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Choosing the right WordPress theme

themesWith literally tens of thousands of WordPress themes available online, finding the right one can be a difficult task. Here are a few tips to help you find the one that will best fit your needs.

Themes are for design, not features

One of the great things about WordPress is the amazing collection of plugins that allow you to make it do some amazing things for you (here are some of our favorites).  When choosing a theme, it’s important to continue to allow plugins to do their job.  As Chris Lema recently said, “If it tells you that this is the only theme you’ll need forever, it’s the wrong one.

At its core, a WordPress theme only needs to have two files.  A solid theme will have perhaps 50-100 files.  However, some of the all-in-one themes out there will have well over 1000 files.  Want to know why your site is loading slowly?  That’s a good place to start.

The biggest problem with a functionality-loaded theme is that if you use those functions a lot and then change themes, you lose the content in those areas.  For example, some themes come with built-in photo galleries.  If you use those and load up all of your images in them, then change themes, all of those galleries will be gone.  Instead, find a nice plugin to help with the gallery and it will work on a variety of different themes.

Get a theme that helps convey the look and feel that you’re after, but let the plugins add the functionality.

You’re buying support

It’s commonly said that “you’re not buying a theme; you’re buying support”, which we’ve found to be very true.  As you begin digging into your theme, you’re likely to have some questions and/or problems.  If you’re using a free theme (or a theme with weak support), it can cost you a lot of time and energy.

Along those lines, we recommend that you never use a free theme.  Not only will you be lacking quality support, but some free themes online can hold malware or other bad things in them.  If you’re at all serious about your site, spending $50 on a quality premium theme should be a no-brainer.

Our approach

When building a site, we tackle it differently than just “finding a theme”.  When working through the website design process with a client, we spend a good deal of time working on sitemaps and wire frames.  We then take those layouts and work on creating a suitable theme to match that layout.  Sometimes we’ll find a premium theme that gets us close, but we’ll typically build on top of Genesis (the framework created by StudioPress) to get the job done.

A big key is to find a theme that gets you as close as possible to your desired outcome, then customize to the best of your ability and/or budget to make it perfect.

Where do I start?

We tend to have a lot of luck with StudioPress themes, as mentioned above, largely because they have phenomenal support and consistent coding.  Elegant Themes and Woo Themes are also solid vendors to use.  You can find some decent themes at Theme Forest, but be careful; while there are certainly some reputable vendors on there, you’ll want to do your homework and find one that is known to offer timely support.

We host a local Meetup every month, and our next sessions will be covering this very topic.  If you live in the Atlanta area and you’d like to learn more about how to customize a theme to make it work for you, come join us!

Where is your favorite place to start when looking for themes?

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Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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  1. As always very good advice Mickey. Love the “select for design not functionality” tip. You know that I’m always on the security bandwagon: Stay away from themes that are not available from the major theme vendors. Please ask your WordPress guru before you start to use a theme, because it could have major security flaws.

  2. Love this Mickey. It seems that at any given time, I’m always looking for some kind of WordPress theme. Finally I find the perfect theme, but the minute I start customizing or even adding a plugin, things start going south.

    I’m still using the Simpla theme from 2006 on one of my blogs. It has just 5 php theme files and never gives me the slightest bit of trouble.

  3. i just LOVE the stuff you post about because once again it is exactly the stage I’m at. I like my current theme but am already tossing around ideas in my head about finding a different one to serve the purposes I have to fufill my long term goals. This provides a really good foundation as to how I need to go about my search process. Thanks so much for posting!

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