresh their website’s look without a complete overhaul.
Final Notes about Themes
Themes are just one approach to building a website. The other is custom sites. The previous blog in our Website 101 series compared theme sites to custom ones, pointing out that theme websites typically require half as much time and money. Themes are plenty robust and can handle most all business needs, including ecommerce and donation capabilities.
But it’s important to remember that themes are pre-written packages of code. It’s difficult (and sometimes impossible) to re-write large parts of the existing code to make big structural changes to your website. It’s like walking into a pre-fab house and asking the architect to redesign the floor plan.
That’s why it’s so important to carefully evaluate themes to make sure they’ll will work for you. By following the steps outlined here, you’ll be in good shape! If you need any help, drop us a line. We’d love to help you build your website.
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