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J. Brooke Chao Designs


Choosing WordPress Themes

Collection of WordPress Theme Icons

There are seemingly endless choices for WordPress themes.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell a great theme from a bad theme when it comes time to choose WordPress themes. There’s always a bit of mystery when it comes to the difference between how a theme looks in a live demo, and how it actually performs when you install it and begin the work of configuring it on a site.

In this post I’ll take a look at some different ways to pick a good WordPress theme, and hopefully avoid getting a dud.

Check out the Theme Rating

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the first thing you should look at is how the theme has been rated by others.  This goes beyond just whether it has 3 stars or 5.  A theme with a 5 star rating that is the result of just a small handful of reviews could very well be misleading.  It could be the designer had his other developer friends give him good reviews.  It could be that the people reviewing the theme haven’t hit any snags yet.  The best bet is to look for a combination of both a high rating, and a higher number of reviews.  I don’t use a theme that has any fewer than 4 stars.  Period.  It’s just not worth it.

Read the Comments and/or Support Forums

Often, especially on sites like ThemeForest, you will find that a theme will have a comments section.  Sometimes the designer even has his own dedicated theme support site.  Either way, these are things to check out before you purchase or have issues.  Reading through the comments tells you several things about the theme and the theme developer, and you should look out for the following:

  1. Are there are lot of people complaining about technical issues right out of the box?  If so, run away.
  2. Does the developer seem to only want to chalk user issues/complaints up to user error (“It worked fine in my demo, so it must be you!”) or try to blame it on WordPress updates?  Be wary!
  3. Does the developer tend to hide the solution to issues brought up by asking the person to email him privately, or asking for admin access to make changes to code?  That can often indicate the developer knows there is a problem with his code/theme, and doesn’t want it advertised.
  4. Does the developer never seem to answer questions/concerns in a timely manner, if at all?  Run away, quickly, and stay away from anything that developer has available.
  5. When is the last time the developer updated this theme? If it seems like they’ve kind of left it for dead, and haven’t kept up with compatibility with the latest version of WordPress, then you will want to pass it by.

Really Delve into Demos

When checking out a potential theme, ask yourself if it has what you really want?  Most themes state things like whether or not they’re responsive (a definite plus), whether or not they support a blog, or are more of a gallery theme, and what versions of WordPress they are designed to work with.  Make sure that the theme meets those requirements before even considering purchasing.

Many themes will have live demos.  If they don’t, forget about that theme.  For the ones that do, really, really take your time, clicking around all the features and menus in the live demo Often it can be easy to make assumptions about what features and customizations are available in a theme, only to pay $50+ and find out that you’re stuck with exactly what you see unless you want to edit PHP code.  A lot of themes will tell you how many layout and color options you have, or even that you have limitless options.  If a theme claims to be responsive, test it in the demo.  Drag the bottom right corner of your browser window towards the left and see how the navigation and page layout changes as the window narrows down to smart phone screen size.  Also, if they don’t say a certain feature is part of the theme, it’s best to assume it’s not included.  You can also ask questions of the designer before buying.


Nothing is fool proof, but with a little time, patience and detective work, you can avoid many issues that crop up when buying WordPress themes.

One thing to keep in mind is there’s always a period of adjustment when installing and configuring a new template.  No two theme developers seem to handle things exactly the same way. So sometimes what can seem like a dud theme, is just that theme having a little bit of a learning curve.  What worked one way in one theme may work a totally different way in another theme. Often, you may find that with a few pointers from the developer, or reading through the comments may steer you in the right direction for how to do what you’re trying to accomplish.  A good theme developer will take the time to answer questions, and give examples of how to work with their theme in WordPress.  A very good developer will walk you through it, or offer to make small adjustments to their themes to accommodate minor (don’t ask for the moon) customizations to the them.