I just started my business and can’t afford a professional design yet. I’ve been told that there are a lot of great WordPress themes out there that I could use to get started. Could you help me understand how to select a WordPress theme?

A web presence has become a critical asset to any business, so it is good that you’re dedicated to trying to put your best foot forward, despite your limited resources. If you’ve started searching for themes, you probably already know that there are thousands and thousands of WordPress themes available to you. However, not all themes are created equal. We recently attended a WordPress Grand Rapids meet-up where they addressed this topic, so we’ll recap a couple of guidelines they had mentioned below.

Stay away from free themes

If you Google “free WordPress themes” you’ll get thousands of results. Ignore all of them. While I’m sure not every free theme is bad, many many of them may contain malicious code that will become part of your site if you install the theme. These themes often embed their malware with something called Base64 encryption, which to an untrained user (and maybe even a somewhat-trained one) is undetectable. For more information on this, you can read this highly intimidating post on wpmu.org.

Purchase themes from a reputable source

After reading that, you should be starting to understand that you get what you pay for. So if you are going to use a pre-designed WordPress theme for your site, you should make sure you are selecting one from a reputable source. A quality theme tends to cost about $75 or more, so keep that in mind as you shop. Once you’ve located a theme you’re interested in purchasing, you can go ahead and check the comments on that theme and do a little Googling before you buy to see what people are saying about it. Here are a few theme sources that are known to be quite reputable:

Themes provide aesthetics, plugins provide functionality

When you start searching for themes, you’re going to notice a lot of themes that tout all kinds of functionality they offer. This can be dangerous because if you choose a theme with built-in functionality, any data that you would integrate with that functionality will be useless if you choose to change to a different theme in the future. This is why it is recommended to choose a theme that offers a bare-bones, aesthetics-only approach, and doesn’t try to provide a lot of additional functionality. Functionality is best added through the implementation of plugins in addition to your theme.

There you have it, a basic list of dos and don’t for selecting your first theme. Hopefully this little post will help you avoid the pitfalls of a sub-par theme, and make a great decision on a theme that can get your new business up-and-running online.