Everyone will have downloaded numerous free WordPress themes when starting off, but usually there will come a point when you will need more features, a better design or simply the customer support that goes with purchasing a "premium" or commercial WordPress theme. When that time comes it helps to be armed with some knowledge about what you are buying and what to look out for, which is why we have complied this checklist to help you in the search for that perfect commercial WordPress theme.
Affect on page speed
Page speed is defined as the amount of time your Web page takes to load. It plays a crucial role in determining your Google rankings. Search engines always prefer websites that serve content quickly and efficiently. There are various online tools for measuring your website's page speed, my favourite being GTmetrix and Pingdom. For advanced page speed techniques, you could learn more about Google Page Speed.
You should be looking for a theme with a high or moderate page speed. Frank is an excellent example of a free WordPress theme which focuses on readability and has a high one speed. However, a website's page speed depends largely on the server it's hosting on, but that's an entirely different topic. WPEngine is one of the most popular managed WordPress hosting services that focus on page speed and numerous other optimization.
As Oliver takes a closer look to the design trends in the WordPress theme industry, minimalism seems to be a universal favourite. Your theme should go light on the stylesheet.css file. Also, I would like to share a piece of advice my friend passed to me.
Know your audience.
Its one thing to build a beautiful website, but to represent it is a whole different ball game. For example, if I'm building an project information website, I should keep in mind what browser is my client/investors using? Speaking from personal experience, most businessmen (my father for example) still use IE. And thought Windows has started rolling out updates for IE 10 (which addresses many CSS3 concerns) it is still in the works and people are using IE 8 and IE 9.
Therefore it would be wise to ensure that the CSS features your theme has, and the ones you're activating/using is supported in IE 9 and 10.
Too many different types of fonts tend to increase the page load time. You don't want that. Therefore it's always a good idea to test out the load time of the fonts that you are using in your theme. Most themes incorporate Google Web Fonts in their control panel, primarily because it offers over 500 great fonts for free! However, before choosing a particular font, you should check out its affect on page load times.
In today's smartphone dominated world, it goes without saying that your website should be mobile and tablet responsive. Almost 99% of all the WordPress themes today are responsive. However, if you're getting a custom theme designed, and your budget doesn't cut the responsive design element, or you're using a free theme which isn't responsive, then you could try the mobile responsive module in Jetpack.
Number of requests
The lesser the number if requests, the better. Obviously, lesser the number of requests, faster the site. Following are a couple of tricks which you could use cut down the number of requests:
1. Using a Twitter or Facebook link instead of a follow button or a like box:
If your website does not depend too much on social media marketing, then it's a good idea to use plain old image or text links to your social media channels instead of directly embedding the Like/Follow button in your website. This decreases the number of requests considerably.
2. Active Plugins:
Activate only those plugins the you actually use in your site. Unnecessary active plugins increase the number of requests which subsequently increases the page load time. Consider the filling scenario:
Suppose your website is mainly an informative site and you're not looking at many comments from your visitors, then the theme's default comment form would do. There would be no need to install comment plugins like Discus or Livefyre.
Pingdom is a great free online tool to count the number of requests and page load time.
Support is quintessential for any product. There are three major forms of support when it comes to WordPress themes.
- Forum support: Its a good choice as it guarantees quicker response thanks to the support staff as well as the forum members.
- Ticket system: This is a great way to address problems. However, response time may increase as there are a lot of tickets registered daily for popular theme companies.
- Email support: This is more like a ticket support system but it has both pros and cons. To the consumer, it's simple because he can send/check an email right from his smartphone. Same perks for the developer, but keeping track of sales and customer IDs is a bummer.
Ideally, the theme company you buy your theme from, must have at least one of the three forms of support mentioned above. Some popular theme companies employ all three support forms!
Popularity of theme company:
There's this 1933 album by The Cranberries called Everybody's Doing it so Why Can't We?
Kind of a similar situation here. There's a reason why a particular author is an elite author at Themeforest. That's because he's really good at what he does. Hence, as a general rule of thumb, if this is your first purchase and you're a bit nervous, go for a popular author.
Most themes support all the popular browsers. However, of your building a business site, chances are the investors will still be using Internet Explorer. So, you need to keep in mind which browser your audience is most probably to use.
Frequency of updates
Nobody is perfect. There's always room for improvement. Popular themes tend to have a couple of updates pushed every few months. That's a good thing - it means that the developers are concerned about their theme's performance/updates/compatibility issues.
Ideally, you should check the theme's changelog for updates and read up on the comments for any potential issues and whether they've been addressed. That'll give you a bird's eye view of what's going on.
Theme control panel
The WordPress theme developers know that their buyers have different levels of expertise when it comes to theme customization. Most popular and upcoming theme developers today, have a theme control panel which help you customize the very general features of the theme - like logo, fonts, colors etc. A good theme panel lets you change the CSS characteristics of your website's text. Now that's powerful.
As for the theme's features, it mostly depends on the type of theme. If you're going for a corporate/business/portfolio type of a theme then these come in handy:
- Pricing tables
When you're buying a pure blogging theme like Read WP, then make sure that the theme supports featured images and videos.
Compatibility with major plugins
Lets face it - we don't just depend on themes. WordPress = themes + plugins. So why should the plugins feel left out? There's no definite way to know if X theme is compatible with Y plugin. However I did find WP-Compaitibility in a random Google search, which claims to find if a plugin is compatible with a particular theme.
As a general rule of thumb, widely popular plugins like WordPress SEO, Gravity Forms, Jetpack, and CloudFlare are generally compatible with almost all themes.
Refund and Usage policy
Most themes come with a 30 day refund policy. However, you should check the refund policy before using it. If you're buying a theme for a client's website, make sure to give a good read to the usage policy of the theme - whether you can use it across multiple domains, or for different clients and so on. Frameworks like Genesis have a strict usage policy, so you might want to give that a good read to ensure that you aren't violating any copyright terms.
So we've made a general checklist of the things to do before buying your first WordPress theme.
There is one humane issue I would like to address here. While strolling around some of the theme support forums, I've seen people demanding for a solution from fellow buyers and using disrespectful language to address the theme developers. I mean come on - if you were in the receiver's end, would you ever feel like helping such an inconsiderate person? Try to be nice - people are much more likely to help a friendly dude (promptly) and avoid the grumpy grumperson for as long as possible. I for one make it a point to talk respectfully even when I'm in a soup - that's what our years of schooling taught was for right? Values? :)
Anyway, lectures aside, we hope this guide gives you and edge while purchasing themes. If you'd like to see some of your to-do checkpoints before buying a theme up in this article, do let us know!