With over 9,000 free themes and thousands upon thousands more premium themes out there, finding that one theme that best suits the needs of you and your visitors can be a time-consuming chore.
Trust us; we’ve spent more than our fair share of hours trawling through different theme directories looking for that perfect theme, so we know what a drag it can be.To help save you from that same trouble, we’ve compiled the following guide outlining the 8 key factors to consider when choosing your responsive theme.
1. Popularity and User Opinion
Whether you download a free theme from the WordPress directory or pay for a premium theme from a third-party vendor such as theme aisle, one of the first things you will notice is information about how many people downloaded it, along with a link to the customer reviews.
While such information shouldn’t make or break your decision, it is worth paying attention to as it can be an early indicator of how well that theme will serve you.
Of course, there will always be new themes that haven’t been around long enough to accumulate enough downloads and reviews, just as there will be those themes that, though perfectly serviceable, flew under the radar.
Though we wouldn’t discount those themes altogether, if one has been around for a while, statistics such as downloads and activations can give you an idea of how good that theme will likely be.
Think about it:
Why would thousands of people actively use a theme that wasn’t all that good?
Likewise, checking out the user reviews can give you further insights into what you’re letting yourself in for if you buy that theme and may give you a more realistic overview of the theme than you’d get from a review site which is likely to be driven by affiliate sales.
2. Last Updates and WordPress Compatability
The second most important information you’ll need to consider is when the theme was last updated and whether it is compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
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WordPress is a constantly evolving ecosystem, with major updates to the core software rolled out on average two or three times per year and multiple minor updates occurring in between.
When themes (as well as WordPress plugins) don’t keep up, this can cause compatibility issues that affect the performance and functionality of your website.
For this reason, it pays to look at the date the theme was last updated. A general rule we like to use is that if a theme hasn’t been updated in a year or more, we won’t use it. The more recently a theme was updated, the more likely we are to at least seriously consider it.
Likewise, most theme directories will tell you which versions of WordPress a particular theme is compatible with, so be sure to check that it works with the version you’re using to avoid potential issues.
3. Previews and Demos
So, you’ve found a highly regarded theme that’s up-to-date and compatible with your version of WordPress, but how does it look?
Does the style convey the kind of brand image you want your website to be known for?
Does it offer the right page elements to convey the information you want to share and showcase your products, images, or videos?
Thumbnails and screenshots on a theme’s product page may be helpful, but you’ll need to check out a fully working preview of the theme to answer these questions.
Check out the demo version of your preferred theme and explore its different pages, layouts, and content options.
While you’re at it, you’ll also want to see how that demo looks on different screen sizes. Most theme developers offer desktop and mobile previews of their creations, but you can always go one step further by playing with the demo on different devices to be 100% sure that it meets your needs.
4. User Experience
Checking out the look and feel isn’t the only reason to check out a preview. It can also give you valuable insights into what your end-users will experience when they visit your site.
Is it easy to navigate?
Is the layout clean and uncluttered?
Is it immediately apparent to users what they need to do to access different features and functions of your page?
Is the content itself legible and clear?
If you can answer all those questions with a resounding ‘yes,’ you’re well on your way to finding a theme worth using.
5. Load Times
Unless this is your first day as a WordPress user, you’ve undoubtedly heard time and time that page load times are vital to a successful website.
If your pages load slowly, that will only turn visitors off and have them reach for their back button before they even check out your content. Not only that, but with Google placing such a heavy emphasis on mobile performance when determining where to place your site in search results, it can also significantly impact your page rankings.
Sure, your theme is only one aspect affecting your site’s performance. Your choice of web hosting, the number of plugins you install, and even your content can all help or hinder load times.
As such, it’s essential to look for a responsive theme with streamlined, minimalist coding, efficient caching features, and optimized graphical elements, as all of these can contribute to ensuring that the theme is helping you to create a fast, high-performing website.
Finding a theme requiring zero customization is rare, if not wholly impossible. Even if you’re only adding in your company name and replacing the dummy content with your own, you need to be able to make those changes without complications or challenges.
How you do this depends on your skill level and the level of customization you need.
For example, if you want your website to look exactly like the preview, you’ll need to be sure that it offers one-click demo imports.
If you want the power and flexibility of WordPress but enjoy the effortless drag-and-drop approach to adding and customizing content, check whether it’s compatible with tools like Elementor or Beaver Builder. If, on the other hand, you want to make a few fundamental changes, you may be OK with a theme whose options are controlled by the customizer.
Beyond that, look at what elements can and can’t be customized.
Some themes, especially free ones, don’t allow for things like font customization or the ability to change the color and style of certain elements, so it’s worth paying attention to whether your theme will actually allow you to do what you want to do.
7. Required Plugins
It’s not uncommon for modern themes to come pre-bundled with several plugins to improve -or in some cases even enable- functionality and customization.
Occasionally, this is a good thing, especially if those plugins cost you money to buy separately.
However, as we’ve already discussed, plugins can impact your site performance, and the more plugins you have, the worse that impact will be.
For this reason, we recommend looking for themes that require as few plugins as possible.
8. Support and Documentation
Any good theme designer should make their products as easy to set up, configure, and customize as possible.
That said, some themes don’t seem so straightforward, especially if you’re a WordPress newcomer.
There are also those themes, which though they seem clear and simple on the surface, start presenting challenges the deeper you dive into the customization.
In both instances, it’s helpful to have an easy-to-follow documentation set to guide you through the process and help you troubleshoot potential problems.
The better theme developers may even provide video walk-throughs and tutorials, which can prove invaluable as you can copy the action in the video to solve your issues.
While developers can undoubtedly aim to tackle every possible error or cause of confusion in their documentation, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that something could unexpectedly go awry.
When that happens, it’s reassuring to know that the theme’s creators are on hand to provide support.
Many theme developers will use publicly-accessible forums to answer support requests. Take some time to look at those if they’re available, and they’ll give you a good idea of the quality of support on offer and how quickly you’re likely to receive a response.
Choosing a Responsive WordPress Theme: A Final Piece of Advice
What all this boils down to is that there are two key factors to consider when choosing a responsive theme:
- Your needs
- The needs of your users.
From your side of things, you need to be sure that the theme you’re looking for is going to represent your brand or business in the right way and showcase your content in the best possible light, all of which you can do by paying close attention to the previews and demo sites available.
You also need to be sure that your theme is compatible with your version of WordPress, that it’s easy to use, and offers the customization options you need.
From a visitor standpoint, user experience and performance are crucial. If a theme loads quickly, is easy to navigate and has a clear layout, it will serve your users well, creating an enjoyable, hassle-free experience that leads to conversions and repeat visits.
To help you find those themes, we compiled this guide to the best responsive WordPress themes of 2023.