When setting up a new website, begin by choosing a WordPress theme. Unfortunately, this first step can be a stumbling block for many, the sheer number of available themes is overwhelming! In this post, you’ll learn how to narrow down which WordPress Theme to choose, we’ll even tell you which one we recommend.
What is a WordPress Theme?
A WordPress theme is a collection of files that controls the styling of a website or blog. If you change themes, the overall design of your site will display differently.
Every new WordPress installation comes with a default theme installed and activated. WordPress “ships” a new annual default theme every year.
Which Theme is Your Site Running?
If someone else set up your website for you, you may not know which theme your site is using. To check, log in to the WordPress Dashboard and look at the At a Glance box. This box will appear on the first screen you see when you log in to the back end of your website.
How to Change Your WordPress Theme
Log in to WordPress and then follow these 5 steps to change your WordPress Theme
- In the left-hand menu click on Appearance → Themes. This takes you to the Manage Themes screen where you can see all installed themes.
- Click Add New
- Search for the theme you want by typing the name in the search bar or click on Feature Filter and narrow down the choices by choosing the features you are looking for in a theme
- Click Install
- Click Activate
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But with over 7,000 free themes available, which theme should you choose?
5 Tips for Choosing a WordPress Theme
We know that choosing a theme for your WordPress website or blog can be overwhelming. Here are 5 tips to help you.
1. Choose From Accessibility-Ready Themes
All themes included in the directory have been reviewed by the theme review team. You can narrow down the list with the Feature Filter. We suggest that you start the selection process by narrowing the filter to accessibility-ready themes.
Themes in the WordPress Repository tagged “Accessibility-ready” have been reviewed and meet accessibility standards. The theme is “ready” for you to add accessible content. You may be required under AODA legislation (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) to have an accessible site, but even if you aren’t, it’s just the right way to build a site today [read more about AODA and Web Accessibility here].
2. Use Plugins, Not a Theme, to Add Functionality to Your Website
When choosing a theme you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t creating problems for the future. We have previously discussed the theme-lock effect and what happens when you decide (and that time will come) to change your WordPress theme. So with good reason, we recommend using a plugin to create a custom post type such as portfolio or testimonials instead of looking for a theme that comes with these built-in. Plugins will continue to work when you change themes.
3. Don’t Use a Page Builder
A lot of premium themes rely on 3rd-party builder plugins. We don’t recommend using a builder, they add a layer on top of WordPress. They slow your website down and cause a lot of problems when you want to change your theme. You can read more here about why we don’t recommend using a page builder.
Furthermore, if a builder plugin is packed with your theme you may miss out on updates. So you may need to buy your own license.
“If you got WPB in a theme, that means that theme author has a license and only he/she can download the latest versions of WPB and include it in the theme. You as a theme user may use WPBakery Page Builder free of charge while you use the theme that came with WPB (because you have a license for that theme).” [source]
So when choosing a theme, we recommend avoiding one that relies on a page builder or editor other than the default WordPress Gutenberg Block editor.
4. Don’t Purchase a Premium Theme
It is a common misconception that you need to purchase a premium WordPress theme. A premium theme is a theme that you buy from a third party. They are not reviewed by WordPress.
Keep in mind that the WordPress alert system might not include your premium theme. If you do go the route of using a premium theme make sure that you can keep it up-to-date.
Premium themes are often trying to be all things to all people. If the theme has a lot of features you don’t need, make sure that you can turn off those features. Too many options in the WordPress dashboard can be confusing and can create extra bloat that will slow down your website.
5. Choose a Current, Popular Theme
When choosing a theme from WordPress.org look at three things.
- Is the theme being maintained? How long has it been since it was updated
- Is the theme popular? How many active installations use this theme?
- Are there positive or negative ratings?
We recommend the Astra Theme. This is a free theme that has been downloaded 1 million+ times. Astra is fast and flexible, it is one of the best free WordPress themes available.
We hope that this post has helped make choosing a theme for your WordPress blog or website easier.
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