How to Choose (and Find) the Right WordPress Theme for Your New Blog

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

[This post is part of the Ultimate Guide to Launching a WordPress-Powered Blog series. Check out the rest here!]

So you’ve got your Domain Name for your new blog, you’ve got your hosting setup, and you’ve even gotten WordPress installed the right (and best) way. You’ve walked through some of the optimal Settings and Options for WordPress and you’re ready to add a little flavor because the default theme simply doesn’t “do it” for you.

What now? How do you go about finding and choosing the right WordPress Theme that’ll suit your style of blogging, the type of content that you’ll be sharing, and that’ll be scaleable for a good amount of time?

Here are some tips that I hope you can use to point you in the right direction:

Hmm. This could get interesting...

Questions That Help Define Your Specific Needs:

I typically start with very general terms with the people that I help start new blogs and try something like that of a “funnel-like” strategy where we start broad and get more specific as we nail down needs.

Here are questions that I generally ask:

  1. What type of content are you going to publish on this blog?
  2. What is your audience like? How do they typically consume content?
  3. What industry/sector are you in and how do some of the “best in class” blogs produce content?
  4. How often will you be publishing content?
  5. Will you be using any media (images, videos, etc) in your blog content?
  6. How important does the “date” of which your content is published play a part of your blog?
  7. Do you believe your content is your brand or your visual identity is your brand?
  8. Does it need to look like a “typical” blog? What does this blog look like in your mind’s eye?
  9. What are some of your favorite blogs that you visit frequently? What specific functional elements do you like?
  10. Are you active on Facebook and/or Twitter? Are these important parts of your traffic and sharing strategy?

These 10 questions help establish a framework of thinking and can really help you navigate to the right WordPress Theme.

So, what you need to do is to answer these questions specifically and then keep them close as you continue to explore your options!

Free vs. Paid, Premium Themes:

Who doesn't like 'Free'?

One of the biggest questions that you’ll have to answer is whether or not you should use a ‘Free’ Theme or spend some money on a ‘Paid’ or ‘Premium’ Theme.

There’s a number of different voices out there that can argue strongly for either side but here’s what’s generally agreed upon in terms of the differences:

  1. Paid Themes are generally nicer in terms of design.
  2. Paid Themes are generally better developed (code) than Free Themes.
  3. Paid Themes generally have more internal options available for customization and features.
  4. Paid Themes generally have dedicated (or semi-dedicated) staff around the product and can offer support and assistance in terms of use and customization.

But believe me there are some incrediblely-amazing Free Themes out there that could go toe-to-toe with some of the Premium Themes available as well as some really-really-really-bad Premium Themes out there that honestly should be free.

So how do you know if you should be using a Free Theme or spend the money on a Premium Theme? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you want to spend money on a Premium Theme? Do you have the funds available?
  • Do you need a lot of help customizing your theme?
  • Do you feel like having a “support system” available to you is going to be a good thing?
  • Do you feel more comfortable with knowing that your theme is (might be) better designed, coded, and supported long-term?

If you said “Yes” to any of those above you should probably go find a Premium Theme to use.

But, for many bloggers who are just starting on their blogging journey I typically recommend trying to find a free theme first that’ll satisfy 90% of their needs, and you definitely can find some great ones that’ll do just that!

My thought behind this is the following:

  1. Especially if you’re new to blogging you really won’t have a good idea of what you need until you start using WordPress. After using it for sometime you’ll be better equipped to make a purchase of a Premium Theme.
  2. The longer you use WordPress the more adept you will be at identifying “quality” Themes and ones that aren’t. Use this to your advantage.
  3. Also, you’ll have a better cultural feel of the WordPress Community at large and know of the better spots to scout for WordPress Themes.
  4. Finally, make a goal to earn your way to a premium theme as you monetize your blog. This is probably the strongest case I have for not buying a Premium Theme from the get-go and making it a goal (and a reward) for making a few dollars through your free theme and blog!

But you can, of course, jump right in and get started with an amazing Premium Theme from the start!

4 Trustworthy Sites to Find WordPress Themes:

I must first start this section off by issuing a very important warning: Never use a WordPress Theme that you found by using a Search Engine, like Google!

In other words, never Google “Free WordPress Themes” or anything like that because chances are you’ll be directed to themes that not only endanger your blog via viruses, trojans, malware, but also will impact your SEO ranking via malicious code! I’ve spent far too many hours trying to “fix” people’s blogs who made the tragic mistake of downloading a “free theme” they randomly found via search.

Don’t do it!

So, where are some trusted websites to download Free and Premium Themes? Here are a few to get you started:

1. WordPress.org Free Theme Directory

The Free Themes Directory provided by WordPress is a treasure-trove of free themes that have been verified as safe!

Have a field day here and find one that will suit your needs!

2. WordPress Commercial Directory

The Commercial Theme Directory is also a curated list of Themes by WordPress with the difference being that they are Premium or Paid Themes.

This is a trusted source of pretty much all of the better Premium Themes out there and I honestly don’t recommend purchasing a WordPress Theme from a company that hasn’t taken the time to get approved to be in this directory.

As you can see in the image above, Standard Theme is on that list!

I love what WordPress says about Commercial Themes:

While our directory is full of fantastic themes, sometimes people want to use something that they know has support behind it, and don’t mind paying for that.

Contrary to popular belief, GPL doesn’t say that everything must be zero-cost, just that when you receive the software or theme that it not restrict your freedoms in how you use it.

With that in mind, here are a collection of folks who provide GPL themes with extra paid services available around them.

Some of them you may pay for access, some of them are membership sites, some may give you the theme for zero-cost and just charge for support.

What they all have in common is people behind them who support open source, WordPress, and its GPL license.

Love me some Premium WordPress Themes!

3. Smashing Magazine’s Free Themes, Collections:

Smashing Magazine is an amazing website and blog that has some of the best articles every written on the web (no joke here).

They also release free WordPress Themes as well as have more than a few posts that showcase tons of amazing WordPress Themes. They do an exceptional job of curating and finding ones that are of excellent quality, and as such I trust their lists and recommendations!

You can view their WordPress-related blog posts directly here or hit this Google search query to quickly scan through all of their articles.

4. Themeforest

Another great place to find Premium Theme is Envato’s Themeforest‘s WordPress Directory. Here you’ll be able to find tons of WordPress Themes that won’t break the bank.

The one caveat here is that many of them do not provide robust support options so if you purchase one then 9 out of 10 times you’re on your own.

For the most part those 4 sites should do the trick to get you started!

Do Your Homework Before Downloading, Purchasing That Theme:

Regardless of whether you go Premium or Free you’re going to want to do your homework, just like you’ve always been told!

Trust me: Spending time now will save you tons later!

Here are a few things that you’ll definitely want to be on the look out for before you hit ‘Download’ or ‘Purchase’:

  1. Does it look “right”? Anything amiss? Generally a quick walk-through their demo site will reveal anything fishy.
  2. Look at the demo in different browsers as you’re going to want to make sure your theme looks right (and the same) for all of your visitors regardless of what browser they use (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer, etc.).
  3. Does it appear to load quickly or slow? A lot of this depends on the server that the demo site is running on but it it appears to “hang” on certain pages you may want to tread with caution. Anything slow will impact your SEO and user experience!
  4. Is it easy to read the fonts, texts? Are images and media crisp and clean looking?
  5. Do you like the colors and/or color options?
  6. Is the options/admin panel that they provide look functional and attractive?
  7. Does it appear to have all of the features that you need/want on your theme?
  8. Is the navigation intuitive and functional? Will the Pages, Categories, Sub-Categories, and other navigational elements going to look right and fluid?
  9. Does it have widgets for quick and easy customization?
  10. Does it have options for advertising so you can monetize your blog?
  11. Any “stand-out” features that make you go “Wow!”? Does this sway you at all?
  12. Who uses this theme? Anyone that you know and/or respect? What’s the history and brand around this company and/or product?
  13. Is there support or is this a “good luck chuck” scenario?
  14. Does it come with ‘source files’ for custom design? Photoshop files, etc.?
  15. Is this a one-time purchase or a recurring payment system? What are the value propositions for the recurring payment situation?
  16. What are the licensing restrictions, if any?
  17. Is it worth the cost in your estimation?

Typically I tell someone that they should really trust their gut with a purchase and/or download of a theme (although there are some people who should definitely stop trusting their gut!).

There’s no reason to rush into a Premium Theme and there is honestly no reason to ditch the default WordPress theme until you’re more comfortable with WordPress and have time to explore and practice some due diligence with your search!

The 'Default' Theme - Twenty Ten

I hope this helps you make the most strategic, wise, and long-term decision possible!

Finally, remember this should be a fun process, not an excruciatingly-difficult one! Enjoy it!

[This post is part of the Ultimate Guide to Launching a WordPress-Powered Blog series. Check out the rest here!]