Choosing WordPress Themes for Beginners

Whether you’re just starting out with WordPress or you’re a seasoned pro, choosing the right theme is imperative for a WordPress website that looks right for your business and performs well over time.

There’s nothing worse than finding a theme that looks good on the outside, but functions poorly on the backend or doesn’t have as many options as you thought.

Of course, you don’t realize how good or bad a theme is until you actually purchase and use it, but by then you have invested many hours in customizing it.

I’ve put together some of the things you should know when choosing a theme in the slideshow below. Hopefully the slideshow and the tips below will help make your decision easier.

Here are some tips for choosing WordPress themes


Just Getting Started:

  1. When you are just starting out with WordPress, choose a basic theme to practice on like one of the default themes, and get familiar with how WordPress works, without a lot of geegaw options and crazy sliders. You can add content and when you choose a “real” theme, your post and page content will still be there in the new theme.
  1. It is best to choose themes that are Open Source GPL compliant themes. WordPress is Open Source and no part of its code can be owned or sold or contain limitations on how it is used. When you buy a premium theme, you are buying a service-like membership or support rather than the theme. Be careful of theme sites like Theme Forest that have some great themes by good development shops, but other themes that you should stay far away from.
  1. Be careful of free theme sites. Some of the sites that have thousands of free themes may have added malware code and scripts to them that link to places you’d rather not have your visitors end up.
  1. Your content is more important than your site design. You can have a beautiful site design but without great content that converts, you have nothing. There are plenty of very simple yet very effective websites out there. Check out Social Triggers for an example and to read what Derek has to say about not cluttering up your site.
  1. Make your content easy to see and read. Don’t choose a theme with a dark background and light text and make your font large enough to read. They say 16 is the new 12. But a minimum of 15 for body text is as low as I tend to go. This is especially important for mobile.

Tips on Customizing Themes:

  1. It is easy to add a theme and make basic modifications but if you have more specific aspirations you are going to find it hard to do on your own without knowing how to make changes to the code in the CSS files. If you don’t have those chops,or the time to learn, have someone help you get it to look right and then take it from there.
  1. If you are going to customize your theme by changing the CSS and you do not want to overwrite your changes when there are updates for your theme, make your changes in a  “child theme”, or in a custom CSS file provided by a plugin like JetPack.
  1. Learn to use Filezilla to ftp files from your computer to your hosting account and back. Before making changes to the CSS file you should back up the file that way if you make an error you can re-upload the original file.
  1. Use the Firefox addons, Firebug and Firepicker to look at the CSS code that controls the look of particular elements on your website. Firebug can help you learn to make changes in the CSS code to create the changes you want to make site. When you are in Firebug you can test the changes and to make the change permanent, you will make it in the actual CSS file.


  1. says

    Inspired to change my website after WordCamp. Perfectly lovely responsive site. Now realize I'd like to make some layout tweaks to it. Will start looking at themes.

  2. Maureen Haley says

    Thanks, Judy, the side-by-side comparisons of the customized themes was really helpful.

    • says

      One of the biggest mistakes designers new to WordPress make is designing a site and then trying to make it fit to a theme. Much better to start with a theme and then design to the structure that is there. You can do a lot that way and over time as you learn to make changes to CSS ( with Firebug) you will be able to do much more. Good luck and let me know if I can help.