10 Things to Know about Choosing a WordPress Theme

This post is part of the:
100 Things you Need to Know about WordPress Series given by Anthony Montalbano and myself at WordPress Ann Arbor.

1. Never search Google for Free WordPress themes

The bulk of the “free” themes in Google are full of spam links or infected with malware. Only use free themes from the offical WordPress repository, or reputable theme directories (linked by highly regarded members of the WP community).

2. The more professional your layout is, the higher your conversion rate will be

Usability studies show that the more professional your graphics and layout, the higher the perceived value and “trust” will be by visitors to your web site. When choosing a theme be sure that your design is as professional as possible.

3. If you like a theme google the name + conflict, broken, and help

Sometimes themes are released a single time, and never revised be developers. To mitigate future problems and fixes, google the theme name in conjunction with keywords like conflict, broken, and help – to see if others are having problems that you might not know about (until it’s too late).

4. Premium themes generally come with more mature code, multiple revisions, and support

Premium themes cost money, but if you have problems you can usually get support from the developer, or their community. Because their living depends on the themes, they also revise them more frequently, and provide more features. Generally premium themes are more mature as well (and better coded). If you were going to put new siding and a roof on your house, would you call a bunch of college kids – or a real contractor?

5. In most cases rely on a theme for design and layout – not functionality

The more functionality that’s built into your theme, the harder it will be move off it in the future (if you need to). If you keep as much functionality as possible in plugins, then if you need to migrate themes in the future, it won’t be so hard.

6. Some themes excel at functionality: directories, auctions, classifieds, video, magazine

Some developers have premium themes for specific functions, like directories, auctions, classifieds, video and magazine layouts. Some even make specific themes for realtors, auto dealers, etc. This type of functionality is different because it’s normally something that a plugin doesn’t provide, and odds are you won’t want to switch the theme in the future (because it provides a services you need and is supported long term).

7. View admin functionality before choosing a theme; make sure you’re capable of customizations

Some themes look great, but once you download and install them you need to “be a mechanic under the hood” to setup. Always be sure to try and view the admin screenshots of the theme to determine if you have the technical capabilities necessary to set it up once purchased (or if you’ll need to hire someone).

8. Use “Maintenance Mode” or “Theme Test Drive” plugins when switching themes

If you’re going to be doing a lot of customization, or don’t want a lot of down time to your web site when switching a theme (or before launching a site), use these plugins:

Maintenance Mode plugin

Theme Test Drive plugin

9. Test in Windows, Linux, Mobile, and Mac beore launch

Your web site may look one way on your local PC, but different on a Mac, or in Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, or mobile devices. Test as many different ways as you can before launching a new theme.

If you don’t have an iPhone try iPhoneTester.com

Also try the IE Renderer

You can also test in nearly every browser (that matters) from one site at Browser Shots.

10. Always be aware that design changes always affect search rankings

Even if you change only visual elements, anytime that you switch a theme (and change placement of text) you will affect your search rankings. In most cases expect a “setting period” in search rankings of 30-60 days. Some drastic changes to theme design might require on-site SEO work to retain some search rankings.