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Theme Shopping 101

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I don’t like shopping as much as I used to. As a teenager and college student I spent hours just wandering malls and Target stores randomly picking at racks and shelves just to see what was new and well, to waste time. Now that I’m a parent and work full time, time in general is precious, and I just want to get in and out with as little hassle as possible.

I was recently set up with my own WordPress site and URL, and now I need to figure out what kind of theme to use. The thought of shopping for one is overwhelming. There are so many! Where do I start? How do I know I’ll like it three months down the road? If I change it, will it mess up all the work I’ve put into the design and functionality that I actually like? I happen to come across two different resources this week that I found useful for this endeavor.

Be Smart

In the first post, Buying WordPress Themes the Smart Way, WPExplorer author AJ Clarke shared his tips for making smarter purchase decisions about commercial WordPress themes. The list he offers is extremely helpful:

1. Determine if the seller can be trusted. A simple Google search and/or reviewing comments and ratings will let you know if your source is legit and reliable.

2. Determine when the theme was last updated. Make sure you are using the most recent version of WordPress AND that the theme is kept up to date on a regular basis.

3. Check the homepage code (and other pages if you like) on W3C. W3C is a validation service that checks the markup validity of Web documents in HTML, XHTML, SMIL, MathML, etc.

4. Focus on “necessary” features. Clark has his own list of what he generally considers necessary: well-done HTML, PHP and JS coding; a layout that works; author support; and regular updates. He advises looking for these base requirements and avoiding themes that are jam-packed with features.

5. Pricing is relative. Clarke says he doesn’t even look at pricing really, but at the integrity of the theme and it’s ability to do what it says it will do. If the theme has all that you want, and it’s backed by a solid reputation and reviews, then price shouldn’t matter. You’ll end up saving time and money in the long run if you pay up now versus trying to fix everything later. Makes sense, but almost everyone works on a budget so this needs to be leveraged in that context.

The second article enticed me with its title: “A Beautiful Theme You Should Never Use” by Paul Kaiser on Turns out this title was a bit misleading as it really outlined pitfalls in certain theme choices versus actually naming a theme to avoid. It’s useful nonetheless. Here’s what I took away as the most important points to consider:

Beware the Beautiful Demo Page

When you look at a Demo page, you’re meant to see the best representation possible of how the theme looks and works. Keep in mind that to make the theme appear its best, a lot of time – and possibly a lot of money – went into making it look its best. Don’t expect out-of-the-box perfection on your own site; you’ll probably have several hours of customization to put your site on the same plane.

Practice WordPress Skill Awareness

Kaiser uses the Ammon theme as an example that highlights “fancy” features like content sliders, attractive table styles, interactive tabs / accordions, and custom-designed looks. Most of these features, however, require expertise beyond a standard WordPress installation, so if you don’t already know who to configure these features, and don’t intend on spending the time figuring it out, you may need to change your expectations or move on to a different theme.

A Switch Can be a B*tch

What if you need or decide to switch themes down the road? Switching to a new theme could be a help or a headache depending on how well the new and old themes play together. Ease of switching to a different theme depends on the level of customization you’ve put into your existing theme, and whether or not that customization can be transferred to the new theme. This usually works best if the theme is built on the same framework. As Kaiser notes, “Unless the new theme you want uses the same custom content-creation methods and settings, you’ll be spending time and money re-creating all that content you thought would last forever.”

In Conclusion

Before committing, Kaiser’s advice is, to me, the best advice: Sleep on it. Take the time to consider how the theme fits into your overall goals and how much time and money you’re willing to spend tweaking things to make it look just right. Here on WPHub we have over 700 WordPress themes to choose from and are adding new ones each week. Our themes page should provide yo with a good place to start your search.

What are your thoughts? Is this list practical and useful? Did you employ any different criteria when choosing your own them? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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