by Drew Rattray
If you’re not a web designer, you may choose to build your personal website using a template. WordPress is one of the most versatile content management systems in the world, and it allows for endless options for designing your own site or for taking advantage of a vast array of customizable themes. There are a plethora of online resources to choose from when purchasing a WordPress theme. Among my favorites is themeforest.net, but you can also find themes via WordPress itself or a variety of other providers. However, no matter where you acquire the theme, it needs be flexible and have the ability to be used over and over again. To that end there are four aspects to look out for:
Why choose a multipurpose theme?
As the name implies, a multipurpose theme has multiple uses. It saves you money and time because you can leverage the power of its flexibility for many projects.
Take the Avada theme, for example. I have used it for a one page parallax website, a multipage website, a simple landing page and for an online resume. The benefit of a flexible theme is that you save money because you’re not purchasing a new theme for each project. Also, the more you use the theme, the more you’ll become an expert at all of its features. Over time, this will make you a more efficient user and afford you some experience in web design yourself.
I’m also talking from personal experience. I’m currently using the Avada theme for my portfolio website.
As you can see, WordPress websites don’t have to be boring. I have taken the classic setup and customized it to suit my needs with interactive and video elements—and you can too.
5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a WordPress Theme:
1. Is it feature-rich?
Look over the features of the theme in terms of customization. Do you envision the theme working for a variety of your projects? Pick a theme that can be used for a website, landing page or online resume. My WordPress theme, for example, was originally intended for portfolio websites, but it’s versatile and includes demo themes for a travel, cafe, or fashion websites respectively.
2. Does the author/publisher of the theme make regular updates?
The frequency with which the author or publisher updates the theme can give you some great insight into the theme’s quality. An author who makes frequent updates cares about enhancing the theme with WordPress updates and releasing bug fixes.
3. Is the author/publisher well-known?
Check to see if the theme is well-documented, with plenty of support material or information in online help forums. Well-known publishers who create high-quality themes earn a strong reputation, and it’s easy to tell by looking at a theme’s sales, stats, ratings and comments if this is the case for your theme. Also, look to see if—and how frequently—the author replies to comments. This can help you gauge the amount of engagement with customers.
4. Is the theme part of a current trend?
Leave trendy templates by the wayside. In two years, the theme may not be relevant—or even around, for that matter. For the long run, choose a more traditional theme that will stand the test of time and has those rich features mentioned above that make it multi-dimensional and customizable.
5. Is the theme responsive?
This may be a no-brainer, but there are many themes out there that aren’t responsive or adaptive. If a theme is responsive, the content and appearance of the site will shift so that it looks clean on any device. The best themes pull responsiveness off by maintaining a consistent look and feel no matter what device it’s being viewed on. Given that Google has announced new guidelines for responsive design, particularly for mobile, most developers are integrating this into their themes. Also, it’s just best practice to keep accessibility in mind no matter what device you’re designing for.
Theme Installation and Setup
The easy part is purchasing a theme. If you are installing the theme yourself, you can save yourself time and frustration on the front end by choosing a theme that helps you get up and running quickly.
Until I learned more about the process, I purchased a few good-looking themes that I quickly found difficult to install and required extensive support. There are also a few features you’ll want to look for in a in regards to installation and setup:
- Demo Theme
The best themes often have a basic demo template included for you to get up and running quickly. The file is often in the form of an XML file that you import directly from WordPress.
Many of the more popular/robust themes come with plugins or add-ons that make the theme more functional or interactive. Some of the plugins are required to make the theme work properly. An example of this is the Revolution slider plugin or the WooCommerce plugin, both of which come with the Avada theme.
- Installation Support
Even if you’re a WordPress pro, there will be times when you have questions unique to your installation and customization. Not a problem. The first step should always be to reference the documentation that came with the theme. In many instances, you can bookmark online documentation for quick reference. The best themes offer a forum where you can search for common questions and solutions. Most reputable themes also present an option to open a support ticket where you get more personalized attention to your specific issue. More often than not, the documentation includes common troubleshooting issues and FAQs, so don’t forget to review it thoroughly. I always suggest familiarizing yourself with the documentation and playing around with the theme before submitting a ticket.
- Theme Updates
A feature I really love about my theme is the auto-update feature. Many themes will notify users via email, or you can check for updates in WordPress. Updating the theme is as simple as logging into your theme admin panel, navigating to Appearance, then to theme options, and selecting Auto-Update. This is handy because it only updates the core file of the theme and leaves your customizations intact.If you don’t have a theme with the auto update feature listed above not to worry. Just make sure you install the wordpress theme as a child theme. Any subsequent updates will update core files only and not affect anything else like custom css.
Here’s another example of the the Avada theme in action for the University of Hawaii Maui College:
A little due diligence when picking a WordPress theme will save you time and money. If you do this right, over time you will have an arsenal of themes to choose from for any projects that come your way.
Drew Rattray is a freelance visual designer and blogger. He loves helping inspiring designers. He helps small businesses maximize their brand potential. Read more from Drew on taking control of your graphic design career.