Theme Choice is Critical

The theme you choose for your website is the foundation on which you will be building. Changing it later can be a major exercise. So choose wisely!

These days web developers, including DIY web developers have an enormous array of themes and frameworks available at minimal prices. For $60 to $200 you can buy ready to go themes with many premium plugins bundled in.  

In most cases one can get a site published and ready for content creation in a day or two.

Every theme comes with a basic, starter design and that is what attracts most people.  If the design closely matches your vision of the site that you want, it will likely influence your decision. But this is a bad reason to  choose that theme.

Beware of buying or using the wrong theme

  • Look at the number of licenses sold and read the Reviews!
    Only some of the commercial themes are built by responsible professionals. A bad choice can expose you to hackers. If the theme is not properly maintained it will soon get out of date and you will end up having to redo everything on a different theme.
  • Don’t get sold by the demo content
    If you do not have a clear idea of what your site should look like an awesome looking theme will attract for all the wrong reasons.  Themes are designed to sell themes, not services or other products. The starter designs impress with views designed for entirely different purposes than most sites demand.

    Without major customization, staying with the initial, impressive theme design will make your site look just like a thousand others that have followed the same path and will most likely not serve your business purpose well at all.

Site design should always start with your business goals and appeal to your users.

Theme choice is almost irrelevant

Experienced website developers know that theme choice is almost irrelevant. They will be customizing the theme in any event.

The most important criteria for a good theme lie under the hood. 

  • How well it is coded and documented.
  • Compliance with best practices for performance, SEO and compatibility with other elements such as WordPress and Plugins.
  • Will it be maintained and keep pace with developing trends.
  • Ease of customization and future maintenance.

Some theme evaluation tips

You don’t have to be an engineer to evaluate a car.  Here are some basic ways to test a theme that looks good on the surface:

  • The first thing I check is the number of sales.  If a theme does not sell well the developer will not have the funds or the motivation to maintain it properly.  I will not use a theme with less than 5000 sales.
  • How many reviews does the theme have?  Only a handfull of reviews would probably have been writtten by the developer and his or her friends. 
  • If there are ample reviews,  read them, the 1 star ones, the 3 star and the 5 star ones!
  • Check the theme appearance in multiple browsers, Firefox, Chrome, Explorer, Edge, Safari.  It should look the same.
  • Narrow your browser window to see how the elements will stack on mobile devices.  Check the fixed header areas and menu behavior in landscape views on mobiles.
  • Look at the support site and see how many issues are raised by users and consider if you can live with the answers.  Also check the dates to make sure that the answers are recent.
  • Check the theme in to see how it performs.  Copy the theme’s demo URL. Then visit GTmetrix and paste the URL in the “analyze” block and click it. The site should score at least a high B for both Page Speed and YSlow and load in less than 2 seconds. As you add content and plugins it will just get slower. Bad coding will show up in the recommendations. There will always be three or four recommendations at the top that show warnings. The following are typical of themes using sliders:
    • “Defer parsing of JavaScript”
    • “Specify image dimensions”
    • “Remove query strings from static resources
      You can ignore these if the other indicators are positive.
  • You can also similarly check the coding quality on the W3C code validation Service. 

Free does not always mean sub-standard

I was recently asked to make a site ‘mobile friendly’.  It was built on the free Twentyten theme offered by  Not surprisingly, being over five years old, the Twentyten theme is not responsive but it had served the site owner well for all this time and there was no telling that it was a free theme.

As a test, I installed twentysixteen and it worked functionally in every respect. It was fully responsive and apart from some obvious styling differences, it was painless.  So instead of making the old site responsive I set out to customize the twentysixteen version to have the personality of the original site. 

For this I needed to look into the CSS and PHP of the theme.   I was very impressed with the quality of the code, the documentation and the attention to detail that lay under the covers of an ostensibly humble free theme. 

I learned some new CSS tricks from studying the code and was also pleased to find some modern fonts preloaded.

I highly recommend the twentyxx family of free WordPress themes over many commercial competitors.  It is a professionally built solid base to start from and it is as readily customizable than any other theme.  Why pay for an unknown entity when something like this is only a click away?

Themes I personally like and use


For most sites I just love the Avada Theme.  It is by far the most sold theme from Last time I checked the recorded sales were over 800,ooo and 4 times the number of its nearest competitor.  There is a very good reason for this.  It:

  • Is Easy to use
  • Has a great page editor for easy styling and structuring of elements.  
  • Is Very versatile
  • Performs well 
  • Is well maintained and documented
  • Keeps growing in function
  • Integrates well with Woocommerce

From a lot of experience I prefer Avada over any other theme for its versatility, performance and clean code that makes it very stable across WordPress versions.


My second choice for Woocommerce sites is the Flatsome Theme, available from


  • Is relatively Easy to use
  • It comes with a front-end composer for styling and structuring pages.  Not as full function as Avada but still very extensive.  Just a bit slow to use.
  • Is Very versatile
  • Performs well 
  • Is well maintained and documented
  • Integrates very well with Woocommerce, and slightly more intuitive than Avada.


Divi competes with Avada for the most popular WordPress theme and thousands of site owners have chosen it so I have used it on many sites.

  • Is Easy to use
  • Has a great page editor for easy styling and structuring of elements.  
  • Is very versatile
  • Performs well 
  • Is well maintained and documented
  • Integrates well with Woocommerce

I use Divi often because clients chose it before I got involved but on large sites with a lot of function it often shows up issues such as hanging on page saves.  I have always managed to overcome such issues, but that should not be.  Divi is well used and well maintained and I am confident that the developers will eventually resolve such bugs.

Thesis Theme

The Thesis Theme from DIY themes is quite different and not for the DIY guy, despite what the seller site name implies.  It is an extremely powerful theme development tool that works by easily creating and maintaining different page templates where each page has different criteria without the need to do this all in PHP code.  One can view it as a PHP code generator tool. 

It does not look like anything out of the box, so there is a quite a bit of work to do (compared to other themes) to make things look right. CSS can run into thousands of lines.

But with all the flexibility it offers it is my third choice for complex sites with unique requirements.

Other good themes that I have worked with.

  • X-theme
  • Divi
  • Enfold
  • Jupiter
  • U-design
  • Canvas from Woothemes (now discontinued)
  • Twentysixteen (free WordPress theme)