If you’re just setting up a new WordPress website, you’re likely trying to decide how you want your site to look.  For most beginners, this means deciding on a theme (a.k.a. “template).  But how do you decide what theme to use?

What is a WordPress Theme?

Before we talk about how to pick a theme, let’s discuss what a theme even is.

A WordPress theme is a collection of PHP, HTML, Javascript, and CSS files that define how your website will look.

When you download and install a theme to your website, you’re telling your WordPress installation to look at those files to create the visual element of your website.  It’s handy, because you don’t have to write any code, and you can have a pretty unique website at the click of a button.

Paid (Premium) or Free?

There are plenty of free themes to choose from at WordPress.org.  If you find one that is going to work for your website, then by all means, use it!  Your goal is not to get the most expensive theme there is; your goal is to find the theme that best achieves the goals you want from your website.

The main benefits added to premium themes is the extras and add-ons they provide.  Most come with custom post types like “Projects”, or “Employees”, or even “Portfolio Items”.  These make it really easy for you to add content to your site via the admin section.

Premium themes also often include special widgets, easy integration with mail services like Aweber and MailChimp, and easy connection with other paid items like plugins or extensions.  If you know you’ll be needing some of these premium features, then it will be worth it to start out with a premium theme.

Updates

Although some free themes get regular updates, premium themes are much more likely to get regular updates.  The authors of premium themes need a reason to continue bringing in customers, and keeping their themes up to date with the latest browser standards and security guidelines is a great way to achieve that.

The downside (is it really, though?) to this is that you’ll need to log in to your admin panel more frequently to check and see if an update is available.  Some theme providers will email you when updates are ready, but others require you to install special update-checking plugins (like ThemeForest).

Mobile Responsive

This is a big one.  Google has updated their search algorithm to give preference to sites that are mobile-responsive, so you need to find a responsive theme to keep your WordPress site mobile-ready!

Most responsive themes are written with HTML5 and CSS3, and they look great at any screen width, on any device.  This may seem trivial, but if the theme you’re looking at does not scale when you shorten the width of your browser window, you need to move to the next theme in your list.

Bottom Line

If you’re trying to decide between a free and a premium WordPress theme, just look at a couple demos.  There’s a very good chance that you can find a free theme that will work for you.  The upside to starting out with a premium theme is that you’ll get all the latest digital bells and whistles.

If you need advice on a theme you’re looking at currently, sound off in the comments below, and I’d be happy to give you my personal opinion!

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