I just finished the next entry in the case study I’m writing for the newsletter subscribers. (Find out more about the case study here.) This topic is too important. I had to put it on the website, too. Before I get to that, let’s talk about the consequences of not picking the right WordPress theme.

What happens if you pick a bad theme?

A WordPress theme is more than window dressing. It controls all of your website’s output. Most of that is what you see. It’s your theme’s job to respond to the device it’s viewed on. A bad theme isn’t responsive.

Not all of the output can be seen. Some of it is code for search engines. A bad theme can interfere with your search engine optimization. If you confuse Google, that search result you’ve been working on could disappear from the 1st page.

Speaking of machines, a bad theme isn’t accessible. A good theme can be processed by a screen reader. Failing that could lead to a lawsuit.

And since the theme is code, bad code can slow down your website.

A bad, poorly-written theme could be slow (which affects search engine placement and conversion rates), poorly formatted (which affects search engine placement and/or turns away potential customers), and not accessible (which turns away potential customers and increases your risk of a lawsuit).

Holy crap! Not only can a bad theme screw up your future marketing, it can undo your present successes. Ouch!

What happens if you pick the wrong theme?

I’m not going to explain “wrong” because it’s unique to each of us.  Let’s just say that the “wrong theme” is any theme you don’t like on your site.

I think this is a bigger problem than picking a bad theme. A bad theme has symptoms. You can run tests to check for a bad theme. But the wrong theme is a problem that quietly festers.

Here’s a scenario I see too often. A website owner sees a really good-looking WordPress theme demo. Let’s use this Ronneby demo for an example. (There’s nothing wrong with the theme as far as I know. I picked it because I like how it looks.) Let’s call the owner “Steve”.

Steve sees the demo, loves it, buys it, installs it, and tries to make his site look as good as the demo. But it doesn’t look as awesome. Steve spends more time on it and the website doesn’t look much better. His images don’t look right as squares and they’re not as cool as the images in the demo. His text is too small in some places and too big in others. No matter what he changes, he isn’t getting the results he’s after.

In the end, Steve is frustrated with the site. It might be good looking, but it isn’t as good looking as he wanted. And it took too much time. Every time he sees the website, a little of that frustration bubbles up inside him.

Happy Steve would have kept his website up to date. He would have added to it regularly. Frustrated Steve won’t do any of that. The website will be forgotten at best and a failure at worst. The website will gather digital dust until it’s clearly out of date and starts driving potential customers away.

All because he picked the wrong theme.

Don’t be Steve.

Okay, Josh, how do you pick the right theme?

You don’t.

You can’t.

Not to be rude, but how could you?

Here are the things you’re supposed to look for according to the top Google results for “how to choose a small business WordPress theme” and “how to pick a WordPress theme”.

  1. Mobile responsiveness
  2. Not bloated/ clean code
  3. Good colors
  4. Readable fonts
  5. Simple design
  6. Works on all browsers
  7. Compatible with key WordPress plugins
  8. Multilingual ready
  9. Includes page builders
  10. SEO friendly
  11. Includes support
  12. Is it easily customized?
  13. Multiple call-to-action options
  14. Large headlines

Sources:

That covers a lot of ground. I would also include checks for web accessibility, structured data, and regular updates.

I’m guessing that most of you can easily identify 60%-80% of those. But how do you check for code bloat? Do you know what plugins you need? I do this stuff every day and I needed the spellchecker to get “multilingual” right.

You’re an expert at what you do. You aren’t a front-end developer or theme designer. If you were, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Your best bet is to get help. Hire a professional.

If you must do it the hard way

If that isn’t an option… If you MUST do it yourself, here are some tips to get you moving in the right direction (in addition to the previous list).

  1. Start with premium themes from established providers. This could be an established independent like Elegant Themes or a popular theme on Theme Forest. There’s a reason they have thousands of sales and have been in business for years.
  2. Aim for simple, minimalist, and acceptable. You don’t have the design or technical ability to execute the idea in your head. That will be the next version. For now, get something modest in place so you get your site moving forward. Fancy is the enemy.
  3. Spend more time on what you want to do with your site than on what it should look like. The only thing ever purchased because of the font is a font. Yes, there is color psychology that can affect your site. There’s a metric ton of things that could affect your site. But none of it matters if you don’t have an intelligently planned website that serves your marketing and business goals.
  4. Exact or not. There is no almost. If you use a theme you have to customize, you’re taking a gamble. If it doesn’t go well, you’ve wasted time and money. Plus, you may resent your website even if you don’t realize it. I want you to love your site. I want you to use your site.
  5. Make your decision based on your images and text. Those demos are designed to highlight the themes’ potential. The images and text are chosen for how well it works with the theme. A skinny man and a muscular man can both be handsome but their clothes are cut differently. Don’t make your site squeeze into the wrong theme.

Summary

If you need to research how to pick a WordPress theme, either you’re writing an article on picking a theme or you should hire a pro. If you can’t hire a pro, at least talk with one. I offer some few free consultations every week. Check availability.