WordPress has grown a lot since its creation in 2003 and has even more recently gone through another growth spurt with the development of Gutenberg. Gutenberg introduced a new editing experience that features a block-based system that is intended to give website managers more flexibility in creating content layouts.
With this shift in the editing experience, many WordPress customers are questioning whether themes are still important. The short answer is yes!
Even though there are many predictions that themes will one day consist of a single style sheet and the rest will be managed through Gutenberg, we’re not there yet.
What is a WordPress Theme?
A WordPress theme behaves as the foundation of your website and manages global elements that control look and feel, such as:
- Color Scheme
- Page Layouts
The way that WordPress is currently designed, a theme is required to be installed and activated, making theme selection one of the early steps in developing a WordPress website.
So, what do you need to consider when choosing a theme for your site?
What to Consider When Selecting a WordPress Theme
1. Determine if You Want to Use a Page Builder
Page builders such as Beaver Builder, Divi, or Elementor Pro have come a long way in allowing users to take over certain elements or parts of a theme. The best themes to use with page builders (and you’re still required to choose a theme even if you’re using a page builder) are ones designed with page builders in mind. These themes typically have a minimalist design and are flexible so that users can easily create the layouts they need
Themes that aren’t created with page builders in mind will prioritize their own code over the flexibility of a page builder, making it much harder to override the theme’s layout or settings. For these themes, pick one that isn’t stubborn and that will simply get out of the way and allow the page builder to take over.
Many page builders provide their own themes, which users can feel confident will work well with their corresponding plugins. However, they can be quite expensive. Other options include:
2. Identify Future Integration Needs
It’s important to consider what type of functionality you want your website to have. This functionality will most likely be added to your website through plugins; however, not all plugins are compatible with all themes. Avoid getting stuck with a theme that doesn’t allow you to easily meet your current or anticipated future needs.
For example, if you know that you want to add an e-commerce solution at some point down the line, pick a theme that works well with a third-party plugin such as Woocommerce. Many themes come with a list of recommended plugins, like Avada, and some themes even flag plugins that have proven to be incompatible, such as Beaver Builder.
Do the research and find these recommended plugins lists before investing in a theme. Make sure that your theme works well with the plugins your site needs now - and in the future - to be successful.
3. Ensure You’re Able to Comply with Critical Regulations
The world is evolving, and with that comes changes and regulations that impact websites. Companies across the globe are working to follow privacy laws such as GDPR and CCPA, as well as accessibility regulations. Consider how your theme allows you to address these important and evolving topics.
Some newer themes are built with greater consideration for accessibility right out of the box, but most themes require additional configuration, including adding a plugin or your own custom code. Even if accessibility or privacy regulations are not a primary concern for your business right now, see what options your theme has in case one or more become critical later on.
4. Consider Both the End-User and Internal User Experience
A theme might provide a beautiful and exceptional user experience for your site visitors, but a terrible one for your internal team.
For example, some themes don’t play nice with the default WordPress theme customizer. Instead of getting a preview of the changes you make in real time, some themes have separate areas to make updates to the header or footer layout of your site. To see these updates, you have to save your changes and then refresh your website. It overrides the default process that’s already built within WordPress but complicates the user experience for site managers.
A good internal user experience also extends into having good support and theme documentation. If a site manager is unable to figure out how to build something or encounters an issue, having additional resources will help keep things moving along and minimize stress.
A good way to judge the usability of a theme is by reading reviews from other users. Try to find reviews that match your level of technical ability. If you’re not a very savvy technical user, then look for reviews that address how easy a theme was to setup and navigate.
5. Look for Flexibility to Add Additional Code
Finally, choose a theme that allows you to extend functionality by offering a variety of hooks. Hooks allow coders to inject custom code or content in the proper place. For example, if you want to create a top bar that offers a discount code to your customers, you would use a hook to inject the code right before the header.
Simply put, hooks allow the more technical users to change the default configuration of a website and allow for adding or disabling elements without changing the core files. Even if you don’t plan on making any customizations to your theme, it’s a good option in case of emergency.
Running into roadblocks selecting a theme, or need help fixing a WordPress mess? Our WordPress experts will guide you down the right path! Contact us today.