The 4 Steps of WordPress Theme Selection

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It takes just a quick glance, maybe three seconds, for someone to evaluate your website when landing in it for the first time. In this short time, that person forms an opinion about you or your company, and it’s only based on your website’s appearance. And the worst part is: you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression! That’s why the design of your website is critical and choosing the right WordPress Theme for your website is key to ensure an amazing design.

WordPress Theme Selection is not easy, and should not be only based on your intuition—you have to take into account your visitors’ opinions. Obviously, the best way to know their preferences is with Theme A/B Testing, where you may have simultaneously two or more versions of your website with different themes each, so that you can analyse which one works better. But before you run a theme test, you need to know which themes you’ll be testing, right?

In this post, I’d like to highlight the four most important steps you need to take for selecting new (candidate) themes:

1. Discover Web Design Trends of 2015

First of all, you cannot select a theme ignoring what are the trends of this year.

To help you a little with this task, I’ve selected seven posts that talk about it (see the list below):

Take a look at the most mentioned trends:

Large and moving background images

To give users maximum impact as soon as they land on your site, a large and moving background image is a good alternative. See for example:

Void and Form Website
Void and Form Website

Multimedia experience

Look at the great visual effect of the navigation on the river on the Raise the River’s website or the route on the road on the MapQuest website:

Raise the River Website
Raise the River Website


MapQuest Website
MapQuest Website

Parallax scrolling & effect mutations

Scrolling is the new clicking. Images and elements moving in different speeds and directions create amazing visual effects. You may find single-page themes for WordPress using Parallax everywhere, some of them even for free.

Serve Seattle Website
Serve Seattle Website

But parallax has also evolved into many different mutations. For example, scroll events and hand drawn animation designed by the Mint Design Company:

Mint Design Company Website
Mint Design Company Website

Or also take a look at the header and page parallax effect caused by mouse movement:

HabitatWeb Website
HabitatWeb Website

Ghost buttons

They are transparent buttons with a recognizable shape containing light sans-serif fonts and bordered with a very thin line. They’re perfect for designers not wishing to clutter their sites and show off large background imagery, but still need to provide navigation for users.

Deneen Pottery Website
Deneen Pottery Website
The Distance Website
The Distance Website

Hidden Menus (flyout/slideout app-like menus)

Another feature that’s becoming popular for websites is to hide its navigation off screen, only revealing a menu when you interact with an element:

Marketing Week Website
Marketing Week Website

Upwardly responsive design for big screens

Responsive design is currently a must-do in any website, with plenty of brands adapting their websites for smartphone and table users. However, responsive design should work for bigger screens too.

Uber Brand Guide Website
Uber Brand Guide Website

Big and bold Fonts

Typography greatly affects usability and the overall aesthetics of the site. This year we are seeing more of big and bold fonts, as well as responsive typography that provides a better reading experience.

Gummisig Website
Gummisig Website

2. Look at Your Competitors and Other Sites

Frequently, you find a website you like its design and fancy creating one that looks similar. The first thing you must check is if the site is actually running on WordPress. There’s a number of online services that will tell you that exactly, such as Built With or Is It WordPress, just enter the domain in question and hit enter. And if you need to frequently check this information, I recommend to install an extension to your browser such as Wappalyzer and you’ll have the information for all the websites you visit.

Assuming the site you like is indeed running WordPress, the next step is to try and find out the theme it uses. If you like to take a look at the source code of a website, Brin Wilson describes in How to Tell Which WordPress Theme a Site is Using the steps to follow to find out the theme on the code with Chrome. However, if you are one of those thinking “What! Wait, did she say ‘code’? No, please!!”, don’t worry; there are also free online services that will do the job for you by just entering the domain and hit enter. After that, you’ll get a lot of information, such as the theme’s name, price, and version, the store where you can buy the theme, the plugins it uses (and the price of each plugin, if required), and so on. screenshot

WPThemeDetector Screenshot

WhatWPThemeIsThat Screenshot


3. Dive Into the Catalog of Professional Theme Providers

A very good source of inspiration in order to choose a theme is to directly look at the websites of theme providers. In addition to the WordPress Theme Directory were you’ll find plenty of free themes, here you have a list of some of the most popular WordPress Theme providers:

WordPress Theme Providers

It may also be worth to read Selecting the Perfect WordPress Theme – 11 Things You Should Consider published by Atlantis Themes.

4. Remember Your Purpose and Fulfill Needs

Up to know, I’ve focused on the importance of the aesthetics of the Theme, but is that all?

On several posts, experts share their knowledge on picking a theme that is the right for your business and your blog:

So, in addition to the design features mentioned above, you should also consider the following features:

a) Pick a Theme that relates to the purpose of your site

This point seems obvious, but it’s the most important as well. If you have a website about Art, then don’t use a design that was made for an e-commerce site.

b) Pricing: Free Vs. Premium

Even though there is an eternal debate between free versus premium, in short, most free WordPress themes are free for a reason: they’re not as good as their premium counterparts. However, note that there is a big overlap between the two.

The article Free WordPress Themes: The Ultimate Guide by Raelene Wilson describes the advantages and disadvantages of free WordPress Themes.

c) Speed: Lightweight vs. Feature-heavy Themes

You should be especially selective when choosing a WordPress them for your site. Fast page-loading speed does not just improve the general user experience of a website, but it improves SEO.

Before deciding the themes you want to test with Nelio A/B Testing, go to Pingdom Website Speed Test, enter the URL of a theme’s demo, and see how long the page takes to load and how many HTTP requests are made.

Pingdom screenshot

d) Ease of customization

Nowadays, most themes come with a customization dashboard and include the Visual Composer Editor that make it easy to build complex structures without having to touch code. These themes may ease to build websites looking very nice with little effort.

e) Security, auto upgrades & support

Security is a foremost concern on the web, but how can you know whether a theme is secure? Marcus Taylor recommends to read what customers says about the theme. Unless a theme was created by a trustworthy developer, try to avoid any theme that doesn’t have many downloads or reviews.

In addition, if you select a premium theme, be sure that come with auto upgrades and free 24/7 support. And you can also learn about the person or company who made the theme. If they have a reputation to live up to, then their themes will be of a higher quality than those from developers who don’t.


No theme is perfect, and you’ll almost always have to make some compromises. With the information in this post, you are hopefully better prepared to choose good themes. However, remember that only by performing A/B Tests of Themes you will know the preferences of your visitors.

Feature image by Catherine Kolodziej


Ruth obtained her PhD in Software Engineering at UPC and did a Master of Information Systems at DePaul University (Chicago). She has professional experience in the business world and at the University. Ruth has been University Lecturer at UPC, Vice-Dean for Corporate Relations of the Barcelona School of Informatics, and Associate Lecturer at ESADE. She specializes in software engineering and information systems management. She is also certified in Inboud Marketing.

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