WordPress is growing at an alarming rate and that shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s easy to use, extendable, SEO friendly and can be used for a website and / or a blog. One key component of WordPress is the themes. Currently, there are over 2,439 WordPress themes in the WordPress.org theme directory, plus there are probably thousands of WordPress themes not in the directory. So, how do you know which one to use? Should your decision solely be based on appearance and usability? Let’s take a look.

Things to Consider

There are six (6) key aspects you should consider when selecting the perfect WordPress theme:

  1. Design;
  2. Usability;
  3. Features;
  4. Support;
  5. Security; and
  6. Licensing.

Design

Design is probably the most obviously aspect of a theme and is what people commonly look for when selecting a WordPress theme.

When it comes to design, you need to consider not only how well the theme looks but also its responsiveness and customization. It’s great that the theme follows the four (4) principles of design: i) proximity: grouping related items together; ii) alignment: aligning of related items and aligning related items with other related items; iii) repetition: repeating of elements, like typefaces (fonts), colour, etc…; and iv) contrast: creating visual interest by creating two different elements, but your theme should be responsive. Responsive means that the theme looks great in different browsers, on different devices, i.e. desktop, mobile, and tablet. It’s estimated that more than half of website traffic will be mobile this year, 2014, so it’s critical to have a responsive website design. Also, can your theme be extended through plugins or how can you customize elements of the design: through the WordPress dashboard or through a configuration file?

You should remember that majority of themes will require some sort of customization. Theme creators need to appeal to a wide audience, so they may not have a body background image, which you may want or you may want the navigation on the left and not the right. How easily can you change this? How can this be done? Are you comfortable in making the changes yourself? A plugin may customize the design to your liking, so the theme may not need what you want right off the start.

Also, does the theme fit in with the appearance of your industry.

Usability

Usability is related to design and features. You need to think about how the theme is laid out. Is there a search box? What widgets are available? How does the drop down menu look? How is the content laid out and can you customize the page layout, i.e. full width, right side bar, left side bar, etc… If the theme has a demo, which it should, you should go through the theme and see how it feels, in terms of using it. Also, you should think about your target audience: how big is the text size and can the text size be customized?

Features

What features come with the theme? Are there features you don’t need? Does the theme feel bloated? If a theme is bloated, it could decrease page speed. Are there any widgets? Is there shortcodes? Is there available plugins that extend the theme? If the theme doesn’t have a feature you want, can you find a plugin to do it?

Support

Support means two (2) things: i) if you need help, can you ask the theme developer for help; and ii) how often is the theme updated?

Majority of free WordPress themes do not provide support. Support is provided through their support forums, by other users or third party websites like LinkedIn. You should ask the theme developer what support is provided and during what times. This is for both free and paid themes. Some developers may provide support but during the hours of A and B in C time zone, which may be a problem. If they have an open support community, how well are questions being answered and are they being answered by other theme users. Be honest with yourself, if you need support and if you need regular support, recognize that and select a theme accordingly.

Support also means, how often is the theme being updated. This is also a security concern. Make sure the theme is being updated regularly. The updates should address new enhancements, security patches and making sure the theme works with the latest version of WordPress.

Security

This is critical. A theme may look beautiful but if there is security problems, you could face more problems than its worth. Remember the theme should be updated regularly. Select a theme developer who produces quality code, who has development experience and has the ability to address security concerns quickly.

A lot of articles will state free themes don’t have quality code and can be a security risk. I disagree. Remember to check to see who is developing the theme and the theme’s history, i.e. how often it’s being updated.

Licensing

I think this is the most missed aspect of selecting a WordPress theme and articles that talk about licensing, don’t talk about licensing in depth or properly.

You should look to see what license or terms of use the theme is under. Majority of themes will be open source, meaning you can see the source code and modify the source code (maybe under certain conditions, like redistribution). Is the theme a freemium theme? Meaning it is free but if you want more features or certain features, you will have to pay for it – freemium: it’s free with a premium option(s).

WordPress themes should be licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2 or later, but a lot of themes don’t follow this rule and are licensed under other licenses, like the MIT, which is more flexible than the GNU GPL.

Licensing can be related to the features the theme has. If the theme is open source, there is more of a possibility of more features, quicker security patches, and bug finding and fixing.

A license may also allow you to resell the theme in whole and / or the plugins, changes and features you’ve developed.

Make sure you check the license and read the license to see what you can do and cannot do, plus any restrictions.

My Final Thoughts

You should always remember all six (6) key components when selecting a theme: design, usability, features, support, security and, licensing – regardless of the theme being free or paid. If you forget these six (6) key components, you may find yourself with a WordPress site that is a security risk, poor performance, you may find yourself in trouble with your host because of poor code quality, resulting in high server load and more. You should remember free themes don’t mean poor quality or lack of support. Don’t assume – have questions, get answers. My recommendation is to have a theme that has basic features but you have the ability to extend the theme’s features through plugins. It is better to have a lean theme, which you can extend, than a bloated theme.