With thousands of WordPress themes available, picking the right one can seem like an insurmountable challenge.
What kind of design do you like?
What features do you need?
In this tutorial, you’ll get a thorough process including the five things to consider when finding the right theme for your website.
Places to find themes
Before I get to the process for selecting a theme, here are the places where you can search to find great WordPress themes.
Themeforest is a marketplace full of premium WordPress themes. The themes there usually have an excellent design quality and tons of features.
The average price of a Themeforest theme is $59 and you can find a theme for any niche you can imagine.
The themes you can find on WordPress.org are the same as the ones you can find by searching in your dashboard’s “Appearance” menu.
All of these themes are free and reviewed by the WordPress theme review team. On average, the design quality is lower than Themeforest and these themes tend to have fewer features, but most have a premium upgrade with additional functionality if needed.
We have 17 free premium-quality themes all of which can be found on wordpress.org and in your Appearance menu. Our themes are made primarily for blog, magazine, and news websites and have premium upgrades.
We’ve also published over 100+ niche theme collections filled with the web’s best themes. I encourage you to use these lists before searching on your own because these themes have already been carefully selected for the highest quality.
TemplateMonster is another premium theme marketplace like Themeforest. We routinely recommend their themes on our blog and like Themeforest, they cover a diverse range of niches.
Let’s start with the obvious…
When searching for a theme, take a look through each of the sources listed above and pick out any themes that you find aesthetically pleasing.
Don’t worry about anything besides how they look when you start browsing. The goal is to find a handful of themes that you like and save the URLs for each. This will be your seed group.
Once you have a handful of themes picked out. You can begin the following evaluation process to pick out the best one for your site.
1. Baseline criteria
There are a few things that your theme needs to have to be worth using.
Load the theme demo site on your phone. How does it look? If it isn’t formatted well for mobile devices then you can simply remove it from your list. These days, websites need to look awesome on all screens.
Fast load times
If the demo site takes forever to load, that’s not a good sign. Why would it be faster on your domain?
I’m not going to say this is a deal-breaker, but I’d definitely count it as a strike against the theme.
No theme is truly bug-free but if you find bugs on the live demo site, that’s a bad omen. The demo site is supposed to be the best example of the theme. If it can’t work properly there then why would it work well on your site?
This isn’t a deal breaker either but I would definitely count it as a big strike.
Good customer reviews
Purchasing a theme without any customer reviews is a gamble. It might be great, but it could also be a buggy mess. I would recommend considering well-reviewed themes before buying one with zero or very few reviews.
One exception is a theme that came out recently. If it’s a new theme, it may just need more time to collect dozens of five-star reviews.
Cut the slack
If any theme in your “seed group” fails to pass one of these checks it might still be okay to use. If it fails to pass two or more then cut it from your list. Even if it looks nice, it’s likely to cause you a lot of trouble down the road.
2. Post types and templates
The next most important factor to consider is the type of content you need to publish.
For instance, you may just want a blogging theme, in which case, you only need a theme that can publish posts and pages (which is all themes). However, you may be starting a real estate site that will list available houses along with their prices, number of bedrooms, square feet, etc.
You wouldn’t want to use regular posts for that type of content. Instead, you’d want a new “custom post type” called something like “Properties” that would let you add new properties and enter details like the price and number of bedrooms.
If you need a custom post type like this, you either need this feature included in the theme or the theme needs to be compatible with a plugin that adds it.
Custom post types in themes
Houzez is a feature-packed real estate theme that lets you list houses for sale.
The benefit of using Houzez is that you get the admin tools you need and the house listings are beautifully integrated into the theme’s design.
The downside is that if you switch themes, the custom post type in your dashboard for listing properties will disappear and they won’t be output on your site anymore. Nothing will be deleted – your new theme simply won’t have the same interface or templates to display the content you added with Houzez.
Custom post types in plugins
When using custom post types, the alternative solution is to use a plugin. Check out the Realtyna real estate plugin as an example.
It adds a comprehensive property management system to WordPress. In fact, it has everything you need except…
Your theme won’t have an attractive display for the properties you add with Realtyna. Either the theme won’t output the home details at all or the listing pages will look totally broken.
To use a plugin that adds a custom post type to your site, you need a theme that has specifically added an integration for it.
The benefit of using a plugin is that if you decide to switch themes, the plugin stays active which means you still have access to all of the content in your dashboard. You’ll just need to find another theme that integrates with the plugin to output that content on your site.
Which is best?
For custom post types, finding a plugin and a theme that supports it is usually the best long-term solution.
Sometimes the choice is obvious. For example, most WordPress themes these days integrate with the eCommerce plugin WooCommerce to add a new “Product” post type to the site.
That said, sometimes there isn’t an obvious plugin or only a few themes integrate with the available plugin(s). In this case, getting a theme with the templates and post types included will work great. You’ll get everything you need in one product without worrying about the quality of the integration.
Thinning the list
In conclusion, if you need a special post type, make sure your theme has built-in support for it or compatibility with a plugin that can add it.
You can remove all themes from your list that have neither.
3. Customization options
In general, the more customization options the better.
Some themes have so many options that there’s a learning curve before you can proficiently use them, but this can be a good thing or bad thing depending on what you’re looking for.
Make sure to check out the theme’s sales page to figure out all of the available customization tools.
What if something’s missing?
A missing customization setting or feature isn’t necessarily an issue.
If a theme is missing a customization option like custom colors, you can use CSS Hero. This tool lets you modify all aspects of your site’s design, and making small tweaks like color and font changes are simple.
We have a detailed guide on using CSS Hero if you’re interested in learning more.
If your theme is missing a feature like social sharing buttons, this isn’t a big deal either. In fact, that’s the kind of feature that you would normally want to add with a free plugin like Simple Share Buttons Adder anyway. Check for a free plugin to add any functionality a theme is missing.
You’re almost done
At this point, you probably have a few beautiful themes that support the content you need to publish and have a solid set of customization options. Missing customization settings and features can be added with CSS Hero and free plugins.
Before you pick your fave theme, there are just two more things to consider.
4. Tutorials and customer support
If you’re a new WordPress user, a theme with a lot of tutorials and active customer support will be extremely helpful.
The amount of documentation for themes varies wildly between developers. Some have dozens of written and video tutorials while others simply have a short FAQ. In addition, check the existing customer reviews for any mention of the customer support. You don’t want to get stuck with a site-breaking bug without any assistance.
Of course, you can always check out our library of over 100+ free WordPress tutorials if you need to learn how to do something new with WordPress 😉
Most people get hooked once they make their first website. I know I did!
There’s a good chance you’ll make many more websites over the next few months or years. If this sounds likely to you, then you may also want to judge your theme based on its reusability.
If you were just about to pick your theme then sorry for adding three more to your list! You don’t have to use these themes, but they are worth checking out to see their insane customizability.
How did you do?
Following these steps, you’re sure to find a theme that has everything you need.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few themes in your niche to select from that all meet the requirements. In this case, you can simply prioritize whichever aspect (design quality, features, customer support) you think is most important for your site.
Once you’ve selected your theme, check out our theme customization basics tutorial to learn how to quickly setup your new site.