Finding Your Way Through the Labyrinth
In April, I shared some of my insights and experiences with choosing themes at the WordPress Southwest Florida MeetUp. Below are the slides and key topics from my presentation.
There has been an explosion in the number of themes being developed in the past few years. The sheer volume of offerings can make theme selection an overwhelming challenge. Thus, making an informed choice is the first step towards a wise choice.
The Early Days
How It All Began
What Did I Know?
- Not much!
- Tried other CMS: Joomla, Drupal, Blogspot.
- Wanted free themes.
- Searched in WordPress repository.
- Could preview themes.
What Did I Learn?
- Could try out different themes.
- Features and styles varied.
- Some themes had multiple widget and layout options.
- Relied on reviews and number of downloads.
- First used themes with lots of built-in options.
- Learned about child themes and frameworks.
Early WordPress Theme Faves
Free Themes with Lots of Options (but not too many options)
My Next Approach in Choosing a WordPress Theme
Leaning Toward Premium Themes
- Premium Themes
- Thematic – framework
My Current WordPress Theme Choices
- Solid Code
- Great Community
- Pro Plus Package
What Does the Site Need?
First Steps in Making a Selection
Answer key questions
- What’s the main purpose for the website?
- What will be my primary type of content: text, images, video or audio?
- What will be my secondary type of content?
- Will anything be sold directly from the website?
- Are most of my readers/customers/clients from my local area?
- Will I have a members-only section of the site?
- Create design mockups and get client approval before coding anything.
- If using theme out of box without custom design, show client and get approval.
Narrow the Field
Filter out non-contenders
- Theme should meet the needs of the website.
- Must be mobile-responsive!
- Should have GPL license (open-source).
- Theme should be Gutenberg-compatible.
- Is it well-maintained?
GPL – the most popular open source license
GPL is a copyleft license. This means that any software that is written based on any GPL component must be released as open source. The result is that any software that uses any GPL open source component (regardless of its percentage in the entire code) is required to release its full source code and all of the rights to modify and distribute the entire code.
The GPL doesn’t say that everything must be zero-cost, just that when you receive the software it must not restrict your freedoms in how you use it.
With that in mind, here are a collection of folks who provide GPL themes with extra paid services available around them. Some of them you may pay to access, some of them are membership sites, some may give you the theme for zero-cost and just charge for support. What they all have in common is people behind them who support open source, WordPress, and its GPL license.
– WordPress.org website
Search by Category
- Business or Individual
- Small Business, Corporate or Enterprise
- News or Magazine
- Traditional Blog
- Women, Specialty or App — specific themes for real estate agents, schools, restaurants, or events, for example
Think About Layout Options
- Number and placement of columns and sidebars
- Widgets for front page and footer area
- Gutenberg: Atomic blocks plugin – https://atomicblocks.com/
- Gutenberg – Kadence blocks plugin – https://wordpress.org/plugins/kadence-blocks/
Features – things the theme can do
- How robust is the Theme Options area?
- Is there a section for custom CSS?
- Can you change colors and fonts?
- Can you access Google fonts and/or Typekit fonts?
- What is included in the Customizer?
- Can you change the header image, logo, background image/colors, etc.?
- What areas can you access from the Customizer?
- Can you position things in widgets?
- Is there a hamburger menu?
- Does it come with a secondary nav menu?
- Is it optimized for e-commerce?
- Are plugins integrated (page-builders, sliders, Woo Commerce)?
- Has it been updated recently?
Reputation – All Themes
- Active installations
- Number of downloads
- Recommended by reliable people
- Performance on Pingdom, Google Dev, Gtmetrix, Yslow
- Accessibility Ready
- Translation & RTL Ready
- SEO Friendly code
- ”Clean” code
- Support Forum and Documentation
Reputation – Free Themes
- If free, is theme in WordPress repository?
Reputation – Premium Themes
- Is the theme developer/company reputable?
- Multipurpose themes: come bundled with a lot of templates, features, options, and plugins.
- Note: multipurpose themes are often bloated with plugins and features that you may not need/want.
- Your site may load more slowly with multipurpose themes.
- Page-builder themes: have proprietary code and often shortcodes that cannot be transferred to a new theme; may not be Gutenberg-compatible.
More WordPress Theme Considerations
- Theme > Theme Options
- Custom CSS
- And more!
- Appearance > Customize
- Site ID
- Homepage Settings
- Theme Settings
- And more!
Appearance > Customize > Additional CSS
- Will be intact if you change theme.
Support forums recommend using “Additional CSS” vs. Theme Options > Custom CSS.
Maybe it’s because the Additional CSS will be carried over to any theme, whereas the Custom CSS is theme-related.
WordPress Themes – Suggestions
Choose a Theme – Must be Responsive!
Free WordPress Themes
- Ample (by ThemeGrill) (https://wordpress.org/themes/ample/)
- Accelerate (by ThemeGrill) (https://wordpress.org/themes/accelerate/)
- Baskerville (by Anders Noren) (https://wordpress.org/themes/baskerville/)
- Color Mag (by ThemeGrill) (https://wordpress.org/themes/colormag/)
- Flash (by ThemeGrill) (https://wordpress.org/themes/flash/)
- Hestia (by ThemeIsle) (https://wordpress.org/themes/hestia/)
- Ignite (by Ben Sibley/Compete Themes) (https://wordpress.org/themes/ignite/)
- Mesmerize (by Extend Themes) (https://wordpress.org/themes/mesmerize/)
- Parallax (by AccessPress) (https://wordpress.org/themes/accesspress-parallax/)
- Shopline (by ThemeHunk) (https://wordpress.org/themes/shopline/)
- Twenty Nineteen (by WordPress.org) (https://wordpress.org/themes/twentynineteen/)
- Zelle Lite (formerly Zerif Lite, by ThemeIsle) (https://wordpress.org/themes/zerif-lite/)
Free > Premium Themes
- Anderson Lite (by ThemeZee) (https://wordpress.org/themes/anderson-lite/)
- Astra (by Brainstorm Force) (https://wordpress.org/themes/astra/)
- Customizr (by Press Customizr) (https://wordpress.org/themes/customizr/)
- Foodica (by WPZoom) (https://wordpress.org/themes/foodica/)
- Generate Press (by Tom) (https://wordpress.org/themes/generatepress/)
- Business (by Graph Paper Press) (https://graphpaperpress.com/themes/business/)
- Hueman (by Press Customizr) (https://wordpress.org/themes/hueman/)
- Interface (by Theme Horse) (https://wordpress.org/themes/interface/)
- Responsive (by Cyberchimps) (https://wordpress.org/themes/responsive/)
Genesis StudioPress Framework
- Digital Pro * Optimal * News Pro * Lifestyle Pro * 16 Nine * Outreach Pro
- AyoShop (by Designmodo; WooCommerce-ready)
- Envy Pro (WooCommerce-ready)
- Patron (by Themedy; WooCommerce-ready)
- Fun (by PrettyDarnCute; WooCommerce-ready)
Other Premium ($) Themes
- aThemes (https://athemes.com/)
- CSSIgniter (https://www.cssigniter.com/)
- Elegant Themes (Divi is their flagship theme) (https://www.elegantthemes.com/)