As I stated in Website Builder Platforms: Best Options for Small Businesses, I consider the WordPress content management system (which should not be confused with the WordPress.com platform) to be the best option for organizations that need to upgrade or build a website, especially if they want to be able to manage some content and design updates themselves.
WordPress software can be considered the engine that powers a website, but to fully realize its potential, you’ll need acquire and install what’s referred to as a theme. Website themes are a way to “skin” websites – that is, they enable you to create a certain look and feel. But their functionality can extend well beyond that to enable you to also customize various features and functions.
Building on our recommendations in Website Upgrades: 5 Essential Considerations, I thought it might be helpful to share our guidelines for selecting website themes. Even if you’ve hired someone to (re)build your site and will not be evaluating website themes and selecting one yourself, this guidance can help you ensure that the person you’ve hired does his/her due diligence and uses the best available theme as the foundation for your site.
It’s probably worth noting that some professional website developers – particularly those with strong coding backgrounds – will have a different point of view and may advocate different standards than what I propose. They may prefer simpler website themes with fewer built-in bells and whistles due to concerns about “code bloat” that can slow sites down and/or make them less optimized for search engines. I believe that if the criteria below are met, the code will be clean and elegant. Regardless, for most smaller and simpler websites, a small amount of code bloat is not likely to be a significant concern.
Though our experience is primarily with WordPress website themes, the recommendations that follow should also be helpful for organizations that want to use the Drupal or Joomla content management systems.
The WordPress content management system comes with a few default themes, but most organizations don’t stick with them. For people who want something more, WordPress provides a theme directory of almost two thousand free website themes they have “checked and inspected.” You can also buy website themes directly from theme developers, website theme marketplaces, and membership-based sites (e.g., StudioPress, Mojo Themes, Themeforest, Elegant Themes, WooThemes).
Though its reputation is mixed due to the fact that it’s an open marketplace, we’ve had good experiences with the themes we’ve gotten via Themeforest (which is part of EnvatoMarket). In fact, the developers of the two themes we’ve used the most (DynamiX and Total) have been great.
The details of the recommendations that follow are based on the information provided via Themeforest (e.g, theme specifications and live demos). Other outlets for website themes may not provide the same level of detail; however, you should be able to ask the sellers or developers about specific features and factors you’re interested in. If they can’t provide satisfactory answers to your questions, you should probably consider another website theme or seller.
All website themes should…
And the website theme developer should…
Factors that are also worth considering when evaluating website themes include…
For some organizations, the following factors may also be important when evaluating website themes…
From a support perspective, you may also prefer a theme developer whose primary language is the same as yours, and/or one who works in a nearby time zone.
The factors listed above are not equally important to everyone. I recommend creating a spreadsheet listing the factors you want to use to evaluate different website themes, specifying exact criteria (e.g., three menu style options) and applying weights to each based on their importance. To help narrow down the range of available website themes to something more manageable, I suggest searching on a factor like responsive design and then eliminating any website themes that don't meet some of your mandatory criteria (e.g., Virtual Composer integration).
Of course, even if a website theme meets all the factors listed above, it may not be the right one for you. We have several themes that meet our general criteria, but I still strongly encourage all clients to check out the live demos themselves and subject the themes to the “Goldilocks test” so they can find the one that’s “just right” for them. No one else can decide which look and feel best reflects your organization, brand, and preferences.
Do these factors for evaluating website themes make sense to you? As always, I welcome your feedback. What questions has this piece raised for you? What would you add to, change, or delete from the recommendations provided?
Originally published via The Denovati Group.