How To Select Your WordPress Theme

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More and more often we need to make updates to our website to ensure that it is optimized for SEO and has a modern and attractive design for our visitors.

Either because you want to create a new website or redesign the one you already have, one of the main problems we run into and that usually takes us much longer than we would like to acknowledge is to select our new WordPress theme. If you still have any questions about what a WordPress theme is, I recommend reading David’s post in which he explains everything you need to know about WordPress themes.

Today we are fortunate to have so many themes available (more than 8,000 free ones) that surely there is one that fits our needs. But precisely because there are so many themes available, the selection process is more complex. For this reason, in this post we will discuss some key aspects to take into account before deciding on one.

# 1 Design, Colors and Font

The first thing you look for when looking for a theme is that it is attractive. Nowadays minimalist and clean designs are in, with large photos, big letters and little text. Don’t look for overloaded theme designs that will only contribute to adding unnecessary text on your website.

Choosing the right font for your site can make a big difference to your brand. Typeface establishes a kind of non-verbal communication with your readers. So even though you can change it later via CSS, don’t select a theme with a font that is difficult to read.

It’s a little bit the same with colors: most themes allow you to customize the colors as you wish. Even so, try to look for a theme that already matches the colors of your logo or brand. Don’t select a dark color theme if you know your website is going to be in light colors – it will give you more work to change everything.

#2 Check Its Responsiveness

Surely you think that all the themes currently are. They aren’t. My recommendation is that you check it out for yourself. Install the theme you like in your local environment and on the Dashborad » Appearance » Customize, you have the option to display the page in full screen, tablet and mobile mode.

Check that indeed, the side bars disappear and the main menu becomes a hamburger.

# 3 Loading Speed

One of the main reasons why you often decide to change the theme of a website is because of slow loading pages. Page loading speed affects the SEO of your website: the slower it is, the more Google will penalize you. For this reason, before selecting a new theme for your WordPress site, make sure it is a lightweight theme that loads fast.

In this post, Antonio talked about Google’s PageSpeed Insights, a tool that checks the speed at which your website loads and gives it a score from 0 to 100 depending on how well or poorly it performs. In addition, it also includes a section where it recommends what you can do to improve.

Google PageSpeed Insights results.
PageSpeed Insights.

But how do we check if a theme is fast? The fastest and easiest way is to use one of the free services that you have available such as wpsandbox.net that allow you to create an online WordPress test site with two clicks that will last for 24 hours. There, install the theme you want to test, set it up, and run the analyzer:

Even if you don’t have any content installed, you can get a good idea of the loading time of the theme itself. As you can see in the image above, the loading speed of the site with the Twenty Twenty-One theme installed (image on the left) is faster than the site with the SquarePress theme installed (on the right).

In case you want to see the loading speed of a premium theme, you can do the same by testing the URL of the demo version of it. Although this option is not ideal since the premium version may have a whole set of scripts that are not part of the demo version, it can help you to get an idea of how optimized the theme in question is.

# 4 Reviews

Before buying any product on Amazon or making a reservation on Booking or Airbnb (of course, when we were allowed to travel), you read in detail the reviews of other customers, don’t you? Well, we should probably do the same here.

But don’t just go by the number of stars a topic gets. Take a look at the best and worst reviews and dig into the comments. From experience, as plugin developers, sometimes the negative reviews are about some aspect that has nothing to do with you and that simply didn’t meet some user expectation, but that does not mean that the plugin doesn’t work. The same goes for themes.

The reviews in general, whether positive or negative, will help you get a more general idea of what the theme offers and its support service.

# 5 Updates and Support

And speaking precisely of the support service, this is one of the aspects you can’t forget when looking for a new theme. Throughout these years as WordPress developers, we’ve come across multiple bespoken themes that don’t follow the recommended theme guidelines and thus create several problems. Don’t ignore the support issue, as you might end up needing it.

Before selecting a theme, look at the developer or team of developers behind it and their professionalism. Do they care about updating the theme so that it is always compatible with the latest version of WordPress? If not, look for other alternatives. In principle, you should not have problems with the theme you install but if the developer who published it doesn’t update it, they probably don’t intend to support or maintain it either.

The review comments of a plugin or a theme tell a lot about the support and service offered by the team behind it. If you see there are comments that have not even been answered, or on the contrary, all comments are answered quickly and politely, here is a very good indicator of what support service you can expect if you run into any problems.

# 6 Be Careful With The Functionalities

When you choose a theme, it is very tempting to look for a theme that does everything you wanted from the start. For example, if you want a website where you can make reservations, what better than to look for a theme that already includes this functionality, right? Not so fast.

WordPress tries to establish a clear delimitation between themes and plugins. The former define the design and appearance of the web, and the latter provide all the functionality you need.

Taking a theme that includes pre-defined functionalities is creating a portability problem for you from the start. You’ll be practically stuck on that theme for life. And if one day you decide that you want to change the theme, those features will stop working with the new theme and your website will break. This is what is called suffering the dreaded lock-in effect in WordPress.

But if you now feel trapped in your current website, precisely because you are afraid that it will break if you touch something, do not suffer. We have the solution below.

# 7 Integration With Gutenberg Or Page Builders

Finally, another question that may arise in the selection of a theme and also related to the previous point is whether to select a theme that’s 100% compatible with Gutenberg or any other page builder.

If you want the freedom to change your theme as many times as you want without suffering from the lock-in problem, it is best to look for a theme that is fully Gutenberg-compatible. However, if you are a big fan of a page builder because of some of the features it offers that are not yet available in Gutenberg, you’re bound to find themes with attractive designs that are still hard to find in Gutenberg.

What To Do If You Are Stuck With Your Current Theme or Page Builder

This is one of the most frequent problems that you may encounter when you decide to change the theme of your website: after selecting and activating it, it just looks broken. This may be because, as I said before, there are features integrated in your former theme that are no longer available or, if they are part of the page builder or a plugin you use, it’s simply not compatible with your new theme.

What to do in these cases? If you have quickly identified where the problem is and it is only a minor functionality, surely you can fix it by hand. But in more complicated cases, changing the theme and updating your website can become much more complex.

If the new theme is a Gutenberg or Elementor, the easiest thing is to migrate all the pages using the Nelio Unlocker plugin. Nelio Unlocker analyzes the content and layout of the original page, and then converts it into the new target format (Gutenberg or Elementor).

Below you can see how Nelio Unlocker coverts the landing page of Beaver Builder page builder to Gutenberg blocks.

You may need to tweak a few things here and there after Nelio Unlocker converted your page but, but as you’ve just seen, it’ll save you some precious time nonetheless. Nelio Unlocker allows you to free yourself from the theme or page builder that you may have previously had and update your website as you want.

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