There’s never been a better time to set up your own website. Thanks to the abundance of themes available on WordPress, pretty much anyone can have a beautiful, functional website without touching a line of code.
However, this overload of choices can make it hard to find the theme that’s right for you. Many inexperienced site owners just go for the prettiest template. While aesthetics are definitely important, they’re not the end of the story.
There are a lot of more subtle aspects that contribute to the success of a website. Here are a few things – that have nothing to do with looks – that you should consider when choosing a theme.
1. How fast does it load?
Recent studies show that most users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less, and 47% of them will abandon the site if it takes more than 3 seconds.
Keep in mind that over 50% of your viewers will come to your site on a mobile device. People browsing on their phones these days expect the same experience as when using a desktop computer.
You might think that elegant design and attractive images are the key to making people like your site. However, just having a site that loads quickly and easily might be the single most important factor in keeping visitors on the page.
Plus, Google ranks fast sites higher.
2. Is it SEO-friendly?
If you’re searching for premium WordPress themes, probably more of them than not will be labeled as “SEO-friendly.” But how many of them actually are?
There’s no official test or certification to decide who can stick this label on their theme. In order to tell if it really is good for SEO, you need a basic understanding of what search engines are looking for. (And unlike what many naïve site owners think, it’s not just blasting out loads of content!)
The criteria that you should consider can be divided into two categories: content SEO and technical SEO/user experience.
Content SEO is about what’s on your site and how much you’re helping visitors find what they need. “Content” here means all the text that appears on your site, not just the page content. A good SEO-friendly theme will allow you to manage it all easily, especially these key areas:
- Meta information: title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords, meta tags, etc. These snippets of text identify for search engines what is on each page of your site.
- Sitemap: showing all your important pages and sections of your website. The more labels you can put on your site elements, the better.
- Navigation elements: good menus make search engines favor your site because they help visitors get where they want to be. You want full control over your menus, including color and text design. They should work fast and be easy to understand.
Technical SEO is more about how your site behaves. It includes a lot of what I’ll talk about in the rest of this article, such as:
- Page loading speed (this is critical, since it’s such a big factor in user experience)
- Mobile responsiveness
- Clean code
- Advanced formatting options
Website architecture is also an essential part of designing a site with good SEO. The pages should link together in a way that’s simple, logical and intuitive. This will make it easier both for humans to navigate your site and for bots to index it, meaning higher ranking on Google.
The best way to check this is just to watch a live demo of any template you’re considering and pay attention to how its structure works.
3. Can I customize it?
You obviously want a theme that you can adapt to suit your vision. Many templates today offer a customization dashboard that will allow you to make your site attractive and unique, without needing to mess with any code.
However, you want your theme’s customization options to go beyond just visuals.
It should be flexible enough to work well with any plugins you want to use.
If you’re not familiar with plugins, they’re pieces of software that can be added to your WordPress site to expand its capabilities or add new functions. Most of them are free but lack tech support, so be careful which ones you choose.
A few essential ones for WordPress users:
- W3 Total Cache – for speeding up your site
- Yoast SEO – for (you guessed it) SEO tools
- Social Warfare – to bring more traffic from social media
- Defender – for beefing up your security against hackers
- Google Analytics+ – to analyze your site’s traffic patterns
- Akismet – to filter out spam comments
4. Is it mobile responsive?
As I mentioned before, you should assume that many of your visitors will see your site on their mobile phones.
This is why it’s essential to choose a responsive theme, one that adjusts its layout automatically for screens of different sizes and shapes.
Without this, your site might load with a lot of problems for mobile users. The page might be larger than the screen, the text too small or images in the wrong location, to name a few. People don’t have so much patience for glitches like this, and they’re likely to hit backspace right away if the site looks weird on their phone.
Mobile responsive sites also rank higher in Google, since it’s important for so many users.
Most WordPress themes these days are responsive, but not all. Check yours by resizing your browser screen and see if the layout adjusts to fit, or run it through Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool.Is the code clean?
Clean code means your site won’t suffer from bugs and it will have higher security. WordPress is very widely used, making it a popular target for malicious software, so it’s very important to start out on the right foot here.
So how can you tell if a template’s code is clean?
First, check reviews. People who have been using it for a while will know better than anyone if the theme works ok.
If you know a bit about coding, take a look at the source code itself. You can do this on a demo page or another site that uses the theme. Right-click anywhere on the page, select View Page Source and check it out.
All these ideas in one infographic, just to help you remember…
So here are the essential things to consider when choosing a WordPress theme expressed in an infographic. Enjoy!
As you can see, there’s a lot more to choosing a WordPress template than just what looks nice.
Balancing all the factors might seem a little daunting to a WordPress newcomer. Just remember to put yourself in the visitor’s shoes. Whenever you make a choice about your website, think how it will affect someone who’s just stumbled on the page. Think about what people are looking for when they come to your site and how you can help them find it.
With this mindset, the choices will become much more clear.