The perfect WordPress theme

How to find
the perfect WordPress theme

How to find the perfect WordPress theme

March 10th, 2017 – 38 Comments

We’ve seen it happen so often. You have a great blog, and at some point, you decide to go for a new look and feel. There are a couple of things you’ll look at, usually in the order: layout / look and feel, usability, and optionally, room for advertising. If the theme meets your needs in all two or three of these points, you might download and install it. If that sounds familiar, this post describes how to find the perfect WordPress theme!

A theme has quite a few things to take care of, and a lot of themes miss out on these. This overview should help to keep you out of trouble when you’re looking for a new theme. If you’re thinking of installing a new theme, please give the following points a thought. Keep in mind; your new theme should be accessible, compatible, customizable, integrable and standards compliant.

Define your needs

Whether you are in the market for a free theme, a premium theme or want to hire a developer to build one especially for you, the first step is always the same: define your needs. Write down what the theme should do, now and in the future. You might not need an eCommerce shop at this time, but what about in a year from now? What should your site look like? Which pages do you need? What types of content are you planning to publish? Once you have a clear picture of the requirements, you have a better chance of finding your dream theme.

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Find a trusted reseller or developer. How’s the support?

Should you build a theme yourself? Or will a general free theme do? The discussion on whether a premium theme is better than a free theme continues to rage on. Both sides have their merits. There are loads of crappy free themes, but there are just as many crappy premium themes. What you should do is find a reseller or developer that you trust. Look for social proof; how many reviews does a theme get? Is there an active message board? When did it receive its last update?

In general, every theme on WordPress.org underwent scrutiny, so they are safe to use. But that doesn’t mean they’re awesome. Theme resellers offer loads of premium themes in varying degrees of awesomeness. But just because you pay for them, doesn’t necessarily make them better than free themes. In addition to that, since you only receive the files when you pay for a theme, there’s no way to check the quality upfront. Despite social proof, it’s still a leap in the dark.

How flexible is the theme?

A static theme won’t do you any good when you want to change the page layout in a couple of months. Make sure to choose a theme that is flexible in its appearance as well as its functionality. Don’t choose a design that screams for full-width images when you only need a well-presented place to write your poetry. Check what happens to a theme when you turn off all massive images; does it still function? And is it possible to change colors, fonts and other visual elements?

Your theme should have ample room for widgets, plus it should support featured images and offer multi-language support. Lots of themes have a page builder on board; these help you construct your bespoke layout. But, this is something you should be careful with because these could generate less than stellar code that hinders your SEO.

Which post and page templates does the theme support?

Another way to keep things flexible is for a theme to offer multiple posts and page templates. That way, you could start off using a basic template with a main content area and a left sidebar, but have the flexibility to change to a full-width content area or one of the many other options. If a theme has only two choices, that might become problematic in the future. Pick a theme with enough sensible templates.

Does it function as a parent/child theme?

Parent and child themes are a great combo. If you use any of the theme frameworks like heavy hitter Genesis, you know how powerful these are compared to regular themes. A child theme gets its functionality from a parent theme. So if you’re making changes to your child theme, the parent won’t see these. You won’t break the parent theme if you make a mistake. The same goes for updates; if you update your parent theme, which happens often, it won’t wipe the changes you’ve made to your theme because it’s a child and doesn’t contain the functionality.

Whether you need a theme framework depends on your needs. Almost all WordPress projects will benefit from a theme framework, but it might be overkill if you only need a tiny amount of its functionality and you know exactly what kind of theme you need.

Watch out for theme bloat

Many themes are bloated, and this will increase loading time. If the developer of a particular theme included everything but the kitchen sink, you might get a feature-complete product but an insanely complicated one as well. Try to find a theme that offers everything you need, instead of everything there is. Your theme should be lean and mean. See the next point.

Check site speed and mobile-readiness

In this day and age, mobile-friendliness is imperative. In addition to that, your site and its theme should load as fast as possible. Choosing a lean and mean theme will certainly help in this regard. Check the responsiveness of a theme and run a Google mobile-friendliness test. You could also enter the address of the theme’s demo site in Google’s PageSpeed tool to see if there are particular loading issues. However, this is just an indication, since you can only judge the real loading speed of your theme when it’s running on your server.

Is the theme’s SEO in order?

While Yoast SEO fixes a lot of WordPress’ SEO issues, a good theme helps a lot. Most WordPress themes will claim SEO-friendliness, but make sure to check it. Find out if the theme’s code is nice and clean or an intangible mess. Has it been updated recently? And will it be supported in the future? How many JavaScript libraries does the theme depend on? Does it support Schema.org structured data? If you’re eyeing a free theme, make sure there are no hidden links to the developer’s website, as this can hurt your SEO efforts. In general, keep Google’s Webmaster Guidelines in mind when hunting for SEO-friendly themes.

Is the theme’s code valid?

Many a theme author is more of a designer than a coder, and thus they sometimes hack around until it finally looks the way they want, without bothering to check whether the code they’ve written is valid HTML. If it’s not, current or future browsers might have issues rendering the content correctly. You can check whether the code is valid by using the W3C’s validator.

Test, test, and test again

Once you’ve chosen your favorite new theme, it’s time to kick it into gear. Start with a development setup to test your new theme through and through. Run every type of test you can think of. This might be a security check with the Sucuri plugin or a theme check with the Theme Check plugin. Load your site with dummy data from wptest.io to see if every element is represented and functioning. Run pagespeed and mobile-friendliness tests to see if problems arise. Fix the issues, or find a new theme.

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Bonus checks

That’s just to get you going. There’s a lot of stuff you can check before you install your brand-new theme. Start with these three checks, if you will:

Hooks

WordPress plugins use so-called “hooks” to be able to perform their designated tasks. These hooks allow for instance to add extra output, tracking codes, etc. A lot of issues with plugins will arise for you when a theme author forgets to add these hooks. This is how to check for them:

1. In header.php, it should have a small piece of PHP code that looks exactly like this wp_head(); or this do_action('wp_head');, usually just before a piece of HTML that looks like this: </head>.

2. In footer.php, it should have another small piece of PHP like this wp_footer();, or this do_action('wp_footer');

3. In comments.php and/or comments-popup.php, it should have a piece of code like this: <?php do_action('comment_form', $post->ID); ?>, just before the </form> HTML tag.

Template files

Another wise thing to do when you’re changing themes is to compare theme files. If for instance, your current theme has an author.php file, which contains the template for your author profiles, and your new one doesn’t have that, that might be an unpleasant surprise when you install the theme. The files you should be checking for in your old and new theme:

  • home.php: the homepage template.
  • single.php: the template for single posts.
  • page.php: the template for pages.
  • category.php: the template for category indexes.
  • author.php: the author template, used when someone wants to find all posts by a certain author.
  • date.php: the date template, used when someone tries to look at for instance a certain month of posts on your blog.
  • archive.php: this template is used when either category.php, author.php or date.php isn’t there.
  • search.php: used when someone searches on your blog, a very important template to look at if you’re concerned about usability, and whether people can find posts on your blog.
  • 404.php: used when WordPress can’t find a certain post or page, this is a very important template file to have!

How is your theme handling titles?

You should check how your current theme is handling page titles in the file header.php. You can find it within the <title> HTML tags. If the title tag differs, you might want to check out why and what happens when you enable your new theme. Sometimes it’s for the better (for instance, because it turns around blog description and page / post title), but you have to make sure up front!

It will probably look something like this:

<title><?php bloginfo(‘name’); ?> <?php wp_title(); ?></title>
If it does, you’ll be a lot better to change it to:

<title> <?php wp_title(); ?></title>

Now Yoast SEO can take care of all the titles. We have a great article that you can read if want to know more about crafting good titles.

If your theme does all of this correctly, you should be quite ok. Good luck with your new theme, and if you have any tips on other things to check, please share in the comments!

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38 Responses to How to find the perfect WordPress theme

  1. Vicky
    By Vicky on 20 March, 2017

    it is difficult to find a good theme which looks and have high speed, thanks for the article it is very helpful find one.

  2. Apurva
    By Apurva on 17 March, 2017

    Great article, Please how to “Make sure that your WordPress theme is translation ready and supports multilingual WordPress plugins.”?
    Thanks in advance for replying.

  3. Rahul Yadav
    By Rahul Yadav on 17 March, 2017

    All the tips you have given may help blogger to choose those themes for website.
    Thank you for sharing these tips us..

  4. TCC
    By TCC on 17 March, 2017

    Hi, Thank you for this post.
    I love your seo plugin!
    I really liked the tips and recommendations for adopting a new theme.

  5. Mohammed
    By Mohammed on 16 March, 2017

    Hi, Thank you for the post.
    Can you Please suggest some themes names?

  6. Tiyo
    By Tiyo on 16 March, 2017

    This is very helpful, because people with now knowledge about WordPress theme at all usually only looking at how the demo looks like, they don’t bother to check the code and even load time. I have a client with two websites built using visual composer, with dozen of plugins with no real knowledge about how they function the in house team seem so paralyzed only to change navigation padding.

  7. Marita
    By Marita on 15 March, 2017

    This is a good article, but there are still too many things that aren’t easy to figure out. For example, how many JavaScript libraries does the theme depend on?

    So let me get right to the point – would you please create a “theme checker” that doesn’t just test for WordPress compliance? I’m spending way too much time installing and then changing themes, because either they’re slow, or have crappy execution that’s not immediately apparent when looking at the demo. I’d love a service/app that can help scrutinize a theme! Ok thanks :)

  8. Bruce
    By Bruce on 13 March, 2017

    Thanks for this terrific article. I’m forwarding it to myself – ;-) – so that I can check out the theme I use on my private sites.

  9. Urmas Rooba
    By Urmas Rooba on 13 March, 2017

    Hi,
    after activating today Yoast Premium in my website, my website went down.
    Please communicate ASAP to my web developer: ingmar@kating.ee

    Thank you in advance.

  10. Manuel
    By Manuel on 13 March, 2017

    Hi Edwin, thank you very much for your post. It would really turn it into a even bigger value for the community if you could serve us all with a review of some template suppliers. Maybe that’s food for thought for a separate article? Thank you so much and keep up the good work.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2017

      Hi Manuel. At the moment, we don’t have a list of preferred sellers. The question pops up often, so we’re thinking about a way to show our support for quality resellers. Nothing planned yet, though.

    • Bruce
      By Bruce on 13 March, 2017

      What a terrific idea, Manuel.

      There are a gazillion of these people.

      Just thinking about the prospect of evaluating each theme as Edwin has suggested is daunting enough without trying to find them among the myriad of suppliers.

  11. Erick
    By Erick on 13 March, 2017

    At the moment I’m creating my own theme, so the info is very welcome.. Thanks!

    By the way the recommended title code at the bottom is missing..

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2017

      Yeah, I noticed the missing code. Fixed now. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  12. Harinder
    By Harinder on 13 March, 2017

    Very nice article. Do u have any recommendations for some themes?

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2017

      Hi Harinder. It might sound logical to suggest a couple of themes that are well-built and SEO-friendly. However, we cannot test everything, and we don’t know what our readers would use the theme for. Therefore it’s a challenge to find themes we fully support. It is something we’re thinking about, so in the future, we might come up with a way to suggest tried and tested WordPress themes.

  13. Gino
    By Gino on 12 March, 2017

    Hello you guys and thanks Edwin for the post.

    We love Yoast and have the premium plugin and highly recommend it to everyone!

    The biggest issue we have right now is finding a theme that works well with Yoast if you use a builder. As soon as there are updates to wordpress, etc Yoast either stops working or we have to do some editing/hacking to get it to work again.

    We are extremely happy with the Genesis framework, but as soon as you use the builder, it does not work well with yoast.

    We like to use a builder, and it also allows clients a way to add extra functionality to their sites over time. However the biggest issue relates to Yoast not recognizing content within the builder accordions for example.

    For example if a customer wants to add some extra functionality to their site and they want to use accordions which makes mobile design easier, then Yoast cannot recognise the text in the themify builder to create a score?

    Can you guys recommend a theme with a good builder that works extremely well with Yoast? Which builders enables you to clearly see the score and all the useful tips and hints that yoast offers

    Many thanks
    Travelwheels

  14. Sandra
    By Sandra on 12 March, 2017

    I struggle a lot with wp themes. Wich one do you recommend? B.r.

  15. Steve Wilkinson
    By Steve Wilkinson on 12 March, 2017

    Great article, and while I can’t say I’ve checked it in every way mentioned, I’ve been extremely happy with X Theme by Themeco. It is supposed to be developed with SEO in mind (and a bunch of other criteria) by a whole team of devs and experts dedicated to continually improving just that one theme (and Cornerstone page-builder, which is now also a separate product).

    Aside from the tech aspects, I primarily look at how it’s supported and it’s future, then it’s flexibility. I’ve found, over the years, that if I neglect these things, no matter how nice the theme seems, I end up having to switch every couple of years.

    Also, since each theme developer does things differently, I have to constantly learn how each theme does things… for each of my sites and my clients’ sites. By standardizing on one flexible site or site-framework, I’m able to more deeply learn the them. If it is supported long term, I also don’t have to switch themes.

    I’d either go with a framework, like the mentioned Genesis framework, or a very flexible, well supported theme like X Theme. One thing I prefer about X Theme, is that I can have a custom look, and then additionally add a child-them for customization (and it’s push-button simple with X). With Genesis, the child theme is the particular look, starting point (in my understanding).

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2017

      I’ll check it out. Thanks, Steve.

  16. Marcelo
    By Marcelo on 12 March, 2017

    Hi, thanks for the post.

    Can you suggest me theme names?

    Thanks

    • Adarsh danicha
      By Adarsh danicha on 13 March, 2017

      For better view and SEO benefits, you can use Latest NewsPaper theme for your Blog

  17. Snaptubedownloadsi
    By Snaptubedownloadsi on 12 March, 2017

    Well though this blog post is good but i was expecting you guys will actually mention some themes for example. Can’t you mention 4-5 best wordpress themes for SEO?

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2017

      Hi, thanks for your comment. This post describes the process of finding the next great theme for your site. In the future, we will probably take a closer look at a couple of themes. However, it is hard to suggest themes that are built well, work well and fit your goals. If we suggest a theme, that doesn’t mean it is the best theme for everyone.

  18. wolf schmalz
    By wolf schmalz on 12 March, 2017

    Thanks for the very useful information that is good to use!

  19. Rishabh Pant
    By Rishabh Pant on 12 March, 2017

    I have tried paid as weel free themes. Must say the best part about paid themes is timely updates that you will get. But if you are hard on a budget then there are many free themes out there that can compete with paid ones.

  20. Hayk
    By Hayk on 12 March, 2017

    very useful information,thanks.+100500

  21. Allan Jackson
    By Allan Jackson on 12 March, 2017

    I believe I have found the ultimate theme. It is called GeneratePress and even though the free version doesn’t look like much, it is very lightweight and efficient and simple to use. You will need to buy the premium plugin which will allow you access all the extra settings you might need including easy access to WordPress hooks. You might need a bit of CSS here and there but I think you can make GP do anything you want. The technical support is brilliant and quick. It also works extremely well with Elementor which is my page builder of choice. I have no connection with GP other than being a customer and fan.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2017

      Thanks for the tip, Allan!

  22. Pawan Sahani
    By Pawan Sahani on 12 March, 2017

    I always use simple design theme. A simple design theme is lower in size and the website loads faster.
    Thanks for sharing.

  23. than thoai
    By than thoai on 12 March, 2017

    Can you check yy site: http://vitinhquan7.com ?
    Theme Social Vituar by mythemeshop.
    It good for SEO ?

  24. ScholarshipJamaica
    By ScholarshipJamaica on 12 March, 2017

    Thank you for this detailed post. I always use simple and clean WordPress themes that then to load and respond faster. I then use plugins to enhance my website’s performance. I think this is the best way to use these themes.

  25. Ngan
    By Ngan on 11 March, 2017

    The less features it has, the faster it is…

  26. Srinivasa Chaitanya
    By Srinivasa Chaitanya on 11 March, 2017

    When I started Blogging, I bought a premium theme with tons of features. But, Now I am using a lightweight theme with a simple layout. Now, the pages load faster and also the bounce rate is very low. I also have implemented AMP and the mobile pages load super fast :)

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2017

      Lightweight and simple is often the way to go.

  27. Luis A.
    By Luis A. on 10 March, 2017

    A big problem, for many people who just want to create content (people with no code-skills), are tag and category pages.

    Almost all themes provide only a page with a big list of post. No h1 tile, no description, etc.

    ElegantThemes also, with the Extra theme, provides only a category layout builder. No options for tags.

    /sad

    • Robert
      By Robert on 14 March, 2017

      What is the best theme for blog in 2017?
      I am searching now for new blog theme, but there are many themes, which are vey slow and have terrible statistic in Page Insights.


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