Geek Speak: Theme Decisions

Categories: Geek Speak

Oh, you’re looking at choosing a WordPress theme.  Well, my condolences then.

I kid. I kid.

But in all seriousness, theme decisions can seem intimidating.  There are sooooo many options.  However, if you are working with a website designer, like me at Flannel Creative, you have the comfort of knowing it’s not just you riding off to face the theme dragon.  In fact, your designer is probably already going to have some pretty good ideas about how to slay that particular dragon.  But there are some key things to consider and pieces of information from you that will help the dragon slaying excursion to end successfully and without any singeing involved.

One of the biggest factors in choosing a theme is the purpose of your website.  While there are some themes that are like the Jacks-of-all-Trades in the website world and have lots of integrations either in themselves or with plugins, in general, you’ll often want to use a different theme for a blog vs. an online store vs. a review site vs. a restaurant vs. etc. etc.  Themes for specific purposes come with built in features to support that purpose.  It’s like making sure your website is dressed for the right occasion and isn’t trying to wear high heels to play tennis.  This may seem absurdly obvious, but it needs to be said.

Another important consideration in theme selection is the customization level you want.  Some themes have a predetermined layout that you need to stick to, while others allow your designer to build whatever you are imagining (within reason of course :)).  You can probably expect to pay more for a designer to custom build pages for you than if templates are used, so you need to decide just how original you want to be and how much you’re willing to pay for that originality.

You can also expect to pay for a theme.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t nice free themes out there, but free themes tend to have less available features and less customization ability.  So be prepared that this may be an extra expense on top of your designer’s work.  There are loads of wonderful themes out there under $100 (some very much under that amount).  And some designers will have paid to have access to themes that they can provide for you.  For example, Flannel Creative can provide any theme by Elegant Themes at no additional client cost because we’ve already paid for lifetime access.

You will want to let your designer know if you have a specific layout or style in mind for your website, as well.  If you’ve seen a site with huge graphics and love that, if your heart is set upon a homepage slider, if you are committed to minimalist design, or if you’ve found a website that you really like and would enjoy having some similar elements, tell your designer.  While there are always plugins and custom code to add features to your site, different themes support different layouts and elements better than others.  And if you are thinking about having any kind of eCommerce happening on your site now or in the future, that’s important info, too.  Some themes are already setup to handle eCommerce or work with eCommerce plugins and make setting up a store a breeze.

Don’t forget mobile friendliness either!  So many users access sites on mobile devices now that you need to make sure your theme is optimized to look good at any screen size.  

It’s significant to realize that when you select a theme, you are committing to a system for your website.  Make sure you like the system!  While some information, like page and post content will stay if you change a theme, any customizations made to your original theme go out the window when you change to a new one.  You may also have a lot of reformatting to do because of how your new theme interprets your data.  So think into the future a bit.  If you are going to want to change the appearance of your website often, don’t go with a theme in which your designer will need to make tons of customizations that will be lost.  Or just know and accept that that is something you will have to deal with.

And now, let’s talk about the behind-the-scenes of themes.  You are going to be buying a theme from a theme company.  What is that company’s reliability track record like?  Do they provide good support?  Do they have the option of auto updates so your theme is continually optimized without you having to worry about it?  As a small business, I love to see the little guy succeed.  But when it comes to a theme, you want to purchase from a company that you feel confident in their continued support of that theme (at least for the duration of the time you anticipate using the theme).  This isn’t to say that there aren’t good themes to buy from smaller theme companies, but do realize that if a smaller company folds and decides not support your theme anymore, you may be looking at having to buy a new theme and make the necessary changes to your site as the Internet continues to evolve.   

Now you’re a bit better armed to face the theme dragon with your designer.  And if you want to go theme shopping, go for it!  There are plenty of theme review sites out there.  While some sites do have a vested interest in promoting certain themes, if you find a theme recommended across many sites, that’s probably an indication that it’s a good’un.  And if you find something you love, great!  Just realize that you’ll need to talk with your designer and see if it really does meet all of your website needs.  Go team theme dragonslayers!