If you’re getting ready to launch a WordPress site, one of the first situations that you’ll encounter is the need to choose a WordPress theme.
Your theme is the foundation of your site – it determines how your site looks and, to a lesser extent, functions.
While you can always change WordPress themes down the line, it’s an important enough decision that you want to get it right the first time. Seriously – changing themes on an established site can be a pain, so put some thought into getting this choice right.
To help you get started on the right foot, I’ll spend this post digging into how to choose a WordPress theme that’s perfect for your site.
A Brief Look At The Free vs Premium Debate
Let’s start at the beginning – the free vs premium debate.
One of the first questions you need to answer is:
Am I willing to pay ~$60 for a premium WordPress theme?
While there’s nothing that inherently makes premium themes better than free themes, premium themes generally have:
- More detailed designs
- Multiple pre-built demos that you can easily import
- Better support and continued development
- More customization options when it comes to changing things like layouts, colors, and fonts
Some people also say that premium themes are more secure and coded better than free themes. I don’t think that’s true.
You can find plenty of bloated, poorly-coded premium themes. Similarly, you’ll find plenty of clean-coded free themes.
In the end, I think it comes down to your preferences. If you’re fine with a basic design with limited customization options, you can probably get away with a free theme. But for serious uses, I think a premium theme is almost always a better option.
Where to Find Free WordPress Themes
The best place to find free WordPress themes is the official WordPress.org theme directory. For an easier way to search the themes listed at WordPress.org, you can also use the Addendio Themes tool. Better yet, the tool allows you to quickly launch a test site for any themes that you find at WordPress.org.
Some reputable developers also list free themes on their own websites. But generally, you should not use Google to find free WordPress themes.
In order for a theme to be listed on the official WordPress.org theme directory, it has to have its code reviewed by a member of the WordPress.org team. This code review ensures that the themes listed at WordPress.org are all free of malicious code.
On the other hand, if you find a random free theme via Google, you can’t know that the theme is safe.
Where to Find Premium WordPress Themes
Premium themes can be a little harder to source because there’s not one directory of premium themes.
Here are some good places to look, though:
- ThemeForest – the closest thing to a directory of premium themes, though you need to be careful and read reviews because some themes are poorly coded.
- StudioPress / Genesis – a popular theme framework known for its quality.
- Elegant Themes – makers of the popular Divi theme.
- Array Themes – minimal, cleanly coded themes.
This is by no means a complete list – there are tons of other quality theme shops out there.
Important Questions to Ask Before You Choose a WordPress Theme
Once you’ve decided whether or not you’re willing to crack open your wallet and started perusing the various places to find WordPress themes, the next thing you need to do is vet the individual themes that you find.
Here are some questions to answer about a theme before you make your final decision:
Is the Theme Rated Highly and is the Developer Respected?
One of the first places to look for answers is the wisdom of the crowds. While individual developers might not have public ratings, you can find public reviews at both WordPress.org and ThemeForest.
At WordPress.org, look for the Ratings area. You can also click on that area to view actual reviews:
At ThemeForest, look at the Item Rating and the Comments:
Does The Theme Still Receive Regular Updates?
Another important thing to check is whether the theme still receives updates. The WordPress core software is constantly getting updated, so it’s important that your theme developer keeps up.
At WordPress.org, you can check this by looking for the Last Updated date:
Similarly, ThemeForest also displays a Last Update date:
Does The Theme Pass Theme Check?
Unless you’re an actual developer, it can be difficult to tell whether a theme is poorly coded or not just by looking at it.
Thankfully, there’s a tool called Theme Check that can do the work for you. The WordPress.org theme team uses Theme Check to help assess a theme’s code quality. And because the tool is publicly available, you can do the same.
Here’s how to use it:
- Go to Theme Check
- Search for your theme’s name OR
- Upload a ZIP file of your theme
- Look for the green icon
While Theme Check can’t catch every single potential problem, it is a good indicator of a theme’s quality.
Does The Theme Offer One-Click Demo Imports (If Applicable)?
You know those great demos you see when you’re browsing themes? Yeah…usually, the developer made some tweaks to get it to look like that.
That is, when you first install the theme, it probably won’t look exactly like it did on the demo site you saw.
One-click demo imports are what allow you to quickly make your site look exactly like the demo.
Most themes nowadays offer one-click demo content. But before you make your final decision, you should verify that your chosen theme does offer it:
Does The Theme Look Great on All Devices? Responsive Design
This one almost goes without saying nowadays. But it’s important to make sure that whichever theme you choose follows responsive design principles.
Responsive design means that your visitors get the same great experience no matter if they’re using a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
While most themes offer responsive design, it’s still important to actually preview the design on multiple devices before making your decision. For example, you might love how the design looks on computers, but hate how it looks on smartphones.
You want your theme to look great for everyone – so preview the demo site on multiple devices to make sure it does.
How Do You Make Changes and Customize the Theme?
Finally, consider how the theme will let you make changes and customizations.
Some themes use the native WordPress Customizer for edits, while others use custom theme options panels.
The native WordPress Customizer approach is often more beginner-friendly because it lets you preview your changes in real-time, while a custom theme options panel requires you to Save + Refresh before you can see changes.
Usually, a theme will say whether or not it uses the WordPress Customizer in its marketing copy:
Test Your Theme Before You Make a Final Decision
Finally, before you make your final decision, it can be helpful to actually take your chosen theme for a test drive. That’s what the Addendio Themes tool lets you do.
You can browse over 14,000 free and premium themes. Then, as long as the theme is available at WordPress.org, you can quickly launch a test site so that you can play around with the theme before you make your final decision.
And in the end, by forcing yourself to answer the questions above, you can hopefully find the perfect theme for your WordPress site.