February 25, 2011

WordPress Themes – How To Choose?

Wordpress ThemesI just answered a question about choosing a WordPress theme in a forum that I belong to and thought you could benefit from the thread as well. We discuss free vs. paid themes and the daunting task of choosing among thousands of themes. The questions were:

What factors should I consider when choosing a WordPress theme, other than the way it looks?

What differentiates a free theme from a paid theme?

There are thousands to choose from and it’s very confusing. Is it safe to assume that newer themes have more capabilities?

Is there a trusted source that rates the themes? I read it is somewhat easy to change themes, but I don’t want to work hard to set up a blog and find out the theme requires lots of technical adjustments that I am not able to do.

Also – 2 or 3 column – is there a recommended best choice?

And my answers about choosing a WordPress theme are:

Besides how the theme looks some considerations are:

  1. Layout choices (being able to choose a different layout per page i.e. sidebars, full width)
  2. SEO (some themes allow customizing title tags, keywords, etc)
  3. CSS customization ( being able to easily change font styles, font sizes, link colors, etc without touching the CSS editor)
  4. Landing page customization (being able to remove or change the header image on a landing or sales page)
  5. JavaScript (being able to use JS within a page as WP doesn’t always play well with JS)

The main differences between good paid themes and good free themes is the ability to make these customizations without having to dig deep into the code as well as the SEO benefits. As there are buggy free themes there are also buggy paid themes.

If you buy a theme, it is extremely helpful if they have a support forum and are regularly updating the theme to handle changing versions of WordPress. Also updates of the theme should not overwrite customizations you’ve made.

Newer themes may have more capabilities but good themes keep up to date. If you go to the WordPress themes directory at http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/ you’ll be able to search for themes by a wide variety of characteristics and when you click on the title of a theme, you can see ratings as well as a description and comments.

It is very easy to change themes in WordPress, so you might want to install a few and then see what each one looks like on the inside before deciding on the one you want.

Personally, I like the 2 column format with the sidebar on the right side. I find that 3-column formats get a little busy…but that’s just me. But I like the option of removing the sidebar for certain pages, so I like that option in a theme.

Genesis Framework for WordPressIf you want to check out a premium theme, one that I’ve used on a couple of sites (including author Cindy Bradford’s blog) is the Studio Press Prose Theme using the Genesis Framework. Click Here to see a demo. Unlike some of the other Studio Press themes, this one has an easy to use admin panel to change fonts, colors, etc. and also uses the WordPress header image uploader so it’s easy to install a good looking header image.

What is your favorite theme? Put your favorite(s) in the comment section.

Christine Cobb

Christine Cobb

is a web technology consultant, a small business online marketing consultant and provides information for new bloggers and affiliate marketers.
Christine Cobb
  • Keith Davis says:

    Hi Chris
    Which is my favourite theme?
    Big big question.

    The best looking themes are by Elegant Themes.
    Nick Roach is a genius when it comes to visuals but the themes are slow to load.
    I use an Elegant Themes theme on my own blog.

    For speed and super clean coding, Genesis themes take some beating.
    I’ve just bought the pro version of Genesis and will be setting up a few Genesis sites in the next few months.

    BTW – agree with you about columns.
    Two columns, main content and sidebar.
    Three columns looks too busy.

    • Chris says:

      Your blog theme is very eye catching but I agree, it does have some loading challenges, especially on my iPad.

      I’m glad I got the Genesis all-themes pack since they are raising the price soon.

  • Aja says:

    it took me a day I first used wordpess to choose the theme 🙂 because they have so many and really amazing. I like paper-like and note-like themes.

  • Adam says:

    Hey! Great information, I shared some of it on my site and left you a link back:) Keep up the good work!

  • Asher says:

    Please select the best theme who will suit your blog and its niche. It helps your visitors to spend some time over your blog.

  • Frank Steiner says:

    Great article. I particularly liked your criteria for selecting WordPress theme. You might also consider adding responsiveness to that section. Responsive themes are those that any device, iphone, blackberry, ipad, pc,mac, can view the theme properly.

    • Christine Cobb says:

      Frank — I was really excited about the responsive theme capability until I used one for a client and they needed several customizations. It looked horrible on the mobile devices after all the changes. I have been able to getting it looking decent but it will take a lot more work to get it looking good on mobile. For all the work involved, I’m thinking that creating a separate mobile site would be easier. Have you had that experience?

      • Frank Steiner says:

        Separate mobile website needs a lot of resources and is hard to maintain in the long run. I made small modifications to a responsive theme, and it was fine. If you make a lot of changes to theme, it is very likely that it will look horrible on mobile devices.

  • Wolfram Müller says:

    Another great way of finding the right theme is by visually comparing them side by side with a webapp i wrote at themescroller.com

    you can also filter by marketplace, and all the ~1400 free themes of the wordpress.org directory are listed in there. check it out!

    • Christine Cobb says:

      Interesting. Wondering why you didn’t include Studio Press in the marketplace.

      • Wolfram Müller says:

        New marketplaces are coming very soon. I just launched the app today … if you have more feedback feel free to mail at wolfram [at] themescroller.com, or maybe you even want to write a review about it?

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