8 tips for picking a better off-the-shelf WordPress theme

Picking a WordPress theme for a theme site can be fun.  The demo versions often look great, with perfect color combinations, great imagery and verbiage that is spot on.  Unfortunately, few businesses have the same content to replicate that look or have the know-how to pull it off. Even worse is the seemingly endless list of poorly constructed and ill-supported themes.  However, if you are in a pinch for a short-term solution or a quick fix, an off-the-shelf theme can be a good solution – but only if you do your homework.

If you must use an off-the-shelf theme for your project, here are 8 tips for picking a better theme:

  1. Only purchase the theme from a reputable reseller such as themeforest,net. An established, reputable reseller, while not 100% perfect, will have an interest in limiting problem developers and poor themes. It’s an added level of protection when working with a stranger’s code.
  2. Look at the best-selling themes that match your style or business type. Ideally you are looking for one that has a large volume of sales.  Low selling themes carry a higher risk of developer neglect or worse, abandonment.  If the theme isn’t making money the developer will move on.  Look for themes with 5,000+ sales.
  3. Pay attention to theme reviews. You want to look for perfect to near perfect scores, but also a high quantity of reviews.  A 5 out of 5-star review average over 10 reviews doesn’t tell you much when compared to the same average with 3,000 reviews.  Think big and stay with themes with 500+ reviews if possible.
  4. Find out the theme’s age and support history. If it’s only months old, it might be best to stay away from it. If it’s older, that could be a good sign, as long it is actively being supported. Each theme should have a date for “created” and “last update” or similar.   If the theme has been around 6 months or more and was last updated within the last 30 days, that is a good sign.  If the theme includes information on browser version compatibility, that is another indicator of age and whether the developer is staying on top of things.
  5. Pay close attention to which WordPress version the theme supports… You are running the latest WordPress version, right? 😊   Check to see that the theme is compatible with your version of WordPress.  Themes that have been abandoned will not list the current version.  If the theme is not compatible with the latest WordPress version, you should move along.
  6. Take the time to review any comments on the theme. This is a great place to get a feel for the developer and their responsiveness.  If you are looking at a low volume or new theme, it may not have any comments at all, whereas a high-volume theme may have thousands of comments.  Look for repeating patterns of problems, lack of response from the developer, and the general tone.  A bunch of crabby theme users is a good indicator that you should find another theme.
  7. Is theme documentation included? Developers can come up with some crazy ways to put things together.  Be sure your theme has documentation, so you know how to use your new theme.
  8. If possible, avoid themes with frameworks such as Cherry or Genesis. These can add some interesting capabilities to a WordPress website, but also add complexity to maintenance and troubleshooting that we just don’t think is worth it for most people.

Too much to digest, or would just rather not deal with the headache?  Perhaps a Zee Creative custom WordPress website is a better way to go. As a custom web design shop, we aren’t fans of off-the-shelf themes (big surprise, right?).  Our designs only use tried and true solutions that are sustainable over the long haul, and we fully support them with our Fully Managed WordPress Hosting.

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