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Choosing the Right WordPress Premium Theme

Choosing the right WordPress theme for your website.

WordPress Premium Themes come in all shapes, sizes, designs, and layouts. One would be hard-pressed not to find a theme they can use that fits their project's needs. Unfortunately, there are s many choices that I can't keep up — or thoroughly review them all.

Now more than ever, there is an abundance of quality premium WordPress themes to choose from due to the use of blocks and the upcoming Full Site Editing in WordPress 5.9. As a result, you can create every imaginable structure and layout one could want. The key is to choose a theme that will fit your specific needs “right out of the box.”

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

How far can we customize a theme?

Unlike the old HTML sites, it can get costly — fast — to customize a premium theme. FSE makes customizing even more possible without having to know any code.

However, in my experience, it is pretty common for those unfamiliar with how WordPress themes are created and how they work to think that things can be moved or changed around very quickly. While they can — there is a learning curve.

Most importantly, the flexibility of the layout depends on the theme. In July/2021, WordPress started introducing Full Site Editing (FSE) with WordPress 5.8. May/2022 will have WordPress 6.0 take FSE even further.

Themes that are FSE enabled can be customized precisely as you envision via blocks.

You can customize:
  • Your background graphic.
  • Your primary color scheme. Either by the built-in WordPress customizer or by adding custom CSS. (Depending on your theme, there could be exceptions to this rule if additional customization of the core theme files is necessary.)
  • Text primary and secondary fonts, sizes, spacing.
  • What displays in certain areas or the sidebar(s) using widgets and blocks.
  • Block-level customization of fonts, sizes, colors, line spacing, and more.

The internal pages of WordPress themes are basically the same. However, now more than ever, you can modify layouts and sidebars on a page-by-page basis. Some themes already have this baked in.

For example, Kadence, the theme I use for all my websites, has a “Design Library” of established layouts that you can add with just a click. Then customize with your images, fonts, colors, and more.

Here's a screenshot of a few. Just click on the layout you like, it is then inserted into your page, and you can customize it the way you want.

Kadence Design Library Examples

About You and Your Skill Level

Most of the folks I work with don't know what I know. Many are still not completely familiar or comfortable with blocks and how they work. Once they dive in, they realize how intuitive, fun, and flexible blocks can be. But again, there is a learning curve. For this article, I'm going to assume that's where you are at as well.

The primary difference between a theme's established layout is the homepage, header logo/menus, and footer areas. And built-in customization flexibility.

What becomes costly is when you want to rework the established structure of the site or make things function differently than the theme or a plugin is coded to do. Variables such as moving non-widgetized areas, repositioning real estate, creating new widgets, increasing/decreasing the height or width, or position of elements can create a domino effect of changes. And hurt responsiveness.

K.I.S.S.

Keep It Simple Silly. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and the cost that goes along with that level of customization. Instead, it is recommended you take the time to find a theme to fit the bill without you incurring that additional cost.

You can pay a developer to customize the code — and that gets expensive fast. Or, you can choose a theme that had the layout you envision that also provides more hands-on tweaking ability.

For anyone who is hands-on with their website, it is always helpful to learn a little CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). CSS controls most of the variables (font, sizes, colors, spacing) that most site owners want to tweak.

Determine which selectors you want to change and plop a modified version in Appearance > Customize > Additional CSS to override your theme selectors with your preference.

For example, if you want to change the headline H3 size and color:

h3 {
    color: #000000;
    font-size: 32px;
}

Again, some themes have this customization ability baked in via Appearance > Customize. However, keep this in mind if you want to make any changes that are not available within the WordPress customization dashboard or on the block level.

If you find that the theme you like isn't really a good fit, it is probably more cost-efficient to choose a theme that will better suit your needs for the long haul. You also avoid switching themes mid-stream if you know what to think about before deciding on a premium theme.

Themes for Specific Industries

Try not to let a theme's name or stated application be the sole determination for your choice. WordPress themes, in general, can be used for any industry. You just swap out the content and images to fit your focus.

For example, there are themes that have specific functionality like real estate themes that have MLS built-in. Some themes cater to certain types of content, like photography, which are built to be more visual with less text. Regardless, you can “fill” a theme with any images or content you desire if you like the demo's layout.

Look at how the homepage is presented and envision if you can see your content and graphics in that layout. Internal pages, for the most part, are pretty much all the same and can be designated as a full page or content/sidebar.

The More it Does, The More to Learn.

The more functionality a theme has will directly coincide with the learning curve for the site owner/admin. Basic themes are easier to learn and use to manage your site.

However, if you desire more built-in functionality, understand that you will have to have the time — and patience — to learn the theme's specific settings and dashboard. Technology doesn't care if you want to keep up, so don't let hesitancy stop you from moving forward.

Go through the theme's demo site. Twice.

You want to interrogate the theme's demo site thoroughly. Look at the sizes and positions of every element and know that this is the basic layout configured for that theme.

Can you envision your graphics and data filling those spaces? This is how you choose a theme that has the visual layout you want, displays your information the way you like, and, most importantly, has the navigational structure you will need.

Click on every page, post, and drop-down example to ensure the site's structure and layout are what you want for your project. Keep in mind that demos are loaded up with all the possibilities and that you do not necessarily have to integrate all the features or layouts as they are displayed.

Determine How You Want to Organize Your Content
Before Choosing a Premium WordPress Theme

Here are the essential things to check before choosing your theme.

MOBILE RESPONSIVENESS:

There was a day when not all these were mobile responsive. But those days are pretty much over. Quality themes will also provide a mobile demo for you to review as well.

NAVIGATION:

Look at the navigation. Most sites will benefit from having primary and secondary navigation. Your menus need to be simple, intuitive, and guide visitors on their intended journey. Not every page will be or should be in your navigation.

You want a primary menu for all your pages — those are the pages that don't change much and have your core information. For example, pages for About, Contact, Services, Directions, etc.

The primary menu is generally at the top of the page. It is where site visitors are accustomed to looking for that information. So have it there for them.

Some themes only have one navigation bar. So you want to think about what you would like your navigation to entail. Then be sure that the theme you want has the navigation you need before choosing your theme.

Whether you are using categories for content, your blog, or both, we don't want an endless cascade of drop-downs. It is a rare site that needs what is called a mega-menu.

Make a Plan

Create a list of pages and a category and subcategory listing the topics you want to have available for your site visitors to choose from before deciding on your site theme. Then you can make sure that you have navigation that will fit your needs.

Too many choices can be overwhelming to visitors and even cause your navigation to drop “below the fold,” making it unusable. Not to mention too complicated for mobile devices.

When it comes to navigation — less is more. Think intuitive, straightforward, and as condensed as possible. Look for a theme that also offers the ability to designate a more uncomplicated, more streamlined mobile menu.

Endless choices make finding things more confusing for site visitors. We want visitors to see what they are looking for at a glance and get to it in no more than two clicks.

For your menus, crafting short and sweet categories and page titles (one or two words) work best so that you can take advantage of the limited space in the width of your theme's navigation bar (and on mobile).

HOMEPAGE DISPLAY AND LAYOUT:

Your WordPress settings will designate what content inside your site will auto-propagate to display on your top page via widgets or blocks if at all. With FSE most homepages are a guide to direct visitor intent to inner pages or posts.

If you don't want to create a custom home page, look at how many areas are available to highlight your key information on the demo's homepage and make sure you can fill those spots. Remember we can always remove blocks to streamline things further.

You want to feature and focus on the information you know your site visitors are looking for upon landing on your homepage. Remember, it's all about them.

Homepages will be more flexible thanks to blocks and Full Site Editing than ever. However, you still want to be aware of the “bones” of your theme and that it displays your vision for your website to avoid customization fees.

Be cognizant of the amount of information that will fit the established layout and provided areas. Add more content or larger graphics than indicated in the design, and the design goes out of whack, responsiveness may suffer, and your site will not look as professional.

You'll notice that demos carefully integrate graphics and photos that make the theme shine. From style to size to colors — they all “fit.” If you want to have the same impact, you have to acquire, create and integrate quality graphics in those specific sizes.

Slideshows & Graphics

Slideshows are also very popular and common in many premium WordPress themes. These galleries work by designating a representative photo to display in that slot when you want to feature a specific page or post. That photo will then click over to the page or post that it is linked to.

Be prepared to provide graphics in the specified dimensions for those spaces. The exact dimensions. You will need to create photos in those sizes to look good in that space and be ready to add new images regularly to keep your gallery fresh and exciting to repeat visitors.

I am not a fan of slideshows as they tend to slow a site down. And most folks don't stick around, on the homepage, to view sliders of things that mostly feature the site owner's focus. They are looking to click on what they are seeking at a glance. Sliders are fine for gallery and portfolio applications on internal pages.

SIDEBAR REAL ESTATE:

Sidebars are pretty flexible. You can use WordPress and theme-specific widgets to display the information you want to highlight. However, keep in mind that this space is limited. We don't want a sidebar that scrolls endlessly past the end of your center of page content leaving wide-open white space in the middle of the page.

Here again, sketch out what you think you'll want in your sidebar to get a feel for how long it will be. Then make sure most pages fill that length in the content area.

A WORD ABOUT eCOMMERCE THEMES:

There are several eCommerce plugins you can choose from depending on what type of products you will sell. I use and recommend WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.

Some themes cater more to eShop needs and layouts than others. Other themes are explicitly created for WooCommerce. With that said, you do not need to have a theme created explicitly for eCommerce; the same criteria above should apply to your decision-making process.

Theme Frameworks and Child Themes

I get asked to explain the word “framework” concerning WordPress themes. In particular how a framework integrates with WordPress and its benefits for your website. For example, the well-known and widely used Genesis Framework with Child themes.

Frameworks can offer more functionality within your WordPress Dashboard through each framework's specific dashboard or in the Appearance > Customize area. This pretty much makes many features that require coding knowledge or the ability to weed through CSS or PHP files no longer necessary.

To quote the WordPress Codex:

A theme framework is a theme that is designed to be a flexible foundation that can serve as a parent theme for building child themes. The use of WordPress theme frameworks may ease theme development by reducing the volume of work which may be needed in creating a backbone for your theme (usually by using PHP and WordPress Template Tags).

A framework allows premium theme developers to create a core theme that all subsequent themes, known as “child” themes, can then function on. Some frameworks have their child themes built-in, while others have the child theme be a separate set of theme files that need to be installed.

Child themes can vary in look and layout, just like any non-framework theme. Less for you to have to set up and configure because the layout is already in place to fill up with your content.

Do you have to use a framework and child theme setup? Not necessarily. For example, for this site, I use Kadence, which negates the need for a child theme.

Last but not least… Support.

Support, support, support. Now that WordPress is so popular, there are more WordPress themes than ever to choose from. But not all theme providers are created equal. And, again, keep in mind that you get what you pay for with free themes.

Thoroughly investigate the theme author/company, so you do not end up with a theme with a lack of support that may not keep up with WordPress and security issues that will need to be addressed. A bonus is a theme company that offers support forums or groups you can tap into. The best theme in the world is useless without support.

After carefully applying the above considerations when choosing your premium WordPress theme, you can begin building your new site with the confidence that it will meet your needs.

At your service,

Judith: WordPress Consultant and Business Coach
WordPress website products and services you can trust!