Premium WordPress themes contain a powerful set of deliverables – design, features, support, code, and general quality – every bit of technical consideration is taken care of and provided to users in an easy-to-use-and-setup, stunning package. With marketplaces big and small (Envato, StudioPress, Elegant Themes, iThemes, etc.), you have plenty of quality choices available.
How Do You Decide?
Since your site’s design needs to remain consistent to enforce a visual brand identity as well as user experience, you need to choose a theme and stick with it. This puts a higher pressure on you to get it right than just the thought of money well-spent (or lost) over a theme.
Essentially, once you create your WordPress blog, you need to style it and you need to style it right. In order to help you avoid pitfalls and bad choices, here is a checklist you need to go through before you purchase a premium theme for your WordPress website. For starters, you need to look beyond the tags of “responsive and retina ready”, the stunning high-res photos/ videos in a theme demo, and check the theme for:
1. Features - Coded and Bundled
WordPress themes, for those who are unaware, give you a complete ‘remodel’ of your front-end user interface. This means that there is more to themes than just colors (e.g. check out the color scheme of this local physical therapy in Washington DC site - do you like its color scheme?), fonts, icons, layouts, etc.
Many niche-specific themes will come with some special features either hardcoded within the theme or as custom/3rd party plugins that are bundled with the theme. A great example is JobMonster, a directory theme which has the listing feature hardcoded. There are also many premium themes that pack Visual Composer plugin (lets you customize your theme’s minute details – colors, layouts, icons, fonts, etc.).
Always check your theme for:
- Bundled Plugins
- Page Builder tools/features – Lets you customize little things yourself
- Hardcoded features – Will work only as long as the theme is currently active on your website
- Extra layouts and page templates – To give you more choice in terms of layouts and an SEO advantage with niche-specific and special custom page / post templates that good premium themes pack.
2. Cross Browser Compatibility
You can have the most stunning looking website interface design on the entire web (or at least your niche), but if your WordPress theme isn’t cross-browser compatible, that brilliant UI will only work its magic on a part of your audience. Your theme’s design and interface features need to work consistently across all major browsers and their latest + preceding versions to help you get the maximum possible traffic and audience.
Make sure to test your theme’s browser compatibility by uploading the demo page on online testing tool like Browser shots. Note that the more ‘feature-packed’ a theme is, the less is the likelihood that all those features would work equally well on all browsers.
3. Plugin Compatibility
Once you set up your WordPress website, the first thing you are likely to do is install an army of plugins for your different needs – security, SEO, cache, spam, subscriber-list building, eCommerce, etc… Any theme that you buy/install needs to be able to play well with all of them in order to avoid errors and compatibility issues later on.
Most premium themes list the names of all major plugins they are compatible with – WooCommerce, W3 Total Cache, BuddyPress, Jetpack, Contact Form 7, and so on. These, however, likely cover a fraction of your entire plugin count.
While creating your website, make sure to check with the theme author/seller/developer to confirm that all your selected plugins will be compatible with the theme. Some great developers I have found have even offered to check and get back to my clients, which was great pre-purchase service (and lead to sales, in case you were wondering).
On a related note – Stick to trusted, well-known plugins for any functionality and try to use as few plugins as possible (for the sake of security and speed).
4. Translation-ready and WPML/PolyLang Compatible
For those of you who are unaware, let’s get this cleared up – Translation-ready does not refer to your content! There are people who believe that a theme’s translation files will give it the ability to translate the front end and content (everything your audience engages with). No, just…no.
Translation-Ready simply means that the theme packs .po/.mo files, which you can use to translate the back-end (admin dashboard) interface to a language of your choice. This makes site management a localized experience for those members of your team whose native language isn’t English.
To create the same experience for your audience, your theme needs to be WPML or PolyLang (or any other Translation plugin/service) compatible. This, above anything, gives a significant boost to your SEO efforts.
5. Pre-optimized for Search Engines and Speed
Premium themes will generally pay due attention to SEO and performance. And since one influences the other (better speed == higher rank), most themes’ feature list will band them together and call the theme SEO Optimized.
But you know there’s more to SEO than loading speed (although that is pretty important too). Look for features like Schema.org rich snippet support, custom taxonomies/ pages/ post templates, a user-friendly Error: 404 Not Found page, and similarly optimized company/blog pages and layouts.
And just to be sure, check the demo for loading time with Google Pagespeed Insights.
6. User Ratings and Reviews
Theme authors (and basically everyone who has ever sold anything on the internet) ‘buy’ reviews. The world is bad. Get over it and look at ratings and reviews, with a critical eye.
You can easily tell when a ‘reviewer’ is ‘faking it’ when the review itself focuses more on how amazing the team and support is instead of actually getting into any specifics (or God forbid, issues) within the theme itself. You know a theme is good when – a.) Others have talked about it (on blogs), b.) It’s been bought hundreds (or thousands!) of times, c.) it has been rated over 3-4 stars by a significantly high number of buyers.
Premium Support and Free Updates – That’s practically why they’re charging you a ‘premium’ for a theme.
Check to ensure that the support is available (through multiple channels – mail, helpdesk, phone, forum, etc.). Go through the theme’s changelog (just the dates) to see how often and how consistently the developers push out updates. Ideally, individual update dates should (at least) coincide with WordPress core updates.
I often compare buying a theme to buying a car – you need to ensure that it will run well before you can even begin to salivate over how stunning it looks.
Made some gaffes while finding The WordPress theme for your website? Allow us to learn (no pointing or laughing, I swear) from your experience and share it with us in the comments below.
John oftentimes takes the lead as the Agile Project Manager and SEO expert on selected projects, which allows him to be hands-on with the latest trends.