If you’re opening an online store, one of the first steps is picking a WordPress theme to define the design and layout of your website.
There are thousands of options from a variety of sources, and they vary in quality and effectiveness. How do you make the right choice for your store? Start by understanding why your theme is so important, the characteristics of a good theme, and where to start your search.
Why is the right theme important?
It takes around 0.05 seconds for someone to form an impression about your site — which affects whether they’ll leave, stay, or even purchase a product. Since your theme directly impacts site design, it impacts this first impression. A good theme encourages browsing and buying.
But a theme isn’t just about design; it also plays a role in marketing, conversions, and more. A slow, unresponsive, difficult-to-use, badly-coded website performs poorly in search results and doesn’t encourage sales — your theme influences all of these.
Qualities of a good theme
1. Has a professional, high-quality design that meets your needs
This will be different for every story. Start by trying to understand your audience. What kinds of designs appeals to them? Do they like bold colors and eye-catching graphics or do they prefer a calm, muted style?
Then, think about your products. Do you need to showcase product pictures? Choose a theme that prioritizes images. Do you want to highlight specific features, like materials or dimensions? Choose a theme that includes icons to represent them.
There are many industry-specific themes, and they can be great options that include many of the design features you need. If you’re a boutique, The Threads theme has everything you need: clothing-specific templates, beautiful shop and archive pages, and stunning related product designs.
If you sell hand-crafted products, you might choose the Artisan theme, with image-focused page designs and product templates built for collections, galleries, and more.
Look at examples of stores that use the theme you’re considering. Most themes offer a live demo version so you can test them out; take the time to click through the live demo to see it in action. You should be able to navigate the demo easily and visualize it working for your brand.
2. Integrates with WooCommerce
While WooCommerce works with all WordPress themes, choosing a theme built specifically for online stores ensures design continuity between pages, posts, and products. Look for “WooCommerce Integration” in the list of theme features.
3. Offers everything you need without being bloated
Many themes go beyond design to offer functionality like page builders, mega menus, wishlists, pop-ups, and more. While these are great if you need them, don’t choose a theme with 50 features if you only want five — this can lead to an unnecessarily bloated, slow website that’s difficult to manage.
The Block Shop theme was built specifically for this purpose. It emphasizes efficiency over unnecessary features, providing all the customization options you need without being overwhelming.
4. Is mobile-friendly
More than half of web traffic happens on mobile devices. If your website isn’t easy to use on phones and tablets, you’re alienating a big chunk of potential customers. When considering a theme, open the live demo on your phone. Can you find your way around? Is anything cut off or too small to read? Run the demo through Google’s mobile-friendly test — how does it perform?
The Bistro theme is a great example of a mobile-friendly theme: photos, text, and products resize automatically on mobile devices. There’s also an easy-to-access menu bar that links to account, search, and cart functionality, so it’s always there when customers need it.
5. Loads quickly
47% of visitors expect a website to load in two seconds or less. If they have to wait too long, they’ll just go shop somewhere else. While there are a variety of factors that impact website speed, your theme plays a big role. Test the speed of the live demo using tools like GTMetrix or PageSpeed Insights; all you need to do is enter the demo URL and you’ll get a full speed report. If it loads too slowly, choose another option.
6. Is updated regularly
Theme updates keep your site compatible with updates to WordPress, WooCommerce, and any plugins you use, and ensures you can take advantage of new features and functionality. They also patch vulnerabilities that hackers could use to get into your site. Most themes have a “last updated” date and let you know which WordPress versions they’re compatible with.
7. Is easy to use
If this is your first time using WordPress, you’re going to want a theme editor that makes it easy for you to make changes without knowing code. But if you’re a developer, or working with one, you may want a theme that’s easy to build on or that offers a variety of customization options. Choose a theme that fits your level of skill and experience.
How can you tell? Read through the documentation. Does it make sense? Can you imagine yourself navigating through the instructions? If not, try something else.
If you’re brand new to websites, try the Storefront theme. You can install it in just a few minutes and customize everything from your header and footer to fonts and page layouts using the WordPress Customizer — no code needed!
8. Offers good customer support and documentation
What if you run into a question or issue with your theme? How can you figure it out? Make sure that your theme developer offers support in some form — forum, live chat, email, etc. — and review the documentation to make sure it’s thorough before purchasing.
9. Has good reviews
Reviews are often the easiest way to know if a theme is high quality. Are there more than a handful? Are they positive or negative?
Take the time to read reviews rather than just looking at the average star rating. This gives you an in-depth look at any potential problems — slow speed, poor support, weird glitches — and helps you make a quality determination.
Where to find high-quality themes
How do you find these great themes? Since WordPress is open source, there are thousands of options! Here are three solid places to start looking:
- The WooCommerce theme library: These themes are all guaranteed to work with WooCommerce and are backed by the WooCommerce support team.
- The WordPress directory: Each theme goes through a rigorous quality check before being included here. To make your search quicker, you can filter themes by features, layouts, and industry.
There are also a variety of paid marketplaces with excellent, high-quality themes. Be extra careful and take the time to vet each one; only use marketplaces with quality requirements and easily accessible reviews and demos.
Start exploring! Have fun trying out different themes and looking at all the options. Take the time to go through this checklist; you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your online store.