July 27, 2017

Red FlagsOne of the WordPress ecosystem’s most attractive features is its endless variety of themes. Thousands of developers have created tens of thousands of themes, many of them free. There’s almost certainly a theme in the official repository or premium marketplaces to suit any style or functional requirement.

For the most part, that’s a good thing, but finding and choosing the right theme from the thousands available is no easy task. Developers and designers range from the slipshod to the expert, and themes vary in quality accordingly. In addition to which, developers are incentivized to create themes and demo pages that look incredible, but that can prove disappointing in real-world use.

It’s useful for WordPress users to have a simple set of questions they can ask themselves before choosing a theme. At the risk of being negative, I want to focus on reasons a user shouldn’t choose a theme. Rejecting themes is an essential part of the process of selecting the right theme, so let’s take a look at three red flags that cause me to walk away.

It’s Slow

A fast website depends on two fundamental components: performance-optimized hosting and a speedy front-end. There’s a lot a theme can do to make a site slow even if it’s hosted on the fastest server. In fact, some of the most feature-rich and impressive themes are guilty of this: the demos look awesome, but that’s because they’re packed with so much poorly optimized JavaScript that site visitors are left twiddling their thumbs.

Respected designer Ethan Marcotte tested a number of prominent theme demo pages, and found them to be unacceptably slow, particularly on mobile devices. Some of the themes he tested took 90 seconds to load. If you want a front-end that doesn’t embarrass your back-end, run demo pages through a performance-testing service like WebPageTest or Pingdom tools before you install the theme on your site.

It’s Old

When I choose a WordPress theme, I expect to be able to use it for a couple of years at least. I want to be confident that a theme will be maintained and updated while I’m using it. I don’t want to be stuck with a theme that is incompatible with the most recent versions of WordPress.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that a developer won’t abandon a theme a month after I start using it, but I automatically reject any theme that doesn’t have a pattern of regular updates. If it’s a new theme without much of a history, I take a look at the developer’s other themes to see how often they are updated.

Poor Customer Support

Finally, I take a look at the developer’s support channels to see how responsive they are to support requests. This is especially important for premium themes — if I intend to use a free theme then I’m willing to accept that the developer doesn’t owe me anything, including their time. But if I pay for a theme, I want to see evidence that the developer quickly and politely responds to support requests. If I visit their support forums and the only thing moving is a tumbleweed, I’m likely to look elsewhere.

There are thousands are elegant, feature-rich themes available for WordPress, created by talented developers and designers who care about giving their customers the best possible experience. If you know what you’re looking for (and what to avoid) you’ll have no trouble finding a great-looking theme that you can rely on for years to come.


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