The WordPress theme you choose will determine the look and feel of your site, how fast it loads in the browser, how long people stay and how they engage with your content. In this article, I’ll show you how to choose a WordPress theme that will not only look amazing but will also set you up for success.
Picking a WordPress theme for your business website or blog is the most important decision you’ll have to make when setting up a site, besides hosting.
The theme your pick should at the very least be fast, secure, look great on mobile and communicate your brand in an effortless way.
However, not all WordPress themes were created equal and there are thousands of themes to choose from.
To complicate things even further, the features required by someone selling courses are widely different from the ones required by someone offering coaching services. Equally, the needs of a food blogger, for example, are completely different from the needs of an e-commerce site.
I’m not saying this to overwhelm you. In fact, I’ve tried to make things as effortless for you as possible — that’s why I even did the research and found the best themes for the most common use cases.
Keep on reading and I’ll show you how to choose a WordPress theme that you, your ideal audience/clients, and even Google will love.
Using the right theme can make a huge difference in the acceleration of your growth. Not to mention you won’t have to cringe when giving your business card or worry about what people will think when visiting your site.
NOTE: This article is about choosing a WordPress theme to use with a self-hosted WordPress blog or website. This is the kind of site where you pay for your own web hosting (I recommend Bluehost for beginners and WP Engine for well-established sites) in exchange for total control over the design of your website and the way you make money with it.
What is a WordPress theme and why does your website need one
The role of a theme is to provide a basic design layout for your business website or blog so that your content (text, images, etc.) is displayed in an ejoyable and accesible way. The fact that it’s a WordPress theme means that it was especially coded to work with the WordPress platform.
Having the right theme can make a huge difference in the speed, growth and management of your website.
Changing your theme changes how your site looks to your visitors. You can change the theme of your site as many times and as often as you want.
Any WordPress website needs a theme to display content. You cannot have a WordPress website without installing a WordPress theme first.
How to choose a WordPress theme
When it comes to choosing the perfect WordPress theme these questions are a good place to start.
- Are you a person who likes to keep up with the trends or don’t have a clear roadmap for your business and/or brand just yet? Divi is the ultimate WordPress theme. It can become anything you want and quickly! Due to it’s easy to use drag-and-drop page builder you’ll be able to adjust the features and layout as web design trends change and your business grows. Not only that, but you can use Divi on pretty much any kind of website.
- Are you a service based-entrepreneur? Whether you are a freelance writer, coach, social media manager, virtual assistant, or online marketer, a clean theme, such as ChicServe, can take your business to the next level. ChicServe is outrageously stylish, incredibly flexible, easily-customizable, and was specially built for female-owned service-based businesses.
- Are you an online shop owner? Never miss a sale by installing a powerful WordPress theme that comes with all the bells and whistles you need to run a successful online shop, such as ChicShop.
- Are you a course creator? Check out Authority Pro, a theme that perfectly highlights your knowledge, years of experience, and acquired wisdom while helping you grow your audience.
- Are you a creative business owner? If you are a photographer, illustrator, calligrapher, graphic designer, entertainer, content creator or event planner who wants to craft a unique client experiences, you can either go with a bold and playful theme such as ChicBloom or a uber elegant and sleek theme such as Infinity Pro. It all depends on your personality, your brand and the type of client you want to attract.
- Do you intend to monetize your blog with ads? If your blog gets lots of traffic, display ads can be a good way to make some extra cash. Look for a theme that already has several ad slots embedded, like the Paisley theme by Bluchic.
Features to consider when picking a WordPress theme
Regardless of your specific needs, there are certain features that are non-negotiable.
- Responsive, meaning, it looks great on all screen sizes and it automatically adjusts the layout across devices. These days Google uses the mobile version of a webpage for ranking and indexing purposes, so a mobile-friendly WordPress theme is not only nice to have but also necessary.
- Fast aka loads in the blink of an eye. It’s not only that your readers are busy and impatient and half of them will abandon a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Google also favors websites that are well-optimized for speed so a slow website can negatively impact your bottom line.
- Well coded. This one might not be that easy to see if you are not a developer, but a blog that has lot’s of HTML and CSS errors due to poor coding is unlikely to do very well in search engines.
- SEO friendly, meaning, the theme of your choice should be easy for the search engines to read and understand. Many premium WordPress themes have this listed among their features.
- Top-notch customer support. This one is super important and you’ll want a theme that comes with unlimited support, just in case you need to make some changes or you break something by mistake.
- Simple. Just because you can have a theme packed with all the features in the world, it doesn’t mean you should. Aim for simplicity. Choose a theme that has the features that you WANT and NEED, not one that is cluttered with features you might never use. I believe this is so important, I even wrote a post on how to organize your blog the Marie Kondo way.
- Layout. You should look beyond all the pretty colors and picture-perfect stock images the theme creators use to showcase their work. Are the header, sidebar, and other elements on the page located where you want them to be? Is their size a good fit for your blog? This isn’t about the design of the landing pages — you’ll need to build those yourself, either from scratch or give yourself a headstart by investing in professional-looking landing page templates.
- Reputable theme creator. Just because a theme looks pretty and it costs an arm and a leg, it doesn’t mean it will live up to the hype. My advice is to read some customer reviews before getting your credit card out. Does it come highly recommended by people who already use it? Does it have mostly 5-star reviews?
- Gutenberg compatible. The release of WordPress 5.0 brought in lots of changes and the new Gutenberg editor has been rebuilt for flexible, media-rich pages and posts. Any theme you install should be Gutenberg compatible to ensure a smooth editing experience.
Best WordPress themes
Over the years, I’ve tried many WordPress themes. The ones listed below are my favorites. They have all the features listed above. So they check all the boxes and then some. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Divi is the most intuitive WordPress theme in the world. You can customize it to your heart’s desire and adapt it to any kind of blog niche or business model.
Divi stands out due to its drag-and-drop page builder and real-time design, meaning, you can create and edit your pages on the front-end of your website without the need to preview your changes because everything is happening in real-time on the page.
You can create endless layouts, landing pages and split test your sock off without ever touching a line of code. To take Divi for a spin, check out this demo.
Divi is fully mobile responsive and it comes with several pre-made layouts. But it’s so incredibly easy to use and you can create your own unique layouts in a matter of minutes (and re-use them later as needed).
Basically, if you can imagine it, you can do it with Divi!
You can get Divi (and its sister theme Extra) plus a bunch of other premium plugins for only $89/year or a $249 one-time fee. Once purchased, you can use Divi on an unlimited number of sites.
Another WordPress theme creator I deeply admire is Bluchic. The brainchild of dream team designer & developer duo Kathie and Andrew, here you will find a bunch of gorgeous feminine themes that are guaranteed to make any blog stand out.
The Bluchic themes are stylishly designed with lady bosses in mind. They are responsive, WooCommerce ready, SEO friendly, flexible, and easily customizable, which makes them ideal for beginners.
Plus they are fun and playful — a match made in heaven! Oh, and they all have girl names. How adorable is that?
In recent years, Bluechic launched a new theme line that uses the Elementor Theme Builder, a drag & drop plugin that helps you customize your website visually, within minutes, no coding knowledge required.
If your blog or website is primarily meant for women, a Bluchic theme is probably the quickest way to take it from meh to WOW!
Bluchic themes can be purchased individually for $129 (one-time fee). Matching landing page and sales funnel templates are available as an add-on.
Genesis Framework + child theme
Genesis is basically a framework, a foundation you can build on, and not a theme per se. Its role is to provide functionality, not design customization.
Genesis gained popularity due to it being super SEO-friendly, mobile-responsive, lightweight, and fast because it has been stripped of all the bloat so you can add only the elements you need.
While the Genesis Framework is open-source and free to download and use, you need a child theme to go with it. The role of the child theme is to allow further customization without having to touch (and possibly mess up!) any code.
You can get the Genesis Framework + 10 premium child themes + access to a library of professionally designed & fully customizable Gutenberg blocks as part of the Genesis Pro package. Or you can get the Genesis Framework + select premium themes for free when you sign up for a WP Engine hosting plan.
Astra + Elementor
Astra is a super fast and flexible WordPress theme. It was built with performance in mind and is highly customizable.
This theme has full and seamless integration with the WooCommerce plugin, which makes it ideal if you want to create an online store and sell your own physical or digital products.
On top of that, it was especially designed to be used with page builders such as Elementor, a super popular plugin that helps you design beautiful and complex websites via its drag & drop interface.
To make designing your dream website even easier and faster, you can invest in done for you Elementor landing page templates so you can focus on other aspects of your business.
Astra is a freemium theme, which means it has a free version (limited features). However, if you want to build an attractive website without any limitations, I recommend the annual plan starting at only $59 (includes hundreds of customization options and premium support).
How to install a premium WordPress theme
There are some differences between installing a free theme from the WordPress repository and a premium one.
Once you’ve purchased and downloaded the perfect theme to your computer, simply follow these steps:
- Log into your WordPress dashboard.
- Go to Appearance >> Themes
- Click the Add new button
- Click the Upload theme button
- Click Choose file and select the theme .zip file from your computer
- Click Install now
- Activate the theme and customize to your heart’s desire.
Can I use a free theme from the WordPress repository?
This is a common question and I get it. When you are just starting out you might not feel compelled to invest more money into your site.
But more often than not this would be a mistake.
So to answer your question…
…you certainly can, but I’d caution against it, and here’s why:
- There are millions of blogs out there and many of them use free themes from the WordPress repository. You don’t get to stand out by looking like everyone else
- Many of these free themes haven’t been updated in a very long time
- Very few offer customer support and some of them are completely abandoned
- Some of them are poorly coded, which means they won’t look good on different screen sizes and are not SEO friendly
- They have limited features and if you need extra functionality you’ll either need to teach yourself how to customize them or pay someone to do it for you
- They will make it nearly impossible for you to build a brand. If this is important to you, you’ll probably also want to read my post on blog design hacks to grow a personal brand.
How to install a free WordPress theme
If all the above sounds okay to you and you don’t care about having a unique-looking blog or a blog that gets easily found on Google, you can install a free theme and I won’t hold it against you. Here’s how:
- Log into your WordPress dashboard.
- Go to Appearance >> Themes
- Click the Add new button
- Browse through the thousands of free theme available (use the Feature filter to narrow down your search)
- You can preview each theme to see how it would look on your blog
- Once you’ve decided on a theme, click the Install button
- Activate theme
Yay! I really hope that after reading this, you’ve found the perfect WordPress theme for you. But if not, don’t despair. It surely is out there.
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About the author:
Hey there, dream chaser! I’m a writer and designer on a mission to inspire and empower you to create a highly profitable minimalist online business and show up for your dreams in a sustainable way.