So you're looking for a WordPress theme. (Boy are you in the right place!) You've looked at all the options you can find, viewed hundreds of theme demos, and after hours of surfing you've narrowed it down to 10 or so themes. Since there are countless WP themes available online today, and hundreds more are created every week, narrowing it down to 10 is already pretty impressive!
Now in an ideal world you could install all 10 themes and see which one performs best for your particular needs. But in most cases this is not an option, and is highly inefficient in terms of both time and money. Alternatively, just choosing the best theme according to how it looks is like ordering from a menu based on a dish's photo. Sure it matters how it looks, but that's hardly the whole story and shouldn't be the only metric in making a choice.
This article describes 8 important criteria, in addition to a theme's demo, that will help you choose the best WordPress theme for your needs. Before you purchase a theme, remember to review it according to the following metrics in order to make a great choice:
It's an unfortunate fact that some theme authors, especially among those releasing themes for free, put untrusted backlinks or create 'backdoors' into the theme that can make it vulnerable to attack. There are also cases where the theme author may be completely blameless but using a plugin that has security holes. The fact is that your WP theme has access to all your data and if it is vulnerable to an injection, that means your whole website and data is at risk.
Keeping this in mind, it is important to make sure that the theme author is reliable, and any plugins used within the theme are either created by the author himself or are highly rated and trusted by the WordPress community at large.
Theme support and upgrades
A theme author cannot foresee all the ways in which a theme might be used, and it is not uncommon for any theme to have bugs or issues that come up after it is released. This is not a problem as long as the theme author is available to provide fixes and update the theme at the source.
The WordPress core is also updated multiple times a year, and while it's important to keep your website updated to the latest stable version, this can sometimes break compatibility with a pre-existing theme. In such a case also, it is important for the theme author to be available and to update the theme, or at the very least to make it clear at the outset that he or she will not be maintaining the theme past a certain point. When it comes to theme updates, always know what you are getting into.
Your website's speed makes a great deal of difference to user experience, and for that reason it is now also considered a ranking factor by search engines like Google. Your own perception as a user is a pretty good test of a theme's speed, but another way in which you can check the speed of the themes you are running is to run a speed test at webpagetest.org on the demo.
However, do remember that website speed often has more to do with the web server that a WordPress website is on, than with the theme it is using. But, if the theme is unnecessarily bloated or is organized poorly with too many plugins, it can contribute to making your website slow, and should be avoided.
As with any other online purchase, check a theme's ratings where available, and also review the author's own ratings and/or social behaviour on websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Are they socially active and responsive to questions? Do their existing customers have positive things to say about them? Checking out the theme author's reputation can help you choose among competing ones.
Let's just say it: responsive websites have come into the mainstream. Responsivity is no longer a cool 'addon' but rather an essential aspect of any modern website. More and more users are accessing the web from mobile devices of varying sizes and resolutions, and if you want to truly cater to your market you cannot make any assumptions about how they will choose to visit you. What you can do is be adaptable to screens ranging from cellphones to retina-display, and for this it is important to choose a responsive WordPress theme for your website.
Depending on your target audience, responsivity also includes browser-compatibility. If for example you are creating a site targeting older users or those in non-Western countries, support for older versions of Internet Explorer (eg IE8) is important and should be verified before purchase.
You might love a theme's colors and typography today, but what about tomorrow? Does a theme allow you to do A/B testing on the design by choosing different elements to see which one performs better or has reduced bounce rate? Once you really get into your website, you will surely want to change some or the other aspect of it, just to see if it makes a positive difference. A theme that allows changes to colors, fonts and widget organization is always better than one that doesn't!
On the other hand, if you are targeting older users, you need a theme that is extremely well laid out and does not need too much extra clicking to discover navigation elements. Know your audience, and choose a theme accordingly.
When choosing a theme, ask yourself what purposes you need it for and whether that is included within the theme's licensing options. Some themes are only available for use on a specific number of websites, while some others might limit usage to only websites owned by the buyer of the themes. Most premium theme authors make their licensing terms very clear, but in other cases you can always drop an email to the author to make sure the theme license fits your particular use cases.
Once you have narrowed down your theme choices according to design and demo, the points listed above can help you narrow it down to the perfect WordPress theme for your needs.
Did you find this list helpful? Are there other important criteria missing from the list above? Do let us know!