Searching through the thousands of free themes can be daunting. I’ve put together a list of tips to help you find that perfect WordPress theme.
Admin Dashboard vs. WordPress.org Theme Directory
Yes, you can search for WordPress themes from the admin dashboard on your website. [Click on Themes under the Appearance menu on the left hand side. At the top of your Theme page, click on Install Themes. This takes you to a page where you can search for themes by keyword or by feature.] However, searching this way always leaves me feeling a bit frazzled and confused because it’s difficult to really get a feel for the true capabilities of each theme.
You can get a lot more information when you search the Free WordPress Themes directory on the wordpress.org site. You can search via keyword or by feature, or browse Most Popular/Newest/and Recently Updated via the right sidebar. Clicking on a particular theme lets you read in-depth descriptions, read reviews from people who have tried them, access the theme developer’s website and demo sites (if they exist), and get information about versions and the last updated date. [Note: It’s important that it’s not an old theme that no longer gets updated because it may not be compatible with future updates of WordPress.]
Clicking on the “Preview” button rarely gives an accurate depiction of the theme’s capabilities and actual layout. It’s best to find demo sites if you can. A demo site is a fully functioning website created by the developers using that particular theme to showcase all its features. Demo sites usually show different formatting options for pictures, fonts, headings, layout and lets you see how things will actually look. The demo site is a great way to better understand your options and/or limitations with a theme and see if you actually like it before installing it.
The other thing you learn by going to the developer’s website is the support they offer for their free themes. Some support can only be found on the theme’s pages on the wordpress.org site, but many developers have support forums on their websites. These support forums can be extremely useful when you need to troubleshoot or find ways to alter the design a bit. By browsing through the support forum, you can get a clearer sense of the usability, customization options, and potential challenges of a particular theme.
Almost every free WordPress theme has a pro version, or paid version. These versions typically offer additional features and better support. Pro versions really vary in price, anywhere from $20 to over $100. You can decide if it’s worth it or not to upgrade by investigating further about what you gain from the upgrade. I recommend trying the free version first to determine if you like the theme, if the user interface is easy to use, and if the support is helpful.
Example WordPress Theme
I’ll use a theme called Responsive as an example. Searching on the WordPress.org site, you would find this page about Responsive. You can read the description, click on the tabs along the top to read reviews, see the support forum, etc. From the WordPress.org page you can also access the developer’s website. Along the right hand side a few lines under the big green Preview button you’ll see “Theme Homepage.” Clicking on this link takes you to the developer’s website. From the developer’s site you can access the demo site.
The demo site is full of useful information such as…
- How images can be aligned on a page;
- HTML Tags and Formatting options;
- Menu level options – Level 1 / Level 2 / Level 2a;
- Home Page Widgets; etc.
Doing a bit of research before you install a WordPress theme can save you a lot of time and pain. There are some themes out there that offer no support or customization options. And there are some themes that you can really fall in love with that give you everything you could ever ask for in a theme.