What makes for a great wordpress theme?

By | March 19, 2009

A recent post at performancing is asking bloggers what they consider essential ingredients for a good wordpress theme. I’m going to go a step further and not only list some ingredients for a good wordpress theme, but some of the features that I look for when trying to find a great theme for wordpress sites.

The first thing I look for when trying to find a theme is the overall color scheme and how the sidebars are laid out. Some of my associates who use wordpress want cartoony fun themes, but a majority of my clients want something that is professional to a degree, so finding a basic, business like color scheme is important most of the time.

Sidebar layouts are my next consideration, and overall navigation are issues. This has changed a bit now that wordpress allows for quick end user modification of sidebar ordering with the widgets, so dynamic sidebar is considered a necessity – and is available on every theme I’ve seen for a while. Even with dynamic sidebars, sometimes a web site only needs one sidebar, so depending on the deployment, I will often skip themes that have 2 sidebars.

Validation and looks that work in firefox and multiple versions of IE are essential. I’ve found a few themes that include CSS hacks to make them look right in different versions of popular browsers, and I really appreciate that! It could be embarrassing to have a good tlooking theme only to have it break when you are showing it off and your client or friend is using an old IE browser or something.

Changeable header graphics – good themes allow the end user to change the colors of the header and upload and crop a custom image. If the theme has a default header and no way for the end user to upload and crop, then I am disappointed. No big deal for me to create graphics and ftp them to change header images, but there are a lot of users out there who want or need to upload through the browser. This also saves some of us administrators from having to ftp when clients change their minds.

What makes a theme great?

Changing color schemes within theme options is a great option. I have found a few themes that allow for total change of the color scheme with a simple click, this is great when you find a layout that you approve of and need a different overall look. Sometimes a them has this option, but you do not see those options when surfing theme thumbnails, and that’s a huge loss for everyone when a good theme is missed because the default color schemes is all you see, when there are other color options built in. The furry family theme being used on Nashville pet watch has some great color scheme options, even the default graphics change to match the various color options. You can’t see that by looking at the default thumbnail that shows at wordpress.org, but it’s one of the things that makes the theme great!

Navigation is important, I lean toward themes that have pages navigation in the top header area, and this is especially true if the theme designer would make it possible to widgetize that somehow, so the end user could go into widgets area and exclude pages from the navigation. Some themes have these options in theme options area – very nice. Of course I can go in and manually hack the code to only show which pages we need, but having the pages navigation at the top is a big bonus. If the pages have css button highlighted for rollover of the pages then that definitely attracts me to it more. Added bonuses for options top “back to the top of page” buttons as the fusion theme we are currently using has. One of my recent favorite themes has three widgets in the footer that are changeable – and that allows for the end user to add further navigation at the bottom of a blog, and that makes for a better surfer experience and encourages reading to stay on site reading more. I love that.

If the sidebars have place holders for advertising graphics that is a big bonus. For some selling ad space is a necessity, some themes have them options that allow you to select the graphics and corresponding url for the ads to click to. Having an option to rel-nofollow those links would be icing on the cake. Having the option to set the ads to be 125 x125 or 125 x 250 would be great, and if there was a standard google adsense ad size setup for the sidebar would be awesome. Ad graphics in the sidebar can add some professional blog to a blog that may appear as just another personal wordpress blog without those graphics.

I like matching graphics for column headers in the sidebar. If a theme has just text, that is plain and boring, sure we can change the style some with css if it has special classes for them and not simply an h-two class for example, but having graphical headers or at least css button styling for sidebar widgets gives a theme extra professionalism. The top notch themes we use also have matching graphics created for other options like rss feed, and feedburner email signups, etc.

Custom pages. When a theme comes with a few unique page layouts, I get all fuzzy inside. It’s such an added touch of professionalism to have a few custom page options that incorporate matching theme graphics for a 3 picture layout for example, one with a nice layout for picture gallery, another for a video perhaps, and maybe one with buttons for email / contact / register, stuff like that.

It is so much easier for a theme designer to crank out a few matching buttons while they have photoshop open, then it is for blog owners to try to re-create the wheel one color picking match up at a time. I have customized one theme for use simply because it came with a big matching “register now” button for the sidebar. It gave the wordpress site the look of a professional web site, looking nothing like a blog, mainly because of the one matching custom graphic that came with it.

Themes get extra greatness in my mind if they have buttons for the blog reader to make the text bigger.

a few caveats – them options are great – but too many cause problems – it’s not good to be confused by theme options – when they are needed, explanation of how they work is essential. Having so many options that it slows down the blog displaying on readers’ screens is a problem. I was blown away by the options available for the Atahualpa theme, impressive programming, but slowing down page loads is a bad idea, especially considering most bloggers are using shared hosts that can slow down enough on their own.

What is with the search graphics that disappear from some themes when you go dynamic with widgets. I use a great theme on tow blog sites that have great matching search graphics until the sidebar is widgetized, then the graphics disappear and it becomes a blank box.

This post was inspired by the contest for premium themes club membership that I found at performancing. After writing this post I took a look around their site and I must say that I am quite impressed at how modern they appear to be. I can’t wait to look into their themes further, and I may have to sign up for their affiliate program to promote the premium theme site.

One thought on “What makes for a great wordpress theme?

  1. Dennis

    I am looking for a clean and ite magazine style theme for wordpress without too many function calls, any suggestions?. thanks in advance 🙂

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