A WordPress theme is an ‘off the shelf’ (or custom made) design which you can install and change the whole look of your website with.
The cost of WordPress themes can range from free, to $50 or $200, to several thousand dollars (if you commission your own custom design).
Clearly that’s quite a broad price range however so how do you know which type of theme to choose.
What type of theme should you choose?
While there are some very good free WordPress themes, we generally recommend going for a premium theme.
It’s not an absolute rule but generally paid themes will have a stronger design, be more robust but, perhaps most important of all, come with support and updates if you ever need them.
Premium (paid, ‘off the shelf’) themes
Premium themes are, for a lot of businesses, that sweet spot in the middle of free themes and custom themes where the cost is reasonably low but the quality of design can also be very high.
A custom theme is where you want a completely unique design and set of functionality for your business. Generally custom themes will be made for established businesses seeking a new look or new businesses where there is a budget for a custom design from day one.
To get a custom theme you will generally hire a designer (who creates designs for the site in Photoshop or similar) and a developer (who turns the designs, once signed off, into the code (WordPress theme) that will power your site).
As you can imagine, many designers work in partnership with a preferred developer and vice versa. Though if you already have a design it’s possible to find a developer to turn it into a WordPress theme for you later on.
Another option is to approach an agency who can do the whole process for you but that is generally more expensive.
For the rest of this guide we’re going to focus on premium themes as that’s the sweet spot for many businesses using WordPress, particularly new businesses (or existing businesses launching new side projects).
What should you look for in a premium theme?
A beautiful design
Of course design is subjective but if you’re looking to make a professional impression on your customers it pays to get a good looking design for your website.
Solid, responsive support
As you’re paying for a theme you’re entitled to a reasonable level of support.
A well coded theme
Why does this matter? Because a well coded theme will generally:
- Be more likely to be ‘bug free’
- Be more likely to work well on different browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome etc) or devices (laptop, iPhone, iPad etc)
- Load faster
- Be more ‘upgrade proof’ when updates to plugins or WordPress itself are issued
- Be more likely to work with a wider range of plugins
- Be easier for another website developer to customise and extend for you later on
So having a well coded theme is not just a vanity exercise, it’s something that can make a big difference to your business and also save you a lot of pain and expense later on.
How can I tell if a theme is well coded?
One way to get an idea (though not an absolute way) is to see if it behaves the way we describe above, does it look good on different devices and on different browsers.
You should also be able to see if it loads quickly or ‘hangs’ in one or more places as it loads (and if you’ve ever used a slow website you’ll know how much that can make you want to hit the back button).
The other way is to get a recommendations either from us at ThemeValet (see some of our recommended providers below) or ‘people of standing’ in the WordPress community.
Genesis themes vs non-Genesis themes
The following is not something to get hung up on but just something to be aware of.
In the world of WordPress there are generally two types of theme. Genesis themes and non-Genesis themes.
Genesis themes run on something called the Genesis Framework which is a special type of theme which powers lots of other themes.
You can think of Genesis like a standard for coding a website in a fast, SEO (search engine friendly) way and because of its approach has got praise from the likes of WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg.
It’s also used by top entrepreneurs and bloggers such as Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse and Chris Ducker.
The Genesis Framework is only used (and required by certain themes) though, so how do you know if you need if your theme needs the Genesis Framework or not?
Generally if you’re buying a theme and it requires the Genesis Framework, this will be made clear somewhere on the purchase page.
Of course, bear in mind that if buy Genesis once you can use it on any number of websites that you own so if you change themes – or start a second project – on a different Genesis theme later on you won’t need to buy it again.
None of this means that all Genesis themes are ‘good’ and all non Genesis themes are ‘bad’ but it is a useful starting point and something to potentially be aware of when buying themes so you know what it means.
Recommended theme providers
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of WordPress theme providers.
The following are a few that we know and trust. That you can rely on for beautiful designs, well coded themes and quality support.
The following themes require a purchase of the Genesis Framework to function.
- Lean Themes – minimal themes designed with the entrepreneur in mind
- Minimal Genesis – ‘Elegantly designed themes for the Genesis Framework with a focus on ultra simplicity’
- Pink & Press – ‘a feminine WordPress theme marketplace’
- Pretty Darn Cute – ‘feminine WordPress themes’
- StudioPress – fantastic, minimalist style designs that look like they cost way more than than a few $$$. ThemeValet is built on their Altitude Pro theme.
- Themedy – a nice mix of theme designs
- WPStudio – a selection of minimialist style themes
*Disclaimer: Nick Davis the founder of ThemeValet, is also the co-founder of Lean Themes.
- The Theme Foundry – ‘Professionally crafted WordPress themes’
- ThemeZilla – beautiful WordPress themes by Orman Clark
How to setup your premium theme
When you bought your premium theme you likely saw a demo website which showed you how it can look.
When you install your theme however it is unlikely to look like the demo site straight away though.
To start with, if you’re setting up a completely new site you may not have added any content yet or the content that you have added does not match the demo site or is not setup in the same way.
There will likely also be menus to setup and widget areas (special content areas usually reserved for particular content on the homepage or the sidebar or the footer of your website’s theme).
Most premium themes will come with instructions which you can follow to set all of this up.
An alternative to setting up the theme yourself
However for most busy entrepreneurs their time will be best spent on some other area of their business than jumping through these steps or figuring things out themselves.
Of course we don’t discourage people from setting up their WordPress themes themselves if that’s what they wish to do but for those that don’t wish to learn or would rather spend their time on other activities, ThemeValet offers three different theme setup services:
- ‘Just like the demo’ setup – setting up the new WordPress website to look like the demo website where you bought the theme from with dummy content which you can easily replace with your own (the theory being it’s easier to chagee something that’s already there than figure out how and where to add it in the first place).
- ‘Demo + content’ setup – the same as the previous option (setting up the website to look like the demo website) but instead of adding only demo content we add content (and, if you wish, images) you’ve already prepared in a Word document or similar.
- ‘Demo, content and branding’ setup – the same as the two previous options but includes adding your logo (not a logo design service but taking your existing logo and adding it to the site) and, if you wish, changing the default theme colours to match your brand colours
All of these options can easily be ordered directly on the ThemeValet website.