Let’s say you’ve researched the best free WordPress themes and you’re really excited about what you see. But then you remember there are a whole bunch of premium themes floating around out there, too.
While I’m not one to discourage anyone from using a free theme, I do think it’s important to survey the full landscape of offerings so you know what your options are. Free themes offer good opportunities to create beautifully designed websites. Premium themes-especially ones that are multipurpose-open up even more possibilities.
The one problem I see with going the route of a premium WordPress theme, however, is the matter of convenience. Free WordPress themes have a single WordPress repository where they’re all stored, but premium themes can be found all over the place: theme marketplaces, membership sites, and even sometimes for sale on the developer’s own website.
So, how do you do a comprehensive search for the best free and premium WordPress themes without driving yourself nuts in the process? The following guide covers all the questions you should ask yourself during this process. By understanding your site’s needs, your limitations as a developer, and much more, you’ll be able to more quickly and effectively track down the best and most trustworthy WordPress theme for your site.
Alright, so we’ve established that there is a multitude of themes to sift through and a number of different resources where they can be found. But your goal here isn’t to narrow down that list simply to find one that works “well enough”. You need a theme that jives the best with your business and that’s going to be trustworthy and reliable to a fault.
Let’s face it, it’s frustrating spending a lot of time searching for a theme. It’s downright infuriating to spend even more time trying to troubleshoot a faulty theme only to have to ditch it and start the process over again. So, if you want to spare yourself the hassle of searching in the wrong places (or in too many places) and focusing on the wrong things, this guide will help you narrow down that search and properly assess a WordPress theme’s quality before you begin.
So, you want to know what makes a WordPress theme trustworthy. While there are a number of places you could look to make that assessment, the first place you should start is with the developer who built it. Any issues with the theme will ultimately point back to them, and so your assessment of a theme really needs to start with the person behind it.
Here is what you need to know:
Is the developer well-known and respected in the WordPress community?
Check their profile on the platform on which you found the theme. On wordpress.org, you’ll only be able to see the other themes they’ve created, but that should be enough to tell you what sort of quality you’re working with.
On other sites, you can get a more entailed bio and dig a little deeper into their credentials and accolades.
What do other users of the theme say?
Unless you’re using a theme directly from a developer’s site, there will be ratings and reviews from users. Check for common threads related to issues with their quality of coding.
Do they provide support?
Even with the most well-coded themes you may run into a glitch or simply need help sorting out an internal issue. Most developers of premium themes include support for at least a few months after purchase. There are some free theme developers who do, too. Check to see what their policy is and make sure that the response time in the support forum aligns with that promise.
You’ll also want to know if they support the actual theme in terms of updates.
Ideally, any theme you use should be updated every time the WordPress core updates; if not, more frequently.
Next up are the actual features of the WordPress theme. If you want something that is trustworthy, you shouldn’t have to seek out the assistance of a dozen or so plugins to tick off all the features you want to utilize on your site. That would defeat the purpose of using a lightweight theme in the first place.
Here is what you need to know:
Would the original design suffice?
Not that you would ever want to use a theme right out of the box, but if you had to do so in a pinch, would the basic design suffice? The reason you’d even want to ask this is to gauge the developer’s understanding of design best practices. If a theme is too complicated, utilizes low-resolution imagery, or has other major design no-nos, then it’s not worth your time in trying to fix or personalize.
Is it responsive?
Testing a WordPress theme for responsiveness before you purchase or download can be tough. While you could just trust that a theme marked “responsive” actually is, it would be wiser to take one of two actions:
- Open the preview of the theme in your browser window and minimize your screen to test the theme’s adjustability (or just view the preview on your mobile device).
- Check for roundups on the best free responsive themes and the best premium responsive themes for recommendations.
How flexible is it?
While you might not know just yet all the functionality you want to build into your site, you’ll at least have a good idea of the must-haves. Here are some things to consider:
- How much customization you need in terms of colors, typography, layouts, menus, etc.
- Special page types you plan to include (e.g. support forum, portfolio, ecommerce).
- Additional elements your site will need, like testimonials, mega menus, video backgrounds, tooltips, and so on.
The more accommodations the theme makes for all these “things”, the less work you’ll have to do later.
Is it SEO friendly?
There is a lot that goes into making a site SEO-friendly. Do your due diligence and check the reviews on the theme to ensure that it’s well-coded, fast, free of security issues, has a clean interface, and integrates with your SEO plugin of choice.
Are there hidden costs?
Seeing a price tag associated with a WordPress theme is one thing. Recognizing that you’re going to have to shell out money later is another. Think about whether this theme will force you to pay for additional themes in the future. And what about plugins? If you’re not comfortable with coding, will you need to hire a developer to help you manage it? All these costs add up and should be considered at the original time of purchase and download of a new theme.
In addition to assessing the theme and developer for overall quality and reliability, you should also think about where you’re getting the theme from. As I already noted, there are a variety of places where you can procure a WordPress theme from, but do you know which ones are known for consistently producing high-quality theme offerings?
Here are the ones you need to know:
For high-quality free themes, there’s no better place to go for them than the official WordPress Theme Directory.
WordPress theme marketplaces are a pretty cool option as you can get super granular in your search query, and then sift through results regardless of who the developer is behind it. Here are some of the most trusted theme marketplaces:
Independent Theme Shops and Developers
The last of your options will come in the form of the independent developer who sells themes directly from their website. One of the best reasons to go this route is because they typically offer membership or bulk pricing, so you’re not stuck paying top dollar for just one theme. If you’re looking for quality and value, start here:
Let’s talk about the general lifespan of a web design trend, shall we? A few of these trends—like minimalism, which I hope never goes out of fashion—will have an enduring legacy. There are others, however, that die out either because they become obsolete (think of something like image sliders) or because they have no place in modern design anymore (like sidebars).
Even if you have found a really great WordPress theme that checks off all the other boxes here, it’s still important to assess it for its modernity and longevity as you don’t want to get stuck with something that will go stale in six months or even a year’s time.
Here are some options to consider to be on the safe side:
Multipurpose themes could be a good way to get around this problem as there are a number of options you can play around with. Plus, once you get the hang of one of those themes, you’ll be able to seamlessly jump into any of the other designs and layouts included.
WordPress theme memberships
Memberships are awesome too since you don’t have to worry about cherry-picking themes at random. You’ll have an entire collection available to you for the length of your membership, which also gives you the ability to use as many of their themes as you want. (It’s also great when the theme developer adds new, more modern theme designs to their collection, so look out for that.)
Builder themes like Upfront may be the best solution in terms of ensuring the longevity of your theme. They’re easy to use and give developers a lot of flexibility and control over reshaping and tweaking their design to fall in line with current design standards.
Finally, we come to the “why” of it. It is here where you need to ask yourself how well the WordPress theme you’re considering aligns with your business’s niche and goals.
Here is what you need to consider:
If you build websites for a specific industry or niche, it’s ideal to find a theme that was built specifically for that purpose or that can accommodate all your needs. Think of restaurant websites that need to show off menus, membership sites that need forums, photography sites that need galleries, etc. If the theme wasn’t built with that purpose or audience in mind, you’d have to spend more time finding the tools to help you do it later.
You should also think about what your business’s goals are.
Do you want to churn out a bunch of sites, making minor tweaks to themes? Or do you want themes that give you more power and flexibility to create something truly custom and unique for customers?
What it really comes down to is whether or not you consider yourself a WordPress developer or implementer. If you’re not comfortable with coding or just aren’t ready to commit a certain amount of time to each job, then that should factor into the theme selection process as well.