In case you didn’t know, I’m a regular over on the WordPress forums on LinkedIn. I like helping people out with their WordPress puzzles and conundrums.
Without a doubt, the most popular question people ask is some variation on “What’s the best WordPress theme?” For example, looking through page one of the forums today, I see:
Any insight into the best themes for mobile responsive?
What’s the best free or premium theme with featured page blocks on the home page?
What are the best free customizable themes available?
Which framework do you guys suggest for making responsive child themes?
These questions are tough, if not impossible, to answer. Not because there aren’t any great themes, but because the premise is all wrong. Here are the bad assumptions I see people making over and over again:
Mistake #1: The first step in setting up a WordPress site is finding the perfect theme.
As I discussed in my presentation at WordCamp Phoenix last year, finding a theme should actually be one of the last things you do when you’re setting up a new WordPress site. If you try to choose a theme from the beginning, you’ll be shaping your content to fit that theme rather than shaping your content to deliver your message.
Mistake #2: My theme should handle everything I want to do on my site.
This is a frequent topic of animated debate on the LinkedIn forums. At least once a week, someone will post a request for the best theme for an events calendar site, or the best theme for displaying feeds to create a real estate site, or the best theme with a slider on the homepage.
There’s a lot of confusion over what a theme should do. And people who are new to WordPress are tempted by bloated themes that promise all-in-one solutions with sliders, event calendars, dozens of shortcodes, contact form builders, portfolios and more, all built into the theme.
There are several problems with themes like this, not the least of which is that the site owner gets locked into their theme. If they want to change the look and feel of their site, they have to start over again from scratch. That’s just not the way WordPress is supposed to work.
Another big problem is that themes that are bulging with features increase the chances that if you do choose to use a plugin, there will be a conflict. I recently gave some help on the forums to a site owner who had chosen a theme with built-in event handling only to discover later that the theme’s event handling was inadequate for her needs. She couldn’t use an events plugin, because any events plugin she tried conflicted with her massive theme. She was stuck choosing between settling for her theme’s inferior event handling and starting her site over from scratch.
Mistake #3: There’s one single theme that’s ideal for all real estate / responsive / portfolio / etc sites
There are thousands upon thousands of WordPress themes out there. It’s overwhelming to try and sort through all that and choose one. I get that.
And it’s oh-so-tempting to post to a forum and just ask, “I want to make a website for my <insert type of business here>. What’s the best theme?”
You’ll get answers. And the people answering mean well and are genuinely trying to help. But the answers aren’t very valuable, because they’re missing some crucial information. To figure out a theme that will work well for you, you have to know:
- What’s the best way of communicating your message?
- What type or types of content will you have?
- What type of business do you have?
- What designs/color schemes/typography are consistent with your branding?
- Do you have the budget to purchase a premium theme?
- Are you a DIY person who wants a theme that looks amazing out of the box?
- Or are you DIY person who is looking for a theme you can customize yourself?
- If you’re a DIY person, what’s your skill level and experience with WordPress? Are you a beginner, or do you have it all figured out?
- Or, are you going to hire someone to help you?
- Or, are you going to hire someone to build it for you?
- And on, and on, and on.
You have to be really clear on what your needs and goals are before you can choose a theme. And just because you’re a beauty salon, doesn’t mean that the theme some other beauty salon is using will work for you. Your business is different, your needs are different, your clientele are different, your message is different.
Get clear about where you’re going
If you don’t have a destination in mind, then any road will do. If you’re not clear on your business goals, your message, your branding, or your target audience, then any WordPress theme will do.
Also, step away from that determination to find the ‘best’ theme. That’s a road to perfectionism that means you’ll never get your site completed. Just look for a theme that meets your needs.
And if you’re still overwhelmed or can’t seem to find a theme that fits, get some help. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees and a great theme is sitting right there in front of you. Other times you can find a theme that gets you 75% of the way there, and a bit of code and a few cleverly applied plugins can get you the rest of the way. And then there are the times when the only way to communicate your message and what you’re all about will be a completely custom theme, built just for you.
But you can’t figure any of that out if you don’t know where you’re going.
Themes are the theme of the week
If you’re hungry for some more thoughts on themes, there’s been plenty of discussion this week. First up, my friends kicked off the week by talking about finding a WordPress theme to match your business goals on the WPwatercooler. Then Chris Lema wrote about finding the best WordPress theme for your business. Alex ‘Nice Hair’ Vasquez wrote about about WordPress themes and business over on his blog. So if you’re looking for more thoughts on themes from some pretty darn smart and big-hearted people, then check out all the things. You can’t get much more awesome than these peeps. Serious.
Image credit: purplezebra