In this episode, I answer the oft asked question: How do I choose a WordPress Theme?
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TRANSCRIPT OF THIS EPISODE
Welcome back to another episode of the Pint Sized Podcast. I’m Kelli Wise, head honcho at Pint Sized Sites and I’m here to answer your questions about WordPress and Websites.
In my business, I’ve narrowed down the themes I allow clients to choose from to Genesis child themes and fully custom themes. I’m pretty adept at modifying Genesis child themes and the parent theme works well, so that’s allowed me to continue to offer sites at reasonable prices. There’s also a huge selection of child themes to start from, so that allows my clients to have a variety of themes to choose from.
The fully custom stuff is, of course, completely custom and I’m in full control of the code, so I should know my way around it.
For most of you, however, creating your own theme from scratch, or from a starter like underscores, is not a real alternative. You’re looking to buy or download a theme. You probably don’t want to mess with code. At all.
In that case, Genesis might be a stretch, too, if it’s out of your price point.
Fortunately, there are thousands of themes to choose from, both free and for a pretty reasonable amount of money.
And that’s turned into a real problem. There really are THOUSANDS, if not tens of thousands of themes to choose from. And that brings me to the question for this episode:
How do I choose a WordPress theme?
In the last 4 weeks, I’ve been asked this same question multiple times, so I’m not even going to give you one listener’s name. If you haven’t asked it, you probably want to. So let’s talk about how to wade through the dizzying array of themes and narrow down your choices.
Before we get too deep in themes, I want to explain a key difference between themes and plugins in WordPress. According to WordPress.org, themes ‘take the content and data stored by WordPress and display it in the browser.” 1
That’s it. That’s what a theme should do. Take your content, the words and pictures, and make them look good.
A plugin controls the behavior and features of your WordPress site.
It adds functionality like contact forms or events or slide shows.
“Any theme you create should not add critical functionality. Doing so means that when a user changes their theme, they lose access to that functionality.”
You are likely to switch themes at some point in your web life, so it’s best practice to put the functionality your site needs in a plugin and let the theme take care of the appearance.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about what you should consider when you are looking for a theme.
The first thing I want you to consider is:
What features/functionality do you need from your website? Need. Not want.
As a starter, your website NEEDS to be responsive. That means, it adjusts its appearance depending on the screen size. Gone are the days of pinch and zoom when you’re looking at a website on your smart phone. Today’s websites will resize elements, move elements, change menus to those little hamburger thingies and generally just be a lot easier to use for normal size fingers on different size screens.
Responsive is an appearance issue, so it’s best left to the theme to do. So write down RESPONSIVE on your needs list.
Let’s make it Not Ugly!
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but let’s try to shy away from butt ugly. There are websites devoted to showcasing ugly websites. Don’t be on their list, ok?
If it’s not ugly, then it must be attractive, right? Yes, but. That caveat is that it must be visually appealing to your target visitor. It should reflect your personality, or your company’s personality and reflect your visitors’ aspirations. Punk bands and day spas will have different aesthetics. Unless you have a punk day spa, which is a thing and good on ya.
What I’m trying, and failing, to communicate is: if your favorite color is baby doll pink and you are marketing motorcycle leathers to Harley riders, you might not want to use a lot of baby doll pink in your web design. Unless your niche Harley rider is into baby doll pink, in which case you should definitely use it.
One good question that was posed in a recent WordPress meetup group was: If the trend now is towards minimalism and I use a theme that isn’t, will I look out of date? My opinion on that is, No. Every design trend is just that, a trend. A couple years ago, we were all doing flat design. Before that was drop shadows. Now, drop shadows are making a more subtle comeback. So, not following the latest trend today may put you leading the trends of tomorrow. However, the old Kubrick theme isn’t really retro, it’s just old and dated. Find something else.
Don’t let the pretty get in the way, though. I’ve seen websites that were gorgeous but unusable. You can’t find the menu, you can’t find the information you want, you can’t do business with them.
As an example of a website that is attractive but not beautiful, look at Amazon. It’s not a drop dead gorgeous website, but it presents the information the shopper needs in a way that makes the site easy to find the product they are looking for and purchase that product.
And that brings me to making the site usable. The theme should present the information that your customer needs and make it easy to find what they need. There should be adequate menus. There should be places for your contact information. The text should be readable – that means big enough and contrasty enough to be viewable by folks over the age of 25.
Don’t let the ‘target industry’ drive your choice. Don’t reject a theme just because it’s marketed at an industry that isn’t yours. One of the most used themes at Genesis is Foodie Pro and it’s used for a lot of non-food businesses.
The next thing to look for is Customizability.
WordPress continues to make the theme customization easier to use for non-coders. They even have a window now for “Customize” that theme developers can take advantage of. This kind of customization affects the theme’s appearance, so this functionality belongs in the theme.
Can you change colors? Are there the right page layouts for your business? Can you add your logo? Can you tweak it enough to make it yours?
Are the color choices limited to a specific few or can you change the colors to match your branding? Some themes come with a ‘blue’ version but it may not match your blue.
Drag and drop design features are another feature but I’ll cover those in another podcast. It’s just too large a topic to include here. Let’s just say that if you choose a drag and drop theme, you need to know what happens to your website when you change themes in the future. Some of them leave a mess and some of them leave you without any content.
And that brings me to Theme Lock
This is where you are locked into the theme. There is some functionality in the theme that will prevent you from changing themes.
One example I’ve seen is restaurant themes. I’ve seen a couple of restaurant themes where the menu functionality is built into the theme. The theme is creating a custom post type for the menus and menu items. You spend hours adding all of that content and you keep it updated every week or month. Then one day, you want to change your theme. Lo and behold, all of your menu data is gone. Now you have to re-enter everything.
The better way to do this is to have a restaurant plugin that allows you to create your breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus and display them on whichever theme you choose. Now when you change themes, your data is still there and you don’t have to re-type everything.
What drives theme developers to add all this functionality? Users do. They don’t understand theme lock or the downsides to bundling all of this functionality into the theme. It’s one thing they install and then they can forget the whole web design task and get on with their business. Bad idea.
So, theme designers add functionality and the theme sells. So the next developer adds more functionality to compete with the first guy. And on and on. We now have a theme arms race
Take a look at the themes in the theme marketplaces like Theme Forest.
Theme A has one slider, so Theme B has 2. Theme C has 2 sliders plus a contact form. Theme D has 3 sliders, a contact form, Woo Commerce and Visual Composer. And on and on it goes.
Ideally, you would have a pretty theme and plugins for your slider, contact form, woocommerce and drag and drop page layout.
Theme lock not only locks you in to a theme, but what happens when a feature becomes a security risk? Like Revolution slider? A lot of themes came with that bundled in and no way for the user to remove it. Now, you’re locked into the theme with a security vulnerability or you pretty much need to start from scratch. If you used a slider plugin, you could switch sliders, change out the short codes, reapply your slides and be good to go.
The last thing to consider, and frankly one of the most important is Support
Does the developer keep the theme updated? Does he or she answer questions? In a timely manner? Do bugs get addressed and fixed?
If I have a choice between 2 themes that are equally attractive and suitable, I will always pick the one that is being actively supported. In fact, I will go for a bit uglier if the prettier theme isn’t being supported. Why? Because questions happen and I don’t always have time to figure it out myself.
To recap, when you are choosing a theme for your site go for
- Not locked in
That’s all for this episode. To everyone who has asked me about how to choose a theme, thanks for the question. I hope this helps.
Thanks to you for listening. If you have questions or comments, be sure to visit the website at
Pint sized sites dot com / Podcast for links to this episode. You’ll also find show notes and a transcript with any links mentioned here and you’ll find all of the earlier episodes, too.
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If you have a question you would like answered, go to pint sized sites dot com and look in the top menu for “ask a question”. Fill out the form and leave your name, if you are so inclined, and I’ll find an answer to your question in a future episode.
Thanks again for listening! Until next time, I’m Kelli Wise and you’ve been listening to the Pint Sized Podcast – website and WordPress help for small business!
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