How to Choose a WordPress Theme: Top 10 Things to Consider
After building hundreds of WordPress websites for clients I work with, I know that most beginner bloggers feel overwhelmed when it comes to selecting a theme and it’s no surprise.
There are thousands upon thousands of free and premium themes to choose from. You can’t possibly view them all. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Each theme looks different and offers different features. So how do you narrow your options down to choose the best WordPress theme for your website?
- What should you look for?
- What should you avoid?
In this article on how to choose a WordPress theme, I will share the top 10 things you should consider when picking a WordPress theme and the best places to find the perfect WordPress theme for your site.
1. Mobile Responsive
The theme you choose MUST look good and work well on mobile devices.
More than 50% of internet users are now on mobile, so in 2018 Google switched to mobile-first indexing which means that the mobile version of your website is used to rank the desktop version.
Websites that are not mobile responsive get penalized with lower search engine rankings. So if you want your content to be found in Google, make sure you pick a theme that’s mobile-friendly.
Although most WordPress themes are mobile responsive nowadays, some free themes still use fixed width layouts. If a theme’s description does not say the theme is mobile friendly, you should test it.
How do you know if a theme is mobile responsive?
Simple. You can use Google’s mobile-friendly tool. Just add the URL of a theme’s demo page and Google will tell you if it is a responsive theme or not.
Fast websites are important for good user experience, SEO, visitor engagement, lower bounce rates, and optimal conversion rates.
Why? Because people are impatient!
Most people won’t wait longer than a few seconds for a webpage to load. And since Google’s ultimate goal is to give people what they want, sites that do take longer than three seconds to load on mobile and desktop are penalized with lower search engine rankings.
So. You should choose a lightweight theme that won’t slow down your website.
The easiest way to know if a theme is lightweight or not, besides the developer saying so, is to test the load time of the theme’s demo using Uptrends for mobile speed, and GTmetrix for desktop speed.
If the theme demo takes longer than three seconds to load, you can safely assume that the theme will load slowly on your website, too.
Some lightweight themes I recommend are Astra, GeneratePress, Kadence, and Ocean WP. My own tests show that they both load in under two seconds. See the results by clicking the links below:
3. SEO Friendly
WordPress themes that are poorly coded for SEO can hurt your website rankings. It doesn’t matter how well optimized your content really is, messy code tricks Google into thinking it is low quality.
Not all themes are SEO friendly and unfortunately, unlike site speed and mobile responsiveness, there is no quick and easy way for beginners to know if a theme is coded well for SEO.
The good news?
These days, all reputable theme developers will tell you if their themes are SEO friendly so you don’t have to waste time trying to figure it out on your own. If there’s no mention of a theme being SEO optimized, cross it off your list and look for another one.
4. Less Is More
A mistake I often see people make is choosing a feature-rich theme loaded with all sorts of fancy bells and whistles like sliders, animated backgrounds, flashy images, and fonts that are hard to read, etc.
While all those things may look good you don’t need them. They just slow down your website and draw the readers attention away from what really matters – your content and conversions.
Research shows that simple designs are better. So you should choose a theme that looks clean and professional, and is easy to read and navigate.
After all, what’s the point in having a website that looks cool if it doesn’t help you achieve your goals?
5. Compatibility With Page Builders
Whichever theme you choose, you will need a drag and drop page builder plugin installed on your website to create sales pages, optin pages, thank you pages, download pages, webinar pages, and more.
There are lots of page builders to choose from and some are easier to use than others. Popular page builders include:
Personally, I find Thrive Architect and WPBakery clunky to work with. I work much better with Beaver Builder. But you might prefer using Elementor instead.
However, right now, you may not have a preference since you’re still in the process of choosing a theme and setting up your website.
So. Make sure you select a theme that’s compatible with all the popular page builder WordPress plugins. That way you won’t be limited to just one.
6. Cross-Browser Compatibility
Different people will use different browsers to visit your website, whether it be Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Edge, or Opera.
So. You should select a WordPress theme that works well across all modern browsers. The theme you’re looking at might work perfectly on your browser, but that may not be the case on others.
Most WordPress theme developers do rigidly test their themes for cross-browser compatibility, but if it’s not clear in the theme description, you should test it yourself. You can use a browser compatibility testing tool, or just install the most popular browsers listed above and visit the demo site.
7. One-Click Demo Import
Assuming you want your chosen WordPress theme to look exactly like the theme demo, make sure you choose a theme that has a one-click demo import. This might sound like an obvious requirement, but not all themes have this feature, and if they do, the demo import doesn’t always work.
There is no way to know 100% that the theme demo import will be successful with your specific web hosting provider. Some hosts timeout and that causes the import to fail. But if you choose a theme from reputable theme sellers like Astra and GeneratePress, and you have good web hosting, that won’t be a problem.
One-click demo imports help you set up your chosen theme in minutes, not hours. And they help you see exactly how the theme is configured to duplicate the look of the demo. All you have to do is replace the demo content with your own content, and then delete demo content from the site.
8. Customization Options
Logo size, fonts, colors, layouts, headers, and footers. These are all things that you’ll likely want to customize and tweak at some point. If you don’t have basic coding knowledge, make sure you choose a theme that makes customizing your WordPress website easy.
Customization options differ from theme to theme. Some are very basic, while others give you more advanced options for almost every area of your site.
When looking at themes, read the description and the list of features to find out exactly what can be customized without code. For complete control of theme customizations, I recommend Astra Pro.
9. Customer Support
You’ll definitely want to choose a theme that has good documentation and solid support options.
Without support, if you experience any issues with your theme (conflicts, human error, etc) you’re on your own and you could end up wasting days or even weeks trying to figure out how to fix it. Or you’ll have to pay someone else to fix it for you.
That’s why I always recommend choosing a premium theme. Most premium WordPress themes come with one year of support at no additional cost, during which time you can get help fixing issues fast.
Free themes, on the other hand, are well, free. So it’s not possible for (or fair to expect) developers to offer the same level of support. Some do have a support forum where you can ask basic questions, but you’re not guaranteed an answer. And if you do get an answer, it’s usually weeks later.
10. Read Reviews and Ratings
Just like you do when buying something from Amazon or another website online, before you pick a theme, see what others are saying about it.
If the theme you’re looking at is a premium theme, read customer reviews on the sellers’ website. You can also ask other bloggers in Facebook groups who have used or are currently using the theme what they think about it.
Free themes don’t have customer reviews, but users do rate free themes and leave feedback. Also, you can see how many times the theme has been installed on other websites, and when it was last updated.
If the theme has thousands of installs, five-star ratings, good comments, and has been updated within the last 12 months, that’s a good sign and I don’t see any reason not to try it.
WordPress Themes I Recommend
Now that you know how to choose a WordPress theme for your blog, below is a list of places to find quality themes, free and paid, that in my experience, are the best WordPress themes. I have personally used all of these themes either on my own site or websites that I build and manage for other people.
- Astra theme (free and paid)
- StudioPress (premium)
- GeneratePress (free and paid)
- Kadence (free and paid)
- Ocean WP (free and paid)
But remember, you get guaranteed support and updates with premium themes which is important for reasons mentioned above. If possible, I recommend making the investment for a premium theme Vs a free one.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a WordPress theme?
This is a question I am asked frequently by clients and readers of The Blog Mechanic who are new to WordPress. They know they need a WordPress theme because someone told them so, but they’re not quite sure what a WordPress theme is.
Here’s how I like to explain what a WordPress theme is in layman’s terms.
Imagine your WordPress website is a car. WordPress is the engine that powers the car. A WordPress theme is the car body. It’s the outer covering of the car that determines what the car looks like.
A WordPress theme is simply a tool you can use to customize the layout, color, fonts, and other design elements of a website without touching a single line of code.
What is the difference between free and premium WordPress themes?
With premium themes, you get more features and customization options. This is the biggest advantage. There are numerous third-party theme shops and marketplaces to purchase premium themes from, unlike free themes in the WordPress repository.
How much is a WordPress theme?
It depends on where you buy the theme from. You can expect to pay anything between $40 and $130 for a premium theme. Custom themes on the other hand can cost between $1,500 and $10,000 or more.
Are all WordPress themes SEO Friendly?
No, Not all WordPress themes are well-optimized for SEO. That’s why it’s important to choose a theme from reputable theme developers who code their themes following best SEO practices. Good SEO optimized themes will help your content rank higher in Google search results.
Is it worth buying a WordPress theme?
Yes, absolutely. More features and more customization options are not the only benefits of buying a premium theme. You also get 1 year of guaranteed support at no additional cost and regular theme updates which is really important to keep your theme secure and performing well.
Is Astra a good theme?
I personally use Genesis themes on my own website, but some of my client’s sites are built using Astra and I can highly recommend it. Customizing your website with Astra is super simple using their beginner-friendly drag and drop interface. Astra is mobile responsive, SEO optimized, and lightweight. Click here to try Astra now.
What will happen if I change my WordPress theme?
You won’t lose your content, so don’t worry about that! However, menus and sidebars will be replaced by the new theme’s menus and sidebars. And any widgets you have in the sidebar will automatically be deactivated. The new theme may also add some default widgets to the sidebar. And you may or may not have to fix some minor spacing issues.
What is the most popular free WordPress theme?
With 6,684,006 total downloads, the Twenty Seventeen theme looks to be the most popular free theme, but it’s likely that the theme doesn’t have all the theme features you’re looking for which is usually the case with most free themes.
In my experience, if you are going to use a free theme, the free versions of Astra and GeneratePress are better than the Twenty Seventeen theme.
What is the easiest WordPress theme to use?
For beginner bloggers without basic coding skills, the easiest WordPress themes to use are those that allow you to customize every area of your website using ‘drag and drop’ and ‘point and click’ advanced customization options. See my list of recommended themes above.
And that’s it.
I hope you found this article on how to choose a WordPress theme helpful. If you did, you may also like my step by step guide on how to install a WordPress theme.