What is a WordPress Theme?
“A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.
A WordPress theme provides all of the front end styling of your WordPress site.”
I like to think of it as the skin and makeup of a site.
Most WordPress themes provide:
- the design or style of your site
- font styling options
- widget locations such as sidebar and footer
- page design layouts (sometimes referred to as templates)
- blog posts and blog archives styles
- additional features
What is the best way to choose a theme?
Ask experienced people.
I asked some of the staff from Automattic and their unofficial answer was
“Look for well-established and supported themes that are well known in the industry such as Genesis, Beaver Builder, Avada, Astra. Don’t go to the theme vendors.” ?
I looked on their website that lists many options.
The list of options is so vast that it is difficult to know what to choose.
– Make a list of Essential features or functions that you need.
This may include columns, layouts, sidebars, footers, and navigation bars.
– Consider purchasing a Premium Theme
There are many free themes available for people that are on a budget. Automattic (the makers of WordPress) offer several options. If you pay for the theme, then you can get support from the developers and there is more of a chance of it being properly updated. In some cases the developer will abandon the theme completely. Sometimes free themes contain malicious code when downloaded outside of the WordPress repository.
If I consider purchasing a premium theme vs hiring someone to build something for me, the cost is minuscule. Great Value!
Some themes like Genesis provide a very basic layout and in order to gain the effect that you want, you will need to purchase an additional Child Theme also known as a framework ( for example Genesis by Studiopress).
– Avoid Bloated Themes
A theme that is cluttered with features that you don’t use will slow down your website.
– Pick a Responsive Theme
In search engine optimization (SEO) we build for mobile first since many people will never view your site on a desktop. As we know, Google rolled out a mobile-first update that prioritizes sites that are mobile friendly. Check that your theme looks good on mobile devices. Google even offers a free mobile-friendly testing tool to check whether the theme is mobile-friendly.
– Pick a Theme with Clear Legible Fonts
Some themes come with very small light fonts. Is that something that you can change or will people have to squint to read your site?
– Easy Customization
Is the theme user friendly? The customization options vary from theme to theme and by changing a few features, you should be able to create diverse layouts without any knowledge of coding.
– Pick a Theme that loads quickly
Website speed today is one of the most significant factors affecting conversion rate. Most people abandon a site that takes more than a few seconds to load.
Here’s what I look for:
- How long has the company/developer that built the theme been established?
- Does the theme have reviews? How many reviews?
- How many people have installed the theme?
- What does it look like on mobile?
- Does it work on all browsers?
- View the support forum. Are there responses for the tickets/questions?
- Do a preview of the theme if it is available. If not try to figure out which websites are using it.(The support forum might help.)
- Check if the theme has a preloader – that is something in lieu of the hour glass that you see on the screen while the rest of the page’s content is still loading. If the theme has one, the site will be slow.
- Do a speed test on the theme demo and if possible on websites that use it. If the Home page is extremely long, it may not be the best page to pick.
- If you have a copy of the theme, you can download a plugin that will help you test it – called Theme Check
- If you need the theme for a specific purpose like a realtor site, either pick a theme that specifically targets your needs or a basic theme that can be adapted to many purposes. (I like Beaver Builder and Divi.) If you have a multipurpose theme also known as a bloated theme, it will take time to load all the elements available on your website that are not being used. For example, if you are not doing ecommerce, do not load Woocommerce.
Translation & Multilingual Ready
NOTE! The basic WordPress installation is free of charge and comes in multiple languages. You can select the language you want to use for your installation.
All the WordPress default themes include all the languages and are free. These themes are Twentyseventeen, Twentysixteen, etc.
If you need a theme in a language that is not English, look for the language that you need. If you need a language that is read and written from right to left look for RTL in the theme documentation. Make sure that you look at an example of a site with the theme in an RTL language. You can check
.mo files for translation: That means the theme is translated and you have control over the terminology used – you can change it.
WPML: That means that you can do the translation.
Some themes don’t have the language in the description, however when you check the support forum, you may find that someone has used it successfully.
A page builder is a plugin or a built in feature of a theme that enables you to quickly and easily set up the page elements or modules without knowing how to code.
Except for Beaver Builder, most page builders leave short codes in the front end of your website if you delete the page builder plugin. There are ways to strip the short codes, and it may be easier to rebuild the pages from scratch depending on the size of the website.
If you own the license to the page builder, you can use the same page builder for multiple themes.
Some themes from companies like Theme Forest come with a group license for their page builder. Everything seems great until the page builder runs an update that is not rolled out by the makers of the theme. I had a site that I could not update for a month because of that. The option is to purchase the page builder plugin separately and install it yourself. It is helpful to budget for that option before you begin and not overly expensive.
Conclusion: Use a page builder!
The theme should have user friendly customization features, particularly with regards to colors, fonts and page layouts.
Sometimes we are looking for customization that is not included, such as emphasizing the Donate navigation tab on a non-profit site.
If the level of customization needed is more than CSS markup, it is necessary to install a Child Theme.
We never make changes to the core WordPress or Theme files on a site. If it is necessary to change PHP coding language for example, we would only do that with a child theme. The reason is because if the files are updated, all the changes will be lost. The child theme is only ever updated by you or your WordPress developer.
Themes that include frameworks cannot support child themes since the framework is the child theme. An option is to not install a framework or use a plugin that will support the changes needed.
I hope this article helped you select the perfect theme for your WordPress site. If you liked this article, then please subscribe.