We remember that first time when we were interested in using WordPress for our projects and niche websites, we started looking for advice on how to choose the appropriate WordPress theme. This happened some long time ago when there weren’t that many WordPress related websites on the web. The CMS was just “starting out” so people had to discover its secrets before starting sharing useful information about it. Now that a lot of people and even clients ask us what they should know when choosing a theme, we decided to write an article about this.

Before diving into the article, you should know that WordPress is a very powerful CMS and it can do just about anything for you. If you know what you need and why you need a new theme, let’s get started on how to choose the right WordPress theme!

1. What is your website about?

First things first. If you are looking for a new WordPress theme, you must know what your future (or actual) website is about. Is it about your company? That means most probably you need a professional business WordPress theme. Or are you trying to create a website to expose yourself to the world, telling people what you can do for them and bragging with your previous works? That sounds like you have a portfolio website, so you should go for a modern & effective portfolio theme to bring you new customers or convert your existing readers into potential customers.

The content you post on your website is obviously very important. For instance, if your content only consists of videos, then you need a video theme. Or if you’re a photographer and you are just trying to show off your great photos, then you might need a gallery theme.

Once you have decided what your website is about, you should now focus only on those types of themes. Nowadays there is a theme for just about any kind of website, so if your website is a portfolio, look for portfolio WordPress themes. If it’s a business website, look for business WordPress themes. And so on.

2. What’s your website aim?

Now it’s time to put down the main reason you need that website for, in order to determine the role of your theme. This is quite easy and you should probably know by now.

If you are trying to get more clients through your portfolio, the theme must be able to provide what potential clients are looking for. No matter what industry you’re in, they usually want to see some samples of your work, the easiest way to contact you and also they need to know who you are and what your experience is. Also, because you need to convert visitors into customers, make sure your theme has a “hire me” – like button that’s very easy to notice. You’re not looking to annoy your customers, so don’t overdo it, but make sure it stands out.

Hire us
A “Hire” button or professional contact form is very important when you want to reach out to new customers (Image: Dita Margarita – Flickr.com – CC BY 2.0)

If your website is a gallery, then go for a theme that suits the needs of a gallery. Usually, these themes have a simple dark or light background color that won’t distract your viewers’ attention from your photos. It should be easy to interact with and also very easy to navigate through.

In case you love writing and you have a blog where you publish long posts, then your theme must have a clean, simple and effective typography. Users must be focused on your content, so make sure you don’t distract them too much. If this is your goal, you need to look for blog WordPress themes.

We think you now got the point. Set your website goals, then search and test WordPress themes that you think will do the job for you.

3. Theme Functionality

Now that you have decided which is the main purpose of your new WordPress theme, you should think if there’s anything else you need. For a content-heavy website, navigation and search functionality are a must-have. If you are looking to develop a magazine or news website, we would highly recommend your theme to make use of featured images and eventually a grid-based layout. You could have a look at some of the best magazine WordPress themes.

MH Purity
MH Purity – Modern Magazine WordPress Theme

Sliders are sometimes a good feature. However, we don’t always recommend them (depending on the role of your website and on its placement) as it can drive your users attention away from what you want them to focus on. There is proof that sliders made some online shops less efficient and bring less money. But if you want a magazine website, sliders might be a good idea.

Do your users come from mobile devices as well? If yes, you need a responsive layout. If not… (which is actually very unlikely nowadays) well, you might not need it right now, but most probably you will need a responsive design in the future. So in most cases, it’s best to have a responsive WordPress theme.

Good, now you know what else to look for in a WordPress theme. However, please note that sometimes themes don’t have everything you would like or need. But most of them come with a theme options page where you can customize the look, the layout, the number of sidebars etc. And there are WordPress plugins for just about anything else. If you need a different comment form, you could try Disqus or Facebook Comments for example. If you would like another way to display ads, there are also plugins to achieve this and so on.

4. What else to consider when looking for a WordPress theme?

There is an extra mile of research you should go for but in our opinion, it’s quite important as long as you are not a developer or you don’t have the time for fixing the bugs in your WordPress theme.

The way a WordPress theme is documented and whether the developers provide theme support or not is essential for non-developers working with WordPress. A premium WordPress theme should always come with documentation and some sort of support. Make sure you read the feedback from those who bought it before, so you know if there’s any problem with it. In case support is not guaranteed, the least thing you’d want is to buy a broken theme.

There are chances to find a lot of information about free WordPress themes as well, you just have to google for the specific keywords. You will find lots of reviews, feedback and eventually questions & answers on how to fix a certain bug of it.

Free WP Themes
Free WordPress Themes make many people happy (Image: br_ruy – Pixabay.com – CC0 Public Domain)

If you go for a custom WordPress theme, the contract you have to sign should clearly state whether support is provided or not. Most high-quality WordPress designers we know do provide documentation and support for a certain amount of time.

Last, but not least is browser compatibility. We all hate IE, but unfortunately we can’t force our readers into using Firefox, Chrome or something else. This means you should test the theme by yourself and see how it works in various browsers. Don’t waste your time and test every single browser out there, and we would also suggest not going beyond IE8 (or even IE9 nowadays).

5. Free Themes vs. Premium Themes vs. Custom Themes. Tough call!

This is where lots of people can’t decide as every one of these choices have both a good and a bad part. So we’ll try to talk a bit about each of them.

a.) Free WordPress Themes

Pro: You don’t have to spend a dime on them.

Con: There might be another thousands of people using the same WordPress theme, so people won’t recognize you only by the look of your website. A free WordPress theme probably also won't have much support by the developers included as most people won't work for free.

Our advice: There’s nothing wrong at starting out with a free WordPress theme. But you should definitely be careful when downloading free themes as many bad intended webmasters will put malicious stuff in theme archives. Also, note that lots of free theme owners ask you to leave the footer links intact or there might be other restrictions.

WordPress.org
WordPress.org is a great resource for free WordPress themes (Image: Screenshot)

First try checking for free WordPress themes on premium theme websites, such as ThemeForest or Creative Market (they regularly come with a free file of the month), Tokokoo, Templatic, StudioPress etc. WordPress.org is also one of the most important theme resources, make sure you don’t forget it. We also have a few free WordPress themes listed on WordPress.org. Our very popular MH Magazine lite theme for example has recently exceeded 100,000 downloads on WordPress.org.

b.) Premium WordPress Themes

Pro: Normally premium WordPress themes are of a higher quality than free themes. Also, having a premium theme brings you support, documentation and eventually a help section. Another good thing is that there won’t be that many users out there using the same theme as it were if that theme was free.

Con: It costs money. However, the price is not that expensive. You should not forget that creating a high-quality and flexible WordPress theme can easily cost hundreds of hours of development. While keeping that in mind, premium WordPress theme are actually very cheap. Hiring a developer to achieve the same thing would cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Our advice: If you have a few extra bucks remaining when starting your project, it’s worth spending the money on a premium theme. We have listed some of the best premium WordPress themes on the market in our Premium WordPress Themes Directory.

c.) Custom WordPress Themes

Pro: This is what we would recommend to anyone who has a higher budget. Having a custom WordPress theme means your layout is unique and so you build your identity and trust. Another advantage is that the hired developer can create exactly the functionality you need for your website.

Con: Custom WordPress themes usually cost much more than a premium theme.

Our advice: If you can afford the money and think it’s worth it, then go for a custom WordPress theme. Pay someone to build your preferred theme but only after you really know what you want and when you have a blueprint in mind, otherwise the cost can be easily much higher as planned because the developer has to modify everything until the result suits your needs.

6. Conclusion

We hope you now have a better understanding about choosing the right WordPress theme for your website. The most important thing when choosing is the planning. Make sure you know exactly what your website is about, what the aim is, what you need from your WordPress theme and what you get from purchasing the premium WordPress theme you like.