Is it time to give your website a makeover?
Maybe you feel like your current website design isn’t working for you anymore. Perhaps it feels out-dated or like it’s no longer “on-brand”. Or maybe you are just bored of it, and you’ve lost motivation to work on your website because of it.
Having a custom theme designed and developed is a big investment, and you might not feel ready to spend a lot of money on your website right now.
The good news is there are thousands of free and premium (i.e. paid) pre-made themes available for your website. Pre-made themes provide a more affordable way to give your website a fresh new look, and many can be downloaded and installed instantly.
If you do decide to give your website makeover with a pre-made theme, I would highly advise doing your research beforehand, especially if you are about to invest in a premium theme. After all, nobody wants to waste money on a theme that isn’t fit for purpose, right?
In this post, I’m going to explain what you should be looking out for when choosing a new theme for your WordPress website.
Is it mobile-friendly and responsive?
Having a mobile-friendly website is so important!
More and more people are viewing websites on their mobile phones, so your website needs to look good and function well on smaller devices.
If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, this will have a negative impact on user experience, as well as potentially affecting your website’s SEO.
If Google does not deem a website to be mobile-friendly then it will be penalised and will rank lower in search results. It may not even show in mobile searches.
The best way to test if a theme is mobile-friendly is to copy the URL of the theme demo and paste it into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test website. If it passes, great! If it doesn’t, then I’d advise you steer clear.
I’d also advise testing a theme to make sure it’s responsive because mobile-friendly is not the same as responsive! Websites can be mobile-friendly but not responsive, and visa versa.
A responsive website will look good on all screen sizes and resolutions, not just on mobile. For example, my laptop screen is much smaller than my desktop screen, so a responsive website would look great on both.
And sometimes, I have two windows open at a time, side by side, so the website is only going to take up 50% of my screen. It needs to look good at this size too.
The best way to test this is to preview the theme on a desktop or laptop computer and slowly resize the browser.
How does it look? Does any of the content get cut off? Does it look squashed together? Hopefully, you will see a website that looks amazing, no matter what the screen size is.
Does it require a framework or page builder plugins?
These days a lot of websites are built on frameworks and page builders which allow developers to quickly create a website, and also make it easier for users to make changes to their website without any coding knowledge.
Frameworks and page builders such Divi or Genesis are not free, and sometimes the cost of these frameworks or plugins are not included in the overall price of the theme. Very quickly, your new theme could become very costly.
Normally there would be a disclaimer in the product description if it used a framework, and whether or not that framework or plugin is included in the price of the theme. But if it isn’t clear, don’t be afraid of contacting the seller directly to clarify this.
How long does it take to load?
I’ve already talked about how search engines may penalise you if your website is not mobile-friendly, but did you know that having a slow website can be damaging for SEO too?
This is because Google takes the loading time of your website into consideration when ranking your website. Also, slow websites are just annoying from a user experience point of view, and a slow website is likely to result in a high bounce rate.
The theme you choose can have a massive impact on the overall speed of your website. And if the theme itself is slow, just imagine how slow your website is going to be once you add in all your content and plugins into the mix.
Again, be wary of themes that are built using frameworks, use large full-size imagery and that have lots of fancy features such as slideshows. As lovely as these are, they often slow down a website.
To find out how quickly a theme loads, copy and paste the demo URL into a website called GTMetrix. GTMetrix will then analyse the website and tell you how long the website takes to load in seconds. It will also identify the areas of the website that require improvements.
If you see lots of red, low grade results then this means that the website is slow. This might be because the website itself is slow or because the theme is slow.
Look at the results more carefully. If the following items are red and have low grade results, this means that the theme is slow:
- Avoid CSS @import
- Minify HTML
- Minify CSS
How customisable is it?
If you choose a pre-made theme then you almost certainly won’t be the only person using it.
In order to make your website look different to another website using the exact same theme, and to tailor it to your brand, you’ll want to be able to customise its appearance.
WordPress has a feature called the Customizer which allows users to easily change the appearance of their website without having to mess around with any CSS. The level of customisation with vary from theme to theme, but normally there will be some details about the features you can customise in the product description.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself when looking at how customisable a theme is:
- Is there an easy way to change the colours?
- Can I change the fonts?
- Can I add my own widgets?
- Can I upload my own logo to the header? Or just use my website name instead?
- Can I choose whether or not to display a sidebar?
- Are there different blog layout options?
- Can I easily add in my social media links?
Does it have search functionality
Search functionality is an essential part of any website. It provides an easy way for visitors to find exactly what they’re looking for on your website without having to trawl through your archives.
To find out if a theme has search functionality, just take a look at the demo to see if there is a search bar anywhere. Sometimes you might have to click on a button (often in the shape of a magnifying glass) to open the search.
If there is search functionality, make sure you try it out to test if it works, and also to see what the search results pages look like. A lot of theme developers don’t bother to style the search results page and they end up looking the same as the blog page.
Is it genuine?!
Sadly, there are people out there who resell pre-made themes that they didn’t actually build themselves. As a developer, I cannot stress how frustrating this is.
I recommend checking to see if the person selling the theme is the original owner, and a simple way to do this is to find the name of the theme and Google it.
If you see the theme for sale on a different website to the one you are looking to purchase it from, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been stolen. For example, some people will sell themes on their own website as well as on another website such as Etsy or Theme Forest. But if something seems odd, keep on researching!
Another thing to be aware of is that sellers might change the name of the theme on their website to make it seem like a completely different theme. If it’s a WordPress theme, copy the URL of the demo and paste it into a lookup tool called Is It WordPress?.
This tool will be able to tell you what the actual name of the theme is based on the theme files. Does it match the name of the theme that’s for sale? If not, Google the actual name and see if it is for sale elsewhere.
It might also be worth doing some research about the seller. Are there any reviews for the seller or the theme itself? Has anyone had any problems with the theme?
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