How to Find the Right WordPress Theme

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.

Moolanomy Theme

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:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Bandwidth hog — Some themes have too many images, large CSS file, add-on JavaScript files, and large HTML files. Make sure that what you are getting is worth the bandwidth usage. To check your theme bandwidth efficiency, check out Web Page Analyzer from Web Site Optimization. If you use Firefox, try Firebug and YSlow add-ons combination (awesome!). Some tips on reducing bandwidth usage:
    • 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Invalid CSS — This is similar problem to the HTML validation. To check your CSS validation, try the W3C CSS Validation Service.
  7. 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
  8. Poor separation of content and design — Good theme should make good use of id and class attributes. It should have very little style declaration inside the template files itself. Also, CSS and JavaScript code should be in separate files and not included with the main HTML page.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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7 Responses to “How to Find the Right WordPress Theme”

  1. Mrs. Micah says:

    “Present main content first and sidebar(s) afterward”

    I’m trying to figure out how to make mine do this. Any thoughts?

  2. Pinyo says:

    Typically, this is done by changing your template file and move the

    for the main content on top of

    for the sidebar. On some templates, this will cause the design to break, and additional CSS adjustments are needed.

    I’ll see if I can look at it for you tonight. However, sometimes it’s just easier to find a theme that already does this out of the box.

  3. Four Pillars says:

    I’ve read that some bloggers pay for themes. Do you think this is worthwhile? How much do themes typically cost?


  4. Jeremy says:

    The Portable aspect of a blog is my major concern, and that is what I am currently working on, although new to blogging, a site that doesn’t take in account smart phone users is awful. I tend to browse on my BlackJack more so than my PC, due to my career. I think it is something most web designers overlook as a whole across the internet.

    I have looked through many WordPress themes that would ‘fit’ my blog, but really haven’t found one yet. Soon enough, once other projects clear, I plan to make a customize template for myself, I will be sure to keep these in mind, although all points made could be used for any site in general really. Great article.

  5. Pinyo says:

    @FourPillar – If you find a theme that you really like, I think it’s worth paying the author for his time and effort.

    However, I would say ask the author where you can find a sample — i.e., a client site — so that you can inspect the code to see if it contains any of the flaws mentioned here. This way, you don’t end up paying for something that’s not good.

    @LOD – Thank you.

    @Jeremy – Yes, I think portability will become even bigger as we move forward. Think iPhone, Blackberry, SmartPhone, Palm devices, etc.

    Thank you for the compliment.