WordPress Themes: Overview and Tips on Finding the Perfect One

by Jason Cosper
WordPress Themes: Overview and Tips on Finding the Perfect One thumbnail

As a new WordPress user, you may be excited about customizing your site. You may even have a mental picture of what your finished site will look like. However, if you lack design or coding experience, fulfilling your vision may be a daunting task.

Fortunately, themes are one of WordPress’ more inherent and useful features — they enable you to customize your site’s appearance and even incorporate additional functionality. In fact, with the right theme, you can customize your site to your exact specifications with (in many cases) no coding or design experience required.

An Introduction to WordPress Themes

A WordPress theme is a group of files (graphics, style sheets, and code) that dictates the overall appearance of your blog or website. Themes can control something as vast as your site’s layout, or as minute as your hyperlink colors. It’s easy to think of a theme as a ‘skin’ for your site, but they are much more powerful than that.

WordPress Appearance menu, themes screen

Rather than simply providing a look and feel for your blog, a theme enables you to control the presentation of your site. For example, let’s say you blog about food, but you also have an online store. The right theme can display your blog posts in a certain way while offering a completely different layout for your store’s pages.

Themes are an inherent part of WordPress. In fact, the platform offers a number of themes out of the box.

There are a few reasons why you may want to choose and install a fresh theme on your site:

  • To improve your site’s visual appeal: If you have a specific vision for your site, you can choose a suitable theme and customize it to meet your requirements.
  • To enable more design customization: If you have no design or coding experience, many themes offer a wealth of customization options to help you create the right design.
  • To implement additional functionality: Depending on your needs, a theme may include functionality related to your niche that can’t be found elsewhere.

While the default or customized version of a theme can work for many websites, there are actually thousands of themes available to choose from, covering specific niches and purposes. Let’s discuss this in more depth.

Multipurpose vs. Niche Themes

There are two main categories of themes. First, a multipurpose theme caters to a number of different niches and site types. It usually includes multiple kinds of pages, extensions, codes, widgets, and tools to provide more options for customizing your site, regardless of its focus.

While niche-specific themes are also customizable, they’ll often be tailored to one specific topic or industry, such as affiliate marketing or e-commerce. They won’t include as much scope for customization as multipurpose themes, but the refined functionality will usually be laser-focused on the exact requirements you’ll have for your site.

For the most part, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing your WordPress theme. However, it is important to ascertain your requirements before making a choice — and your budget is one of those elements.

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Free vs. Premium WordPress Themes

Before we talk about spending money, it’s important to know that there are plenty of high-quality WordPress themes that don’t cost a penny. The themes found in the WordPress Theme Directory must pass a rigorous review process in order to be included. This assures quality and leaves you to opt for a theme purely on design, functionality, and user reviews.

However, there are drawbacks to free themes. For starters, support is usually minimal. Many themes offer support through dedicated forums, usually leaving you to carry out the solution. What’s more, updates can be more ‘ad-hoc’, depending on the developer’s priorities.

While they’re developed in the same way as free WordPress themes, premium solutions are a different beast. You’ll often find support and updates are vastly improved, along with increased features and functionality. However, this may require a regular subscription depending on the developer. Of course, this cost is justified if you believe you’ll need regular support and updates — and we’d recommend keeping your theme updated to make sure it’s safe and secure.

Ultimately, choosing a free or premium theme will always be based on your unique requirements. If you have the time and expertise, along with a minimal budget, a free theme could be ideal. However, a premium theme will likely be your best option, given the vast number available.

2 Quality Places to Find WordPress Themes

There are a wealth of places to find WordPress themes, covering all manner of budgets and niches. Let’s discuss two of them, starting with the one we’ve already mentioned.

1. The WordPress Theme Directory

The WordPress Theme Directory is the official repository for free WordPress themes. You can access this via the web, or from your WordPress dashboard:

WordPress Theme Directory on WordPress.org

All of the themes have been manually checked via a stringent review process before being listed. As such, we recommend you start here when looking for a budget-friendly theme.

For each theme, you’ll be able to access information that can help you make an informed choice. For example, you can see how many active installations a theme has, check when it was last updated, read customer reviews and ratings, as well as access the theme’s support forum.

In addition, you can preview the theme directly from its listing using default data (and also using your actual site content if browsing within WordPress). For a fuller live demo, you’ll often find a link to the developer’s website. This gives you a chance to see the theme in action, although installing a theme on a test site of your own carries minimal risk.

Finally, downloading and installing themes is a piece of cake, especially when doing so directly within WordPress.

2. Directly From WordPress Theme Developers

If you don’t like the thought of browsing through a large directory, you can always go directly to the source. Many WordPress theme developers sell their work directly, although you’ll need to carry out your own quality checks.

One site we recommend is StudioPress, which is the company behind the Genesis Framework:

Genesis Pro WordPress website builder

They offer a wide variety of premium child theme options, covering a number of niches and designs.

Another option is ThemeForest:

Envato ThemeRorest WordPress themes marketplace

This is a marketplace where you can find a broad selection of premium WordPress themes spanning nearly every category. While both of these platforms offer a variety of theme options, there are other sources you may want to consider.

For example, WooCommerce offers the Storefront theme. This is a dedicated e-commerce theme designed to work fully with the WooCommerce plugin. Usually, carrying out an internet search for a theme in your particular niche will bring up a plethora of options to choose from.

If you’ve searched high and low for the right theme but didn’t find one that matched your vision, you can also directly hire a developer to create a custom theme. Custom theme development is, of course, more expensive than opting for a ‘pre-packaged’ premium theme.

Install Your New Theme Today

Modifying the look and feel of your new WordPress site without coding or design experience is an inherent part of using the WordPress platform. Not only does WordPress include a default theme, but there are also thousands of options covering multiple niches and price points.

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Jason is DreamHost’s WordPress Product Advocate, based out of Bakersfield, CA. He is currently working on making our DreamPress product even better. In his free time, he likes to curl up on the couch and watch scary movies with his wife Sarah and three very small dogs. Follow him on Twitter.