If you’re planning a new website and you’ve fallen for WordPress, you need to be careful when picking the WordPress theme for your website.
In this blog post you can learn from my mistakes and get my recommendations for 15 great WordPress templates.
What is WordPress?
If you work with websites and online marketing you may already have heard about the CMS solution WordPress.
WordPress is a user-friendly Content Management System based on open source code – a free website software program that can be used by everyone, including those without an extensive IT background.
I have about 30 websites running, the vast majority of which use WordPress as their foundation.
Some of these sites have a serious purpose, like this one. Others I use for various search engine experiments. Then there are the websites I run solely to raise awareness about products and services, my clients’ and my own.
Common to all of them is that web design and functionality is largely determined by the particular WordPress theme I’ve chosen for that website.
Rather than hiring a web designer to code your site from scratch you can, for $50 or so, buy a premium WordPress theme. This is a template placed on top of the free WordPress software with its basic functionality and gives your website a look and feel which matches your products and the image you want to communicate to your customers.
The low cost of many WordPress themes, though, leads many website owners to skip the necessary preparatory work.
Here are some considerations to make before you look for a good WordPress theme.
Selecting a WordPress theme
What do you really need?
There are tens of thousands of free WordPress themes and thousands more premium themes. It’s easy to be tempted by the abundance of visually stunning WordPress templates that cost next to nothing.
But do yourself a favour.
Always begin your search for a WordPress theme by making a list of requirements you ‘must-have’ and ones that would be ‘nice to have’.
This is what my list looked like when I was choosing the theme for this website:
- The theme must have a serious look. After all, we not blogging about puppies or patchwork quilts. This is tough business
- The theme must have a large “featured” image as this is crucial for showing the sample dashboards.
- The theme must be responsive (you can read why below).
- The code quality must be high (find out why below).
- The theme needs to be well-documented and supported (I’ll explain why below).
- Headlines and main text must be legible and the font, type size and colour must all be easy to adapt. It may be that you and I can read small text in flashy colours, but many of our customers might not want to.
- The theme should be easy to upgrade when new versions are released – so I don’t risk the whole thing crashing down around our ears and all the great dashboards and guides go down the drain.
- It shouldn’t cost a fortune – in practice, it’s almost impossible to find a WordPress theme that costs more than $100, so all themes pretty much lived up to this requirement.
The theme must fulfil all my must-haves.
If the WordPress theme can, at the same time, fulfil some or all of my nice-to-haves, then that would be ideal.
You’re the best judge of exactly which requirements you’ll want on your list.
However, the following 3 points from my own list can, I think, be included on any list of requirements for a new WordPress theme.
- The theme must be responsive.
- The code quality must be high.
- You need thorough documentation and support.
A responsive WordPress theme is an absolute must
If you’re building your website seriously and also plan on being around tomorrow, next week and next year then you should choose a WP theme that displays equally well on a handheld device and a large computer screen.
By far the majority of WordPress themes are optimised for viewing on a computer screen – but not all themes can also present your site satisfactorily on a tablet/iPad or smartphone/iPhone.
As more and more people access the internet using mobile devices the challenge to create WordPress designs that display well on a small screen has proven tough even for veteran web designers/programmers.
If the theme you’re thinking about buying isn’t responsive – then skip it and move on to the next on your list.
Responsive web design is a 100% mandatory requirement whenever I’m choosing a new WordPress theme.
I think it should be for you too. Unless, of course, you think that mobile phones are just a passing fad that will soon go the way of VHS and Laserdiscs.
By choosing a WordPress theme which can dynamically scale your website content to fit the screen you’re already more than halfway to fulfilling the next demand on my list – high code quality. Simply because a programmer who doesn’t know his business would find it very hard to write the code for a dynamic WordPress theme.
The code quality must be high
As the future owner of a sparkling new WordPress theme it’s a good idea to open up the bonnet and have a look at the engine and see how it runs.
Technical ‘illiterates’ might find it hard, though, to decipher the intricacies behind the sparkling exterior and determine if the theme will be easy to maintain and adapt in the future.
In that case it might be a good idea to get a programmer or WordPress expert to have a look at the code.
Normally you can only access the code after you’ve bought the theme, but if a read through reveals that the WP theme has been coded in a crazy way you can at least ditch it before you’ve also wasted time trying to fit it to your requirements.
Good documentation and support
Any web designer or programmer who has read the most basic guide to HTML or PHP can stitch a WordPress theme together.
A complex WordPress theme can give a lot of headaches if you don’t quite understand how it’s put together and why it behaves like it does.
That’s why you need to ensure that your WordPress theme comes with comprehensive documentation, both in the code itself (by way of small comments written by the programmer explaining what each component does) and in the form of a user guide or tutorial you can refer to when discovering how to adapt the basic design and exploit its various functions.
You also need to make sure that the WordPress developer has a dependable support system where you can get help when you run into difficulties, as you probably will when you start exploring your new WordPress theme.
This requirement means, in practice, that you should be very wary of buying WordPress themes from one man companies, where development and support duties are carried out by the same person.
By choosing a slightly larger firm with several employees you are not quite as vulnerable if an accident should happen and your contact gets run over by a steamroller.
In that case, there are hopefully others to lend a hand.
Precisely this dependence on others brings me to my next point and it’s a warning.
Warning – watch out for “free WordPress themes”
Don’t place your firm’s economic future in the hands of people who have no financial incentive to help you.
Even if you’ve ‘gambled’ a little and chosen a one man firm to supply your WordPress theme, this one man firm still has, at the very least, an economic motivation to help you as much as possible – to keep you happy and hope you recommend the product to others.
But if you’ve chosen a free WordPress theme then you’ve chosen to live life dangerously.
The developer of your free WordPress theme has in all likelihood other and more important projects in their schedule.
So if the whole thing collapses with a crash around your ears, you’ll be left to your own devices (and the help of a programmer, if you have one).
A premium WordPress theme is by no means a guarantee against difficulties, but the probability of problems arising is lower when your supplier has a financial motivation to keep you a happy customer.
Honest Assessments of WordPress themes
To help you avoid falling into the worst traps, I offer here my evaluation of a series of WordPress themes that I have had experience with:
Really good experience with WooThemes.com
The website for my danish online agency www.onlineeffekt.dk is based on the WhiteLighttheme from WooThemes.com.
The WhiteLight theme is responsive (i.e. it also looks good on a small screen), the source code is easy to figure out (for both my programmer and myself) and it’s written in such a way that web pages display relatively quickly (an important quality for users).
At the same time WooThemes have an efficient support system giving quick, competent responses to queries – which are bound to crop up.
WooThemes regularly run discount campaigns where you can save quite a bit of money.
So if you decide to buy from WooThemes then remember to google “WooThemes discount code” or other variations such as “WooThemes special offer” etc.
Currently there are just a few responsive themes available from WooThemes, but several more are on the way.
If you need to translate a WooThemes template to your local language that’s also quite easily done.
Adaptive Themes also gets my recommendation
The design of this website is based upon the Nexus premium template from AdaptiveThemes.
The Nexus theme is both responsive and contains a wealth of shortcodes which makes it a lot easier to create a visually attractive experience for your visitors.
I have yet to run into problems with this theme and with the note that I haven’t yet tried out their support, I dare to recommend AdaptiveThemes as your next WordPress theme pusher.
Positive experience with TrueThemes.com
Half a year ago I bought my first theme from TrueThemes (via ThemeForest.com).
Not only does the theme – Sterling – perfectly fit my requirements but I also have a positive impression of the quality of the source code.
The design adapts dynamically to any screen size and the theme includes a raft of handy features, including shortcuts for inserting forms, images and Google maps.
The support I’ve gotten from TrueThemes so far has been excellent, at any hour of the day or night, 7 days a week.
Positive experience with ElegantThemes.com
I have in the past been a big fan of ElegantThemes, who have a lot of good, affordable themes in their catalogue.
For $39 dollars you can buy access to all their WordPress themes.
Nowadays their design style doesn’t quite match what I’m looking for, so it’s been some time since I last used one of their themes.
Their prices are so low that they rarely (perhaps never?) offer discounts or special offers.
I should also add that ElegantThemes is (or was?) a one person company, so perhaps you don’t want to put too much responsibility in their hands.
Positive experience with NattyWP.com
I have a series of websites built around themes from NattyWP.com.
Their designs may not be groundbreaking, but if you’re in the market for a traditional WordPress design for a business site, then you’ll probably be happy without all the extra fuss and frills.
Their support works fine and the source code is relatively easy to negotiate.
Bad experience with Templatic.com
On the surface, the solutions offered by Templatic look really good.
A lot of their templates are crammed with smart-looking, nifty functions.
But under the surface it lags – a lot.
Their tailor made administrative tools are complicated and unlikely to score highly in a usability test. And their source code looks, to these amateur eyes, to be less than stable in its construction.
I’ve used their templates on two different sites. Both times I ran into problems that were entirely due to poor handiwork on the part of the programmers.
Their support crew have been helpful, though, and quick to resolve issues – but only by way of an individual quick fix rather than a comprehensive solution that would benefit all of their other customers as well.
15 recommended WordPress themes
I have literally spent 100 of hours surfing the net and checking out several thousand themes. To save you a bit of time, I will give you 16 of my browser bookmarks to themes that I either already own or am looking for an excuse to buy.
Zig-Zag responsive WordPress theme by Brankic1979
Eleven 40 by Studiopress
Publisher Magazine WordPress theme from Theme-Junkie.com
Swagger responsive WP theme by ThemeBlvd
Qreator by Cmsmasters
Website by Kubasto
Big City by MNKY
Identity af by Mojo Themes
Canvas by WooThemes
Big Bang by Brankic1979
Backstreet by Ridwanreedwan
Nexus by AdaptiveThemes – This website runs on the Nexus theme…
Bangkok Press by GoodLayers
Gonzo by OllieMcCarthy
Good Space by GoodLayers
Magnovus by PureThemes
Nemesis by Peerapong
Share your wisdom and experience with others!