Choosing a proper theme for your site is obviously a very important thing. Choosing one just because you really like it, is not the best thing to do. Sure, you have to like it, and the users too, but you also have to keep in mind many other important things that a WordPress theme should contain.
Most of you will eventually want to rank your site in order to make it visible, get traffic, and why not, make some money. For all this to happen, you need SEO, and SEO starts with the theme’s code and design!
Now, let’s go more in-depth and tell you how to choose a WordPress theme for your site – the right way.
Free vs Paid
If you’re just starting with WordPress and sites, you should start with a free theme, just to check things out and get used to it. If you want the real deal, we strongly recommend going for a paid theme which can be extremely cheap and awesome at the same time.
- It’s free (of course);
- It’s useful if you are new to WordPress and themes, and you want to practice a bit.
- They aren’t updated regularly, or aren’t updated at all;
- No support;
- The coding can be bad, not optimized for SEO;
- Incompatible with some browsers;
- Incompatible with some plugins;
- No responsive design (mobile ready);
- Ugly and oldish design.
First of all, I’ll start by saying that we strongly recommend ThemeForest. It’s by far the best WordPress themes site. For 40-55$ you can buy themes that are full of features, modern, extremely flexible, compatible with browsers and plugins, responsive (mobile ready), and also have great support (most of them at least). What more can you want for just 40$-55$?
This was just a recommendation; we’re talking about themes in general in this post, no matter where you buy them from.
- Regular updates;
- Troubleshooting and maybe customization support;
- Good, clean, SEO friendly coding;
- Browsers compatibility;
- Plugins compatibility;
- Responsive design (mobile ready);
- Modern design that was created while keeping SEO and conversions in mind;
Depends on the site which you buy it from and the theme’s developers. There are some themes which are crap even if they are premium.
Note: if you buy a theme, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has all the above features. It’s up to you to check things out.
Choose a WordPress theme that suits your niche
This is pretty obvious. You need to choose a theme that’s relevant to your niche/industry. If you have a blog, choose a blogging theme; if you have a news site, buy a news theme, etc. Most WordPress themes sites should have categories which will make your job easier. You can also check some authoritative sites from your industry and see what type of theme are they using.
Go for simplicity
Don’t choose a theme that’s clustered with complex features, especially if they are made with Java or Flash. Google still isn’t so friendly with that type of coding. Choose a theme that’s simple, yet modern and user friendly. It will also work way better on mobile devices.
Make sure the navigation menu is made with CSS or HTML, not Java or Flash. You can check this by right clicking on a page, than choose View Page Source, View Source, or Source, it depends on what browser you’re using; something with Source anyway.
We strongly recommend avoiding sliders. Sure, they look professional and fancy, but guess what:
- They can negatively impact your SEO and conversions;
- Extremely few people click on a slider;
- They can slow down the site;
- Sliders are usually big and they push down your lead-generating/call-to-action content;
- Sometimes they don’t work well on mobile devices.
Do you want that? Guess not.
Check for browser compatibility
Browsers show things different, therefore every theme should be optimized for every browser. Most developers specify with what browsers is the theme compatible, but you can do a manual check yourself, just to be sure.
Don’t go thinking: “Who uses Internet Explorer or Safari?”. If you use Google Analytics you’ll see that a significant amount of people are using them, so don’t ignore them. I’m sure that there are many other browsers, but these are the most important ones.
Make sure the theme is compatible with plugins, especially the must-have ones, such as: W3 Total Cache, Yoast, WooCommerce, etc. If the developers don’t specify such things, ask them by using their mail or forum, or whatever kind of support they have.
Responsive design (mobile ready)
Responsive design is really important because a lot of traffic comes from mobile devices. If your site isn’t designed for mobiles, you’ll lose a lot of traffic and conversions.
Here are a lot of interesting facts about mobile marketing. I’ll point out some of them here too:
- 9 out of 10 mobile searches lead to action. More than half lead to sales (Source: SearchEngineLand). Tweet this
- 25% of Americans use only mobile devices to access the Internet (Source: GoMoNews.com). Tweet this
- Mobile perform 4-5x better than online ads for key metrics such as brand favorability, awareness and purchase intent (Source: Neilson Study). Tweet this
- 70% of mobile searches lead to action within one hour. (It takes a full month for the same percentage of desktop users to catch up.) (Source: MobileMarketer.com). Tweet this
- 74% of people use their mobile phone to help them while shopping, with 79% making a purchase as a result (Source: ImpigeMobileStrategy.com). Tweet this
- 81% of smartphone users have done product research from a smartphone, and 50% have made a purchase via their phone (Source: Prosper Mobile Insights). Tweet this
- 73% of smartphone users say they used the mobile web to make a purchase instead of using an app (Source: JumpTap.com). Tweet this
To check if a theme has responsive design, you can use this site – http://mobiletest.me/, which is pretty awesome.
Make sure the theme has regular updates. WordPress and complex plugins such as WooCommerce are updating often, so the developers should update the theme as well.
We had a case where WooCommerce wasn’t working properly after an update, but fortunately, the theme developers immediately came up with a theme update and everything was back to normal. So, regular updates are important.
Make sure they have an active and kind support who is willing to help you with possible troubleshooting, bugs, or customization. Check the reviews and see if someone says something about the support; check to see if they have a forum, and if they do, check to see if they respond, how often they respond, and are they nice and helpful?
We often asked support for small customization, and fortunately, they were very helpful.
Site speed and coding
Note: the speed also depends on the hosting, servers, speed plugins, etc., so even if a theme loads kind of slow it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s bad. But, if it loads in like 20 seconds, this usually means that there will be problems with speed even if you have a good hosting plan and a speed plugin. I’m excluding CDNs because not everyone can afford them.
Now, let’s take an example from a theme that we’ve worked with. Here’s how things looked before we bought it:
The speed was 6.97s and it had only two red bars and one yellow, which means it has good coding. Things will improve with W3 Total Cache. The speed wasn’t high enough to scare us because we knew we can decrease it with a decent hosting plan and W3 Total Cache plugin.
Here’s how it looked after we optimized it:
The page speed went to 3.56s, which is good keeping in mind that the site is on a shared hosting plan, doesn’t use CDN, and it’s also HTTPS (the HTTPS encryption increases the loading time). There’s also just one yellowish bar, the red ones were fixed. Awesome!
The most common issue with themes, are the headings. I don’t know why developers keep messing them up, but they don’t do it on purpose, they say it’s the right thing. Well, it’s not. For example, let’s say we are on the blog page, usually /blog/:
It’s right to have the page title as Blog which is an H1, and then post titles with excerpts under.
But it’s wrong when you enter a post and Blog is still there along with your post title which is also an H1, making it 2 x H1s. I’ve seen even worse: Blog remains inside the post and it’s an H1, and the post title is an H2.
That’s not good for SEO, or definitely not the best practice. So, make sure you check the heading structure. There should be only one H1 on a page, then H2s for sub-headings and possible H3s for sub-sub-headings. H4s and H5s are usually used for content in the sidebar and footer, like the title of a widget. I’ve seen themes that use H2s for sidebar content… that’s not good.
Before you check things out, make sure you understand how things stand with headings and SEO.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing a WordPress theme. Sometimes it’s hard to find one that you like and it’s also SEO ready, but if you want to boost your ranking chances, you need to do things by the book.
If you found this post helpful, please share it with others so they will also know how to choose a WordPress theme – the right way!