What are WordPress themes? How to pick the right theme for your website

by Jun 8, 2022Getting Started, Themes, WordPress

If you’re at the start of your website building journey, you might be wondering “what the heck is a WordPress theme?”

I tried many different WordPress themes when I was starting out, trying to find the perfect one. I didn’t really know what elements a good theme should have, so I wasted a lot of time trying to find the best theme for my website and for my clients’ websites.

I’ve wasted time, energy and money on finding the right theme and I don’t want you to have to go through the same pain! This post is designed to give you a clear overview of what a theme is and what to look for when choosing the right theme for your website.

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A laptop open on a desk with the text: What are themes? And how do you pick the right one?

What is a WordPress theme?

In simple terms, a WordPress theme changes the look and design of your website. It controls how your pages are laid out, the appearance of your fonts, colours, blog posts and other design elements. They are a great way to quickly and easily get your website up and running. Many of them are targeted at a specific niche, bringing you even closer to a perfect website before you even begin building!

For example, if you are a photographer, you might want to display lots of high-quality images in an attractive layout. There’ll be a theme out there specifically designed to do exactly that!

Themes often add extra functionality without the need for multiple plugins. Having lots of plugins can slow your site down, as well as cause compatibility issues between different plugins or the theme. (Not sure what a plugin is? Don’t worry, I’ll explain that later in the post.)

For example, WordPress doesn’t come with the ability to have a contact form. If you want to add a contact form to your website, you will need to use a plugin. However, you can eliminate the need for that extra plugin if the theme you choose already comes with contact forms.

Maggie's Mildly Interesting but Ultimately Irrelevant Facts:

Technically, you can build your own theme from scratch, but this takes a lot of complex coding knowledge – and for most of us, the whole point of using WordPress is to avoid the need to learn advanced coding!

The best part about using themes is that you can have a stunning, responsive website up and running in a matter of hours without needing to know a single line of code.

Summary: WordPress themes control your website’s appearance and formatting.

What type of theme should you choose for your website?

There are literally thousands of free and paid WordPress themes to choose from, so you will absolutely be able to find one that suits your needs.

But at the same time, sifting through them all can seem like a daunting task!

To a certain extent, choosing a theme depends on what you want your website to do.

    • As mentioned above, if you are a photographer, you’ll want a theme that specifically highlights your photos.
    • If you are a mechanic, you’ll want a website that clearly details what services you offer and how people can find your garage/store.
    • If you are an online retailer, you might look for a theme that has been built specifically for online stores.

What to keep in mind when looking for the right theme

    • Mobile responsiveness – when more than 50% of all website traffic is from mobile devices, you really need to ensure your website is easily viewed on a mobile phone or tablet. Visitors won’t stay long if they get frustrated by poor layout, text that is too small to read, and are unable to easily find the information they need.
    • Multipurpose theme – we’ve talked about choosing a theme that is suited to your niche or type of website. There are also several fantastic multipurpose themes that can be easily customised to any niche. These types of themes often come packaged with free, pre-built pages that you can import with one click and then customise with your own information and branding.
    • Quick page loading – visitors won’t wait for a slow page to load. They’ll click the back button and find their information from a different website. A well-built and reputable theme will be optimised for quick loading times.
    • Settings for branding – you want your website to reflect your brand. Being able to easily select fonts and colours and upload logos is important when choosing a theme.
    • Support – especially when purchasing a premium theme, you want to be able to get in touch with the theme developer if any issues or bugs crop up. Generally speaking, if you pay for a theme you will get priority support from the developer. If you use a free theme, there might be an option to pay for dedicated support, or there might simply be a public forum where you can ask questions. Make sure you get the level of support you think you might need while building your website.
Infographic outlining the things to check when choosing a theme.

Which is the BEST WordPress theme?

Obviously, everyone is going to have their own opinion of which theme is the best. It comes down to what you need it to do, how easy it is to use and customise, and personal preference.

In my personal opinion, I like themes that have drag and drop page builder functionality. They allow me to customise and build a website exactly how I or my client wants it. Not only does this make it super easy for beginners to build a website, it also drastically reduces the building time.

Maggie's Super Useful Tips:

Themes like Divi are a perfect example of a page builder theme. Plus, Divi comes with over 250 professionally designed website layout packs, each complete with home pages, about pages, services/pricing pages, blog pages, contact pages, and more. You can search for a website layout pack that fits your niche and simply import it to your webpage with one click! All that’s left for you to do is add your images and business information!

Psst! The website you’re currently on was built with Divi!

Some of the most popular WordPress themes are:

Divi WordPress Theme

Summary: it’s difficult to say which theme is the best WordPress theme because they all have their merits and it’s down to personal preference. However, one that has a built-in page builder or will integrate with a page builder plugin is often a good choice for beginners.

Should you use a paid theme?

It’s completely possible to build a fully functional WordPress site without paying for a premium theme. There are lots of free themes that definitely will do the job.

Paid themes come with more functionality and support than free themes though, so it might be worthwhile for your business. Most premium themes are between $30-$150, so finding an affordable theme for your small business website is certainly not impossible.

Maggie's Super Useful Tips:

Just make sure that the theme is the right one for you and your business before paying for it! A lot of premium themes have a free ‘lite’ version with limited functionality or a free trial that you can use and test before deciding if it’s the right one for you.

What is the difference between a theme and a template?

This might confuse some beginners because the words sound like they could be interchangeable. However, a theme is a complete package of code, images, templates and more. Some themes will have blog templates or page templates to enable speedy design.

You can’t install individual templates to your WordPress site, they come as part of a WordPress theme.

What is the difference between a theme and a plugin?

I’ll go into more detail about plugins and their function in another post, but for now, a theme changes the appearance and style of a website, while a plugin adds extra functionality that the theme may not provide.

For example, a basic theme doesn’t come with online shop functionality – you’d need to install a plugin such as WooCommerce to enable a store section on your website. However, your theme would still affect the styling and appearance of your store pages.

Want to know more about building your own website?

If you’re ready to get started, click here to download my free ebook that walks you through the exact 9 steps you need to follow to build your perfect website.

I hope I’ve been able to clear up any confusion you might have had about what a WordPress theme is and how to choose the right one for your small business website.

If you have questions, problems, or just wanna say hi – let me know in the comments!

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Maggie Duncan

Self-taught WordPress web designer
I love to help others build their own perfect website by taking away the tech overwhelm and simplifying the industry jargon. As a self-taught web designer, I believe that anyone can learn to build their own website and it doesn't have to be difficult!

Who am I?

Hi! I'm Maggie and I've been building websites for others using WordPress for over 8 years. I'm a self-taught developer and truly believe that in this day and age, anyone can build an amazing website themselves.
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