How to select the right WordPress theme
Every company, organization, and individual has a story to tell.
These stories have their own unique vision and their own unique purpose. They have beginnings and ends and their own tone of voice. Stories can be expressed in many different ways.
On the Internet, these stories can be told through websites and blogs. Using WordPress, any person or any entity can create a website or blog to tell their story.
Within WordPress, the theme is the element that tells the story before the story is told. It is the color, layout, and usability that conveys the emotion as well as the function of the story. It is the initial reason someone will stay on the website or blog to hear the story.
Selecting the right WordPress theme for use online is the first critical step to getting your website noticed and telling your story for all to hear. These are the steps to select the best WordPress theme.
Step 1) Build the Foundation
Like the building of any great house, the first step in selecting the right theme is providing a solid foundation. Asking questions before even beginning the theme selection process is key.
Why am I creating this website?
Sounds like a really dumb question to be asking, but it is the most important question to be asked. Is this website for personal use or for business use? If it is business use, is it for sales? Is it for informational purposes? How much of my effort is going to be Internet versus traditional channels? Within seconds, I have already brainstormed plenty of questions to be asked.
These questions, once answered, are going to provide 3 distinct criteria in the search for a good theme.
Which provided plugins are necessary
One of the great elements of a new theme is the addition of plugins and widgets that enhance the user experience. When you go to a webpage and see call-to-action, buy me, or subscribe bulletins, these are all a function of specialized widgets found within themes. There are thousands of themes with thousands of custom plugins. And each of these plugins carry plenty of custom widgets, just waiting to be used for a specific purpose.
If I am business trying to sell a product, I am going to necessitate widgets to either link to other storefronts or perhaps even a built-in storefront (eCommerce). This will allow a user to buy my product right as they see it, or at least one-click over.
If I am a reviewer/blogger, perhaps I want themes that provide connectivity with other bloggers, support advanced photo widgets, or even link to social media.
I could write entire blog posts about specific themes with specific plugins for specific purposes (MAYBE I WILL!). Finding the plugins that you need to accomplish your task will often lead to themes.
Which page layout to look for
Within a new theme also comes a variety of page layouts that change the way a page physically looks and is accessed by the end-user.
A restaurant website would want a big header at the top for store hours, contact information, menus, and other access. For a news site, having multiple sidebars in a layout may be ideal for displaying a myriad of news stories on one page.
Think about your favorite websites and how you enjoy the interface. Why is that website so appealing on every click? Some websites have a distinct flow with the way material is displayed that invites a newcomer. Others just throw as many calls-to-action and articles as humanly possible with the hope of landing a few hits.
By default, a good theme would have ample space at the top for a stunning header, customization for one to multiple sidebars, and a footer at the bottom of a page for contact information and housekeeping. This may not work for every need, but it is a generally accepted “good” theme. Here is an example of said theme in action.
How simple or complex the theme should be
Along the same lines as the layout, determining how busy you want a page to be is another consideration. If I am trying to sell a product, I probably do not want it to be difficult to navigate to the “BUY! BUY! BUY! BUY!” button.
Alternatively, a music reviewer may wish to display plugins with personal review archives, notes about the authors, music downloads, and other widgets to keep people reading and listening.
The amount of busy you want in the theme options comes down again to what is being accomplished and to what degree.
It is easy to oversaturate a page with needless information.
Getting to a point where the content matches the ideas in a state of equilibrium is key.
Step 2) Visit the Theme Store
Now that you have deliberated over the type of theme to choose, you are all set to actually go find a theme.
WordPress has some free and premium themes to choose from, but there is really no reason to look there for very long. You risk copying themes with other people and brands too regularly, since these themes are the most readily available to the masses.
The best bet (as is often the case) is to take to the Internet! There are plenty of places to look for themes. A Google search will yield great results. Blogs like this one are constantly pumping out new themes in the WordPress world. There is never a shortage of WordPress themes on the Internet.
Heck, even our studio has in-house themes that we have constructed for business and personal use alike!
Search and look for different criteria that fit what you wanted from Step 1!
Alternatively, here is a great place to look for different themes directly within the WordPress directory.
Step 3) Choosing Premium Versus Free
In my book, outside of the standard WordPress themes, there is almost no such thing as the “free” theme. A more true description for comparison would be “Upfront paid themes versus themes with hidden costs”.
Be careful in the download of “free” themes. These often require extra steps to ensure that they are transferred to WordPress properly or special cases where other plugins must be downloaded to take advantage of theme features. While it often does not sound like the best immediate solution, buying a premium theme is generally the way to go.
When you buy a theme, you are getting support for the theme as well as receiving access to forums for discussing bugs, issues, and tips with the creators and with others who have downloaded the theme. This is miles better than trying to climb up a mountain of tech support with nothing but your own bare hands.
That is not to say there are no great free themes out there; you just have to be careful. Online there is still plenty of trouble to be had. Like any other computer software download, these themes can potentially contain harmful viruses or other bad code. The difference here is that this code will be better hidden and more intrusive than your typical “click this link for a virus” button.
Step 4) Choosing Responsive Versus Unresponsive
In the search for themes, you may also come across the term, “Responsive” when it comes to defining certain themes. Responsive refers, much like the word, to a theme that responds to the environment it is featured in. This means that, in the hands of “Responsive” themes, websites will smartly look different when they are on a phone than when they are on a laptop computer.
Unresponsive themes are more traditional websites that look the same regardless what type of device or screen size they are displayed on.
So obviously, “Responsive” is the hip way to go, right?
Not necessarily. There are positives and negatives associated with both types of themes, and these criteria are very important to think about when choosing a theme.
+ The right format for any device
+ Smart, on-the-fly page scaling of the device as resolution changes
- Generally constrained to specific features and plugins
- May lose some information in the translation from computer to phone
+ True initial vision of the page on any device
+ No sacrifices made on content from device to device
- Potential hassle for those accessing content on phone or tablet
- Subject to issue with different computer resolutions
There is a tradeoff with either choice, but keeping in mind the audience and target market for your content should answer the question of which theme type to choose.
People who would generally be reading content on the job or on the train in the morning would probably appreciate the mobile simplicity of the “Responsive” theme, for example.
Step 5) Implement the Theme
Now that the decision making has been finished and you have chosen the one theme to rule them all, it is time to actually use it.
Generally, the install for third-party themes is straight forward. You download the file from the website and put the downloaded folder into the themes folder of the wp-content folder within your preferred transfer protocol system. Cyberduck is a useful app in this, a FTP service that is free and powerful.
But not every theme is designed equally, and certain themes require additional plugins to operate correctly (remember that conversation from Step 3?). In that case, you may have to do research into what other parts must be downloaded to get the theme to function properly.
By logging into the administration of the website you have added the theme to, you should see the theme within the “Themes” section. From there, a simple activation of the theme will make it the new default theme. This is where the fun begins!
Once the theme has been activated, you can edit the theme in the live thanks to the recent 3.4 update on WordPress and try out different headers, widget layouts, and text options.
Make it Your Own
The ultimate sign of theme-picking success is that moment where it all comes together. When the website looks like something truly special, like something made by a crack-team of website making experts, you will know that picking the right theme was a success.
The right theme is only a deep thought away. Don’t get left in the dust by lesser websites. Find a great theme and make a site all your own.
Tell your story.
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