Without a doubt, one of the coolest features of WordPress is its utilization of themes. The ability to develop custom themes, and deploy pre-built ones, contributes to WordPress' overall flexibility. Creating one from the ground up can be a large-scale project. Using a premium built and distributed one, though, can yield the beginnings to a website in a few hours.
What is a WordPress theme?
A theme defines the visual presentation and architectural layout of a WordPress website. In a literal sense, a theme is a collection of files that get installed into the CMS. They provide extra settings, stylistic enhancements, and new functionality -- all without changing the underlying WordPress software.
This is an important distinction to make; the theme does not affect the underlying CMS software. The two components work together harmoniously, each holding their own set of crucial components. The CMS provides basic foundational logic for powering a website: file structure, post loops, page hierarchy, etc. The theme adds the cool factors: stylized widgets, hero banners, buttons, forms, and so on.
Since a theme sets the foundation for the branding and usability of a website, selecting a good one is important to the success of your web project.
Let's look at some basic things to consider when vetting themes for a new project.
Free vs. Paid Themes
The first decision to make is whether you will use a free theme or a premium paid theme. To me the choice is a no brainer: go premium.
Free themes are great pieces of starter code if you want to learn about theme development and customization. For a business, though, a premium theme will come chalked with benefits you don't want to miss out on. For one, premium themes receive regular updates that include security patches and new features.
Free themes also tend to come with shoddy or outdated code. For an average cost of $60, a premium theme can save you thousands in the long run as it alleviates the need to fix any breaks or bugs.
So grab yourself a premium theme, you’ll be glad you did.
Establishing a Look and Feel
As already mentioned, themes provide a stylistic skin for your content. As you demo themes and shop around, think about how your branding will fit into their structure:
- Do you like the navigation and menu styles?
- Are the testimonial widgets what you pictured?
- Is the layout minimalist or is it complex and feature rich?
In addition, watch out for themes with large pieces of custom functionality. Any piece of advanced functionality in your WordPress site should reside in a plugin. You will find that some themes come with impressive custom plugin type functionality that is built into the theme itself.
For example, click to take a look at this hotel theme.
The booking functionality on the homepage is custom built into the theme itself. While it looks nice, there are some dangers here. What happens down the road when you want to switch themes? All of your booking functionality (a major part of the business) is non-portable.
If this same functionality was built using a form plugin, like Gravity Forms, it would be moveable to another site.
To that end, my recommendation is to stick with larger themes that have many stylistic options, like Avada or The7. These are the preferred themes of Americaneagle.com's project team as the functionality is built using plugins as opposed to being custom built into the theme itself.
Scalability & Flexibility
I recently built a website for a client that was debuting a new segment of their business. The initial project did not require any type of eCommerce functionality, but future development plans did. In planning this project, it was vital for the chosen theme to accommodate future eCommerce functionality.
By selecting a theme that was pre-bundled with WooCommerce (a popular eCommerce framework), we were able to execute phase one deliverables while setting up an easier phase two eCommerce implementation.
For the client, this equates to an expedited launch and lower costs. For the developers, this means tighter control on quality assurance and a happy client.
Select a theme that is compatible with commonly used plugins like WooCommerce, BuddyPress, and others – doing so opens many doors and allows for future flexibility.
When doing speed optimization audits on websites, I often find these configurations missing from selected themes as the planning phase obviously didn’t take into account these important features.
Getting Started on the Right Foot
As you can see, selecting a WordPress theme for your website comes with some notable considerations. Using these basic strategies for the vetting process can ensure a smooth project along with an excellent finished website that scales with business growth and provides future flexibility.