WordPress Themes – More Than Just A Pretty Face

mannequin-woman-face-101543_640What is a theme?   Fundamentally, the Theme system is a way to add a pretty “skin” to your website. Yet, it is more than just a “skin.” “Skinning” your site suggests that only the design is changed. Most WordPress Themes go beyond just a pretty face and can provide much more control over the look and presentation of the material on your website. A theme can change the entire structure of your site by using what are called “templates”. These templates can be organized in many ways to make your site not only look unique, but actually be “one-of-a-kind” in every way. Obviously, that degree of customization would require a lot more work, but many of the themes that are available today can get you seriously started. One word of caution here: We often see people choose a theme that appears to do everything without any knowledge of code. While great in theory, we have seen this come back and bite. The problem is, if you ever need to go outside the box with that theme it may not be possible (or if possible, very expensive). It can also break your ability to upgrade your theme later, and you are left with a “hybrid” theme site that requires custom services.

Where do you find the themes?   WordPress.org maintains an official site for themes. Each theme in this directory has been checked and inspected for basic functionality. This is a good start, but we will learn that finding a good theme can be more than finding a “pretty face”.

How do you find good themes?   There are a LOT of good themes available and a lot of them are free. The key to a good theme is more what it does not have or do rather that what it does have or do. Let’s start with a list of those things your theme “Should not have..”

  1. Author is unknown or unavailable.

  2. Not Cross-browser compatible.

  3. Does not support web standardized structure. This one is becoming rare     these days, but that still can be a problem.

  4. Theme that was built over an old theme (and therefore contains some old issues that may cause problems with new plugins or WordPress upgrades) Look for a “version history”

  5. Hard     to customize – Access to CSS and code should be there for those that want to do something extra.

  6. Malicious intent. (Hidden code with less than benign motives.


All of that sounds great, but this sounds like a very tedious process of finding a “good theme”. Well, it is!! Often you can shortcut the process by hanging out on the WordPress forums and listen to the chatter about different themes. The good ones will stand out quickly, because the community can be very hard on those that take short-cuts and produce garbage.                            

Choosing a theme that works for you.   OK, you have a list of themes that have good ratings from others. How do you now decide what is right for you? Following, is a list of ideas that you might consider. How you weigh these issues will depend on your needs, and only you can decide…

  1. Is this a business or a hobby? If a business, you might want to consider a more professional theme with a better chance of long term support.

  1. Who is your target market? Your theme should reflect that market.

  1. Does your theme look like a “WordPress” site? If you are blogging as a hobby, then that would not be a bad thing. But if you are a business with professional aspirations, then it could be a “very bad thing”.

  1. Does your theme provide SEO functionality? Example: Does it use Header Tags correctly?   

  2. Does your theme provide the basic functionality you need for your business? It is always good to find a theme that gets you “part-way there” in the basic structure and design.

  1. Is there support?

This is a lot of information to absorb so take your time and review it several times. Unlike static websites that can be changed and altered “at will”, your WordPress site has a very specific “framework” that dictates how, when and where things are done. If you get outside of that box, then the next time you upgrade WordPress you may destroy your whole site. (And yes, you MUST upgrade WordPress frequently.) Therefore it is important to play the game the “WordPress Way!”

Do you have a question regarding selecting a WordPress theme?  Please post it here and I’ll see if I can help!

**Download your free copy of the complete eBook Understanding WordPress compiled by John Moore. http://www.sonicwebtech.com/ebook_wordpress_understanding.html


  • I’m a web designer looking for work, but I don’t have any current pieces for my portfolio. Most of the work I’ve done were for small businesses(they were up years ago). and they are no longer online. I’m sure those who understand the industry are aware of the catch 22 I’m facing at the moment.

    I was wondering if creating website templates or wordpress themes would be a great alternative at this time to convince clients I have the skills I speak of. If anyone has any other suggestions please feel free to chime in. Thanks in advance for your input.

    • John Moore says:

      Yes this can be a problem for many in this business. Website turn over has accelerated over the last 5 years. Creating Themes is a lot of work unless you seriously want to get into that business (very crowded field) but you can do a series of “demos” that illustrate your skills.. That might be a place to start.
      Hope that helps..