1. What type of website are you building?
The first thing to consider in choosing a theme for your website is the purpose of the website. What is the thing you most want people to do when they visit your website? If you’re a photographer and you want them to see examples of your work, you’ll want to choose a website theme with a prominent photo gallery. If you’re a restaurant, you’ll want customers to be able to find your hours and menu. If you are trying to get leads for your business, it will be important for your website to have a prominent “call to action” such as an email signup form or a huge button to click. And if you’re a blogger and you want people to read your articles, you might want to have several of your most interesting blog posts visible on your home page.
For my first website, RVinspiration.com, I chose a “magazine style” theme that would allow me to have images and short descriptions from several of my most popular blog posts displayed on the home page. If your website centers around a service you offer, a theme that prominently displays a large picture of you or a picture that represents the topic of your blog with attention-grabbing text stating the message of your website might be a good choice.
Think of several websites similar to the one you want to build. If you don’t know of any offhand, Google the topic you plan to blog about. Find 3 or 4 websites you really like, and note the similarities between them. Then, browse through the themes available at ThemeForest.com and see if you can find any that are similar to the websites you liked.
2. What features will you need?
This is very important and closely related to the purpose of your website. If you decide later that you need certain features that aren’t included in your theme, you’ll be relying on plug-ins (or custom development) to add those features, and running too many complex plug-ins can slow down your site and cause code conflicts that prevent things from displaying correctly, so it’s best to find a theme that already includes most of what you need. On the other hand, if your theme comes with too many features you don’t need, that can cause your site to load and run slowly as well.
Additionally, you may or may not be able to remove, replace, or modify the elements you see in the theme’s demo, so don’t assume that you’ll be able to change any of the elements (other than swapping out text and images) unless the theme’s website states that it’s an option or you can see a variation that doesn’t have that element.
Following up on the homework from the last section, take a careful look at 3-4 sites you like that are similar to the one you want to build, and note the layout and the features that are included on each page. Additionally, look to see what all types of pages the site has. Then, look through the themes in ThemeForest for themes that offer those features. Be sure to look at other pages besides just the home page for any themes you’re seriously considering. Note that some themes come with multiple variations that you may have to click through to other pages to see.
Features common to blogs for you to consider whether or not you need:
- Email signup form on the home page
- Social media icons
- Social media feed
- Site navigation menu at the top of the home page
- Two site navigation menus at the top of the home page
- Prominent images on the homepage
- Contact form
- “Bio” section in a sidebar
- E-commerce option (“shop”)
- Features specific to websites in your niche
3. Will you be able to make it look as good as the demo?
When looking at the demo version of a theme, it’s easy to think, “Wow, this looks great! I want my website to look exactly like this!” But what exactly are the elements making that website look great, and will your website have those same elements? Will that same theme look as good when the images have been replaced with your own images? Does the design rely on features you don’t need, or lack features you do need? Conversely, does the theme come with infinite options for customization that you’ll be required to assemble into a design yourself?
Look at the demo version of the theme you’re thinking about getting and consider each element and how you would replace or customize it for your own website. If you’re considering an extremely popular theme (like Divi for Avada, for example), Google to find blog posts about the setup process in order to get a feel for what to expect.
4. Will your website look good on a phone?
More than half of your website visitors will likely be viewing your site on their phone (for my website RVinspiration.com, it’s over 80%), so it’s super important for your website look good on mobile. Most WordPress themes these days are “mobile responsive” (meaning they are built to adapt to a phone screen), but just to be sure, paste the URL of the demo version of any theme you’re considering here to check it before buying.
5. Does the theme have good reviews?
If you’re shopping for a WordPress theme in a large marketplace such as Theme Forest, you’ll be able to easily find any reviews that have been written about your theme and its developer. If you’re buying a theme from a different source, you might need to do some Googling to find reviews. Reading about other people’s experiences with setting up and using the theme can help you get an idea of what to expect yourself. If you’re considering a theme that has few or no reviews, click on the developer’s name to see if they have any other themes for sale and what the reviews are like on those.
6. Does the theme developer offer support and updates?
This one is especially important if you are new to WordPress and blogging. Find out when the theme was created, and how recently it was last updated. A theme that hasn’t been updated in months or years could be a sign that the developer is no longer supporting it, meaning a plugin you install or a new update to WordPress could break the theme (cause it to not display properly).
Additionally, check to see how many months of support is included with the theme, and if an extension to this time period is offered, consider paying for it. If you run into problems or have trouble getting your theme to look the way it’s supposed to, you need to be able to contact the developer for help and get a response; otherwise, you’ll be stuck Googling or hiring a web developer to help you, which is not a fun position to be in.
The theme I used to build RVinspiration.com hasn’t been updated since 2017, and the questions people have asked in the comments have gone unanswered, so I consider myself lucky that it’s still working fairly well for me (though I have had to have my husband custom code a couple of things for me when they stopped displaying correctly).
7. Will you need help setting up your theme?
When I set up RVinspiration.com, I had to have a lot of help from my husband, who is a web developer, because there was so much I didn’t know (like how to create menus, how to add and configure widgets, which image size I needed to use for my featured images so my home page would look right, etc.) and my theme didn’t come with clear setup instructions (or if it did, I wouldn’t have known where to find them).
In contrast, as soon as I purchased the theme I used to create this blog, which I bought from a small theme development company run by a husband and wife team called Bluchic.com, I immediately got a friendly email from the developer with a link to detailed, step-by-step setup instructions that included screenshots and videos to walk me through the entire process of setting the theme up to look like the demo, which I was able to do in about two days.
It’s hard to emphasize enough the vast difference in user experience between the two web developers, and when I remember the time I spent in frustration trying to figure things out as a new blogger, I can say without hesitation that the difference in the price I paid for the theme was definitely more than worth it. But just the fact that a theme costs more doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find it easier to set up (you could just be paying for extra features).
I’m not trying to scare you off…learning to set up a WordPress theme and build a blog is something that thousands of people successfully do every year, and with determination and effort, you can definitely be one of those people. I just want you to have a good idea of what you’re in for. Here’s an example of some of the common setup problems people sometimes run into when installing a WordPress theme, and why I’m preaching so hard about how great my theme setup experience was in contrast.
Where to Find WordPress Themes
WordPress.org has free themes that you can shop for and install with the click of a button directly from within your WordPress dashboard. A lot of people starting out choose this easy, free option because they can’t see why you would pay for something you can easily get for free. However, if you navigate to the theme home page, you’ll find that most of these themes come in both a free version and a paid version, and kind of like phone apps, some of the functionality is limited in the free version.
It’s hard to know when you’re first starting out what functionality is and isn’t important. For example, just now while browsing free themes I found one that allows custom CSS (code) to be added in the paid version, but not in the free version. A new blogger might think “I don’t know how to code, so I don’t need that feature.” But actually, the whole point of that feature is to make customizations easier for people who don’t know how to code. For example, when I was trying to figure out how to “hide” a Pinterest-sized image in a blog post so that it would only show up when people click to pin the post, I found a tutorial about an easy way to do it by copying and pasting a snippet of custom code into the “custom CSS” field within my theme’s settings. Without the ability to copy and paste that code one time in my theme, I would have to write custom code every time I added a Pinterest image to a blog post in order to accomplish the same thing. So having a theme that gives you that option to begin with is nice. Those are the types of things you’ll find in a paid “Premium” theme that you don’t typically get with a free theme.
Theme Forest, which is part of the Envato marketplace, is one of the biggest and well-known theme shops and has a huge selection of themes. It’s actually where I bought my original theme for RVinspiration.com (after three using that theme, I decided to switch to a different theme), and I’ve sent bought a couple more themes there. It’s nice that you can filter your search results based on things like the theme purpose, reviews, and number of downloads. You can definitely find some very good themes there, but you may also find some themes that end up being very difficult to set up and customize, so I would suggest relying pretty heavily on reviews for choosing a theme from Theme Forest, and also try to get a feel for the kind of setup instructions and customer support you’ll be able to get from the theme developer.
And as you can probably guess, I wholeheartedly recommend taking a look at the themes from Bluchic.com. This is an example of “you get what you pay for”, and if you intend to run your website as a business, you will save so much time and headache and get your business up and running more quickly by paying a little extra on the front end (and if you don’t, you could very well end up paying even more on the back end).
Bluchic specializes in “feminine” themes, but keep in mind you can change any of the colors and you’ll be providing your own images, so these themes don’t have to be pink. 🙂 In fact, if you click “showcase” at the top of their home page you can see some examples of real functioning websites built using Bluchic’s themes, and you’ll see that they’re not all so overtly feminine.
Bluchic also offers some cool add-ons that most theme developers don’t offer, including:
- social media image templates branded to match your theme (a huge time saver!)
- templates for downloadable freebies you can use to get people to sign up for your email list
- landing page themes for marketing products and services branded to match your theme with the same easy setup instructions
- For a one-time fee, they’ll even set up your theme for you to look exactly like the demo. Personally I would recommend that you do this yourself so you can become familiar with how WordPress works (since they make it so easy, and since you’ll need to know where everything is located to customize it anyway), but if you just want to get a blog you can use up and running as soon as possible, it is a nice option to have available.
When I decided it was time for RVinspiration.com to have a site redesign, I ended up choosing the Magazine Pro Genesis theme from StudioPress.com, and I was extremely impressed with the quality of the theme as well as the level of support. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that because the theme is so popular, there are lots of plugins designed especially for Genesis themes that can help a non-coder like me easily expand my site’s functionality. If you need to hire a developer to help you with your site, you can easily find affordable freelance developers who specialize in Genesis themes. For all of these reasons, I can confidently recommend any theme from StudioPress, and I believe one of these premium themes is an especially good choice for anyone building a business website.
After you’ve bought your theme
Once you’ve bought your theme, you’ll need to set it up. If your theme doesn’t come with instructions to help you, stay tuned, because I’ll be publishing future blog posts about the process!