A WordPress theme is the overall look and feel of your WordPress blog or website.
The RIGHT WordPress theme can make a site look and feel AWESOME. Not only will your blog or website look really cool, but your audience will find it easy to navigate and use.
Really GREAT themes are extremely flexible in their design options.
The WRONG WordPress theme, however, can really make it difficult to achieve the look and feel you really want. Navigation can be hard, and the site may never do what you want it to. It’s never a good thing if your site is ever difficult or confusing to use.
Due to the overwhelming amount of options available to you with WordPress, choosing the RIGHT theme for your content can be really confusing and frustrating.
Got WordPress Theme Questions?
You probably started out with just a few questions.
After trying to find the right theme for your blog, you probably found yourself only asking a WHOLE LOT MORE!
Questions such as;
- Which theme will work best for YOUR type of business?
- Will the theme work well for SEO purposes?
- Is the theme going to have continued support to keep up with the latest internet trends?
- How customizable is the theme, and how customizable do you need the theme to be?
- Will it be overwhelming or complicated to use?
- What colors work best? Can you change them?
- What WordPress theme works best for an online store?
- How do you customize and change things on the site layout?
The list goes on… …picking the right theme can seem like an ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE.
I’ve been through ALL these growing pains choosing WordPress themes. It took me a few years, designing and using a few different sites to figure out EXACTLY how to choose themes that would work for MY OWN sites.
Eventually, I figured out how to choose the RIGHT WordPress theme, EVERY SINGLE TIME.
So, How DO You Choose the RIGHT WordPress Theme?
When I first started using WordPress a few years ago, I went through quite a learning curve. I sometimes spent weeks installing themes, trying to customize them, and make them work for me. Mostly, I ended up frustrated, completely unhappy with my results, and starting ALL OVER AGAIN.
Eventually, I realized I’d been doing everything backwards the WHOLE TIME.
Sometimes it does take a few days to get the right WordPress theme picked out, but I’m always glad I did the work, and chose the right one.
So, lets start the process of choosing the right WordPress theme for YOUR blog.
Reverse Engineering to Choose the Right WordPress Theme
Choosing the perfect WordPress theme starts with a process of reverse engineering.
I know this SOUNDS complicated, but it ISN’T at all.
Reverse engineering means instead of just choosing ANY OLD theme, trying to customize it, then writing content to fill it (only to find that this theme just won’t work for you), we’re going to do everything BACKWARDS.
To explain the reverse-engineering process, lets imagine we were buying a car.
How Choosing a WordPress Theme is Like Buying a New Car
Imagine yourself walking into a car dealership today, and buying the first car you see at the front of the lot. It’s an awesome Corvette (my dream car). Not only does it look AMAZING, it’s FAST, and has every upgrade possible.
This car is BADASS! You can’t wait to start driving it. Once home, you decide to go out to dinner to celebrate your new car.
But you have a few problems;
- You have 4 kids, but can’t get them in this car because a Corvette is a 2 seater sports car.
- You have a one hour commute to work. This car is going to cost you $300.00 a month MORE in fuel, because it’s a gas-guzzler.
- Need to go buy groceries? GOOD LUCK getting the weekly shopping in THIS CAR!
- Also, the payments on this car are going to MURDER your budget, so no going out for you anymore, either.
- Oh, and the insurance is now DOUBLE what you paid on your old vehicle.
Of course, if you ACTUALLY bought cars this way, life could get pretty difficult for you.
First, Establish Your Needs
When buying a car you tend to take a much more holistic approach. It’s best to start with your needs, and work your way backwards from there.
Great car salesmen ALWAYS establish their buyer’s NEEDS first, in order to present the right car to the prospect.
Choosing the perfect WordPress theme, works in almost EXACTLY the same way.
How to Reverse Engineer Your WordPress Theme Needs
When choosing a car you usually know what your buying criteria are. You have a budget, and a set of needs to fulfil. Throughout your lifetime, these needs also change.
WordPress themes are no different.
Reverse engineering your choice of WordPress theme from your blog’s needs, is always the best way to go about it.
So let’s figure out exactly what YOUR NEEDS are… …for YOUR wordpress site.
This is where the fun begins (Yeah, I know I’m weird).
Let’s start with your niche market.
Research Your Niche Market
Unless you’re the ONLY person in the world in your niche (something you definitely WOULD NOT want in ANY business), there must already be some blogs or websites that ALREADY exist out there. Maybe you follow some of them, or were actually INSPIRED by them to start YOUR blog.
You definitely want your blog to be different to the others out there so you stand out, BUT taking a look at how others are doing it, CAN be EXTREMELY helpful.
If there are other blogs and website in the niche already, that are successful, their blog design, layout, and theme, OBVIOUSLY WORK.
I would like to note quickly here, that we’re absolutely NOT going to copy other people’s sites AT ALL.
What we ARE going to do, however, is take a look at what’s out there in your niche. It’s useful to know if there are any common similarities in themes, layouts, and menus.
Make a Menu Item List
Choose 10 sites you know of, have read before, or simply like the look of, within your niche. If you don’t know of 8-10, shoot over to Google, and find a few more.
Take a piece of paper, a white board, or a spreadsheet, and write a list of these sites or blogs on the left.
I like to open a web browser on a computer and have ALL the sites open AT THE SAME TIME in separate tabs so I can see them all, and flip from site-to-site quickly and easily.
On the whiteboard, write out the menu links on each blog. Once you’ve done that for all 10 sites, write out the most common menu links. I like to write next to the menu item, how many occurances of that link I’ve encountered.
For Example, in this photo of my research into a baking blog site, I could see that many of them had Home, About, Recipes, and Cookbook pages.
Pardon the pun about baking and menus, but this is an example of my menu structure research.
Once I could see how other bloggers menus were structured within that niche, I could THEN plan for what links my site menu should contain. In my example, I would add not just my own cooking books, but recommendations and affiliate links to amazon books.
I’d also consider adding a portfolio, and online cooking / baking courses or workshops.
Don’t Ever Copy Content
It’s IMPORTANT to say here AGAIN, that I’m not saying you should EVER COPY anyone’s content, or their work. But, if a lot of successful people in your niche are using a similar menu structure or site design, then you know that is WORKS for your niche.
You can see that it’s easy to navigate, and people in your audience looking for content like yours are going to find this menu structure familiar.The goal is to have a great menu plan for your blog or website that's similar to what's already out there, but still original, and has more than enough to differentiate your site from the rest. Click To Tweet
Site Layout & Overall Design
Take a look at the FRONT PAGE of those 10 blogs. Are there any similarities in how they’re laid out?
When you look at the page, where are they trying to take your attention? Is there a call-to-action on the front page? If so, how is it worded, and what does it link to? Go ahead and read that page, if you want.
Look for Common Colors
Are there common color schemes, or design aspects of these blogs? Usually within a niche, there are SOME similarities across the board, no matter HOW different they try to be.
In healthcare, blues, greens, aquamarines, or turquoise are often used, as these are calming colors, and associated with hospitals.
Restaurants are painted with reds, yellows, and browns, because these colors are rich, and make you feel more hungry when you’re there.
Is the site just a straight blog, with just blog posts, or is it a web site?
If so, is it a one page site, where all the information is pretty much just on one page, or does it have multiple pages and menus?
Where is the site menu positioned? How are the images laid out, and how is information presented?
For example, within the online business / marketing / personal branding niche;
- Almost all the websites are built around the person that writes the blog, as a personal brand site.
- They all have a large image at the top of the page with a photo of the site owner, with a call-to-action up front.
- The call-to-action link usually goes to a ‘START HERE’, or a ‘RESOURCES’ page.
- The main menu is almost ALWAYS right at the top of the page, but is a ‘sticky’ menu, which sticks to the top of the page, even if you scroll down.
Therefore, I knew for THIS SITE I needed a theme with a large hero image above the fold, with the capability of adding a large call-to-action with a link to cornerstone content, to the home page of the site. I also need a theme capable of adding a sticky menu to the top of the page.
The site theme also needed to be clean and professional looking, and easy to navigate.
What Type of Blog or Site do YOU Need?
WordPress is extremely flexible as a CMS (content management system). There are many different ways to present your blog or web site to the world.
When choosing a WordPress theme for a site or blog, I look at other people’s sites, to see how they’re structured.
They’re usually set up as one of the following types of site;
WordPress Blog Site
When you first install WordPress, it’s a blog site.
Blogs comprise of a one-page feed of your blog posts, published in chronological order, most recent at the top of the blog page. The Blog posts are usually displayed with ‘featured image’, and show a description, or show you the first paragraph of the blog post.
If you find that most people in your niche are using a blog format, you know this could work well for you.
So, you would need to look for good WordPress blog themes that meet your visual layout and color scheme requirements.
Often, all you need is to present ALL your information on just ONE PAGE.
Almost everything about your business can be presented on one page, in sections. Maybe there’s a few links from that page to things such as contact forms, maps, or other important information.
Most local businesses (or even some larger international firms) are often able to use a one-page design.
It allows detailing information about their business, some basic contact information, and a map to their location.
Remember: for a functional, usable design, the SIMPLEST and EASIEST design will ALWAYS work BEST.
WordPress is not just a blog, but also an extremely flexible CMS (Content Management System). You can publish MANY pages, and set up a menu system as a whole web site.
It’s also possible to set up a WordPress site to have the blog displayed within a web page other than the front page (the way THIS site is set up).
If you need to set up site content with a menu structure, laid out in sections, and many pages of information, that’s possible. If that’s the case, you need a WordPress theme capable of a good multi-page web site.
Generally speaking, WordPress themes capable of a multi-page layout are a lot more flexible when it comes to custom page layouts and design.
Photographers, Graphic Designers, Artists, Videographers and creative types, often display their work on a portfolio site.
Portfolio sites are designed specifically for the creative types, needing to present their work in a cool, easy to navigate, presentational site.
You can actually put together portfolio pages on ANY WordPress theme. These work okay if you only really need ONE page on your site to be a portfolio page.
A WordPress theme designed specifically as a portfolio site, however, is the greatest thing in the world for these types of site.
Online Store / Ecommerce
If you’re setting up a site that’s an eCommerce retail site, or one that has a store page, you would definitely want a theme that would support those features.
For Ecommerce: WooCommerce Plugin Support is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!
To mention ecommerce or online stores, it would be ridiculous to not mention the number one WordPress plugin for eCommerce, WooCommerce.
The WooCommerce Plugin Home Page
WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin you can install on your site, which gives you full store capabilities. This includes shopping cart, payment processing options, shipping calculation, and more.
To say WooCommerce is absolutely AWESOME, is an understatement.
It’s designed and produced by WordPress themselves, so its GUARANTEED to work with every latest version of WordPress, and get full support.
I highly recommend WooCommerce for anyone wishing to set up an online store with physical, or digital products.
The best thing about the WooCommerce WordPress plugin?? It’s completely, 100%, FREE!
WooCommerce Compatible WordPress Themes
There are MANY WordPress themes available,that are designed to support the WooCommerce plugin.
Some WordPress themes are specifically designed purely for a WooCommerce online store.
Other Important WordPress Theme Design Features
Look at some of the features your future competitors are using. There may be plugins or features that your business will require, in order to have a functional site for YOUR use.
A restaurant, physical store, or a local business, would probably have a functional Google map on their site. This gives customers the capability of getting directions easily to your location.
You may also need links to your google local business listing and Yelp page, so they can see reviews, or add them.
An artist, or videographer would want their portfolio site to have the capabilities of easily displaying video and art content in galleries. In ways that are easy to navigate and view, on all platforms and screens.
You’d also want the site to look creatively beautiful, to present your art to your fans.
Booking Appointments or Reservations
Maybe you need to book appointments, groups, events, or any other type of booking. If so, then a theme, or site that compatible with booking apps or plugins, would be necessary for your WordPress blog.
Biographies or Profiles
Perhaps you have a small company or corporation, and would like to display bios and pictures of your team on your blog.
What does the footer look like? Is it elaborate, detailed, simple, or not there at all?
Animations or Graphics
Is your niche full of sites with great animated graphics, or cool looking features that enable people to surf the site more efficiently, or just make all these sites look really cool?
Take a note of ANY of these features, as you will want a theme that’s capable of EVERYTHING you need.
Putting it All Together
At this point, I’m hoping you have a REALLY GOOD, solid idea as to what you NEED in your WordPress theme.
It’s important to have a reasonable idea as to what you want the site to look like, as far as the color scheme, and the site layout.
You’ve figured out the type of site you need, and have identified any important features you might require.
Put it all together, and write out a list of your site requirements.
Front Page Map
Sometimes I like to draw up a front page map, to envision what my site layout might look like, This helps when looking for themes.
Here’s an example of the top half of a front page mock-up I did for a site about steel buildings.
Now that you know what you need, you can start looking for a WordPress theme for your site capable of doing everything you want.
Oh, and one more thing…
Keep it Simple, Stupid
Take a K.I.S.S. approach to choosing a theme, and designing your WordPress website.
You’re not going to win any awards by being the most complicated or technically difficult site in your industry, or niche.To me, the best sites are clean, simple, and easy to navigate, so keep your WordPress site as simple as possible. Click To Tweet
Only complicate things where ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.
Where to Find the BEST WordPress Themes
A great place to START looking for WordPress themes, is in the theme directory in WordPress.
The WordPress Free Theme Directory
I have a real love/hate relationship with the WordPress theme directory. It has thousands-and-thousands of free themes, and all of them are COMPLETELY FREE to download.
They are all professional looking, and are all customizable. You can change the design and the images to your own.
If you can find a WordPress theme on the free directory, that will do absolutely everything you need it to do, then that’s great! You need to look no further.
All sounds great, right? But there’s definitely a catch.
What’s the Catch?
If (after doing all your design research and planning) you can find a free WordPress theme that does absolutely EVERYTHING you need, you’re good to go! I’ve personally RARELY found this to be the case.
Many of the ‘free’ themes in the free WordPress directory are a dumbed-down version of a theme. They’ve been built as a free introductory version, to get you to BUY the FULL version. They may have very limited customizations. You could find it very difficult to make the site look anything like the cover photo with the free version, unless you upgrade to the paid version.
Some WordPress themes can customize the hell out of the front page, but have a generic template for the rest of the site.
My opinion on the free WordPress theme catalog, is that it’s just okay. Many of the themes ARE good, but they’re just good.
Quite often, the paid versions of those WordPress themes STILL leave a lot to be desired. Especially where functionality, plugin compatibility, and customization are concerned.
Again, if you find a free theme that works for you, and you’re happy with that, that’s awesome.
However, if you need it, I highly recommend looking at a real, totally customizable, paid WordPress theme.
Paid WordPress Themes
Sometimes paying money for something is stupid, or can be bootstrapped around, and done for either free, or a very low cost.
I’ve built several businesses in my lifetime. I definitely subscribe to hustling, boot-strapping, and making things happen instead of saying ‘I don’t have enough money’ as an excuse for not taking action, or procrastinating the problem away.
Growing up I was VERY poor. If I didn’t have money to pay for something, I had to get creative. I would learn new skills, do it myself the hard way, sit on google and educate myself, or do whatever it takes to get things done.
However, I also subscribe to the rhetoric that you quite often ‘get what you pay for’.
Paid WordPress themes are, in my opinion, ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to being able to get the site you ACTUALLY WANT.
Many paid WordPress themes have an amazing grid design system, a page designer, and a menu of different page elements you can add to any page, making your site TOTALLY customized.
Anyway, in my opinion, a good WordPress theme is VERY WORTH paying for.
Benefits of a Great Paid WordPress Theme
There are MANY great benefits to paying for a WordPress theme;
- You only have to pay once, and the theme is yours.
- When any new feature comes out for your theme, you’ll have it automatically with an update download, for free.
- A good paid WordPress theme will give you the ability to adapt and customize ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING on the site, even every part of each individual page.
- As your blog or web site changes, or evolves, you may need different features. Well designed, paid WordPress themes tend to include a lot more features as standard, and stay updated.
- Paid WordPress themes are designed to be compatible with almost all of the best plugins, especially big ones like WooCommerce, etc. Everything also stays constantly updated, to ensure compatibility continues with those plugins.
- They have working demos for the site, showing you all the site elements and additional animated extras that really make your site look professional. You can try out and test them working on a live site, and see which of those features might be of use to you.
How to Find the Best Paid WordPress Theme for YOUR Site
There are so many themes out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, there are some awesome theme directories out there, that sell the BEST, most up-to-date WordPress themes.
They also have links to the demo site for the theme. You can see the site working. You can try it out, and test EVERYTHING that the theme comes with, even test out every single feature and page element.
My personal favorite WordPress theme directory, where I buy almost all my themes, is ThemeForest.net, from EnvatoMarket.
ThemeForest from EnvatoMarket, The BEST WordPress Theme Directory
They have a great selection of the best, and most popular paid WordPress themes, listed by genre, popularity, and more.
I highly recommend that if you’re frustrated, or can’t find a free WordPress theme that works for you, stop messing around, and just pay for a paid theme today.
You’ll save yourself a TON of wasted time and frustration, and you won’t regret the decision, for sure.