Selecting a website theme can be overwhelming — there are literally thousands of free and paid options available to download and purchase. Your theme is the overall look, feel and style of your website. This includes things like the color scheme, layout and style elements. In essence, your website theme is a direct representation of your brand and has a direct impact on your users’ experience.
Admittedly, I was never a fan of pre-built website themes back when my agency provided web design services. Years ago, most out-of-the box themes were clunky, provided SEO nightmares and just weren’t as effective as a fresh custom design.
Times have changed, though, and now there are plenty of good-looking themes — but don’t judge a book by its cover — poor coding, slow speeds, search engine optimization issues and poor user experiences still exist.
To help you pick a great website theme for your particular business needs, make sure to take into account these five things.
K.I.S.S. is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid” — one of my favorite sayings when it comes to modern-day website design. Several years ago, websites were very loud, and companies wanted flash animation, fancy features and other bells and whistles. Now flat designs with a minimalistic approach are popular.
Websites that are too busy take the user away from the desired call-to-action, and they are a headache to navigate on mobile devices. If you take a look at Team 10’s website, you will see a great example of an effective design. Each section of the website is simple, features a flat design and gives the information seeker exactly what he or she is looking for — nothing more and nothing less. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant.
2. Developer support availability
This is something that not many people take into consideration when selecting a theme. It’s very rare that you will be able to install a theme and not have to make updates as the platform you are using changes and advances. This could be due to feature changes or security issues — no matter what you are using, from WordPress to Shopify and every other option, you need to anticipate there will be updates required to keep your theme from breaking.
The majority of theme marketplaces will have information on the developer, as well as a log of all the updates that have been released for each particular theme. Pay attention to this information, as well as customer reviews and ratings — it can give you a lot of insight.
Themes that have been around for a long time and have several updates indicated that the developer is constantly making changes to make the theme better. One of the most popular WordPress themes, Newspaper, has over 57,000 sales and is updated all the time. If you look at it here, you can scroll to the bottom to see the update log and a list of all the changes made each time. This is an example of a theme with excellent developer support.
3. Mobile readiness
Almost all popular modern-era website themes are responsive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are guaranteed to provide an excellent mobile experience. There are plenty of websites that will pass Google’s mobile test, yet provide such a poor user experience that they are worthless on smaller screens, in terms of conversion potential.
Look for a theme that is extremely adaptive and built with converting visitors in mind. If you look at this contact page on a desktop or laptop computer, you will see that the form features several steps. It’s eye-appealing and is very easy to complete on desktops and laptops.
Now, if you look at the same page on a mobile device, you will notice that there is a very prominent “Click to Call” button on the very top of the page, allowing the visitor to make immediate contact without even scrolling. If they do scroll down, they find the contact form, but in a different format that’s much more user-friendly on mobile devices.
The majority of website themes will have working demos for you to play with before purchasing, so make sure to put them through the ringer on mobile and tablet devices.
4. Available plugins, apps and extensions
It’s very rare that you will run a website theme in its stock version — you will customize the look and feel to match your brand, as well as add special features to enhance the user experience and turn more traffic into leads, sales and revenue.
WordPress has over 54,000 plugins available, Shopify has thousands of apps and WooCommerce has Extensions available to help enhance your website theme.
You need to know what platform is best for your business before exploring available themes, and once that is decided you can then begin to explore other add-ons. For example, if you are an e-commerce brand, Shopify is very hard to beat.
If you are a small service-based business and your goal is to generate leads, then you may want to use WordPress and focus on publishing great blog content to pull in traffic. Look at the offer used on this lead capture form — a downloadable brochure in exchange for a name, email address and phone number. Rather than a standard sidebar offer that offers a newsletter subscription or an emailed offer, this allows the consumer to access the bribe immediately.
There are plenty of plugins that can help you implement and manage download offers with no coding or development skills needed. Most of the popular services you will use with your website, like Mailchimp, for example, has plugins available that make integration simple. Make a list of what you will be using and what features you will need to add to your theme and reverse engineer the best options.
5. Cross-browser compatibility
Testing your website theme on all the popular web browsers is an important step, especially if you are considering using one that hasn’t been updated recently. With so many different devices, browsers and operating systems being used, testing helps ensure that your theme will provide the same user experience and functionality for everyone.
There are plenty of free tools and resources available online, as well as paid options that offer a free trial. One of the oldest, Browser Shots, allows you to run your website through them all at once. The free open-source tool is a great starting point — if you do spot an issue on a particular browser you can then further investigate using other available resources.