creative theme

Over the past 7 years, I have bought many creative WordPress themes that I have grown to love. Using WordPress as your content management system gives you so many options as a blogger or business.  It can be very frustrating having a great idea and not knowing how to get it online with a professional look.

WordPress themes are now coming out with more features, layouts and options that make customizing a website easy as you want.  The more I searched, the more features I found and imagined how I would use theme.

What I’ve found after all the research and window shopping is a method to narrow down which WordPress theme matches your vision.  The key for me was to create a list of things to check out for every theme I was interested in. Clients have asked me what do I look for when choosing a theme and these are some of the areas I love to explore.

I am certainly not a gifted web designer, not even close. The key for me was to avoid the frustration of a buying a WordPress theme that didn’t match my skill level.  Some themes don’t offer the options I would like to implement and require a designer to mess with your themes  CSS files.  With this simple checklist, I was able to narrow my search and find the best solution for me.

Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, so some themes I love you may hate and vice versa. Each project, business, idea or purpose will vary.  Musicians may prefer a more portfolio based theme to showcase their music, whereas a business may prefer a theme that has a strong home page for lead capture. Ask yourself, what are you trying to accomplish when a visitor is here?

Now that we’ve got our introduction, here is a list of some of the areas we will look into for your checklist:

  • Responsiveness
  • Admin Panels
  • Page templates
  • Portfolio styles
  • Shortcodes
  • Widgets
  • Menu Placement
  • Layouts
  • Fonts

The reason this guide is so long is to (hopefully) save you time and money when choosing a new theme. Whether you are just starting out or you are a blogger already looking for a change, this will help you match your vision with the right template.  I know I have made the mistake of buying 2 themes for one project, because I didn’t like my first choice, I didn’t know what I truly wanted until after my money was spent.

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Create A Checklist for The Best WordPress Theme

I started making this list after just spending hours and hours exploring different themes and layouts. The key here is to start somewhere and explore some demos, write down some features you like and what features you think your site needs to have.

Customize your checklist to your preference.  This narrows your search to themes that meet your requirements.

The list below are the factors I love to find on WordPress themes. They are not in order of importance but they are important factors I look for in a theme I will purchase.

1. Responsiveness

Example Of Responsive WP Theme

Responsiveness is when your WordPress theme adjusts visually to various devices. This is a very useful feature now because of the rise of mobile viewing, tablet browsing and even various laptop and desktop resolutions. Browser adjustment can be very nice. The alternative before was using a mobile plugin that would render different viewing sizes, however left alot to be desired in design. No need for having to zoom in on a mobile phone to read content, let your theme do the work for you.

2. Admin Panels

Admin Panel Example for WP Theme

This is a screenshot from my WordPress admin interface on my theme.

As you can see from the screenshot above, this is an example of a WordPress theme admin panel. The beauty is to find a theme that gives you the options you want to customize. Make it easy on you and customize via your WordPress dashboard, no need to edit CSS files and mess with code.

You generally will find options like uploading logos, favicon, slideshow settings, post options, fonts, featured image options, homepage options and analytics integration. Each web designer adds their individual options, thats why you want to have your list as a reference to what you will need to change. Find the easiest route, and get to blogging.

3. Page Templates

Services page

Custom page templates are a great way to see how dynamic a theme is. Many web designers create custom pages to make filling out your site a breeze. Common pages you may find are: About Us, Contact, Sitemap, Archives, Portfolio, Services, Team page, and some even have a 404 page template.

Page templates also can have the options to choose between menu placement and also left or right sidebar placement.

The reason I love a theme with some custom pages is it can be used later on if your site needs a makeover.  Get creative with how you present your content, product or services. Check out the menu area of demo themes and usually you will find a tab that says “Pages” where you can get a nice overview of what your content will look like.

 4. Portfolio Styles

Portfolio styles

Example of a 4 column Portfolio page


Displaying your product or work history in a visual way can be easily solved with different portfolio styles. On the WordPress theme demos you will find some themes with a menu tab “Portfolio” where web designers will showcase these different portfolio styles.  Each web designer offers their own flare, so its good to see how creative they take it.

I’ve used Portfolios for displaying individual products, showcasing services, highlighting audio/video/digital products. I wanted to use them with a strong image to peak interest. Some feature you may want are portfolios with 1-4 columns, masonry style, stacked style or single style. The list goes on and on, just visit the individual pages on the demo and see which portfolio style captures your eye.

 5. Shortcodes

Shortcodes are great when it comes to making your content shine.  Maybe you want some of your articles to have bright buttons for call to action, boxes, tabbed content, image sliders, custom lists, testimonial, drop caps, or quotes. Some WordPress themes come with shortcodes that can easily insert into your content to give it that personalized feel. Read through the descriptions to see what shortcodes are offered that might interest you.

Another way to get an overview is some designers have a “Shortcodes” page setup on their demos that showcase what they offer. Explore and think of ways to make your words shine and increase reader interest.

Skillbar demo

The picture above is just one example of a shortcode I found in a random demo that can be inserted into your post. Is that a feature you would want with your content? Explore shortcodes you like.

6. Widgets

I love how new WordPress themes are becoming very handy with helpful widgets to get your website looking sharp. Many custom widgets can be used in you sidebar or your footer that can add such things as social media links, author bio links,call to action boxes, contact box, menu widget and tag clouds just to name a few.

I’ve encountered themes that help in creating your home page layout by simply adding widgets to designated areas and filling out your site very cleanly and easily. I love when a process such as drag and drop can make your presentation shine.

The number of widgets is not what is important in your search, it is the number of widgets you like and feel are needed.

7. Menu Placement

Menu placement is one area I really focus on because of its importance. WordPress designers sometimes accentuate where the menu is shown to increase a visitors chance of exploring more pages on your site. Examine if the menu location is easy to find and makes you want to click on the tabs to see what is next.

Maybe the location is off to the right where you would prefer it in the middle or placed to the left.  Is it prominent enough so visitors don’t leave?  Does it meet your standards? Do you like the fonts being used to display it?

8. Layouts

The layout you choose is very crucial to how your message is relayed. Do you want a theme with a fancy slider on the homepage or more of a blog style homepage? For example, news style/magazine style themes offer certain styles that favor that industry. Freelance artists sometimes choose portfolio style themes, video bloggers choose themes with a preference to video placement, and sometimes you just need a simple and minimal theme.

Fullscreen WordPress theme

Would a theme with a larger image on the homepage accentuate your product? The example above shows how the kind of images or videos you have can affect your choice of theme.

Do you have a product or service in mind that you want to showcase prominently? Where do you want it to be located for visitors to see? Evaluating various themes will get you closer to finding what will work with your particular product. Maybe you don’t need a full theme with various pages but want a simple landing page WordPress theme that showcases your product and encourages email capture.

Don’t get caught up in what category the theme is located in, just make sure it has the layout you think will make your message superior.

9. Fonts/Typography

I love a theme with beautiful typography. Font choice is very important. Does the font style make it easy to read? My preference is to find a theme with strong typography. Explore how the different headers and titles look throughout the demo to ensure the font choice is up to your standards. Consider it the same as if you used Photoshop for a logo and were looking for the right lettering. Is it stylish or simple?

Some themes now have Google Web Fonts to choose from built in their dashboard to make the customizing painless.  Web designers list this in their features for the theme, if that is of interest for you.

Create Your Own Checklist and Get Started

Now its time for you to create your own checklist and get the process started.  The reason I created this list is to stop the endless indecision from browsing theme to theme with no clear direction in mind. Don’t chase what you think you like, know exactly the features you enjoy and find them.

The beauty of having many options in themes is to really find that exact match for you.  Layouts, color schemes, widgets, shortcodes, page templates and post options all can transform your message into a beautiful piece of art.

Create your checklist while referencing some of the options you choose important, such as the list above, and adjust according to your taste.  It is not about getting the theme with the most shortcodes, fonts and endless page templates; it is about finding that ideal theme that matches your vision and expands your brand.

Get started, browse with a purpose and purchase a professional WordPress theme that will add shine to your words.