Selecting a Good WordPress Theme

Updated 2019 – Where should I go for a good theme? I get asked this a lot and was a popular topic at our Auckland WordPress meetups. With thousands available for download or purchase, it’s hard to answer. There are just too many. The ideal of course is to have a custom one-off theme built for you, as you would your company brochure. I have built many from an original Photoshop file, provided by a graphic designer. But, when the design plus my coding effort is included, expect a bill of $5,000 or more. But you’d get a site that is unique to you, which is important for businesses with an established brand.

But what if you’re a startup and/or not have a huge budget? In the early days it’s more important you get online asap, to build up ranking. There’s a popular misconception that when starting or promoting a business online, your branding is the first thing you do. It isn’t. Site content and keywords are. Yes, you’ll likely need a suitable logo, but too much spent on website visuals is often wasteful, giving a poor ROI.

You need a theme, but focus on content, NOT branding

Google is your best online salesperson and it cares little if you’ve spent $500 or $5,000 on what the site looks like. All the Googlebot cares about is speed, content, keywords, structure and links. Good looks aren’t on the list. In fact most fancy designs you see loaded with special effects and moving elements, do more harm than good from an SEO perspective. Put simply, getting a site up quickly is more important than money spent on a fancy visual design or branding –  Hence using pre-built themes are a good, low cost startup option and most of these actually look very professional too.

Note too with WordPress you can always update the theme later as you grow or have more budget, since the theme is but a wrapper or skin around the site content – Which means you won’t have to start again from scratch, as we did in the Dreamweaver/html websites of old.

The Business Owner’s WordPress Theme List

If you’re someone starting out with WordPress, here’s my top theme provider recommendations

  • Astra Pro Starter Sites. A fast, modular, well-coded theme framework with slick customisation tools. Great for Blogs, Small Businesses, eCommerce or e-Learning sites. WordPress Gutenberg or Elementor layout tools, means you can avoid having to use the evil Bakery/Composer builder.
  • WooCommerce themes Selection of well coded designs for those needing a simple shop site.
  • Studiopress  Simple business designs, although developers like us often using them as a base for more complex projects. EnterpriseExecutive, News and their new Corporate Pro are their best starter themes for a professional blog, business or eCommerce site.
  •  Slick themes with a business/industry focus. I love their compact Chiropractor theme. Unique and clean, easily re-branded to suit any Dentist, Doctor or service-based business.

As is often the case in life, keeping it simple and focused pays dividends. You want to start with a theme and logo that is simple, with minimal special effects, somewhat tailored to the market you are in.

Website Logo Designs

The theme won’t include your business logo. Here I recommend running a design contest rather than employing a single designer or agency – Saving you time, money and giving more choices. If you want to narrow it down to just NZ designers, you can. Checkout  Any colours you come up with in your logo are easily added into your new pre-built theme, keeping things professional and somewhat unique to you.

Good Budget Hosting

You also need a host. Going cheap is never a good idea, even from those ‘popular’ brands. Anything under $10/mth should be avoided if you run a business site. For startups we’ve been very impressed with Siteground’s gogeek package. It’s very fast, with good features, resources, support and just AU$179/yr, which includes an SSL certificate.

My WordPress Plugin Shortlist The SEO toolkit. Learning how to use this pays dividends. Alternative to the slow, bloated revolution slider. Free/paid versions Security plugin. Wordfence is another. Plugins will help, but are not the total solution to prevent your site being hacked. Read  Handy tool to setup redirects and monitor 404 errors. Better than the common contact 7 forms. If you have the budget the Ninja pro version, or Gravity Forms is better, giving more features and expansion options. Where responsive tables are needed Multifunctional plugin for WordPress. Read the documentation first. Lots of social connectivity stuff.

Plus there may be other add-ons and chores to complete the project. e.g.

  • Google analytics
  • Webmaster/speed tests
  • Engagement tools
  • Social media channels
  • Email marketing
  • Business emails

Still unsure? Send us a note in the form below. We can help you put together the ideal package.

N.B. Are there any bad WordPress themes?

Yes, like hosting, there are a lot of bad ones you should avoid. Certainly doing a google search on ‘free wordpress themes’ (or cheap hosting) will get you into a lot of trouble. Many free themes include nasty code that may include spam. If you use these and have issues, don’t call us for help. You got, what you paid for… The solution is usually to start again from scratch. New theme + new host.

Premium (paid) themes aren’t always trouble-free either. I’d avoid Template monster and Elegant themes. Even the popular themeforest can be problematic – Many are visually stunning, but overloaded, needlessly complex, often breaking best coding practices, slowing the site down, making it less stable

Those ‘multi-functional’ ones are the worst, causing more headaches/costs when upgrading or even just configuring it. The $64 example on the right is amazing, but can take weeks to configure how you want it. A theme is like buying a house having no paint, electricity, carpets, bathroom or furniture. Yes, you’ve saved thousands getting the framework done, but there’s still a mountain of work to do before it is useful… I’ve known people spend months on these cart themes and end up with pretty, but a slow, buggy site that google won’t rank, getting just a handful of sales in the first year… Often starting out with a $50/mth site can make more sense…

More WordPress Theme Features =  More Problems

Most themes sell themselves on their multiple features and add-ons, to differentiate themselves from all others. More features means more coding is included, which means more potential problems, more upgrade or compatibility issues and often slower speeds. This is especially so for themes that include layout or page builders, parallax, mega menus and fancy sliders. Just be aware that these multi-featured, multi-functional themes have a downside. If you are just running a simple blog or portfolio website, then keep it simple. Avoid themes with too many functions or options.

p.s. Site content – The key to traffic

This is the key to success in any website, more than the theme or plugins you choose. The content is what will bring you traffic, since Google cares little for good looks. We’ve seen beautiful custom-made [$10,000] WordPress sites take longer to rank than a much cheaper blog site, where the owner decides to [rightfully] invest most time/budget on the content and site marketing, NOT looks or design. For some designers, this is a hard pill to swallow. But when google is your main online salesperson, who is also visually blind, you need more than looks. Content really is king.

I accept that good looks, nice logo and slick branding can help provide a level of confidence once people find you. (First impressions and all that). But, in the early months money spent on the visual design does nothing to help bring in Google search traffic, build your ranking and a subscriber base. Certainly it must still look professional, which pre-built themes plus your $400 logo can provide.

If you need further tips in theme or plugin selection, please contact us using the form below…

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