WordPress powers an astonishing 4.5% of the internet. That’s 16.3 billion websites powered by a single (admittedly awesome) CMS. It’s easy to set-up and use, it’s simple to manage and run, and it’s very, very customizable.
Once you get your WordPress site you’re free to go nuts and play dress-up with it like an over-excited 5-year old girl with a doll. No matter how ‘unique’ your website’s purpose/message is, chances are that you can find a readymade theme that’ll suit it.
But it’s not all fun-and-games. A good theme won’t only look nice; it’ll make you more accessible, visible to netizens, easy to browse through, and more. So set your sights above the ‘looks nice’ factor and get a theme which can give you:
1. ‘Mobile-Friendly’ Design
Number of mobile-users surfing the net far outstrip number of PC/laptop users since 2014. Statistically speaking, less than half of you are reading this on a laptop/PC. So why are you even considering getting a theme with fixed-width layout?
Put yourself in a mobile-user’s shoes and think: Would you want to browse through a site where you spend 2/3rds of your time scrolling up-down and sideways on every single page? Isn’t that your definition of ‘hell’?Let’s be honest, you would bookmark that site only so you remember not to visit it in future. Remember kids: If it looks nice but won’t adapt, it’s not worth your time.
2. Browser CompatibilityYes, a second compatibility point. Your CMS is known for its user-and-device-friendliness; let’s make sure your site is too.
Much like group-segregation in your high-school, there are popular browsers and not-so-popular ones. Most themes are compatible with popular browsers like Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc. But it’s still worth your time to check out the list of compatible browsers for names like Torch, Vivaldi, SeaMonkey, etc. The names maybe obscure but these are still cool kids, and a number of people use them.
There are also legacy browsers (Hello IE5+!) which a significant part of your audience may be using. A theme which is compatible with them makes you more accessible.
3. Quick Loading Time
This is 21st century, the age of information and instant gratification. You would never spend more than 3 seconds waiting for a page to load up. And although being mobile-friendly is good, you should remember that smaller devices have lower bandwidth. A fat website will take forever to load on those.
This is why performance or speed of your site matters. And it depends on factors like media content and design. Make sure your theme loads fast so you have one less thing to worry about.
4. Layout and DesignYes, you already know about this particular point. You know what you want, right?
Many beginners will often pick a theme based on how it looks and not how it works, or whether it even fits with their industry/purpose. You may love that theme with a great image slider, but if you won’t be uploading many pictures then what’s the point?
A good theme, apart from functioning well, either follows design principles to be visually-pleasing, or breaks them all to be as eye-popping-ly jarring as possible. Both kinds serve their purposes. You need to stick with a theme that’s suitable for your industry/message and not just your personal taste (unless it’s your own blog).
Either way; you should pick a theme that serves your purpose first. You can check for visual-appeal later.
Make it easy for your users to take a look around. Your website has a message and a purpose. If you have visitors, they are there for that message and that purpose.
A theme with over-the-top design elements can very well clutter up your site, making it difficult to navigate. So even if you have your content’s categories perfectly mapped out in your head, they are of no use to anyone if they can’t even find it.
Your theme should have a clear navigation, somewhere users would intuitively look for ‘doors’ (read: links) to other sections of the site.
Remember: Don’t make it a maze. It’s your website, not the creepy hotel from The Shining. (Unless that’s your thing, we’re not judging)
6. SEO-friendly structureThere’s no better way to be visible than SEO.
An SEO optimized theme will make the content-parts of your site visible to search engines without much effort on your part. Basically, an SEO-friendly theme will optimize your site-structure for better visibility to search-engine bots, leaving you free to focus on creating great content. It’s great for higher search rankings.
There are plugins available for optimizing your pages and posts for search engines, but why risk compatibility issues (or worse, breaking something up) when you can get the functionality in a theme?
7. Social Media Integration
You are easily found through search engine, but you open the floodgates with social media. Social media integration is important for getting traffic and unique visitors. A theme which has added features of like/follow/share on social media platforms are an added plus which help you in the long run. Again, there are plugins for this, but why risk it?
8. Ease of Customization
Even if you do pick what looks like ‘the perfect theme’, you may need to tweak it a bit to fit your purpose. A lot of them come with easy customization options (like background, typeface, enable/disable features, etc.) and custom widgets.
If you can dig into code, many themes allow you to customize them as much as you want. They may come with child themes of their own (See: Storefront by WooThemes). Additionally, look for ‘resources’ on the theme’s pages, and see if there is a list of shortcodes (single syntax code for little details like buttons, grid-view, accordion-style menus, etc.).
9. ComplianceA lot can be said for following the rules.
A WordPress standard compliant theme uses clean, well-structured code and has a handful of nicely coded functionalities. It means better compatibility with WordPress updates, better search ranking, and less security troubles.
10. Support Community
Despite everything, you might still run into trouble. That is when you’ll need all the help you can get.
Major theme-sellers often have support forums, but you should check out that your particular theme has one before buying it. Make sure it’s active.
If the theme’s author provides live support on chat, mail, or phone, that’s even better.
You will be spoilt for choices when you go looking for a theme for your WordPress site. And every theme you check out will look better than the last, free or premium regardless.This list should help you keep the necessities in mind.
Final word of advice: Theme source. Whatever you do, never buy/get a theme from a shady source. A lot of them are full of malware and will give hackers a straight line to your site’s backend. It’s the digital equivalent of eating candy a strange, creepy man gave you. Unknown, untrustworthy sources: Just say no!