While starting a blog, one of the important choices you will make is the choice of a theme. The theme that you select will not only decide the look and feel of the blog, but can also influence several other SEO factors. It can influence the loading or rendering speed of the webpage and the page size .
Most of the tips described in this post are pretty generic in nature. It can be applied to almost all modern CMS and blogging frameworks. However, we will refer to WordPress themes in particular for the rest of the post.
The best option you have is to create a custom theme. Having a custom theme have many advantages. It allows you to have complete control over your design and your SEO factors. But it is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea unless you have the time, effort and skills to put into it.
There are some non-technical factors that you need to consider when choosing a WordPress theme. Even though they are not technical, it is still quite important. These are Price, Licence and Visual Appeal (or Look and Feel). You should choose what is appropriate for your needs and requirements. There is really no right or wrong decisions when it comes to these factors.
Do not over pay for a theme….spend within your budget and you should be fine. If you have a large enough budget, then you can splurge on some premium WordPress themes. This can give you features such as customer support and updates. If you are on a budget, stick with free themes or pay once themes. There are such a wide variety of themes that you should be able to find one within your budget.
Unless you have very specific requirements, you should mostly be good here. Most themes will cover almost everything you want to do with a blog. If you plan to develop child themes or extend the theme then make sure that the theme licence allows you to do that.
Look and Feel
The look and feel of the blog is subjective and user specific. Most often you will browse several different themes. You will then choose the best theme, the one that closely matches your ideas and needs. There is again no right or wrong here in terms of aesthetics, it is what you like best.
For rest of this post, we will look at some of the more technical aspects of WordPress themes. When you have a good idea about these critical features, it will help you narrow down your choices. That gives you have a better chance of choosing the best WordPress theme for your needs.
You should make sure that the theme works reliably on most modern and popular browsers. The Microsoft IE browsers have always been a pain to support, but it is still used by many. First look for a browser compatibility chart that is provided by the theme developer. Most reputable themes should have one or at least provide some information about this.
If possible test on all popular browsers to see how the blog renders. There are several websites that could aid you in this, such as Browsershots and Browserstack.
Speed or Page loading time to be exact, is dependent on many different factors, and the theme is just one of them. Many WordPress themes usually have a lot of executable code which makes the theme very flexible and customizable. This can add to the overall weight of the page and thus can make the page loading quite slow.
It is usually a good idea to benchmark the themes that you want to use. The simplest way to do this is to create a small sample page with minimal content. Now use one of the many tools available online to test the page speed for each of themes that you want to try. There are several different web analyzers that can provide you with information on your webpage speed.
Some of the popular ones are Pingdom Tools, Webpage Test, GT Metrix and Google Page Speed.
Another important factor that affects the SEO is the page size. It has a direct co-relation to the page loading speed which was mentioned above. The larger the page size, the longer it takes to download and render on the client browser.
Again, it is a good idea to benchmark. Follow the same steps as with the speed in the section above. The same tools that you used to measure page speed should provide you with the page size information as well.
Another factor to consider is the flexibility of the WordPress theme. It is probably more of a design feature rather than a technical one.
How configurable are the features that you would like to change? It would be very rare that you will find a theme that has all the exact look and feel that you need. Make sure that the changes that you want to make are easily customizable or configurable, be it changing the font or modifying the layout of the page or adding widgets to the exact position on the screen.
Support for Screen Sizes and Mobile
As more and more of the internet traffic is moving to smaller devices, it is important that your website displays reasonably well on smartphones and tablets. Check the compatibility chart provided by the developer to see if they support mobile devices and other screen sizes out of the box.
What you should be looking for here is what is called a responsive theme. It is a usually selling feature for some of the best WordPress themes. The theme adjusts its layout in a reasonable fashion depending on the size of the screen that it is displayed on. Many of the popular and best WordPress themes already support mobile screen sizes and have a responsive design but it is better to double check.
Updates and Patches
It is important that the theme that you are using is constantly and actively developed. New features should be built while fixing issues and bugs with earlier versions. Check the history of updates that the theme has gone through and make sure that there is a reasonable expectation that the theme will be maintained actively in the foreseeable future.
How often do the developer respond to questions and issues? Is there a forum or an easy place for you to interact with other users and developers? Also, check the bugs that have been logged against the theme.
Most of the WordPress theme features are usually self explanatory. If you have worked with WordPress or a WordPress theme before, then it is usually not difficult figure the features out. But it does not hurt to have some documentation on how to customize fields and layouts. Having good documentation is usually a good indicator of a well designed theme.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Has the development team kept the SEO requirements in mind while designing and implementing the theme? Check out the features that the theme advertise and see if SEO has been a major factor in the design. Some of the best WordPress themes tend to keep SEO factors in mind while designing the theme.
The best WordPress theme is the one that meets all your requirements including both needs and wants. It does not necessarily be the same one for everybody. What suits you will differ from another, and it does not make it not the best theme.
Unfortunately, you will only realize many of the shortcomings of a theme as you use it over time. The more you use the features, you will realize some of the drawbacks of that theme. The good thing is that with WordPress framework, you can usually switch your theme with minimal effort at any time.