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Free WordPress themes. Where to find and how to choose

Free WordPress themes. Where to find and how to choose
Vika Fedoseenko
Content manager

There are 4000 themes in the WordPress Theme Directory! Some of them are good others aren’t. We will help to find the one that will suit you.

What is a Wordpress theme?

Themes are website layouts created on WordPress engine. They outline pages design, fonts, colors, and widget placement. Themes are created by professional developers who distribute them for free or for money.

There are more than 4000 free themes in the Wordpress Theme Directory. They are easy to use. Download, set the theme up, add your text and pictures, and you’re good to go! No need to think about design or code yourself.

However, not all of the themes are good. Some of them are outdated, others are incompatible with popular plugins, or have a complex admin panel. Some problems could occur immediately or later when the website is already full of content. In this case, changing a theme could become a difficult decision.

How to choose a theme that will suit you for sure? We are telling further.

A theme or a template?

The words «theme» and «template» often used as synonyms. But if we strictly follow the Wordpress terminology, that’s not correct.

 

A theme is a layout of the whole website. It describes the look and structure of header, footer, number of columns, and fonts. «Twenty Nineteen» is a theme.

 

A template is a part of the theme. This is a layout of a single page or section. Header.php is a template that defines the design of a top block on every page.

Now when we figured out the terminology, we can get down to business.

Start with the requirements

Inexperienced users start choosing a theme right from the Theme Directory. That is understandable. It’s fun to open one theme after another, looking at the design, imagining your website, and tuning in to success. But this activity doesn’t bring many benefits.

At first, it is better to think about the aims of your website. What will you publish there? After that, it is time to pick the design. These are the questions you should answer before choosing a theme:

  1. What are the goals of the site?
  2. What pages do you need?
  3. What will you place on each page?
  4. What type of content will be there? Photos, text, or video.
  5. Which functions would you need? Receiving payments, describing products, uploading files, or forum.

Make a list of pages. According to your answers, make a list of pages and the requirements for them. Be detailed while describing. You can describe the page about key team members as «Team page: 4 managers’ profiles with a photo, text with 150 symbols in it, and a social media link.».

Think about the future. If you need an information website now, but you are planning to open an online store in a year, add this requirement to your list. Pay attention to the multifunctional themes that allow adding different functions separately.

Have a look at your competitors’ websites. This might help with the aspects you’ve missed or forgotten. Check out some corporate websites of your market. What pages do they have? What kind of content and functionality? What looks nice, and what doesn’t? Complete your list with ideas that work well and try to avoid the mistakes they’ve made.

You may go even further and check what website platform your competitors use. What CMS service reveals websites engines and WTS will show what WordPress theme they used.

Find 10 themes you like

When you defined the requirements, it is time to explore the theme directory. At this point, your goal is to choose a few themes that suit you in terms of design and functionality.

  1. Open Theme Directory.
  2. Click on the Feature Filter to expand the advanced filter.
  3. Tick the needed options according to your requirements list and click Apply Filters.
  4. Choose a theme which design you like.
  5. Read the description, open the demo. Make sure the theme supports the functionality you are looking for.
  6. If everything is fine, save the theme details in your notes or download it.

That is how you will accumulate about ten themes, so you have a choice in the next stage.

It might happen that the filters you specified will give only two or three themes in search results. If they work for you, stop here. If they don’t, reconsider the filter options and uncheck the least significant parameters. That way, you will expand your search.

Check theme specifications

Now, it is time to have a more precise look at the themes you’ve selected. You will find a list of eleven more requirements down below. Decide which of them are critical for you, depending on your goals. Exclude the themes that do not meet the important criteria from your list.

Advice. To check a WordPress theme, you will need a live demo or a preview. This is a website with a theme that you can open and look through it. You can find a link for the preview in the WordPress theme directory. If not install a theme on your hosting without filling it with the content. In case you don’t like it, remove this and install another one.

Navigation

Website navigation is convenient when you can access a homepage from every other page. Every page should have a menu, links to the site map and contacts. Make sure that icons with these links are easily noticeable and located in a place that is common for users.

It is nice if a theme generates breadcrumbs automatically. Breadcrumbs show a path from the main page to the current page like that: Main page → Section → Subsection → current page.

Responsiveness

The website considered responsive if some of the elements are hidden on mobile devices, as well as fonts and buttons become larger. Users and search engines prefer such websites. The theme should be responsive by default. Check if the theme is responsive using the built-in WordPress tool or Mobile Friendly Test by Google.

Cross-browser compatibility

Google Chrome is the most popular browser, but there are many others. Millions of people all over the world use Safari, Firefox, Samsung Internet. There are likely your users among them. It might seem that all the browsers are the same, they might look similar, but their code is different. И хотя внешне почти все браузеры «на одно лицо», их код различается. A website that works perfectly in Chrome may display poorly in Firefox.

That is why it is good to check how themes look in different browsers, even better to check them in different browser versions and on multiple devices. You can use a free service Browsershots It takes screenshots in a couple of versions of different browsers on Linux, Windows 8, and Mac. Paid alternatives such as CrossBrowserTesting, BrowserStack and others support more recent browser versions and OS. Just type in the URL of the theme demo version.

Load speed

If your website loads 3 seconds or more, that is way too long. There are some reasons for low load speed. One of them is website code quality. Unused CSS, multiple redirects, and large queries slow websites down. Code depends on the theme. That’s why it is better to check the theme load speed.Type in the URL of the theme preview on PageSpeed by Google.

Another indirect indicator of a slow theme is number and weight of server queries it makes. Check them right in your browser or with Pingdom Tools и просто в браузере. In Google Chrome:

  1. Open a context menu with right mouse click. Select Inspect.
  2. Open the Network tab. Reload the page to make sure you have recent information there.
  3. Pay attention to the number of «requests» и «transferred».

It is best if empty theme makes not more than 20 queries that are not more than 1Mb. If more, it is not a good result.

But it is not only the theme itself that affects the load speed of the website but hosting quality, database structure, and size, the content volume also influence a lot.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search is the main source of users for many websites. WordPress theme errors prevent search engines from detecting site content. The two previously mentioned aspects, load speed, and responsiveness affect positions in search results. HTML code quality also means a lot.

  • Basic meta tags. Make sure that page html has at least basic tags that are important for SEO. The bare minimum is «title» and «description».
  • HTML structure. Page should include only one title with h1 tag, and it shouldn’t be a logo. Do not use h2 tag for widgets in sidebar. Have a look at the HTML5 Boilerplate for the HTML reference example.

Please note! When the site is up it is not the theme only that influences SEO, but also speed, security, content and first website users behaviour.

Ability to modify

It is cool when the theme is flexible. For that reason, make sure that

  • images displayed correctly, you may modify the way they look;
  • can you modify the design, change colors and typography;
  • you can add a logo inside the header template;
  • new blocks doesn’t break the layout;
  • are there any widgets;
  • does it support multiple languages?

Plugin support

The theme itself could be very nice, but creating a website without plugins is quite a tough task. It is possible, however, it will probably take more time and effort. We add plugins when we need to add analytics, accepting payments, collecting contacts, subscriptions, or forum. In general, we use them to expand site functionality. That is why we recommend checking if the theme is compatible with popular plugins such as Jetpack, Google Analytics Dashboard, Yoast SEO before making your choice. Notice which Wordpress version is compatible with theme and plugins. Good if they match. Ask theme or plugin developers if you are not sure.

Page Builder support

Builders allow to create pages with drag and drop mouse movements. Many themes have page builders, but they are often not well optimized and generate many unwanted code lines. If you decide to switch a theme, these generated pages will need some corrections. So, it is better to choose a popular one from the beginning, for example, Elementor.

Developer Reputation

Usually, Web Agencies are the ones who create WordPress themes. They share their work for free to attract users attention. Besides, many free themes have paid functionality. Anyway, it is advisable to know more about the theme creators before choosing a theme. How long have they been working? What do people write about them? If the web agency is large, it means that they will support and update the theme. The work of your website depends on the theme, so it is better to ensure everything is OK.

Frequency of theme updates

Open the theme in WordPress theme directory, and check the date of last update in the right column. If the theme was updated more than a year ago, it is possible developers do not support it anymore. Over time, it will become outdated, will not work with modern plugins, and will become unsafe. The more recent the update, the better.

Forum and support

One day you will wonder how to change some bits of your theme. If it occurs that there is no place to find an answer, it would be a shame. We recommend checking if this opportunity exists in advance. There is no tech support for the free themes, but every theme in the WordPress theme directory (or the theme developers’ website) has a forum. Have a look at the activity there. Do people ask questions? Do they get the answers? Who answers the questions? Or try to find information about the opportunity to get paid tech support on the developers’ website.

What if the theme is not from the WP Theme Directory?

Not all developers place themes inside the Theme Directory, some of them just publish themes on their website. If you weren’t able to find a theme on the official WordPress website, you might try searching other sources. It is possible to face unexperienced developers or scammers who stole a paid theme, so be careful.

Check free themes that are not from the Theme Directory according to the previously described advices. Additionally, use Theme Check and WPtest.

Theme Check plugin. Check theme for errors

Using stolen themes is not a good idea. But if you are going to, use Theme Check. The WordPress team uses this plugin when somebody wants to add a new theme into WP Theme Directory. Theme Check could find PHP errors, affiliate code insertions, and other weaknesses. This plugin task is to ensure that the theme meets the latest WordPress standards.

WP Test: check how various content looks within the theme

It happens that you download a theme, configure it, write the first article, and you are unpleasantly surprised. You see ginormous titles, uneven lines of text, images placed wrong. To avoid this, you need to check how content looks within the chosen theme. WPtest archive exists to help you.

WPtest archive contains photos, comments, blog posts. If you load it, you instantly see what theme would look like. This method suits those who have CMS installed (if not, check the next section).

How to check content display with WP Test

  1. Download and extract the archive from WPtest.io.
  2. Log into WordPress admin panel.
  3. Browse Tools Import.
  4. Choose WordPress from the list and click Install.
  5. After installation click Run Importer.
  6. Inside the extracted folder choose file wptest.xml. Click Upload.
  7. he window with a selection of authors, texts and comments will open. Choose any from the list or add your own. Click Submit.
  8. Done!

Visit your website to check the content display. If everything goes well there would be plenty of posts and other stuff.

Theme chosen. It is time to install it!

To make WordPress theme work, you need to install it on your hosting. If you don’t have one yet, read our article How to find the best hosting for your website.

Sometimes CMS WordPress is preinstalled on the hosting, but often it is not. In this case, you need to install WordPress first, and then install your theme. We will tell you how to do it (if you have the CMS preinstalled, skip this step).

1. How to install WordPress

You will need a control panel. There are many of them, we will tell you about Vepp.

Vepp is a website management service. It helps to install WordPress, add a domain to your website, set up mail, upload images and other files. You don’t need special skills to create a website if you use it.

Vepp allows to choose WordPress theme from the Theme Directory or upload a theme archive from your computer. You will easily figure out how to do that. The service is intuitive. Just in case, here is the instruction.

2. How to install a WordPress theme

When you have CMS installed you can change the theme. To do sot, log into WordPress.

  1. Open admin panel. The link to it is on your website card inside Vepp. Usually it looks like mydomain.com/wp-login.php. Where mydomain.com is your website domain or a technical address, if you don’t have a domain.
  2. Log in. If you use Vepp you will be authorised automatically.
  3. Browse the menu Appearance Themes, click Add New Theme.
  4. Choose a theme from WordPress Theme Directory. Click Install. Done!
  5. To upload your archive click Upload Theme button on the top. Choose an archive file on your computer. Done!

Once the new theme appears in the added themes list, you may activate it and configure.

Continue configuring your website

When your theme installed life work on the website just begins. There is much to do:

  1. Fill in your website with texts and images, add SSL certificate, think about advertising in general, work on content and promotion.
  2. Add Analytics, make website faster with cache, set up search engine optimization. That means, you need to install some of the 5 best plugins for WordPress that are absolutely essential or even all of them.
  3. To send emails from address on your domain configure a mail server.
Vika Fedoseenko
Content manager