7 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a WordPress Theme

Choosing a WordPress theme can be fun and overwhelming at the same time. Here are seven things to avoid when making your decision.

Choosing A WordPress Theme

Choosing a WordPress theme that isn’t well supported

Once you’ve obtained a WordPress theme and installed it, you’re going to want to customize it to meet your needs. What happens if you have questions? You’re going to want a theme developer who can answer them quickly.

Because we provide WordPress support to wide variety of WordPress sites and blogs, one of the challenges we face every day is how each theme developer has their own approach to customizing their theme. Most of them provide a series of theme customization panels, and there is a learning curve to each.

Since the release of version 3.4, WordPress includes the Customizer which attempts to provide a common interface for tweaking and customizing themes. However there is still a lot of resistance from many theme developers to fully embrace it. That’s why help customizing themes is one of the top WordPress support requests we receive.

Choose a WordPress Theme

Four different themes, four different customization panels

When choosing a WordPress theme, make sure that the theme developer provides ongoing support and is open and responsive to any questions you might have. One good way of observing the developer’s helpfulness is to visit support forums for the theme. If you purchased your theme from ThemeForest, you can click on the tab that says Comments and see how responsive the developer is to issues. You will also be able to gauge whether people seem to be having problems with the theme.

Established theme developers often have a large community of supporters who are also willing to answer user questions. Visit the theme developer’s site and look for the Support area. If you are using a theme from the WordPress.org theme repository, you can check out the support channel there.

Using a theme that includes a lot of required plugins

Many popular themes include specific plugins that are required in order for the theme to function and display properly. Often these plugins are promoted as adding extra value to the theme, but we’ve found that they often add more headache than benefit. That’s because plugins need to be updated the same way themes and the WordPress core is updated. But when the plugin is included with the theme, you don’t have a plugin license and you have to depend on the theme developer to release updated plugins as well as updated versions of their theme.

This approach to bundling plugins with themes became a nightmare in December 2014 when a serious security vulnerability was discovered in the Slider Revolution plugin. The popular plugin was included in hundreds of different WordPress themes, but there was no way for the plugin developer to alert WordPress site owners directly about a critical update. They had to rely on the theme developers to take immediate action. Because many of the themes where sold through ThemeForest, a major alert was sent out through that channel. However it wasn’t enough, and as a result, over 100,000 WordPress sites fell victim to the SoakSoak malware campaign, many because of plugins that were included in their WordPress theme that they may not of even know that they had on their site. This security disaster resulted in more than 11,000 domains being blacklisted by Google.

Our professional opinion is that functionality should be kept separate from design, and that plugins should be kept separate from themes. And themes should never require certain plugins in order to function.

Not paying attention to the theme license

Compared to the price of having a custom theme created for you, purchasing a prebuilt WordPress theme is very cost-effective. However it’s important to consider the ongoing cost of the theme once it has been purchased.

Every theme will have some type of license that comes with it. There are generally three approaches to theme licensing:
– One-time fee, including lifetime updates and support
– Recurring annual or monthly payments for access to updates and support
– Premium paid support on an ‘as needed’ basis

Many WordPress theme developers only provide support and theme updates if you have a valid license, therefore it’s important to know if the theme license lasts for all time or does it have to be renewed each year? If you have to pay for renewal, most renewal costs are less than the original purchase price.

Selecting a WordPress theme that isn’t mobile-friendly

WordPress Theme Responsive Design

There is absolutely no point in creating a website or blog these days if it does not display properly on a mobile device. In fact, Google takes mobile-friendliness into account when deciding how to rank sites in its search engine results.

You would be hard pressed to find a WordPress developer who isn’t using a responsive design approach these days. However, that doesn’t mean that they do a great job, so it’s important to test any theme you are considering buying on a mobile device first.

Things to look for:
–    Fonts that are large enough to be easily read on a mobile phone
–    Menus that work properly for touch devices
–    Speed. Make sure that the theme isn’t slowed down by file sizes of images that are not optimized for mobile

Choosing a theme that doesn’t support specific functionality you need

If you are going to be including ecommerce capabilities on your site or blog, there’s a good chance that you’ll be considering using the WooCommerce plugin.

Some WordPress themes are built from the ground up to support ecommerce, and specifically the WooCommerce plugin. Not surprisingly, themes from WooThemes, the developers of the WooCommerce plugin, are built to support the plugin. There are also a number of other developers who include support for the plugin. WordPress sites using themes that don’t have WooCommerce support built-in can often still use the plugin, but there may be some design issues and problems with functionality.

If you are going to be running a social network site, BuddyPress is a popular plugin for running community or group sites. Although the plugin developers claim that BuddyPress will work with any WordPress theme, some themes are more suitable for a social network approach, so keep that in mind when making your choice.

Not Taking a theme’s loading speed into consideration

Demo versions of some WordPress themes can be absolutely dazzling, featuring video in the background, endlessly scrolling pages, streaming social media widgets and cool visual effects.

But before falling totally in love with one of these themes, pay close attention to how long it takes for the page to load all of those awesome features. It’s possible that if your website or blog sole purpose is to showcase beautiful images, visitors might have the patience to wait for the page load. But according to Kissmetrics, 47 percent of visitors expect a website to load in less than 2 seconds, and 40 percent of visitors will leave the website if the loading process takes more than 3 seconds. (Kissmetrics, 2014, https://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time).

Choosing a WordPress theme that’s past its prime

There are still some themes out there that were built on an older version of WordPress. WordPress is constantly being updated as the developers add new features or fix security issues. Some updates are minor, others are major and add entirely new ways of doing things.

Themes have to interact with and rely on the WordPress core in order to be properly displayed, and to function correctly. That’s why it’s important that any theme you choose will work with the most current version of WordPress.

You’ll also find that older themes tend not to get the same level of support from developers as their newer themes.

And make sure to check when the last update was released. Older themes likely won’t utilize responsive design and may not display well on mobile devices, especially mobile phones. This is equally true of theme collections. Many developers will not go back to rebuild their older themes, instead concentrating their efforts on developing their new themes.

Products referenced in this article
ThemeForest: http://themeforest.net/
WooCommerce: http://www.woothemes.com/
BuddyPress: https://buddypress.org

Do you have any other mistakes to avoid when choosing a WordPress theme? Share them in the comments below.

Comments (1)

  • Bernade Flournoy | November 12, 2016 | Reply

    THANK YOU FOR SUCH GREAT INFO…
    I’m about to dive into creating a WordPress Website for the first time and I’ve been gathering info for about 10 days.
    I am so glad that I saw your ‘top contributer’ info on GoDaddy.
    I currently have a non-wp site that I am not crazy about.
    I am looking at the various wp themes now…sooooo so many choices!
    Overload!!! but I needed this info desperately since I just bought CPanel yesterday.
    It is “go-time” but I am still researching just a bit more before I make a choice for a responsive, ecommerce theme that will showcase my artwork and allows for a fast and easy customer experience.
    Thanks a billion—Bernade

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