5 Things to look for when selecting a WordPress Theme
I develop most of my sites utilizing WordPress. Any why not? It is one of the most used Content Management Systems (CMS) around. And what makes WordPress the system of choice is the ability to customize the “theme” to look any way you’d like. This is where custom and functional meet.
Not all of my sites are custom sites developed from the ground up. In those cases I start with a pre-made theme. I typically like to use the “premium” themes from ThemeFuse (http://themefuse.com). Their themes are very well written, easy to customize, and have a huge number of features already built into their underlying framework.
That being said, when I am looking for a theme to use as a base for a new project, here are a few things that I look for when selecting a theme.
1.) Premium Themes
Premium themes are themes that you pay for. They are developed by someone ahead of time. They usually have a set layout, possibly a few color combination options, and depending upon the theme many more options.
Usually a premium theme is built on some sort of framework. Whether that framework be a self-rolled framework, or one of the more standard frameworks, the framework will help speed development, and allow for bug fixes to be fixed without breaking functionality.
How much you pay for a premium theme depends upon the number of features it contains and its functionality. Like I mentioned above, I use Themefuse themes. They include almost everything, and the kitchen sink.
Responsive designs are no longer an option anymore. If you have a website, it NEEDS to work on mobile devices. Like I mentioned in a previous post (http://opiescomputers.com/top-4-reasons-you-need-a-responsive-design/), there are plenty of reasons to need and want a responsive design.
But not all themes are developed equally. Whether they use Bootstrap (http://getbootstrap.com/), or some other responsive framework, the need to use something. In a theme the use of a responsive framework can be tricky. How do you allow flexibility in the content on the page, but still ensure that it re-arranges correctly when on a smaller screen.
The answer is, it isn’t easy. And that’s why some themes are very rigid in what layouts and templates they have for specific pages. They don’t want you to attempt something that may break the layout of the page. In these instances this is why it is a good idea to look for a premium theme that is easy to customize. Creating a custom layout for a specific purpose can be easy or it can be extremely hard.
3.) Dependence on Plugins
Plugins can greatly help in some instances. But dependence on plugins should be limited. What happens if development of a plugin stops. You could probably use it for a little while. But if something changes in the WordPress core which means you can’t update your plugin, you’re stuck on that version of WordPress.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of really good WordPress plugins that get the job done and are constantly being developed for. But there are just as many that were around for a few versions and then their developers have completely stopped.
Before adding a new plugin, be sure to check the plugin page at WordPress.org (http://wordpress.org) to ensure that current development has occurred. Ensure that it is compatable with the version of WordPress that you are running.
4.) Ease of Customization
The chances of a theme fitting your or your clients bill exactly is probably nearly 0%. You need to be able to easily customize the theme. Whether this is as little as changing out the logo, or tweaking a few colors here and there. Being able to change something needs to be easily done.
To check for this, ensure that the theme’s style.css file is the last one loaded. This will guarantee that when you add a change to your theme’s stylesheet, it will always be loaded last and override anything loaded previously… Unless of course the theme authors are fans of the dreaded “!important” directive.
One last point about customizing a theme. Use a child theme! I cannot stress this enough. I’ll have another post next week about just this topic.
Pay attention to how the navigation works. Are there drop-downs for 2nd and 3rd level menu items. Are there delays to when dropdowns appear? How are the colors done?
I guess my point here is, spend more time on figuring out how the navigation works, than the rest of the site. If the theme is built well, the rest of the site can be changed easily. Even well built themes sometimes have issues with tweaking the navigation.
Even though I’ve given you things to look for when choosing a WordPress theme. Sometimes the opinion of an expert is still better than having a checklist of nice to haves. And if you need to talk to an expert about this, you really should talk to them about installing it for you and making the changes you require. They’ll do it much faster than you.