As of 2018, WordPress remains far and away the most popular content management system in web development, with the platform capturing a sizable market share of 31%, far eclipsing the second-placed Joomla, coming in at a measly 3.1% market share. WordPress owes its popularity mainly because of two reasons, its sheer versatility and the simple fact that at its most basic version, it is available for free. There’s just no denying free stuff.
Technically though, WordPress works under the ‘freemium’ model, in which plugins and themes, the very reasons for WordPress’ versatility, are separated into free and premium ones, just like with mobile apps and games. These themes and plugins come for the most part from third-party developers, owing to WordPress’ open-sourced nature and as such, WordPress is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the number of options available. Some might say there are way too many options.
Finding the right WordPress theme
Choosing a theme is usually one of the first and primary decisions you’ll have to make when starting out with WordPress. Themes aren’t just about looks. Basic functionality, layout, aesthetic impressions, the overall design language of your entire website is going to be heavily informed by the theme you’re going with. Apple didn’t merely stumble into their cohesive design language, shaping every piece of product in their lineup, both software and hardware, by accident. They did it through careful research.
Now, due to its open source nature, it is actually possible for you to design and develop a customized WordPress theme of your own, either from scratch or working from what’s already available but for most small businesses, this is usually unnecessary. The decision then, boils down to a choice between the plethoras of themes available for WordPress. In one marketplace alone, Themeforest from Melbourne-based Envato, there are over 10,000 themes available, packed like sardines in a crushed tin box.
To help you navigate and differentiate between this overly crowded market; here are some factors to consider when choosing a WordPress theme:
- Choose between simple themes or a comprehensive framework
To put another wrinkle in your decision process, WordPress framework is the current trend in web development. Remember at the beginning when I said that WordPress themes also account for functionality? WordPress framework works by pushing all of those functionalities within the framework itself while themes consist solely of stylistical options. In a WordPress framework, you basically have two themes; parent themes dictate the functionality while child themes dictate the actual aesthetics.
The benefit of going with a framework is that it makes WordPress more in line with full-on web builders like Wix or Squarespace by allowing easy, drag-and-drop codeless customization and seamless theme switching but with the caveat that you can’t perform under-the-hood modifications as freely as you’d like. Usually though, framework already has a lot of functionalities and widgets built-in that you normally won’t have to add one yourself.
- Just the right amount of functionality
First, consider what functionalities you’d like to have with your website right now and those you’re considering in the foreseeable future. Now, choose a theme that fulfills those needs with the minimum amount of baggage. A feature-rich theme might sound attractive but if it consist of features that are irrelevant, don’t bother. Those extra functionalities are just going to slow down your website and since load speed is now a Google ranking factor, a slow website isn’t something you want to be burdened with.
Technically, you can still add functionalities with plugins but again, adding more baggage is going to slow down your website, so try to go with a theme that already has the functionalities you need built-in to the theme.
- Responsive web design and mobile-friendliness
Mobile web browsing has overtaken the conventional desktop experience in 2016 and you need to adapt your website for optimal viewing on diminutive displays and gesture-based navigation. The one method of solving this is by using responsive web design, in which the webpage detects the medium it is being displayed and adapts itself. Choosing a non-responsive theme in 2018 is akin to connecting to the internet with a 56k dial-up connection. It’s just too anachronistic of a choice.
- Finding the right aesthetics
Take a glance at the selection available in Themeforest. On the left-hand side, there are a lots of different tags you could use to filter out just what exactly what kind of website you’re looking for. Food & beverage? Technology? A design portfolio or a resume? There are tons of themes available for various specific needs and choosing the one that fits the aesthetic you’re looking for should not be a problem. There are various considerations to factor in before you jump the gun, however.
First is the available color palette. Assuming you’ve already settled on a logo for your business, you need to find a theme with a color palette that could complement your logo. Some themes are available with unlimited color options while some, usually the free ones don’t. The second factor is legibility. If you’re working in the creative and/or visual industry, this might not be a primary consideration but for businesses working in professional services, you should always balance style with substance. Fussy, visual heavy design tends to not work with law and accounting firms.
The example marketplace I gave here, Themeforest, deals exclusively with premium themes. If you’re looking for the free ones, the directory on WordPress website is a good place to get you started. Here’s my advice though, try to avoid themes that are made by an individual. Those tend to be extracurricular excursions and since there are no professional obligations, questions of supports and updates are always going to be on your mind.
There are a lot of organizations dedicated to making WordPress themes and most usually offer free themes to go with the premium ones. The free ones are usually restricted in some ways, with less functionality and a limited color palette but if you can live with those restrictions, those free themes are a definite bargain because getting support will be much easier than from an individual designer.