A lot of beginner bloggers focus way too much on how their blog looks like, the truth is that some ugly looking blogs can rank as well as blogs which use premium themes. Some themes are niche-specific, like for a magazine, cooking blog, and even for affiliate purposes. Your main goal with a WordPress theme is to have a fairly nice looking blog that loads as fast as possible and has at least some kind of functionality.
You should choose a WordPress theme which increases site speed, has a low size, is responsive, has places for ads, simple layout, has different fonts, is compatible with different browsers, is compatible with plugins, is compatible with your version of WordPress, is compatible with page builders, good for SEO, is easy to customize, has additional CSS support, has frequent updates, and by never using a cracked or nulled WordPress theme.
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The problem with a lot of WordPress themes is that they do include a lot of bloat, especially if you buy a premium theme. Oftentimes premium themes will contain premium plugins, although these plugins do add some functionality to your website but they often also slow down your website. If you have been browsing online for a niche-specific theme like for an amazon affiliate theme than odds are that you have found a lot of premium themes.
A lot of themes market themselves as amazon affiliate themes, and a lot of beginners fall for it. If you are planning to make an amazon affiliate website then you can use virtually any theme which you want, you don’t need an amazon affiliate theme. Sometimes these amazon affiliate themes will say buzzwords like optimized for higher conversion and so on, these are meaningless as the main thing which will determine your conversion is your content.
Some people might suggest that you need a premium theme if you are serious about your blog. The truth is that free themes are just as good as premium themes and most importantly free themes are not full of bloat. There are a couple of free WordPress themes that I do recommend like Astra and Generatepress, these are extremely fast and are excellent for an affiliate or for a simple blog. If you have a brand new blog then one of the first things you should do is to disable blog comments, for more information check out my recent article Should I disable comments on my blog? ( Top 10 Reasons ).
The first thing to look for when you are choosing a WordPress theme is how fast the actual theme is. Generally speaking, simple WordPress themes are the fastest ones to load and the ones which have a lot of useless functionality tend to load extremely slow. Site speed is actually a ranking factor, so you have to take it seriously. Oftentimes people use some complicated theme that works well in the beginning but as soon as they add ads, the site speed goes down significantly.
You can change your site theme at any time, just be careful as some themes will alter your link structure which will have a negative effect on your SEO rankings. Most themes have a demo section with some dummy content, which you can use to check out the actual loading speed. You can use https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/ and GTmetrix to check the loading speed of the template.
In the page speed insight, the demo content should have a 90+ score both on mobile and on desktop, on GTmetrics it should have a score of A, and most importantly look at the number of requests which is needed to load the WordPress theme. Site speed plays a vital role in how your website is ranking, for more information check out my recent article How to rank a new blog faster? ( In 9 Easy Steps ).
The size of the theme and site speed is directly connected, some WordPress themes are extremely small like a couple of kb, on the other hand, there are a lot of themes which are a couple of MB. Now I am not referring to the size of the theme when you download it, but to the size of the theme once it is installed on your blog or website. You can check this with GTmetrics, in the total page size field.
Do note that even if your theme size is fairly small but your site still loads slowly with the new WordPress theme then it might be due to the images which you are using. Oftentimes images contain a lot of useless information and they are way too large for a simple blog, there are some plugins that fix this problem like SMUSH.
A responsive WordPress theme means that the theme can be used and loaded easily on mobile devices. Now you might think that this isn’t such a big problem, the truth is that most of the online traffic comes from mobile devices, and even google prioritizes mobile devices with their mobile-first indexing. If for some reason the theme which you are using is not responsive then you could use a couple of plugins to fix it, although I do not recommend doing it as it will cause you more problems down the line.
Most WordPress themes are responsive, this is true for both free and premium themes. Some sellers will try to sell them by focusing on how responsive their theme is, this is just buzz word, a WordPress theme is either responsive or not.
Even if you are not planning to add display ads on your website currently there might come a time when you will consider it. Ads can be extremely profitable, although you will make a couple of pennies here and there with Adsense but once you join Ezoic, Mediavine, or AdThrive you can expect to earn around 15-40$ per 1000 visitors, although this also depends on the niche in which you blog is.
WordPress themes which also have sidebar widgets are excellent for ad placements, you can even put a sticky ad in one of the widgets which will make a significant amount of money.
The simpler the layout of the WordPress theme is the better it is, both for useability and ease of access. There are a lot of themes that tend to be pointlessly complex, and some that make your website look like a spammy one. Magazine and news themes are probably the worst, they often clutter tho homepage with so many posts that it is hard to find what you need. This excess clutter will not only make your site load slower but it will make it extremely difficult to navigate, especially for new users.
These magazine and news themes are only good if you have an established brand for which people are actually searching for, if you have a simple blog then odds are that your homepage won’t be accessed a lot of times.
Most themes will have their own style of layout and type of fonts which they are using, and some are using google fonts. However not all fonts are equal, some are too small, some are too large and some are extremely hard to read. Make sure to check the size of the fonts which the theme is using, generally speaking, the ideal size of the fonts should be around 16px. Also, check the demo page of the WordPress theme on a mobile device and see how it looks.
Some WordPress themes use another font for mobile devices, either due to readability issues or because they load faster. When you check the speed of the wp theme than you will notice that fonts can cause the theme to load slower, this is often the case if the fonts are fetched from a 3rd party website. Your goal is to host the fonts on your server, this way it loads extremely fast.
Most people simply forget about this, not everybody is using google chrome, and if your users are using some other browser than you have to make sure that the theme works and looks good on the most popular browsers. Some themes which have not been updated for a while will have issues with certain browsers and some won’t even work at all. To test the browser compatibility simply get the demo page URL and check it out on firefox, brave, opera, edge, and safari.
Most of the web traffic comes from mobile devices and a lot of iOS users only use the safari web browser, so you have to make sure that the theme works for these browsers as well. Layout and design should look like on the chrome browser and you should also check if the theme functions properly.
If you are blogging for a long time than you probably have a couple of favorite plugins. If you are planning to change your WordPress them than you have to make sure that the theme is compatible with these plugins, otherwise you might end up with a non-functioning plugin or even worse with a malfunctioning website. Most WordPress themes that are updated fairly regularly will support the most popular plugins but if you choose a WordPress theme that hasn’t been updated in a while then you might come across some issues. If you have a favorite SEO plugin then check out my recent article to find out why they are useless Should I use an SEO plugin?.
WordPress version compatibility
WordPress makes a couple of updates every year, some are good and some are bad like the Gutenberg update, I mean just look at that rating. Ideally, you will have the latest WordPress update, if not then you can see if the WordPress theme is compatible with your version of WordPress in the Themes section. Do not change to a theme that is not compatible with your version of WordPress, as you will have a lot of problems down the line.
Generally speaking, as soon as WordPress makes a new update, theme builders will also update their themes, some do it faster than others. More complex themes tend to need a lot more time for updating, while simpler themes oftentimes do not even need an update and they will still be compatible.
Page builder compatibility
If you have a certain page builder that you like then you have to make sure that the WordPress theme is compatible with the page builder. Some themes come with an inbuilt page builder although this is mostly the case for premium themes. The problem with these inbuilt page builders is that once you change the WordPress theme than you will have to remake a big part of your website, some page builders won’t even display your posts if you are not using their wp theme.
There are plenty of 3rd party page builders that do a good job, and some even use Gutenberg as a page builder. The problem with inbuilt or 3rd party page builders is that they tend to slow down your website significantly.
Good for SEO
Some WordPress themes alter the URL structure of your entire website which can be a headache to fix. The good news is that most wp themes are SEO compatible, and they won’t mess with the URL structure or other SEO related things. Generally speaking, the smaller and simpler a theme is the easier it is for the google bot to crawl it, which is vital for good rankings. On the other hand, if you have hundreds of categories and subcategories than google needs a lot more time to figure out what is actually going on your website.
Ease of customization
A lot of bloggers like to change small things on their websites like the colors, layout, fonts, and so on. If you want to customize your website in a certain way then make sure that the theme actually can do it. Generally speaking, most premium themes will come with a lot of customization options although most of them will be useless but some are essential. Once you install a theme then you can preview it and see what the theme offers in terms of customization.
Additional CSS support
The additional CSS support is found in the appearance and customize tab, and it is probably one of the most important features to look for in a WordPress theme. Although you might not need this additional CSS support at the moment but you might need it later down the line. Most WordPress themes do have this additional CSS feature, however, that doesn’t mean that the feature actually works. Make sure to test it out before you commit to the new wp theme.
The most popular WordPress themes tend to have fairly frequent updates if you have found a WordPress theme that hasn’t been updated in a year than odds are that it is abandoned. You might still be able to use it but once you update to a newer version of WordPress then you might start having problems. No matter if you are choosing a free or a premium theme, always check if the theme is still being updated.
Never used nulled or cracked themes
If you are part of an SEO forum than you have probably seen a lot of posts with premium nulled or cracked themes being offered for free. These nulled or cracked themes often contain backdoors and malware, which is the last thing you want on your website. You won’t even notice the problems first as some of these cracked and nulled themes include scripts that are extremely well hidden.
Some of them will change the destination URL of some of your affiliate links, they won’t do it always but a couple of times per day, this way you won’t even notice that you are actually making money for somebody else. If you are on a tight budget then use a free theme, there are a lot of extremely high-quality free themes, and once you have some money you can upgrade to a premium theme although it is not necessary.
As you can see choosing a WordPress theme isn’t that difficult although there are a couple of steps which you have to keep in mind. My personal recommendation is to choose a lightweight theme that is responsive and loads as fast as possible. The layout of your blog should be as simple as possible, this is good both for your users and for the google bot to find what they are looking for.