Choosing a WordPress Theme

Choosing a WordPress theme can be a confusing task for a lot of people.  Everyone can choose a theme that looks nice, but being able to head off potential problems before you launch a theme on a live site is extremely important.  As a WordPress developer, I am often asked to review WordPress themes for clients.  In order to avoid major issues, I recommend doing the following checks on any theme that you are seriously considering.  These checks are listed in the order that they should be done…

  1. Date Last Updated – If you are looking at free themes in the WordPress theme repository, you can easily check this by clicking on the theme you are interested in and checking the ‘Last Updated’ date in the right-hand column.  You really want to find a theme that has been updated relatively recently.  The idea here is that you don’t want to have to hire someone to make a lot of changes to be sure it is compatible with the most recent version of WordPress.  If you are buying a premium theme, you will want to be sure that you will have access to support and upgrades.
  2. Test Thoroughly – You can demo most themes before you download them, whether they are free themes or paid.  If you can’t demo a paid theme before you download it, I would recommend looking elsewhere.  Make sure you don’t just look at the homepage on the demo; visit all the possible links and watch out for issues.  Once you decide to download the theme, perform the same checks you did in the demo and make sure that all the functionality that you are expecting is available in the admin area.  This will require that you have some content on the site.  If the theme doesn’t take advantage of features like the new customized menus, or doesn’t support widgets, this would be a deal-breaker for most people.  If you really like the theme, you can have a WordPress developer fix these things for you.  You may also want to consider how easily you can insert your logo.
  3. Code Quality – Run your theme through a markup validation service to see how it checks out.  If you don’t mind touching code, disable any WordPress plugins and make sure the theme you want to check is active.  In your wp-config.php file, found in the root directory that you installed WordPress in, drop in this line of code: define(WP_DEBUG, true);.  You will now be able to see any errors with the PHP code in the theme.  Hopefully, there won’t be any.  Poor code simply means more issues that will have to be fixed.  Watch out for themes that try to obfuscate the code so you can’t change it.  It is important that you are able to make changes as needed.
  4. Cross-Browser Compatibility – Your visitors may be viewing your site using Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari, Google Chrome, Opera or another web browser.  Regardless of the browser or version being used, you still want them to be able to see and use the site.  Adobe BrowserLab is currently a free service that will allow you to see how your site will look in different browsers.

This list applies to any type of theme, not just WordPress.  Even if you are having a web developer create a custom theme for you, be sure to personally do checks 2-4!

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