What do you need to know before buying a theme?
I wrote this article in 2018 and updated it in 2020. In this article, I will teach you how to choose a WordPress theme and how to install it safely into your website. If you have a blog/website built on the WordPress platform, you should be familiar with the term “theme” and you definitely had or have a question on how to choose the best WordPress theme for your blog. If you are just thinking about having your blog – you will become familiar with it soon. A WordPress (WP) theme is a kind of template prebuilt for you, and which helps you design and set up your website’s layout.
Every website operated on WP platform needs to have a theme. Actually, if you are just planning to have your own blog or you have yours already, you know that every website needs to have not just domain and hosting, but a bit more. Let’s talk more about it.
Important things a blog should have
1. A domain name (In my case it is www.academyofhappylife.com)
You can buy your domain name directly from a hosting company, or from some other companies. Such as Namecheap Inc you can get really cheap domain here and get Exclusive: up to 74% off on top domains at Namecheap! or you can get one from this low cost domain company IDOTZ.NET
2. A hosting company (I am currently using SiteGround)
You can read more about why this company in this article: Why I moved my web hosting from Bluehost to SiteGround. But you can use any hosting company which suits you. I didn’t have a good experience with Bluehost, but so many bloggers use this company and they are very happy with it. It is quite affordable, especially for new bloggers. There are many popular hosting companies in the market. I suggest to check Siteground and Bluehost first, but you can check WP Engine and get 3 months free on annual plans or Pressidium too.
3. A Theme.
We will talk more about it shortly.
4. Plugins to improve your blog.
After you bought your domain and hosting, you need to design your blog. The best and the easiest way to do it is to install some themes. A theme is a specially coded template that you can customize in your own way without using any coding language. Actually, everything was already coded for you by theme developers, you just edit your colours, logo, favicon, and anything you need and want to customize.
The difference between themes is the quality of coding and the number of things you can add to your blog from your ready templates. The majority of bloggers, especially beginners, usually just check the Demo site of the theme. If they like it, they install it on their blogs. But what is happening behind the scenes of your blog?
People who are quite knowledgeable about themes and blogs will tell you that some new themes can totally mess up your blog. Everything depends on how that theme is coded. How can you know it? and WHY do you need to know?
How to know if a WordPress theme is well-coded?
The answers to these questions are very simple – if a theme is poorly coded, your blog will have very low IT characteristics, which can automatically cause a low loading speed of your website.
How to easily check IT characteristics of your blog and why it is very important – you can read it here.
Usually, the difference between a poorly coded theme and a good quality of the coding theme is the price. Logically, if developers spent a lot of time to create a theme and they did a good job. They would like to make money out of it. But it does not work this way every time. There are still a lot of great themes that are awesome, with a lot of amazing functions and easy customizing tools, and they are totally for free.
Very important – your theme is something virtual, downloaded from the Internet, which means it can and may contain some malware or viruses. You need to be quite sure and trust your theme developers not to mess up everything on your website. I would recommend you to use ThemeIsle WordPress Themes they have well coded and super fast themes in free and Pro versions. You can start with a free version if you are on a low budget and then update it to a Pro version. If you can invest a bit of money into the Pro version from the beginning, this would be the best to do. As switching from theme to theme might not be an as good idea in the future. You can read more here why.
How to scan and clean your blog for viruses and malware: read here. To protect yourself from those unexpected surprises if you decided to download your free theme from the WP library.
Where can I download WordPress themes for free?
There are many websites where you can download them. again, be sure, that with that theme you will not download some virus or malware. Therefore or do it from trusted resources, such as ThemeIsle WordPress Themes or you can easily do it from your WordPress Dashboard. You can find it in “Appearance”, then choose “Theme” section and there will be “Add New Theme”. Quite easy. Right? If you choose from those themes, they are checked by WP professionals for viruses and malware and they are totally clean. It is a quite big collection, you can find more than 1,500 different themes. Again, those themes are clean of viruses, but nobody guarantees that they are coded very professionally.
If you use a search engine for “best themes”, or “best-coded themes”, you will find a lot of different options to choose from, but who knows if they are good. But the best way is to check them by yourself to find out if they are really the best.
How can I tell if a WordPress theme is safe and well coded?
As I mentioned before, I am using SiteGround hosting. Actually, if you want to sign up to SiteGround through my special link, you will be able to have 60% off the original price for 3 years. My hosting company allows me to create as many subdomains as I need. With their help, I created a subdomain for my blog, which I called “test”. I copied all my main blog content there and I was trying different very popular themes there.
For this experiment, I decided to test different free themes and to show you in this simple example below how much depends on the theme and how a simple theme change can mess up a lot of things on your blog. Usually, the loading speed of your website depends mostly from your hosting company and from the theme you are using on your blog. In this case, the hosting stays the same. I will just change different very popular free themes and we together will see results. We will see if those super recommended themes are really so great for my test blog.
How do you choose the best WordPress theme?
I researched many different tutorials on “How to create the best website”. There were a lot of suggestions and a lot of recommendations. I decided to choose two free themes to test, which were recommended as best of the best in features and quality. 1. Phlox 2. Virtue 3. My current theme. On the screenshot below, you can see difference:
Please note that this is the same website, the same plugins are installed, the same amount of information, the same hosting, everything is the same – the difference is just a theme. On this example, you can see how one theme can mess up everything on your website. Even the speed of your website can depend on the theme.
The worst scores and loading speed on my website, when I downloaded the Phlox theme. Check the photo below.
How to choose the right WordPress theme?
If it is a free theme and you trust the source from where you downloaded it in case it is not from the WP library, then create some subdomain and test it there. If it is a paid theme, scan their Demo site with GTmetrix.com and you will have more or less some information on what to expect. Actually, a lot of paid themes offer money refund if you are not satisfied with their quality. I would go with them.
There are some companies that offer you the option to pay some monthly amount and use their theme. But in that case, you need to pay continuously when you are using their theme. As for me, better to pay once and forget about it.
Very important note – be sure that if you decided to buy some theme, you will be able to update it for free whenever there will be a new update available. I came across some themes which were sold for 100$, and if you want to download a newer update, they would charge you an extra 95$.
4 things you must know before changing WordPress Themes
Main and very important things to know and to check before installing a new theme:
As I mentioned before, you should know if you will be able to download newer versions for free.
2. Money-back guarantee.
If you don’t like that theme on your blog, or it is too complicated to customize, be sure that you have the option to return it and get your refund. Usually, companies give 1 week, 2 weeks, or 1-month money-back guaranteed.
3. Customers support from developers.
It is very important, especially if you are still a beginner. Sometimes you check their Demo website and you just love how it looks and how it works, but when you download that theme to your own website, everything looks messed up and you have a lot of troubles to make it look normal.
Some companies are offering just email support. In that case, be careful where these developers are located. When I was a new blogger, I had an experience with buying one theme which I couldn’t customize properly myself, as it was too complicated. There were so many options and so many prebuilt sections which looked so nice in the Demo, but they were totally different on my website. That company didn’t have any demo importer, so it was almost impossible for me to customize it alone.
Developers had just an email customer’s support. The main complication was that they were located in India, and I’m in Canada. So, I was writing them in the daytime and they were replying at night. The answers were not clear at all, so I had to ask even more questions than before and wait until the next day to receive some email back. The bottom line, the email communication didn’t give me any good results and I simply returned that theme and got refunded.
I am sure that the email support is very good, but make sure that your developers live at least around the same time zone as you.
Of course, the best is to have a phone or chat support, but this is not easy to find.
4. Demo site.
Check their Demo site before downloading that theme to your website. I recommend checking it with GTmetrix. Usually, the developers make their Demo site look really good to show the best of their theme. If the Demo website is poorly coded, I am sure that the main theme will have the same results too.
Actually, these are the main things you should know before changing your theme or choosing a new one.
Do you really need to have a new WordPress theme?
It is good to give some fresh look to your blog and to redesign it from time to time. If you would like to change a design of your website, it is not necessary to switch to a new theme. You can install and use a Page Builder plugin. There are many of them on the market, but be careful to use a good one, which will not slow down loading speed of your website. I personally use Elementor and I highly recommend it to you. You can use its free or Pro version, definitely, the Pro version will give you more functionality. This plugin will help you to create an amazing and stylish look of your website and will not affect the loading speed of your website.
Some people use the same theme continuously all the time, and some other people change it every 2-3 years. I know one woman who likes to change the theme every 6 months. It is very personal and it takes some time to customize it. Just be careful when you want to change your theme. I suggest you to read this article before switching to a new theme. It will give you answers to many important questions you may have.
My hosting provides me with a daily backup service, if yours does too, that’s great. For example, if you did something wrong and you would like to go back to that time when everything was working well, you can restore your blog from a previous backup and have it working well again the same way it was. Usually, before changing my theme, I just call my hosting company and double-check when was my last backup. Just in case, it is much better to be sure that I will be able to restore from a recent backup.
Good luck! If you have some questions for me, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.
This post contains affiliate links. I want you to know, I recommend just those services I use on my blog and believe it will be very useful and helpful for yours too.