You have found a lot of free WordPress themes, which look really nice, and are even listed on “best free WordPress themes” lists, but how can you be sure that the theme you have selected is well-designed?
Actually a number of these themes have a very, very nice “facade” but have serious problems “behind the scene”.
So, how can you exclude some themes, before spending precious time setting them up and customizing them? Well, the first thing to do is to install and activate the selected theme:
- Download the theme’s zip files to your computer;
- Go to the Appearance/Themes in your WordPress administration panel, click on the tab “install themes”, click on “upload”, browse for the zip file of the theme you want to install and click on install;
- Activate the theme.
You are now ready to test it!
- Create a couple of pages and posts, with categories;
- Click on one of the category pages: how does the category page look? Has it been designed as well as the home page? Are the various posts well separated? Does the post show thumbnail and excerpt or the full post? (From a SEO point of view, you want to avoid showing full posts for categories and monthly archives, not to have repetitive content of different pages.)
- Click on one of the monthly archives and ask yourself the same questions;
- Does the theme have a “search” function? It is an important function people are now expecting;
- Try the search function: type a word of your choice which appears in one of your posts, and see how the search results page looks like. Is it well designed?
- Now type a word of your choice which does NOT appear in any of your posts, and see again how the search results page looks when there are no results found for the search;
- Try the 404 page (page not found) by adding a random word in the URL and see how it looks.
- Does the theme have widgets to customize sidebars and footer? They definitely make customization much easier;
- Does the theme have a site map template? It is not mandatory but it’s a nice feature;
- Finally, create a few sub-pages and check if your theme accomodates for sub-pages.
Well, such testing probably took you less than 15 minutes, but I am sure it will save you precious hours down the road. It is surprising to realize that a lot of free themes (and even some premium themes) actually won’t pass the test!
2017 Post Update:
Interestingly, the content of this blog post is still very current. However with the vast changes which happened in the past few years, I would add 2 key questions to this list:
- Make sure the theme is responsive, i.e. that it resizes on smaller devices and looks nice on a smart phone or a tablet. The best way to check that is simply to view it on these devices. If you don’t have access to a phone or tablet, you can also check it by resizing your browser window.
- Make sure you can add social icons to the site, to feature your social media accounts AND to allow visitors to share your content on their social media.