How to select a good base theme for your WordPress website

I like WordPress. I use it every day. I build and customize design templates, which are the things that style how information is displayed on your site. Templates (or Themes in WordPress speak) give you headers, footers, sidebars, specify the colours and fonts throughout the site and where logos and backgrounds go.  They don’t include the text and images in the body of each page, but they include what most people think of as design elements. In addition to these bread and butter tasks, some themes go beyond that into structuring how you can put information on your site. This is only sometimes a good thing, and sometimes can be problematic.

Selecting WordPress Themes / Templates

I help clients select WordPress Themes and I customize themes for them, tailoring them to fit and adding functionality they need. I develop an ongoing relationship with them, where I maintain their sites, give them advice and add new features for them to help them respond to changing business needs. I keep their software updated and their websites backed up so that if anything goes wrong, their data isn’t lost.

When I have input into selecting themes I am very interested in making sure clients don’t saddle themselves with a theme design that will result in a slow website, and which will be burdensome or buggy to maintain. I sometimes see a theme chosen before my time with a particular client perform poorly, slowing down the site, or failing to be flexible in the long term. Some themes look good, and have wizards designed to help nontechnical staff edit the site, but are difficult to change if your business needs change.

WordPress sites can be lightning fast (like this one) or slow as molasses. There are several factors that go into this. One of the biggest ones is the base theme. A nice clean, fast, mobile responsive base theme can often be tailored to look great, while keeping it’s streamlined performance. A good quality base (skeleton) theme can be the difference between a page taking 1.5 seconds to load and taking 7  or more seconds. The longer it takes for a page to load, the less likely your potential clients will stick around to read and make a decision.

Pick a theme with a good reputation, read the reviews, and make sure it has been updated recently, particularly if you intend to use it for ecommerce. Well established developers of good reputation will keep themes up to date with the latest version of WordPress and WooCommerce to preserve their usability and not just abandon the theme once it has been created and sold.

Not too many plugins

Other factors that make a difference are the number of plugins on the site, and how fast each of them is to load. Some plugins are notorious for slowing down sites. The one plugin you will almost always want tt have is a good caching plugin, which will do a lot to help speed up your site. In general a theme I am suspicious of is one that requires the installation of multiple plugins in order to work. These can be very slow and cumbersome, and can break when the theme comes out of synch with the plugins it needs over time as the software updates.

Get a CDN

Another feature you will want, particularly if you have a lot of images on your site, is a CDN (Content Delivery Network). CDNs are services that make copies of your images and serve them to your visitors from a different server, closer to your client. If your client is in South Africa, it serves the images to them from a server in Africa. If your client is in Europe, it serves the same image to them from a server in Europe. Information travels quickly over the internet, but not instantaneously. Serving images through a CDN from a nearby your client’s location makes a big difference in how fast your site can load. A CDN is separate from your theme, and can be installed on any site, regardless of the one you choose. It can be helpful to speed up a site when a slower theme has already been chosen, as well.

Good quality hosting

Read reviews about the speed of the web hosting company you intend to use. Inexpensive hosting that doesn’t allocate enough space to each site is no bargain. Poor quality hosting will make your site run slowly, and could leave it more vulnerable to getting hacked. A slow site will lose you sales and visitors. Good quality hosting is worth it. Keep in mind too that hosting companies get bought out from time to time, which can affect their performance as the new owner makes changes, so make sure those reviews are recent.

More Help

If you need help selecting a good WordPress theme, I have several well built, fast ones I work with and would be happy to help. More information on my services is here.

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