August Meetup – Selecting a theme

Updated May 2015 People can get hung up on the site ‘design’ and website appearance. Everyone has a viewpoint. In some cases it is critical to succeed, in many others, is not… In fact when it comes to promoting yourself online, the visual design should not be the first or even second priority. Here’s a great article from Google talking through the pre-planning before you find a theme or build any site…


The most successful WordPress websites are also focused more upon content, user engagement and getting traffic. Branding in the early days is an extravagance.

My WordPress Theme Guidelines

So, themes. Where to begin….. With around 2,000 themes available off the WordPress repository, it’s hard to know where to start. Rather than do a google search for themes, I recommend you start within

These themes (free and premium links) have been check by WordPress staff and do not have any nasties in the coding that can cause major problems or are open to hackers – A bad theme with nasty (e.g. viagra links hidden within), could ultimately result in your website being banned from the Google index!

Install ThemesIf you want that professional look, then checkout the commercial themes These themes usually include additional controls that allow you to change headers, colours and more widget areas on the home page to help display content. But where to start? Theme providers/designers I personally recommend for home, community or small business sites include:

Each of these provides a number of built-in tools to change colours, menus and even layout. Those developers or designers with a technical background building business websites for a living would be better using the Studiopress Genesis framework. These I find tend to be more stable, faster and even better for SEO than all others.

Usually the choice depends largely upon the style as well as how much control you want over the appearance. Some of these have some free versions you can download as zip files and simply upload under the appearance/themes area, to let you get a feel for how they work and can be customised. Each theme provider does this slightly differently. I personally stick with Studiopress, more as a starter visual than the final look. It’s also the easiest themes for me to customise or re-code later into something totally different.

Less coding needed

download cssFor high-end sites, themes need to be hand-coded. But new tools can help those afraid of php coding, use of WP hooks, filters etc. Web designers and junior developers with modest CSS skills like Woothemes Canvas.

Some genesis-based themes have an optional add-on called Palette Pro if you want to avoid learning css. Themefoundry Make has similar customisation tools included for layout and colour.  Recently there’s been other styling addons like CSS hero that work with most themes.

Powerful Drag n Drop page layout tools

There are dozens of even more powerful ‘drag n drop page’ layout tools arriving as plugins or as part of fancy themes. Some good, some bad. They are popular because designers or business owners want to use WordPress as a simple DIY web design tool to create their own website, blog or cart.

This ease of design is why other competing website builders like wix and weebly are popular with startups. DIY is in our blood as is the attraction of saving on design fees… Yet these each has a downside, the major being getting ranked high on Google…

But these fancy WP drag n drop editor tools also means more code is added to the site. Typical trade-offs are compatibility issues as well as reduction of site speed and some search ranking. One WordPress plugin you may like to check out is Beaverbuilder, which seems easier and more compatible than most. Tell me what you think. 

Proliferation of sliders, effects – Be careful with these…

Recently has seen the explosion of new themes with big full width home page sliders and lots of special effects. These can look very pretty with that elusive ‘wow’ factor. Creatives and many clients want them.

But, do they engage the client and get more leads? Studies tell us they do not, often doing more harm than good in most sectors. Seems most visitors find them distracting, looking too much like advertising. They can also dramatically slow down the site, especially on mobiles, which annoys visitors as well as reducing your Google ranking. (Reference article). If you must have one, choose a small slider like this example.

If a business user insists they want or need them, ensure they’re well aware of the possible detriment effects upon site ranking, search traffic and sales results.

Any themes we should avoid?

Divi from Elegant themes is an odd one.  Designers like it but to me, they tend to break too many coding rules and best practices. Another similar layout tool that breaks rules is the Visual Composer plugin. They too boast loads of sales, but popularity isn’t a measure of quality. It simply adds too much complexity which I think makes it harder, not easier for new users. They now not only have to learn how WordPress works, but these new ‘mini-applications’ as well. Other frameworks/tools to avoid is ‘cherry’ and ‘gantry’.

Are you even qualified to Design?

The thing with these new ‘code-less’ design tools, is to ask yourself the question – Are you a trained designer or graphic artist? Is the layout you’re producing on your own as an amateur, going to provide results? Does it follow accepted best industry design practices and usability tests? Most likely not… These convenient drag n drop theme tools are often best in the hands of a skilled graphic designer, who perhaps wants to avoid delving into php/css code.

The choice of tools has a lot to do with your own CSS/html know-how and also whether you are making sites for yourself, a single business, or doing it for a living. Maybe you shouldn’t even be going down this path or running your own locally hosted site, but use hosting and premium themes instead? Checkout my recent article on WordPress for beginners to learn more of this option…

WordPress Themes to Avoid

As said, it’s always best to start looking via the website and not a google search. Here’s some sites below you should avoid. Note some of the worst ones I can’t even list on this blog, since WordPress may shut this site down just for listing them here as many of these sites are full of spam links that will get your own site banned in Google. 

And dozens more. Remember, beauty is only skin deep and many, like those off themeforest, look very pretty and have a great feature list, but could have nasty, inefficient coding within.  They all claim their theme quality, support and SEO is great. Yet emphasis in most cases is on the looks, not performance or efficient coding. At best you could get minimal support. At worst you get a slow site, plus spam or ad-filled coding that may get your site banned by Google. Ref: Never search for free themes on Google.

100% Custom Designs

planningathemeHow do those themes get created you ask? It usually starts with a sketch and lots of costly Photoshop work before a line of code is written. A web developer/code (like me) takes this designer-supplied Photoshop file and generates a unique WP theme file you can then upload, add content to and then launch. So, where do you turn to get a good visual design?

The ideal is to work with your local graphic or web designer. Alternatively if you don’t know any, there are online services where they gather like

designcrowd-logoThe unique thing with this service is the wide range of styles you get, since you have ideas not just from a single graphic/web designer, but many. There’s also graphic designers available who can help with company logos, brochures, biz cards etc. We have a fixed-rate fee to turn these designer (uncoded) design files into a WordPress theme file for upload. Remember, most of these people are expert in visual design, not WordPress. They don’t do coding or know how to build a good theme file.

You also get our help with site security, plugins, menus, widgets etc. For more info visit the crowdsource site, or fill in the form below and we’ll help you through the design process, no charge. (Auckland WP Meetup Group Members only)

3 thoughts on “August Meetup – Selecting a theme

    • I generally do it on a real host myself under a development subdomain. It just makes the final transfer is easier and if i need to have others help with the site for content (either the client, copywriter and/or designer), then this is the better option. It means some work can be done in parallel. The client or copywriter can start adding text content and pages before we complete the visual design or special coding phase. With a WordPress CMS content and the visuals are actually quite separate, able to come together at a later stage, although for many web designers this is counter-intuitive, but is more efficient, especially on a content-rich site or storefront. The local setup can work too, and some developers prefer it, I never have.

  1. Pingback: WordPress Meetup Training | Auckland WordPress User Group

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s