Five Ways to Discern a Quality WordPress Theme

There are probably 100,000 WordPress themes out there for the choosing.  Take away 50% broken or outdated and  another 20% unfinished junk and you’re left with 40,000 usable WordPress themes.  Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the truth is there are way too many themes to choose from.

Among every theme that is built for current versions of WordPress, there is bound to be a design you like and that meets your needs.  This article will help you develop your ability to identify quality themes from the rest.  Separate the wheat from the chaff.  The cream from the milk if you will.

It begins with a careful eye, and ends with reliance on your gut instinct.

1. Look for the obvious rating

This only really works for marketplaces where the user base moderates quality.  Obviously a premium theme provider won’t rate any of their own themes poorly.

2. Read the Discussion and Feedback

Almost every theme designer has a feedback mechanism or a discussion forum.  Some providers make these forums viewable for only purchasers.  Read these forums carefully and see what the common issues are.  More importantly, how fast are the theme developers in responding and resolving issues?

3. Check Compatibility

Well developed WordPress themes are compatible across all modern browsers, operating systems and across commonly used WordPress versions.  A quality theme should be backward-compatible to version 3.1 and fully compatible with the latest version of WordPress which is currently 3.4.  Cross compatibility should be seamless (ie: no hacks or core modifications required).

4. Check for Comprehensive Documentation and Instructions

Every theme claims to be “well documented“, but what does that really mean?  Just including two pages of instructions does not cut it.  Look for a long, detailed PDF of instructions.  Check every feature you are interested in against the documentation.  If anything is missing, confront the developer.  Documentation should be detailed enough that you can easily set up a theme, but not so detailed that it takes forever to read.  It should be well organized with a linked table of contents as well.

Good documentation should also be written well and grammatically correct.  Not everything needs to  be written in English, but for documentation that is, it should be correct English.  Theme documentation built into the theme itself can be very helpful.

5. Look for Frequent (but not too frequent) Updates

Frequent theme updates mean the developer is committed to ongoing support and quality.  But daily updates mean they are quick to make changes without being thoughtful.  You can check for update frequency through the WordPress SVN or developer download page.

Ready to find a quality theme?  Check out two of our favorites: ElegantThemes and ThemeForest.

12 thoughts on “Five Ways to Discern a Quality WordPress Theme”

  1. And another one for people who develop websites in another language than English and/or two or more languages:

    6a. Has the theme been properly internationalized?
    6b. Are the theme’s options that show on the frontend also translatable?

  2. The reviews about the wordpress themes or the user manual if available helps a lot in order to understand and use the theme better with ease and a quick access. These are quite confusing sometimes and thus need a proper guidance before use.

  3. From so many wordpress themes to choose from, it is going to be a big problem while the selection. However, the points you have listed could prove useful for shortlisting a few important and must have themes.

  4. Hey Dusty,
    Your article is thoroughly informative. Discussion forums and feedback are more reliable than the displayed ratings. Documentation can be most helpful at times though not as useful as a full fledged forum. I’d never given a thought to the frequency of updates which now I know, should not be taken lightly.

  5. The best to choose a wordpress theme would surely be the discussion forums and the feesbacks from other users. If someone else is happy with the way the theme works, it can suit us as well. So I would better go with that blogger’s feedback.

  6. I would also add check out community boards for recommendations. This is the quickest way to narrow down the list. So whatever market you are in, you can quickly find what people are using. This will get you a top 10 to 20 to browse through.

    Then you can customize the theme to make it look new and original. Or at least pay someone else to make it look new and original. With most themes highly customizable, even if you do have the same theme as everyone else it doesn’t have to look like it.

  7. I, too, believe that documentation is vital. The is especially important when themes include custom features. I find it interesting that you include Elegant Themes as on of your favorites when, although I like them and use them, their documentation is pretty bad, often using the documentation from earlier themes with similar features…

    I find it very useful, when selecting a theme, to check that special features are automated. There’s nothing worse than having to upload a picture, copy the resulting URL, and paste it into a special field to enable a feature when said feature can and should be built in.

    I also tend to avoid themes with feature bloat or themes that are designed around a specific plugin.

    Although it required a theme to be downloaded first, I find that I really, really appreciate well documented code, too.

  8. I’ve always just gone by what was aethetically “pleasing” and practical for what I need it for as far as WP themes were concerned. After reading this I think I’m going to pick and choose my wordpress themes a little more critically. Thanks

  9. The points mentioned in this article will help to develop an insight for selecting the right theme because there are so many themes out there and selecting the right theme would involve some effort.It is very important to read the discussions and feedback very carefully because this would provide some assistance in selecting the right theme.Also documentation would be quite useful and it is also necessary to check the frequency of updates.All the five points described will simplify the task of finding the appropriate theme.

  10. Thanks for sharing this article and the points described in this article gives an idea about how to go about selecting the right theme.There are so many themes available and so selecting the right theme can be really confusing and troublesome.Feedbacks should be read carefully and also documentation can help in finding the right theme.Even checking the frequency of updates helps in finding right theme.

  11. I agree, you’ve got to check for compatibility with browsers and plugins. Nothing stinks worse that about 1/2 way though realizing a plugin you like isn’t compatible with your theme or looks bad on another popular browser.

  12. The last item on the list: Frequent, but not too frequent updates burned me once. I purchased a very nice theme that the developer had forgotten for several years to update. Great list, most are common sense items we sometimes overlook!

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