11 Things to Consider When Selecting a Perfect WordPress Theme

With seemingly thousands of Free and Pro WordPress themes out there, it can be tricky to pick the right WordPress theme for your business.

There is not a single WordPress theme that would meet all the needs of all website owners. Every theme is built for a specific purpose and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Your job is to find the theme that meets your business’s needs.

While there are themes that do it all, they tend to be heavy and bloated because they are designed to meet the requirements of a wide range of website owners. In other words, they do everything but specialize in nothing. Choosing these resource-consuming and feature-heavy WordPress themes is like getting operated on by a surgeon who has nothing but a Swiss army knife to perform all surgical tasks.
Finding the right WordPress theme requires more than just picking a theme based on looks. In this article, we will provide some tips on what to look out for when choosing a WordPress theme. We will also recommend some free tools to help you check a theme’s credibility.

You may be thinking, “Wait, a theme shop that sells WordPress themes is writing an article about finding the best WordPress theme? It’s their theme that will come on top at the end.” Not necessarily, as we get thrown under the bus for some criteria listed below too. Full disclosure: we tried to make this checklist for choosing a WordPress theme as unbiased as possible. We wanted to create a go-to list for choosing a theme, whether it’s free or Pro. In any case, we want to build our themes based on these standards.

1. Verified Theme Source

WordPress Theme Check

There is a multitude of sources from which you can download WordPress themes. When choosing a theme, you should always be extra cautious about the code quality. You have to make sure there aren’t any malicious codes that someone can use to compromise your website’s security. The safest option would be to check out the WordPress.org theme section. All themes in this directory are rigorously tested and filtered by the WordPress Theme Review Team (WPTRT), a team of volunteers that checks WordPress themes for malicious codes and ensures that the themes meet WordPress standards.

If the theme you’ve selected has not been tested by the WPTRT, you could try using the tools below to check its code quality:

 

Tool Description
Themecheck.org Checks your theme online against the latest WordPress standards and best practices.
Theme Check Plugin WordPress plugin that checks your theme against the latest WordPress standards and best practices.
Log Deprecated Notice Checks if the theme has any deprecated files, functions, and function arguments.

 

Important Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Make sure the theme is not using any obsolete or deprecated functions
  • Check that the theme follows WordPress theme development guidelines

 

2. Code Credibility

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Before selecting a WordPress theme, check if it has any invalid codes or bad practices. Analyze the source code or the theme demo and try to understand how it is structured. When it comes to checking the code credibility, there are a lot of things to consider, such as HTML validity, WordPress Coding Standard, Security, CSS Specificity, and Accessibility. Luckily, there are vast numbers of free tools available online to help you test your theme’s codes.

When selecting a WordPress theme, I would urge you to run it against Query Monitor, an awesome plugin developed by John Blackbourn, a WordPress core developer and WordPress 4.1 release lead. It monitors the number of database queries, hooks, and the conditionals a theme or plugin is using to render the content. In addition, keep an eye on the CSS specificity and analyze the demo styles.css. Run the demo stylesheet against CSS Specificity Graph Generator. If there are too many spikes, it will be harder for you to extend and manipulate the codebase.

Grab the theme’s Demo URL and use the tools below to get a better understanding of the theme:

Tools Description
W3 HTML Validator Checks the HTML markup validity.
CSS Revenge Checks for bad HTML, malformed links, deprecated attributes, <div>s inside inline elements, inaccessible buttons, badly nested sections, etc.
Tota11y Tests how your site performs with assistive technologies.
CSS Specificity Graph Generator Checks CSS specificity and identifies troublesome selectors.
Test My CSS Checks for redundancy and validation errors.
Query Monitor Analyzes the performance and resource usage.

Important Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Number of script requests
  • CSS specificity and !importants
  • HTML validation errors

 

3. Safe Code

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Although past performance is not an indicator of future results, it would be safer if you checked your selected WordPress theme or plugin for previously occurred vulnerabilities. Search the theme in the databases below to find out the number of times it has made the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Tool What It Does
WPScan Vulnerability Database Database of known WordPress core, plugin and theme vulnerabilities.
Exploit Scanner Analyzes your theme files for malicious code.
Sucuri Site Check Checks website for known malware, blacklisting status, website errors, and out-of-date software.

 

4. Speed & Performance

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Speed plays a huge role in user decision making when they browse a website. According to Dynatrace, an application performance management company, just a half-second difference in page load times can make a 10% difference in sales for an online retailer.

Choose your theme carefully. If it’s badly built, it will cost you a huge amount of money, time, and resources to make it efficient. Choose a theme that loads efficiently and uses a sensible amount of resources.

Copy the demo URL of the WordPress theme, run it against the tools below, and get an overview. Check how long it takes to load and how many script requests it is making.

Tool What It Does
Google PageSpeed Insights A Google tool that analyzes your website against best web practices.
GTMetrix Analyzes how a website loads and provides optimization recommendations.
Pingdom Analyzes the website load time and finds the bottleneck.
Webpagetest.org A Google tool that runs free website speed tests and provides recommendations.
DareBoost Free detailed quality and performance reports.

Important Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Page load time
  • Page weight
  • Total script requests

 

5. Dissect The Demo

When it comes to analyzing the theme demo, follow the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Look under the hood. Figure out how it is made. Is it made with a page builder, shortcodes, widgets, or page templates? How long will it take to set up? If it is entirely made with shortcodes or a page builder, accept the possibility that to recreate it, you would have to spend a considerable amount of time. Use Chrome Developer Tools, or any other developer tools you prefer, to inspect the code.

By using their theme’s shortcodes, they are essentially locking you into using their themes forever – Justin Tadlock

Important Things to Keep in Mind:

  • How is the theme demo built?
  • How long will it take to build the exact demo website?
  • Will I lose anything if I deactivate the theme?

 

6. Responsiveness

Responsive Website Template

Mobile usage and adoption are increasing at a lightning pace. Mobile friendliness is a must-have if you want to survive in this competitive market. Check if the theme is mobile-friendly and can render across different screen sizes. As from April 21, 2015, Google started considering mobile friendliness as a ranking signal.

 

Tools What it Does
Google Mobile Friendly Test Tests if the website has a mobile-friendly design.
Google Resizer View how your website respond across desktop, mobile and tablet.
ISH 2.0 Extremely useful viewport resizing tool.

 

7. Ease of Customization

It’s rare that a theme has all the functionality you need. You may have to extend or customize certain functions. The main point to consider is how easy the process is when you try to customize it. If the theme uses hooks, it would be easier to make small customizations. Find out if it’s using any framework. If the framework is popular, it will be easier to find a developer who can customize it, since the developer will have prior knowledge and won’t have to learn the code architecture used by the theme developer.

8. Search Engine Friendly

Your main objective of building a website for your business is to make it easier for your potential customers to find you. Therefore, select a theme that helps you achieve this goal. Use the tools below to test if the theme demo will aid search engines to understand your website’s content.

Tool What It Does
Google Structured Data Testing Tool Google Tool that tests a website’s structured data.
Yandex Structured Data Validator Yandex semantic markup validator.
Semantic inspector Chrome extension that analyzes a website’s microdata.
MozBar One of the best free tools out there for on-page element analysis.

 

9. Price

pricing

Each theme shop has its own pricing strategy to support its business. Find out which one is appropriate for your business. Don’t just look at the price; analyze if the business model seems sustainable to you. If it’s too cheap, will be it be available after a year when you need support?

Pricing strategies offered by theme shops:
Pay Yearly: You have to pay yearly for the theme and support
Pay Monthly: You have to pay monthly for the theme and support
Pay Once: You only pay once for the theme and support

Product strategies offered by theme shops:
Freemium: Upgrade to get the full version
Premium: No free version; only the paid version
Extension or Modular: Core product is free, but extensions are paid.

 

10. Support & Documentation

support

Before buying the theme, analyze the type of support and support coverage the theme shop provides. Search for theme reviews to get a sense of other users’ experiences with the theme. Check the documentation, how detailed it is, and how frequently it is updated.

11. Plugin Compatibility

WordPress Plugin Compatibility

Is the theme compatible with the plugin you absolutely need to run your website? Check the documentation or ask customer support to establish if it supports your website’s must-have plugin. Check the plugin’s developer documentation and compare it with the theme. Make sure it is integrated the way the plugin developer suggested.

Important Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Does the theme support the plugin you are using?
  • Is it integrated the way the plugin developer suggested?

These are some of the core things you should look into before selecting a WordPress theme for your business.

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