Probing the Hidden Depths of WordPress Themes

WordPress themes provide a design & layout out-of-the-box.

In an effort to provide more unique designs to the masses, WordPress theme developers have brought a wide variety of free and premium themes. Themes will provide a set of design, layout and functionality elements, which help form the basis for the user experience. Installing an attractive WordPress theme can be thought of as a head start towards the way you want your website to eventually look and function.

There are some problems, however, with finding a theme from the WordPress theme directory, and using it out of the box:

1. Lots of other people will have the same design

It’s hard to achieve a unique and memorable look for your website if the theme you’re using has been downloaded tens of thousands of times (which isn’t unusual for popular themes).

2. There is a chance it will not be continuously supported

We recently heard about someone who had been using a very nice looking theme for years. It looked and performed well until the site administrator updated WordPress. The theme, which hadn’t been update for nearly four years, wasn’t prepared, and broke the site.

3. Themes don’t always work with certain plugins

Plugins help provide extended functionality not included in WordPress’ core code. Themes, especially heavily stylized ones, can be very closed to plugins because they want the page to look a certain way. For instance, a plugin that lets someone change page sidebars may not work because that space is reserved for a style.

4. Installation doesn’t always go smoothly

WordPress is designed to make theme installation easy, but not all themes are easy to setup. WordPress recommends that theme authors provide installation instructions for their own Themes, which may include more steps than the basic installation. Even then, a theme may not work after following the instructions provided, in which case you’ll have to contact the Theme author for help.

5. Lack of documentation

Many themes lack comments within the code that help developers understand what functions and code fragments do. We suspect that lack of documentation is common among themes made to appeal to novice WordPress users who may not be interested in delving into code. Without knowing precisely what certain lines of code do, performing regular maintenance, and design and development work becomes more difficult.

What to look for in a WordPress theme beyond its appearance

When deciding on a theme to use, be aware that good themes can go bad. Pay attention to the date when the theme was last updated. If a themes hasn’t been updated in months or years, the developer could have stopped supporting the theme, making updates to plugins and the core WordPress code risky.

It’s also important to pay attention to the number of theme downloads, which more-or-less shows how popular a theme is. Issues such as updates and compatibility tend to get more attention for a popular theme, as opposed to one that only has a handful of users. Of course, a popular theme will be used by many other websites, so it’s best to a plan to make your site stand out and be unique.

Visit forums to see if people have complaints about a certain aspect of the theme, or have issues getting support from the theme author.

And finally, if you’re in doubt about whether a WordPress theme is worth using, ask a Web developer specializing in WordPress to take a look at a certain theme to see if it will be a good one to work with.

It’s important to remember that, with some work, a theme can be changed to match your aesthetic. A theme’s font or background colour and texture, for instance, can easily be adapted to a different (and more dependable) base theme.

A WordPress theme can make a great looking site, but a skilled Web developer is able to make the WordPress customizations you need to ensure your site is appealing, stable, and functional.