Not all WordPress themes were created equal. With thousands of options available, here’s how to choose a WordPress theme that will make your life a whole lot easier.
How do you want people to feel when they visit your blog? Does your theme communicate your powerful message? These are key questions you should be asking before installing your next WordPress theme and investing your time in customizing it.
When you started blogging, you most likely installed a basic free theme, just like everyone else. You probably changed it (maybe even several times).
But have you ever felt like all the pieces of the puzzle are FINALLY falling into place? You know, like when you lay eyes on Mr. Right, and you just KNOW?
The way your blog looks and feels is determined by the theme you use. On top of that, the theme can also influence your website’s loading speed, the average time visitors spend on your site, and ultimately your bottom line.
I’m a bit of a theme junky and I LOVE tweaking the looks of my blog. Here I’ll show you how to choose a WordPress theme that you, your readers, and even Google will love. Using the right theme can make a huge difference in the acceleration of your growth.
NOTE: This article is about choosing a WordPress theme to use with a self-hosted WordPress blog.
If you are about to start a blog, head on over to my step-by-step tutorial on how to get your blog up and running. Once you’ve purchased your domain and hosting, come back here and I’ll help you dress up your blog and make it look pretty with the right theme.
If you’ve been blogging on the free WordPress.com platform and outgrown it, you can move your blog to WordPress.org by following this guide.
How to choose a WordPress theme
When it comes to choosing the perfect WordPress theme, everyone’s needs are different. These questions are a good place to start.
- Do you tend to change your mind often? The Divi theme 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 your preferences change. 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 (also available as a Divi child theme), 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 or Market Pro.
- 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 an author? The Author Pro theme helps authors better present their work and market themselves through user-friendly design and powerful functionality.
- Wanna showcase your portfolio? Whether you are a photographer, graphic designer, entertainer, or event planner, you need a theme like Vivien. Vivien boasts big, bold images, parallax scrolling sections, and a carousel slider which help you display testimonials and past projects in the best light.
- 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.
Want more theme ideas? Check out my favorite WordPress themes by niche.
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. With Google making a move towards indexing and ranking mobile-friendly websites first, this is more important than ever.
- 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 if a mobile site 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 premium 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.
Elegant Themes is home of the super popular Divi theme. But besides their best-seller, Elegant Themes have 87 other beautiful themes, all available for download with their super affordable membership. Basically, you get all their themes and plugins for the price of one! Talk about a real bargain!
But let’s see why Divi got so popular in the first place. 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 or audience.
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!
Pricing model: Elegant Themes works on a super simple membership-based model. You get access to their entire collection of 80+ themes (including Divi!) for only $89/year or $249 one-time fee. The membership also includes access to all their premium plugins, premium support, and unlimited website usage.
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 compatible, 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?
If your blog is primarily written for women, a Bluchic theme is probably the quickest way to take your blog from meh to WOW!
Pricing model: Bluchic themes can be purchased individually. You pay a one time fee and you can use it on as many websites as you like. Unlimited support and updates are included in your purchase.
StudioPress is best known for their Genesis Framework. Technically speaking, Genesis is a foundation you can build on. It’s super SEO friendly, light and fast because it has been stripped of all the bloat so you can add only the elements you need.
Genesis is a parent theme, meaning its role is to provide functionality. You can purchase and use Genesis on its own (some CSS knowledge required!), or together with a child theme. The child theme allows for further customization without having to touch (and possibly mess up!) any code.
StudioPress has 80+ premium themes to choose from. They are all built on the Genesis framework which comes included in your purchase.
Pricing model: You can get the Genesis Framework alone or you can purchase the Genesis Framework together with a child theme of your choice for a one time fee. They also have a Plus Pro Membership that grants you access to Genesis + all StudioPress themes.
Pretty Darn Cute
If you want a boutique experience, Lindsey from Pretty Darn Cute Design is your gal. In her online shop, she offers a nice selection of feminine child themes built on the Genesis framework (this means you have to purchase the Genesis framework separately!).
Lindsey is one of us – a work at home mom from Texas with a love for bows and… web design. She is ridiculously cute herself.
So if you are looking for a cute, feminine theme to dress up your Genesis framework, you are in good hands here.
Plus Lindsey has built a community of fabulous women around her and they are all helping one another build better blogs and websites.
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 and are not sure you’ll even enjoy blogging, you might not feel compelled to invest more money into it.
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.
- 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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Hey there dream chaser! I’m a writer, designer and the creator of The Smart Blog Planner and Perfectly Productive Planner. I’m 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.