When it comes to choosing a WordPress theme for a new site, or a redesign, we are more than spoilt for choice.
A little bit too spoilt for choice really. I know it’s always a decision I dwell over for some time before settling on a theme.
There are seemingly an endless amount of themes to choose from, and I usually ‘live preview’ several before deciding.
There is a difference between paid and three themes however. This is where the first choice needs to be made. Everyone likes to keep costs to a minimum, but is there value in buying a premium theme?
I will cover the differences between premium and free themes. What ‘extras’ you should expect when paying for a premium theme, and take a look at some of the best themes on the market.
So with plenty of free themes available, should you pay for a premium one?
Free vs Premium WordPress Themes
Before saturation of the theme market, looking at the price and the developers was a good indication of the value and how it would perform. Now there are more themes than you could count, so you need to do some investigating.
There are plenty of high quality free themes. Some used to be paid, and for whatever reason are now available for free. So you absolutely can start a blog, pick up a free theme, and confidently publish away knowing your content is in safe hands.
When choosing a premium paid theme, you’re right to take a little more time. You are after all parting with some cash.
Here are some of the pros associated with premium themes:
- Updated more often and quicker to address bugs.
- Less chance of your site looking like thousands of others, unlike free themes.
- More customizations available. As well as not being as popular as a free theme may be, you have more options to customize the design to give your site a unique look.
- Quicker customer support in the instance of needing to discuss an issue.
Here are some of the cons associated with premium themes:
- They cost money, kind of obvious but still a con.
- All the options are great for the site, but can take a while to get used to and take up a lot of time.
- If you decide you don’t like it after a few days you have wasted your money.
Before deciding on a theme always use a live preview. Look up some impartial customer reviews too. Not from blogs trying to sell the themes, but customers on open forums.
There is a lot more depending on a theme than just a few colours and the look. Your site speed, SEO, ease of use and more depends on it being right.
Loading Speed of a Theme
Page loading speed is an incredibly important metric. The loading speed of a theme not only helps the user experience, but it’s a pretty big SEO factor as far as Google are concerned.
There is only so much you can do to check a theme loading speed before testing it yourself. I recommend finding a live site using the theme and testing the loading speeds. Plus, asking customers and the designers too.
Here are some reasons why themes and sites get slowed down on page loading times:
- Too many plugins. Every plugin installed needs to load when you load pages. Some themes require a number of plugins associated with the theme. Think carefully about loading more plugins than strictly necessary.
- Poor coding, this is a problem that affects lots of free themes put together by newbie coders. Check the theme is updated regularly to keep up to date with WordPress.
- Use of sliders and large images on the home page, these take up bandwidth and really hinder a sites loading ability. The phase of large sliders has passed by, it’s just not necessary in many cases.
You can test a sites loading speed with this speed test. Take a look at the size of the files and the amount of HTTP requests made. Ideally you’re looking for a loading time of <2 seconds.
Responsiveness of Theme
In April 2015 Google rolled out an update that effectively made mobile device responsiveness of a theme an SEO ranking factor. They called it the ‘mobile friendly update’.
Within the next few years mobile traffic is expected to be on par with, or exceed desktop traffic. So it’s no surprise Google implemented these changes. You can test the responsiveness of your theme on your webmaster account, or with Google’s mobile friendly tool. I recommend you do this asap.
Almost every theme is mobile friendly, so don’t start panicking. You may find however that you have some issues with individual pages on your site. The webmaster test will show this, and you can amend accordingly.
When a visitor lands at your site, the first impressions are very important. I think (almost) all webmasters take a great deal of pride in the look and design of their sites.
You are largely relying on the theme in hand to do most of the design work. Whether you’re interested in making lots of your own tweaks or not, you need the theme to look good out of the box. So this should be high on your list of priorities.
ThemeForest have long been one of the most popular theme designers. Their themes look great, are responsive, and very user friendly.
MyThemeShop are also very popular. In fact this very blog uses their Splash theme. I have used a few of their themes and I was impressed by how easy they are to use. The customer support are very quick and helpful. They update them when needed, and they look great. Anyone disagree?
Believe it or not, some theme still fall short when it comes to SEO. WordPress SEO goes beyond adding the Yoast SEO plugin and checking your onpage elements. Themes do a lot of work in the background.
Such as marking up the header tags correctly. Not duplicating content. And ensuring there are no URL errors. You will most likely be blissfully unaware if your theme is falling short on theses areas.
When browsing themes always make sure they are ‘SEO ready’ as most sites advertise. Do a little research on the theme and ask users what they think of it. Apply the usual due diligence basically.
User-friendly Control Panel
You are more than likely going to need to use the control panel at some point. If when that time comes it’s too confusing, you have a time consuming problem on your hands.
Your chosen theme should work seamlessly with any plugins you add. While you should be able to make any changes in the control panel easily. I find the MyThemeShop control panels to be very easy to use.
Plenty of large slider buttons, good sub headers to choose from, and it’s seems to be well protected from someone like me making and mistake and screwing up my settings.
When pouring endless hours of hard work into a site, the last thing you want is a security breach. There have been countless issues with security for different themes, plugins, and the WordPress platform over the years.
Check the history with the theme developers. Put more weight on forums and communities that are honest and transparent with their reviews. Good and bad.
One way to avoid a previously unknown security issue is to wait until the theme has been fully tested. I know it’s tempting to be the first to jump on a new theme. But personally, I would always wait until it’s been fully tested by the masses.
There is quite a bit of information to take in. But it’s worth it when you consider the risk over reward. It’s almost a no-brainer that you should front up and buy a premium theme.
There are just way more customization and reliability with them. And, considering the potentially damaging effects on your hard work, in my opinion it’s just not worth running with a free theme for long.
Avoid the ‘shiny object’ syndrome too. Don’t just go for the nicest looking site. Take into account the responsiveness, security, usability, and SEO as discussed above.
Armed with the information in this post, some patience, and a good look around at the top theme developers – I trust you will find a theme to suit your needs.