One of my favorite parts about the WordPress blogging software is the WordPress themes that are contributed by the WordPress community.  There are literally thousands of themes available for anyone to download, and most are free and contributed by individuals who believe in WordPress and want to make the product better. 

Unfortunately, when theme users are trying to find a theme that provides the right look and uses the correct colors, I’ve found that users often forget to look for good functionality.  In my experience, good functionality goes a lot further than a good appearance.  It is also easier for someone without coding knowledge to take a theme and adjust the colors than it is to manually add better functionality. 

Here are 5 things I look for when shopping for a new WordPress theme:

  1. Plugin Compatibility – Many themes come already setup for certain plugins by using the same method I’ve previously discussed. If you have your mind set on using certain plugins with your blog, you’ll want to look for what plugins are already compatible with the theme before selecting it.   It still amazes me more theme authors don’t take the time to add out-of-the-box functionality with many popular plugins. 
  2. AJAX Comments – Maybe Web 2.0 has just spoiled us, but it is extremely discouraging to comment on a site that requires the full page to completely reload. Many WordPress themes now come with AJAX comments, which allows a comment to be left without the entire page reloading.
  3. Page Menu – Some WordPress themes come with the page menu in the sidebar.  Not only does this look tacky, but it also uses up a lot of valuable sidebar room that could be used for other information information, such as sponsors, advertisements, or displaying your most popular posts. A good theme will have the pages displayed in a menu somewhere above the blog’s content (usually either immediately above or below the logo).
  4. Widget Ready – Does the theme come widget ready? If you aren’t comfortable manually adding code to your sidebar, this is extremely important feature.
  5. Logo Space – What is a blog without a logo?  It doesn’t have to be something fancy, but it does need to be something that readers have affiliate with your blog.   For whatever reason, many WordPress themes don’t seem to leave room for a custom logo to be added, but instead will provide a text title.

If I was going to release a theme, I would make sure the above 5 things were included.  What do you look for when picking out a WordPress theme?

Kyle Eslick is WordPress enthusiast who took his passion for WordPress to the next level in 2007 by launching WPHacks.com as a place to share hacks, tutorials, etc. Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleEslick!

  1. K-IntheHouse says:

    Kyle,

    Excellent points. I also look for the theme to load the content before the sidebar. This has a tremendous impact on SEO in my own personal experience. After I switched to a theme that loaded post content first, my search engine traffic went from a literal trickle (30-40 per month) to a sizeable amount (2000+). Of course, there were other tweaks I have been implementing as I learn them to make ShanKri-la search engine friendly, but I believe this one was a big one! I would love to hear what you think about it. 🙂

  2. Armen says:

    Hey Kyle!

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I must commend you on some great, and insightful posts. Here’s my take on what you’ve said here:

    1. How do you determine what’s a popular plugin? It’s different for everyone. Plus, except for when you just set up your blog, you’ll already have all your desired plugins installed when you’re looking for a new theme.

    2. I really don’t see how this is necessary. If people would remove unnecessary widgets from their sidebars, then the page load time after commenting would be almost nonexistent.

    3. Agreed. It makes a lot more sense to have a proper navigational menu of sorts.

    4. Again, I agree. However, if people would just read plugin documentation, they could figure out how to add things to the sidebar without themes being widget-ready.

    5. It’s much easier to remove the text title, or replace it with an image, than it is for people who want the text title, to add it to the theme.

    I’d say, what’s a no-no in a theme, is to have size 11 Verdana for post content. 😉

  3. skarld says:

    I agree with K-IntheHouse on the SEO requirement. WordPress is not SEO friendly out of the box. Another consideration might be AdSense integration.

  4. Kyle Eslick says:

    K – There are a few benefits to having your content load first, but the primary reason is because the widgets and other stuff in the sidebar often has to load from off site servers, causing a delay. Search engine traffic in particular will not wait until the content loads if it loads after a long delay in the sidebar. You have 2-3 seconds to grab their attention or they will often click back and go on to the next search result.

    I would be curious to know how old your domain was when search engine traffic picked up. Usually at around the 6 month time frame, and especially after a full year of a domain been active, Google will start to take your site seriously (spammers change domains every 4-6 months typically, so Google does this to protect against spammers). If that was the case, that might explain the sudden significant jump in traffic.

    Armen – Thanks for taking the time to comment! I’ll go ahead and answer using the same numbers you’ve used for simplicity:

    1) I would define popular plugins as the most downloaded ones. Many plugins require a PHP call to work properly, so you have to insert this into each new theme you try in order for them to function.

    2) This may be my personal preference, but most of the themes I have use AJAX for posting comments. I’ve talked to others that feel the same way, so I suppose adding this could make your theme appeal to a wider audience.

    4) This is true, but a theme is more likely to be downloaded if you offer it supporting widgets. I personally have never used them because I prefer to “get my hands dirty” with code. 😀

    5) I think that is a good point, but a text title usually only takes up 300px at most, and it is often hard to squeeze a logo into 300px. I guess that was my line of thought above.

    Skarld – AdSense integration is a good one for people wanting to monetize your blog.

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