A surprising amount of work goes into choosing the right theme for any WordPress site. Granted, a few people just use one of the default themes that installs with WordPress without any further thought or effort. But, for those who actually care about the look and feel of their website and the user experience it delivers to visitors, choosing the correct theme takes some thought. Whether picking a theme for an existing site or building one from the ground up, consider these five things carefully before making your choice:
1. How Does This Theme Affect User Experience?
Probably the most important question to ask yourself whenever making any change to your site: “how will this affect user experience?” It will not matter that your site looks beautiful if your users have trouble finding what they want. Consider user experience from at least two perspectives: visual appeal and functionality. Visual appeal should immediately entice your visitors to look around, as they feel an instant attraction to the fonts, images, and other content. Functionality should keep them on the page heading toward conversion as they find everything easy to use and understand, engaging, and fulfilling of the need that brought them to your page.
The speed at which your pages load can have a huge impact on user experience. Choose a relatively lightweight theme that loads quickly and does not require a huge number of plugins to function the way you want. Feel free to use themes that have large areas for images so long as you keep your image files optimized for quick loading. And, strongly consider themes with less cluttered layouts; these often load faster and provide an easier navigational experience for site visitors.
2. How Does This Theme Reflect My Brand Image?
While serving a number of functions, most companies’ websites provide a direct reflection of that brand. The website serves as the representative of the company in the digital space. Thus, you must find a WordPress theme that reflects the look, feel, and values of your company. Want to convey a warm, homey feeling? A theme with rich earth tones, a large and friendly font, and a simple layout might be perfect. On the other hand, someone looking for a more hip and trendy feel might go with a theme featuring more blacks, blues, and reds, smaller fonts, and a layout with lots of pieces of bite-size information. Still, others may want something more sophisticated looking, with a large hero image at the top, large and visually striking font, and a sparse layout full of sophisticated images.
3. What Kind of Content Will I Put Into This Theme?
Obviously, almost every site, whether built on WordPress or something else, has a combination of text and images. But, will your content skew heavily in one direction or the other? For example, are you building a photo gallery page? An eCommerce site? Or a more traditional blog? A theme with large image sections might be great for those featuring images more prominently. One with areas built specifically for eCommerce might be best for a store site. And one that groups written content into interesting and easily accessible groups could be ideal for a blog. Of course, if you plan to do more than one of these things, find a theme that handles all of the tasks you need it to do.
4. Is the Theme Developer Actively Supporting and Updating This Theme?
In simplest terms, WordPress is just a piece of software. As such, it receives regular updates addressing both functionality and security flaws. A theme is just another piece of software that nests inside of WordPress. If something changes in WordPress, the theme may also need to change to ensure continuing compatibility. Thus, when choosing a theme, you must make sure that the developer continues to update and support it.
Do a little due diligence before selecting your theme. Check forums and comments to make sure others have not had problems with slow, nonexistent, or buggy updates. If a theme has not received an update in several years, you may want to consider another option. You may also want to make sure you have access to the theme developer’s support channel in case you need help with an issue that you cannot fix on your own. Be aware that some developers may charge an extra fee for such support.
5. Does the Theme Follow Current Best Practices for Design and SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) has become quite an art over the last few years. Some themes actually optimize better than others for a number of reasons. Some load too slowly, some use antiquated code that search engines dislike, and some do not provide responsive design. Responsive design refers to sites that change their layout, zoom, and other elements to remain as visually appealing and usable as possible on any size and orientation of screen. This became necessary in a practical sense as millions of people spent more time searching the web on phones and tablets than they did on laptop and desktop computers. Responsive design became popular around 2013 but became virtually mandatory in 2015 when Google announced it would take responsiveness into consideration when ranking pages in search results.
Responsiveness aside, sites that fail to observe design best practices tend not to perform well with users. Design trends change over time, so you have to change themes regularly to keep your site looking contemporary and fresh. Antiquated designs can drive away visitors that assume the site has not been maintained and that the content could be stale.
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