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Choosing the Right WordPress Premium Theme

WordPress Themes Build Your Brand

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.

Now more than ever, there is an abundance of quality premium WordPress themes to choose from with 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: 11 minutes

How far can we customize a theme?

Unlike the old HTML sites, it can get costly — fast — to customize a premium theme. However, in my experience, it is pretty common with those unfamiliar with how WordPress themes are created and how they work to think that things can be moved or changed around very quickly.

That depends on the theme when it comes to flexibility of layout. In July/2021, WordPress started the introduction to Full Site Editing (FSE) with WordPress 5.8. This will pretty much make every theme that is FSE enabled be customized exactly as you envision via blocks.

If you have a developer — the sky is the limit. And so is the cost ($$$).

You can customize:

  • Your background graphic.
  • Your basic 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) by using widgets and blocks.

The internal pages of 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.

The primary difference between themes 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. Instead, we can find a theme to fit the bill without you having to incur that additional cost.

You do have several options. For example, you can pay a developer to customize the code. Next, choose a theme that provides more hands-on tweaking ability. And 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.

If find that the theme you have or like isn't a good fit, it is probably more cost-efficient to choose a theme that will better suit your needs. Also, having to switch themes mid-stream can be avoided 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. That said, there are themes that have specific functionality (like real estate listing MLS).

While some themes cater to certain types of content, like photography, for example, those are just examples. You can “fill” a theme with any images or content your desire.

Look at how the homepage is laid out 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 from theme to theme 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 for you 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.

Going through the theme's demo site is crucial.

You want to thoroughly interrogate the theme's demo site. Not once, not twice — but a bunch of times. Look at the sizes and positions of every element and know that this is the 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 that 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 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:

Your new theme must be mobile responsive. When the theme includes a mobile-specific menu, even better. If it isn't, move on.

NAVIGATION:

Look at the navigation. Most sites will benefit from having primary and secondary navigation. You want a primary menu for all your pages — those are the items that don't change much and have your core information. For example, pages for About, Contact, Services, Directions, etc.

This 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 dropdowns. This can be overwhelming to visitors and even cause your navigation to drop “below the fold,” making it unusable. Not to mention too busy for mobile devices.

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.

Oh, and, when it comes to navigation — less is more. Think intuitive, simple, and as condensed as possible. Look for a theme that also offers the ability to set 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 in no more than two clicks.

For your menus, crafting short and sweet categories and page titles 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:

Designated content from inside your site will auto-propagate to display on your top page via widgets or blocks. Look at how many areas you have to highlight your key information and make sure you can fill those spots. Mainly the information you know your site visitors are looking for upon landing on your homepage.

With blocks and Full Site Editing coming in July 2021, homepages will be more flexible than ever. However, you still want to be aware of the “bones” of your theme and that it displays your vision for your website.

Keep in mind the amount of information that will fit in the established layout and that provided areas. Add more content or larger graphics than indicated in the design, and the design goes out of whack (and responsiveness may suffer).

You'll notice that demos carefully integrate graphics and photos that make the theme shine. If you want to have the same effect, you have to acquire, create and integrate quality graphics in those specific sizes.

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 sized photos 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. At a glance, they are looking to click what they are seeking. 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.

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

The word “framework” concerning WordPress themes is something I get asked to explain quite a bit. For example, how a framework integrates with WordPress and what benefits it will have on 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).

This means frameworks allow premium theme developers to create a core theme that all subsequent themes, known as “child” themes, can then function off of. 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. And, most premium themes will include a “child.” So you are not limited in your options.

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.

Interrogate the Theme Demo

Several times. Go page by page and check out any particular pages or notes about layout and navigation to ensure the theme meets your needs.

Taking the time to thoroughly review a theme's demo and knowing in advance precisely what and how much information you need to accommodate and feature is time well spent. This means you will have to pay less on customization — or a new theme.

Read the theme's documentation. If the theme is set up for Full Site Editing (WP 5.8), you will have more options and flexibility.

Last but not least…

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 with free themes, you get what you pay for.

Thoroughly investigate the theme author/company so you do not end up with a theme with a lack of support or current WordPress and security issues addressed. A bonus is a theme company that offers support forums 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