Years ago in the early days of WordPress, everything was free. You either chose a boring default theme, picked one someone else had created or wrote your own theme. Then two things happened: 1) people realized they need to make money and 2) hackers discovered themes are a way to create security holes.
Unfortunately, since one can get website code easily, it is easy for a hacker to use a particular theme to hack your website. Also, there is the do-it-yourself trend, in which someone who knows no coding wants to set up a whole WordPress site with only a click here and there.
However, if one also wants a complex theme or lots of choices, this can bring about what is called “code bloat” – lots of calls to the database that slows down your site or lots of short codes that make theme switching difficult. In this post we will discuss two issues: theme security and code bloat. Then the post will suggest a few ways to make good theme choices.
There are places on the internet where one can get free themes or plugins. They might even be copies of premium themes (ones that elsewhere cost money). However, user beware! Hackers use various methods to insert malicious code into those themes. Then your site is open to being hacked. Years ago this used to happen in the WordPress theme directory – now that directory gets moderated.
When a web developer wants to add functionality or change the layout or styling, one simply adds code. If there is a theme that is close to what one wants, one can create a child theme. If the extra code is not related to layout or styling, adding a plugin is usually the best route. But for those that do not know coding, unfortunately one trap is to select a theme that has lots and lots of options.
What’s the problem with options? Too many options can cause code bloat. The theme may load too slowly. Or in order to add options, one might need to add shortcodes, and the shortcodes might mean content full of shortcodes. If you have content full of shortcodes and you switch your theme, guess what happens? Content that looks like ugly shortcodes instead of nice text! If you want to read an example, read about the Divi Theme.
Where to Look for Themes?
At least the themes in the WordPress.org Theme Directory have gone through some kind of theme review, but even then, I would look for a recommendation for a particular theme from another source as well. Read the reviews for themes carefully.
There are certain companies that have a highly-regarded reputation. So if you are willing to pay for a theme, you might want to take a look at StudioPress (Genesis framework themes), Woo Themes or Elegant Themes.
If you want a solid, secure theme that is updated often and free, be sure to check out the WordPress default themes. Starting with Twenty Eleven, the themes are all responsive. Personally, I like the simple look of Twenty Ten, and that one can be made responsive with a child theme. Last year I built a nice looking site for a real estate property owner using a child theme and Twenty Thirteen.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed various developers recommend these themes: Make, GeneratePress, X Theme, WooThemes Canvas, UDThemes, Enfold, _tk, BeTheme. But don’t take my word for it – check those out on your own. Good idea is to join WordPress groups on LinkedIn or on Facebook. Lurk for a while on those groups, read past posts on themes, and then ask questions.
One note I have found over and over again on WordPress groups are developers shaking their heads at themes people found on ThemeForest. It seems a user finds a theme on ThemeForest, pays money for it, gets all excited; then for some reason there are coding issues and coding messes. Maybe some themes there are perfectly fine, but user beware.
The best-selling theme on ThemeForest is called Avada; then I found this post: Why You Should Avoid Avada. Before you decide to avoid it, read the comments. Not so simple, is it?
Best Themes of All
Personally, I find the best coding for themes are the WordPress default themes (see above), the themes based on the Genesis framework, or the ones built with the Underscores starter theme. Most of the sites I have built in the past year have used Underscores. For more details on these two choices, read this post: Genesis Theme Framework vs. _s (Underscores) Starter Theme.
Both Genesis and Underscores are built by highly-regarded developers who craft those themes with carefully chosen code. This is a post with a list of free Genesis themes (after you purchase the framework). But unless you are using the default themes or the Genesis themes out-of-the-box, all of these suggestions will involve some coding. If you do want a website with custom coding, that is a service that I offer. And a simple site may well be within your budget.
I wish I could tell you: do this, and everything will be fine. But picking a theme is not an easy task. Review the options, remember security is most important, and then make your choices. When you are choosing, make sure your theme is responsive so it will pass the mobile test.