1. What are your esthetics needs?
First and foremost you have to make sure the theme matches the look and feel you want and need. I used to think you could morph a premium theme into what you want with just a little tweaking. I’ve realized that is not so easy.
We have four professional graphic designers that create the design for our custom and stock themes. They’re professionals and they see the world in a different way than everyone else. They keep things cohesive and beautiful. When an average person starts to hack the theme and move things around, the beauty starts to be degraded and the theme loses the original intent.
When selecting a theme, know that you can tweak colors and some other things but that a major overhaul (particularly layout) is best left to a design professional. Take the time to find a theme that meets 80% of your visual, layout, and content needs.
2. Do you need a website or blog based theme?
Some WordPress themes are designed to accommodate blogs and some are designed for full-blown websites. While you can take a theme designed for a website with a blog and convert it into a blog only site, it is difficult to do the opposite. Expecting that you can convert a blog theme into a professional company website is a step towards disappointment.
If you need a theme for a website, then search for WordPress themes that specifically say they are for business, corporate use, or a CMS.
3. Do you want a WordPress theme that is well established with lots of users and/or theme downloads or brand new on the market?
There are pros and cons associated with buying both new themes and older themes. New themes will provide freshness, but they may also come with a few bugs. We developers try and think of everything a user will do or want, but thousands of plugins available, it is impossible. Without doubt, there will be bugs and/or options that we forgot.
Older themes will have much of this worked out so the theme should come with fewer bugs, lots of options coded in, and custom CSS code to accommodate popular plugins. The negative to older themes is you will look like everyone else using it. The Striking theme from Kaptinlin is a great example as it is a very popular WordPress theme. Kaptinlin is a virtual rock star at theme support and his theme has lots of options built into it. Over 12,000 users on Themeforest.net have downloaded the WordPress theme since it was first introduced in October of 2010. This means it is possibly in use on almost as many websites. I can spot a Striking website from a mile away. Even with all the options, many website using Striking all look alike or at least very similar. This isn’t Kaptinlin’s fault, as he is a good theme developer. It is just the nature of stock WordPress themes.
Deciding how much uniqueness you need should certainly be part of your decision factor. If your new website or blog must look and feel fresh, plan on selecting a newly released theme or consider having one custom built for you.
4. Does your future WordPress theme need to work with the most current version of WordPress?
First, let me start out by stating you should always have the most recent version of WordPress installed. From functionality to security, keeping up with WordPress updates is important. That being said, some older themes may not support the newest versions of WordPress.
With each major release of WordPress comes new functionality. With new functionality come potential issues with older themes. An example of this is navigation menus, which was a theme feature introduced with Version 3.0 of WordPress. Older themes may not support this feature, which is a problem. A bigger problem occurs when a theme is so old it produces multiple concurrent issues when the user upgrades to the newest release of WordPress.
While most themes should support the latest version of WordPress, it is absolutely something you should verify prior to completing the purchase.
5. Does the theme support basic WordPress functions?
You may think I’m crazy for even bringing this up, but there is a reason. The “glass half full” kind of girl that I am always thought all themes supported core WordPress features. The truth is that this is an incorrect assumption.
I have an SEO client I am working with right now that has a theme so poorly coded it is killing me. It lacks basic elements like proper spacing, ordered bullets, featured images for posts, commenting, and on and on. The creator of the theme just doesn’t know WordPress as much as he should. I don’t think he intentionally left these items out, but they are in fact missing.
Prior to buying any premium WordPress theme, make sure the theme supports core features like: WordPress menus, widgets, multiple sidebars, featured images, blog page beyond that of the home page, individual posts, author boxes, commenting, 404 page, sitemaps, etc.
6. Do you need your theme to offer multiple layouts and columns?
Again, don’t assume your theme has multiple layouts and will accommodate things like full width pages, one or two sidebars, columns within content, etc. Review the theme description and demo to make sure the theme layouts will support the content you want to create. Also verify the theme has widgetized sidebars and that the sidebar content isn’t hardcoded into the theme.
7. Does the theme’s navigation support your website or blog’s content?
Before you start looking for the perfect theme, decide if you need one menu or two menus. People many times use one menu for pages and secondary menu for categories. Do you need footer navigation or footer widgets with links? Is the navigation bar long enough to accommodate all your primary menu options? Some are not and I’ve even fallen into this trap with one of our designers. She created the nicest theme and it wasn’t until we were building it out that I realized the menu bar was way to small for the average amount of links people would need.
Learn from my mistake and consider your content sitemap and navigation requirements before buying your new theme.
8. Does the theme offer call to actions for the home page and/or sidebar?
I’m a huge proponent of call to actions. I want every stock theme and every custom theme we build to have these available. Every website or blog wants the visitor to do “something”. You have to have a cohesive design with built-in options for call to actions to work well and look professional.
Before selecting your theme, figure out what actions you want visitors to take and document them. Then while theme shopping, make sure your theme can support your list of visitor to do items.
9. Is the theme SEO friendly?
While WordPress is SEO friendly by default, not every WordPress theme will adhere to SEO best practices. Clean, optimized theme code is important for achieving the best search engine rankings possible. Quality code and solid design architecture make it much easier for search engines to digest your content and present it to searchers.
WordPress SEO guru Yoast, encourages theme buyers to validate their theme includes the following SEO fundamentals: displayed taxonomy descriptions, excerpts on archive pages, breadcrumbs, proper anchor text for post titles.
Yoast also warns buyers against themes that include: site name forced into title tag, static meta descriptions on pages, static robot tags, use H1 for the logo on every tag, place sidebars above content, hide links in the theme beyond theme creator.
Some of the discussion will be overkill for new WordPress users. The bottom line is you should make sure your theme developer mentions SEO and discusses why their theme is SEO friendly. And if you buy a new theme and simple SEO plugins like All-in-One SEO don’t work, replace the theme because you’ve got way more issues than you realize.
10. What level of support will you require?
Theme support can be available by phone, email, video tutorial, instruction manuals, forums, etc. The theme developer’s workload, sales, and sale price will determine what level of support is offered.
I try an answer all presales questions, but can only do so via email. I do not have the bandwidth to respond via phone. We also provide instructions for set up in our online forum as well as answer questions from users. We do not provide video tutorials, because well, I hate to watch videos. If you are a brand new WordPress user and you really need videos, then you should consider this and you buying decision.
Another point to note is that some developers offer no support. Themeforest.net sells themes by some coders who have day jobs and they simply don’t have the time to provide forum support. Not only should you pay attention to the availability of forum support, you should also look to see if the forum is answered promptly. In my mind a day is prompt, but a week or month is not. StudioPress won my heart with their forum support. Not only do they answer forum questions, they have WordPress experts like Ron and Andrea on staff to do so.
If you are a brand new to WordPress and expect you’ll need a lot of hand holding, make sure you select a theme developer that offers lots and lots of support features.