There is an endless supply out there of great looking, cool WordPress themes, one more advanced than the other. Some even enables non-coders to build their own site without writing a single line of code. Well, at least it seems like it since the code is then generated automatically.
There is also a huge supply of not so good ones. How do you choose the right one for your business?
You might have spent a lot of time sifting through the theme repository at wordpress.org and premium theme sites like ThemeForest. Maybe you have even tried to install a theme and tinkered around a bit, only to find that it does not look much like the awesome demo site. So you move on to the next one.
Finally, after several hours or maybe even days of research, you have been able to narrow down your selection to a few themes. Surely, at least one of them has to be “the one”, right? Well, I hate to break it to you, but you still will most likely find that neither of them will turn out to be a great fit for your business. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
First things first: Know what you need
To start planning your website by looking for a “cool” or “nice looking” theme is already starting at the wrong end. Without having sorted out the goals for your website, and having a good idea of what your content will be, the chance of you getting a website that remotely resembles what you need is pretty much non-existing.
Also, if you are not a web professional, what you want might be far from what you actually need. That is another thing to keep in mind before you start building up expectations for what your new website can do for you and your business.
A one-size-fits-all will never look like it is made for you
You need to know your requirements before buying a house. If you go to a real estate agent and your only requirement is “I just need a house”, you could end up with anything with a roof and four walls. If you are unlucky enough to get an unprofessional agent that is, someone who only cares about making a sale and doesn’t bother to dig any deeper by asking questions to figure out your actual needs.
A website is no different, you need to make it clear what you expect from it and what you need it for. Just like a professional real estate agent, a professional web agency will ask in-depth questions to help you sort out the requirements. But where to start if you do not have the budget to get that kind of help?
What to expect from a ready-made theme
A ready-made theme can provide a good enough base when you are just starting out, and your budget is small. Think of it as the simple house that does not tick all the boxes for what you want and need, but is enough for your primary need right now (you are short on money but need a roof over your head). The right kind of house at that point gives you a roof over your head, and can also be modified and extended further in the future.
The right kind of ready-made theme can give you a solid foundation to build upon at a later stage, if you know what to look for. But do yourself and all others involved a favor: don’t expect it to be a perfect fit for your business right out of the box.
Theme developers’ objectives do not align with yours
To be able to build a sustainable business, premium theme developers need to make their products attractive to as many people as possible. They might have to sell hundreds of copies just to break-even. Therefore they often target everyone that want a website for whatever reason, from sporadic hobby bloggers to personal websites to professionals. In the first cases, the theme might work out just fine. But, in case that is not already crystal clear, your business is not “everyone”.
The content that is great for a demo site does not resemble the content you need
The demo content for these themes is created for the sole purpose to show off the theme on its best side, to sell the theme. In the demo the theme makers will put any picture or any text, technically it could be complete jibberish, that will make the theme look as good as possible. The demo content is nothing like your content. I have learned the hard way that this could not be repeated enough, so let me repeat it again: the demo content is nothing like your content.
Don’t believe me? Try and fit your content into the greatest looking theme you can find without having to edit, rearrange or adapt it in some way to make it look at least semi-decent. With a pre made theme you will be forced to adapt your content after the theme, which is completely backwards. It should be the other way around if you want a great and effective website that will help you reach your business goals.
If you need to shoehorn, cut and press your content into a theme, just to make your website look presentable, you have not found the perfect theme. And you know what? There is not a single free or premium theme out there that is created for your content. That is just the plain truth. It is just not what they are made for. That said, it may still be a good enough option for you depending on your situation.
Is a ready-made theme always a bad idea?
So, am I saying that a ready-made theme is always a bad idea for a business? Not at all. If you are just starting out your business, your first priority might be to establish a presence online. You only need a place where you can send people when asked if they can find you online. If so, a ready-made theme could provide a decent start, since it is a very cheap and quick way to get a website up and running. And as long as you do not expect it to be more than that, you are good to go.
The right kind of ready-made theme can offer you a good starting point for further development and tweaking in the future, but you need to understand that either way it can never be more for your business than an MVP (minimum viable product), nor will it be a great fit out of the box.
So how do you pick a good starter theme?
Make sure it:
- is intended as a starter theme, that it is built to be tweaked and further developed by a developer
- is developer friendly with only a minimum amount of code
- only comes with a few settings in the admin panel, preferably none. It does not matter how convenient you may find a theme with tons of settings that you can make yourself. Not only will it generate enormous amounts of code, it is also an extremely ineffective way to work for a professional developer if you want to hire one in the future. You will have a hard time finding one.
- is clean, with only the minimum of what you need
- does not come with extra functionalities that you will never need, or are much better off getting from a separate plugin
- integrates seamlessly with the WordPress Core admin panel. You do not want to have to relearn WordPress if you switch theme the future (which you most likely will if you start with a ready-made theme and aim to build a professional business).
- lean (another reason for a minimum amount of code), so that it has as little impact on the performance of your website as possible now and in the future
- secure (yet another reason for a minimum amount of code)
Can you recommend a good starter theme?
This comes down to preference, so I’d rather not. I can only tell you what I usually use.
Personally, I like to use _underscores, which is basically a bare bones starter theme, for custom designs. It won’t give you any design out of the box, you have to code it yourself. For lower budgets, I use Genesis. With Genesis it is possible to adapt the theme further to fit the client’s current needs.
A pre made Genesis child theme is a good start for you if you want to go with a pre made theme, but there are some other good alternatives out there as well if you search for it.
So, a pre made theme might be a good option for you if you are just starting out, and don’t have the budget for a more customized design. In fact, if your business is completely new and do not have 100% clear objectives, it might even be the best choice. You should not not spend your hard earned money on something that might need a major overhaul within only a few months, as your business probably will evolve and change a lot during the first months. Maybe even years.
The important thing here is that you are clear about the fact that a pre made theme can only provide a starting point at best. As long as you regard it as an MVP and nothing more, you have got your expectations straight. To expect more is not fair to you, to WordPress, or to the theme developer.
Once you have gotten your business rolling, your focus sorted out, and hopefully some feedback from your site visitors, your next step might be to get help from a professional developer to fine-tune and adjust the website according to your needs. With the right start, a lot of the ground work will already be done.
With WordPress as the foundation, and a mindful and skilled WordPress developer, the future possibilities of extending your website to what you really need will be huge.