How to find the perfect WordPress theme

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!

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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.

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? Many themes, like Total, come with a number of demo examples that give you an idea of all the different styles it can handle.

Your WordPress 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 WordPress 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.

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!

Read more: Why every website needs Yoast SEO »


24 Responses to How to find the perfect WordPress theme

  1. Spencer Tomkinson
    Spencer Tomkinson  • 6 months ago

    Nice article. Would you be able to please propose me a decent subject for my business site?

    • camillecunningham
      camillecunningham  • 6 months ago

      Hi Spencer. If by subject you mean a theme then we recommend having a look at https://wordpress.org/themes/. By clicking Feature Filter you can use the filters to choose a theme that fits your business. Good luck!

  2. illusions Brand
    illusions Brand  • 6 months ago

    Hii Yoast,

    Very Nice article. Can you please suggest me a good theme for my business website?

    • camillecunningham
      camillecunningham  • 6 months ago

      Hi! Thank you :) I recommend having a look at https://wordpress.org/themes/ where you can click around for a bit using the filters. This can help you find the perfect theme!

  3. Shounak Bhattacharjee
    Shounak Bhattacharjee  • 6 months ago

    Hi Yoast.
    Thanks for sharing this important and informative post. I have been using Themeforest to buy WordPress themes and will consider the following tips shared in this article.

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 6 months ago

      Hi Shounak! That’s great to hear, good luck with your site! :)

  4. Anita
    Anita  • 6 months ago

    hi yoast SEO, what is best option for a theme because i don’t have an idea. Could you recommend which theme. Thank you

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 6 months ago

      Hi Anita, picking the perfect theme really depends on what you’d like from a theme. So, we would recommend writing up your needs for a theme. Once you have a clear picture of the requirements, you have a better chance of finding your dream theme. We also recommend testing your theme first. Hope this helps! And, good luck with finding the perfect theme for your site! :)

  5. Akash Moradiya
    Akash Moradiya  • 6 months ago

    Hello, I found many themes but they have no more light and SEO friendly. And the themes that are SEO friendly, but they are not attractive in the design. So, please provide the best themes according to you that can help to rank a website fast.

  6. Ed Salkind
    Ed Salkind  • 6 months ago

    My question is this: does activating and adding a new theme on my WP site automatically change all the current pages? Or just new pages, or selected pages or posts going forward?
    Thanks

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 6 months ago

      Hi Ed, activating a new theme changes all the current pages. Hope that helps :)

  7. Weiping Liu
    Weiping Liu  • 6 months ago

    I am using Newspaper theme for my site now, how about it ? Could you please recommend some excellent themes for newbies like me ?

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 6 months ago

      Hi Weiping, maybe you could have a look at https://wordpress.org/themes/ and click around for a bit using the filters. Hopefully, this will help you find the perfect theme for you!

  8. Thirunavukkarasu
    Thirunavukkarasu  • 6 months ago

    I feel it is ok to start with free theme. After some stage you defintely feel, a premium them is worth considering.

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 6 months ago

      That sounds like a great approach!

  9. Romel Adhikary
    Romel Adhikary  • 6 months ago

    Hello team Yoast. Nice article. Can you please suggest me a good theme for my photography website?

    • Iris Guelen
      Iris Guelen  • 6 months ago

      Hi Romel! We would recommend having a look at https://wordpress.org/themes/ and then clicking filter > subject > photography. Hope that helps!

  10. Jane Chua
    Jane Chua  • 6 months ago

    hi yoast SEO, what is best option for a theme because i don’t have an idea. Could you recommend which theme. Thank you.

    • chuajane123
      chuajane123  • 6 months ago

      hi Yoast SEO i read all the information a lot better but there’s a lot to know about choosing a theme. I am not a technical person but i think i might slowly understand if i apply it. Thank you

      • Iris Guelen
        Iris Guelen  • 6 months ago

        Hi Jane, you’re right, there’s a lot that goes into picking the right theme for you. Take your time and make sure you test your theme first. Good luck!

  11. Urah
    Urah  • 6 months ago

    I’m actually coming back to give my feedback!

    I read this post some days ago, I was forced to change my theme and guess what I am experiencing 10% increase in Google traffic which has never happened to me in the two years I’ve been blogging.

    I am very happy to have read this and learnt something enough to implement it to get a positive result.

    Thank you so much Yoast!

  12. Kathryn
    Kathryn  • 6 months ago

    What is some widgets are are not supported by a theme, will this make a difference

  13. Ben
    Ben  • 6 months ago

    How does switching WP themes affect SEO? I’m worried that if I switch themes, I’ll disrupt my SEO and traffic. Or is that not an issue?