Whoa, is there such a thing as the wrong WordPress theme? Sadly, the answer is yes. There are literally thousands of themes out there. There are some really good ones, and inevitably, there are some bad ones too.
Where to find WordPress themes
Before I show you what make a theme bad, I would like to share some resources where you can find WordPress themes:
- WordPress theme directory — the most well known one since it is linked from the admin panel.
- SEO WordPress Themes by Court’s Internet Marketing School — this is where I got this excellent SEOed theme from.
- 100 Excellent Free WordPress Themes by Smashing Magazine Developer’s Toolbox — Showcase of 100 very well designed themes.
- The Best WordPress Magazine Themes Available at Theme Playground — If you like the magazine “pro” looks, this is the place to go.
- WordPress Themes by Blog Perfume — Another great collection of well-designed themes.
10 Signs of Bad WordPress Themes
This is not a hard and fast rule, and certain flaws are worse than others — also, some could be fixed with relative ease. Note that my theme doesn’t pass all the tests either, but I know where the problems are and I am working on it. In other word, you may have a tough time finding the perfect theme that passes all these 10 points.
- Ugly — I know beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. So you have to decide on this one. If it’s ugly, move on and don’t even bother.
- Doesn’t stand out — Another design problem is using a theme that looks the same as everyone else’s. Worse, you have a theme that look very similar to the more popular blogs in your niche. Your theme is an important part of your brand, so it’s worth investing a little time to make yours stand out.
- Reduce the number of images, scripts, and external CSS file (each image takes at least 1 HTTP request)
- Optimize images to make them smaller
- Reduce the size of CSS file — i.e., using Clean CSS — or you can do it on your own by stripping out comments, extra spaces, reduce long-hand coding to their short-hand equivalents, etc.
- Eliminate unnecessary clutters from your blog — i.e., links, text, images, widgets, clicklets, etc.
- Database hog — Some themes can make a lot of unnecessary calls to the database. For example, Tigopedia Reloaded uses only 2 database calls compared to its predecessor that uses 30+ calls. Other than that, judicious use of plug-ins will also help reducing database usage.
- Invalid HTML — This is probably one of the easiest problems to fix. Unfortunately, some theme designers don’t even take the time to validate their code. To check if your theme validates, try the W3C Markup Validation Service. You can use the “show source” option to help you track down and fix problems.
- Invalid CSS — This is similar problem to the HTML validation. To check your CSS validation, try the W3C CSS Validation Service.
- Poorly optimized for search engines — There are many articles about how to optimize WordPress for search engines, but when it comes to theme, we are dealing mainly with location of content relative to other code, use of headings, and use of links. In general, good theme has the following characteristics:
- Present main content first and sidebar(s) afterward
- Use only one H1 heading for the post title (some may argue using H1 for blog title, but I think it’s more advantageous to use H1 for post title)
- Use links sparingly and link directly to the post title
- Inflexible (hard to modify) — Code should be clean, well formatted, and strategically commented. I have tried several themes in the past and there are some that are so hard to work with, I simply stop using them.
- Portable — One of the common problems I see when visiting blogs through a portable device (e.g., a blackberry) is bad rendering. Occasionally, I will see blog showing broken CSS code before I can get to the content. If you have an opportunity, check your site through a portable device and see for yourself. To get an idea on how your blog appears on text only or portable device, try Lynx Viewer.
I hope this post help you find your next theme. Before I go, I also want to share a really cool plug-in called Admin Theme Preview. This plug-in let your blog runs uninterrupted, while you can work on a new theme in the background.