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    Choosing a WordPress Theme

    About

    There are thousands of sites that offer WordPress themes on the web. Some are free; others you need to pay for. Some provide specific functionality like image galleries or portfolios. Others are super basic and only focus on writing blog content. With so many options out there, how do you decide which theme is going to be best for your site? Follow along with this guide and learn all you need to know before choosing the perfect theme for your site. Listed below you’ll find the 6 main things to keep in mind when shopping around for a WordPress theme.

    One thing that we always do before looking for a theme is to first look at other sites that have similar target markets or purposes. It’s always a great idea to take a look at what other people in your niche are doing right, and to use similar elements or designs in your site. This not only makes it easier to create your vision, it also makes it much easier to find a theme that will do exactly what you need it to.

     

    Budget

    Free Themes

    Free themes are great when trying to control costs. The default "Twenty" series themes from WordPress are high quality, and come with some advanced features. When using a free theme pay attention to the date of the "Last Update" and the involvement of the theme author in answering questions from users. Many free themes are released and abandoned, and you want to avoid those.

    Premium Themes

    Premium themes tend to cost anywhere between $10 and $80 depending upon the complexity and options. Some companies, such as Elegant Themes have a subscription model with a flat price per year for access to all of their themes and plugins, on as many sites as you own. Premium themes are feature packed, and can be more complex to master than a free theme.

    Custom Themes

    Custom themes are created by a designer or developer to your specifications. In some cases, a designer has created a design "on spec" and will sell it to you. Usually the most costly way to get a theme, it can also be the least flexible, requiring help from that particular designer to update. For most people a premium theme will be a better choice.

    Whichever option you decide, budget is certainly something that you should consider before starting your project.

    Layout

    Layout is one of the more important things you’ll need to consider when choosing your theme. Most themes come standard with a few different layout options. As WordPress was initially created to provide a very simple and intuitive interface for bloggers to get their content up on the web, every theme will have a layout and style that it provides specifically for blog posts. The theme dictates what the post title, author title, date, and other information looks like. Additionally, the blog post pages will generally have an area to the left, right, or both called sidebars for widgets. Widgets are little tools that allow you to provide functionality for your site. There are tons of uses for widgets that range from standard text opt-ins and forms to advertisements, menus, videos, social networking options, and much more. If you can think of it, there is probably a widget that you can use or create to add your desired functionality.

    In addition to layouts with sidebars, almost all themes give you the option to remove the sidebar from your pages (static content similar to posts) so that you can have a full width page without sidebars. Finally, most premium themes also provide options for a completely custom homepage or other types of pages that have a wide variety of widget positions you can use. See the images below for an example of layouts.

    When deciding upon what layout you want for your site, take all these options into consideration. Try to get a vision of what widgets you might want to use. What is the purpose of your site? Are you going to want to focus on the blog aspect or are you leaning towards more of a static site with lots of different blurbs of content aimed at building your reputation or turning visitors into leads? Try to imagine your content in these sidebars / widget positions, and determine if the prospective theme has the right layout for your desired result. Remember, the less that you have to change the layout / widget positions, the easier it will be to design and update your site in the future.

    Functionality

    What is the target goal of your site? Is it to create a tool that will help establish your brand presence and reputation? Is it to create a resource that your target market will be able to use to find specific information on a given subject? Is it to create a tool that makes it easy to sell your products or services? Or is it just to create a tool to turn visitors into leads?

    Whatever the purpose of your site, it’s always a good idea to keep those questions in mind when choosing your theme. If you want what is known as a ‘brochure site’ that helps to build reputation for your business, then you might want to look at some premium themes that have custom looking homepages etc. If you are just trying to get leads by offering lots of fresh content and providing opt-ins for additional information, then you should probably focus on finding a theme with a really sleek layout for your blog posts and sidebar widget items.

    Do not pick a theme that looks good but isn’t aligned with your purpose; your experience will mirror that of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    Additional Customization

    All WordPress themes can be customized. As WordPress is an open source solution, it means that it’s very easy for a web designer / developer to make tweaks to the theme files. While this is great because it allows you the ability to tweak your theme to match your desired vision, it can also get very expensive very quickly if you choose the wrong theme to work with. For this reason, it’s important to take a look at the theme and ask yourself how much additional customization it would require to get to your desired result.

    Things that are easy and quick for a designer / developer to change are:

    1. Colors
    2. Fonts
    3. Background colors
    4. Background images
    5. Header images
    6. Removing Widget positions / sidebars
    7. Most other styling options (column width, etc.)

    Things that are difficult and more time consuming for a designer / developer to change are:

    1. Layout
    2. Sidebar widths
    3. Adding additional sidebars or widget positions
    4. Adding new page templates
    5. Creating new "post types" for things such as classified ads, forum posts, etc.
    Design

    Picking a theme with a design you like seems like a no-brainer, however, there are a few design elements that you should always consider. While things like fonts, colors, and images can certainly be changed to match your desired look / feel, remember that a designer created the prospective theme in a way that all the elements match. For this reason, take your time and mull over the current design and what your tweaks would look like. Will they ruin the original design aesthetic or will the elements still work when they are reconfigured? Will they take a ton of time to change or will they be quick?

    A good rule of thumb when it comes to design is to pick a theme that makes it easy for you to envision your content within. If you can picture what your site might look like when its done, then you have found a theme that will make your entire web design experience much easier and enjoyable.

    Support

    As with all software, there are many bits and pieces that need to work together perfectly in order to provide the necessary functionality. Unfortunately, more often than not, all these bits and pieces don’t work together perfectly. For this reason, it’s extremely important to choose a theme from a provider that offers great support, proper documentation, and regular updates. A few things to check that help ensure you are obtaining a theme from a good provider are:

    1. Look for testimonials from other users
    2. Look for high star ratings
    3. Look for high download stats or numbers
    4. Look for reliable looking sites whose sole purpose is to provide themes
    5. Look for positive comments
    6. Look for recent "update dates" for the theme; do not consider any themes that have not been updated in the last year
    Theme Sites we Recommend

     

    Warning: Since version 4.5 of WordPress, many themes with "page builders" will not accept external form code using JavaScript. Theme developers have reacted to this in various ways. If you experience problems with inserting ONTRAPORT forms into these page builders, please contact the theme author.

    • Elegant Themes - A great site with very nice looking themes sold on an annual subscription basis, with full support.

    • Theme Forest - Another great site with a mix of great looking themes. All Theme Forest themes come with great documentation, however, they do not provide support themselves. They do however, give you the proper resources to connect with the actual developers of the themes.

    • Rocket Themes - Good looking themes with great documentation. Support is provided through Rocket Themes.

    • Template Monster - Template Monster provides some great themes. They are reported to have great support and good documentation.

    WordPress Integration Resources

     

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