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How To Thoroughly Vet Website Themes

Selecting a website theme can, to say the least, be an overwhelming process. I mean, there are literally thousands of free and paid options available! Choosing a theme that best reflects your brand and provides a great user experience (UX) can be a challenging task but it is such an important decision.

Out-of-the-box, pre-built themes used to be clunky and have next to no search engine optimization (SEO) features but nowadays they can be just as effective as a custom website. Still, you want to be careful. Many website themes today are pretty; don’t get distracted, they could potentially have problems with poor coding, slow speed, or SEO issues. To pick a great theme for your business’s website, consider the following six things.

1. SIMPLICITY

Modern website design should be simple. Lose the flash animation of years past and choose a more minimalistic approach. Flat designs are increasingly popular. If your website theme is too busy it will take away from your call to action. Plus, it will be a nightmare to navigate on mobile devices.

2. MOBILE-READINESS

The theme you choose absolutely must have a layout that is fluid and can adapt to different screen sizes – mobile being the most important screen. (80% of internet users own a smartphone.) Almost, if not all, popular modern web themes will be mobile-responsive but that doesn’t mean that they will definitely provide a good mobile experience. Yes, you want eye catching design but your chosen theme should be adaptive and built with converting visitors to leads in mind. Be sure to explore the form functionality and choose a theme that has easily fillable forms on mobile. There are over 2.5 billion smartphones so you must have a site that displays properly on mobile.

2b. Overall responsiveness

I’m reiterating this point because it’s so important! Responsive design means that the site will look good across many platforms and devices (i.e. desktops, tablets, cellphones) because it scales in size automatically. When selecting design templates, only choose ones that offer responsive design options! Take the time to play with the demos before making a decision or purchasing anything to make sure they’re ready for mobile and desktop.

3. ADD-ON AVAILABILITY

It’s unlikely you’ll use a website theme as it is. So, when you are selecting a theme, consider how customizable it is. In order to match the look and feel of your brand, you’ll need to customize the theme and add features to improve the UX. WordPress alone has over 54,000 plugins available. Shopify has thousands of apps. Joomla has nearly 3000 extensions. Once you’ve determined which platform/content management system is best for your business and are exploring themes, you can explore add-ons. Start a list of what you want and what features you’ll need to add to your theme to be sure the theme and plug ins are compatible.

4. SEO

As mentioned above, SEO typically comes as part of the theme package these days. Just be sure to read the theme description carefully and look for certain things: fast page load speeds, mobile-friendly, high security, clean coding, and current HTML and CSS standards.

4b. Page speed

Load speed is crucial to the success of any website so take the time to run theme demos through a website speed test tool like Pingdom or GTmetrix.  If the theme comes back slow, you can nix it and move on to another one.

5. COMPATIBILITY

Testing the website them on all popular browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer – just to be safe) is critical. Theme designers only improve with time so it’s in your best interest to start this whole process by looking at the most current releases first. These will be the ones where the code is most improved and has taken into account factors like responsiveness. Using a theme that hasn’t been updated recently could pose risks, so check the compatibility across devices, browsers, and operating systems.

6. DEVELOPER SUPPORT

Are there updates and supports available as part of your purchase? If you install a theme, you’re going to have to make updates as the platform you use changes. Maybe there are feature changes, maybe there are security issues but regardless of what you use – WordPress, Shopify, Drupal, Joomla – updates will be required. Typically the theme marketplaces will have a log of all the updates that have been released for each theme. Read the customer ratings and reviews for more insights into how helpful the developer is. If a theme has been around for awhile and also had several updates, that points to a developer who is making changes to constantly keep improving the theme. Choosing a template developer who clearly states that they offer customer support (be it via phone, email, or online chatting) will make your  life easier, should problems arise.

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As you weed through theme demo after theme demo, remember these six points. If you have questions or need a website that goes beyond a pre-built website theme, get in touch!

Further resource:

The Nonprofit’s Guide to Picking the Right WordPress Theme

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