How to Find the Best (and Most Trustworthy) WordPress Themes

Let’s say you’ve researched the best free WordPress themes and you’re really excited about what you see. But then you remember there are a whole bunch of premium themes floating around out there, too.

Updated 7/30/2018: We’ve discontinued Upfront in favor of supporting a bunch of other awesome drag and drop page builders.

While I’m not one to discourage anyone from using a free theme, I do think it’s important to survey the full landscape of offerings so you know what your options are. Free themes offer good opportunities to create beautifully designed websites. Premium themes—especially ones that are multipurpose—open up even more possibilities.

The one problem I see with going the route of a premium WordPress theme, however, is the matter of convenience. Free WordPress themes have a single WordPress repository where they’re all stored, but premium themes can be found all over the place: theme marketplaces, membership sites, and even sometimes for sale on the developer’s own website.

So, how do you do a comprehensive search for the best free and premium WordPress themes without driving yourself nuts in the process? The following guide covers all the questions you should ask yourself during this process. By understanding your site’s needs, your limitations as a developer, and much more, you’ll be able to more quickly and effectively track down the best and most trustworthy WordPress theme for your site.

The 5 W’s That Will Help You Find the Best and Most Trustworthy WordPress Theme

Alright, so we’ve established that there is a multitude of themes to sift through and a number of different resources where they can be found. But your goal here isn’t to narrow down that list simply to find one that works “well enough”. You need a theme that jives the best with your business and that’s going to be trustworthy and reliable to a fault.

Let’s face it, it’s frustrating spending a lot of time searching for a theme. It’s downright infuriating to spend even more time trying to troubleshoot a faulty theme only to have to ditch it and start the process over again. So, if you want to spare yourself the hassle of searching in the wrong places (or in too many places) and focusing on the wrong things, this guide will help you narrow down that search and properly assess a WordPress theme’s quality before you begin.

Who: The Theme’s Developer

So, you want to know what makes a WordPress theme trustworthy. While there are a number of places you could look to make that assessment, the first place you should start is with the developer who built it. Any issues with the theme will ultimately point back to them, and so your assessment of a theme really needs to start with the person behind it.

Here is what you need to know:

Is the developer well-known and respected in the WordPress community?

Check their profile on the platform on which you found the theme. On wordpress.org, you’ll only be able to see the other themes they’ve created, but that should be enough to tell you what sort of quality you’re working with.

Created by SketchThemes

On other sites, you can get a more entailed bio and dig a little deeper into their credentials and accolades.

QuanticaLabs profile

What do other users of the theme say?

Unless you’re using a theme directly from a developer’s site, there will be ratings and reviews from users. Check for common threads related to issues with their quality of coding.

Do they provide support?

Even with the most well-coded themes you may run into a glitch or simply need help sorting out an internal issue. Most developers of premium themes include support for at least a few months after purchase. There are some free theme developers who do, too. Check to see what their policy is and make sure that the response time in the support forum aligns with that promise.

You’ll also want to know if they support the actual theme in terms of updates.

Last Updated

Ideally, any theme you use should be updated every time the WordPress core updates; if not, more frequently.

What: The Theme’s Features

Next up are the actual features of the WordPress theme. If you want something that is trustworthy, you shouldn’t have to seek out the assistance of a dozen or so plugins to tick off all the features you want to utilize on your site. That would defeat the purpose of using a lightweight theme in the first place.

Here is what you need to know:

Would the original design suffice?

Not that you would ever want to use a theme right out of the box, but if you had to do so in a pinch, would the basic design suffice? The reason you’d even want to ask this is to gauge the developer’s understanding of design best practices. If a theme is too complicated, utilizes low-resolution imagery, or has other major design no-nos, then it’s not worth your time in trying to fix or personalize.

Is it responsive?

Responsive check

Testing a WordPress theme for responsiveness before you purchase or download can be tough. While you could just trust that a theme marked “responsive” actually is, it would be wiser to take one of two actions:

  1. Open the preview of the theme in your browser window and minimize your screen to test the theme’s adjustability (or just view the preview on your mobile device).
  2. Check for roundups on the best free responsive themes and the best premium responsive themes for recommendations.

How flexible is it?

While you might not know just yet all the functionality you want to build into your site, you’ll at least have a good idea of the must-haves. Here are some things to consider:

  • How much customization you need in terms of colors, typography, layouts, menus, etc.
  • Special page types you plan to include (e.g. support forum, portfolio, ecommerce).
  • Additional elements your site will need, like testimonials, mega menus, video backgrounds, tooltips, and so on.

The more accommodations the theme makes for all these “things”, the less work you’ll have to do later.

Is it SEO friendly?

There is a lot that goes into making a site SEO-friendly. Do your due diligence and check the reviews on the theme to ensure that it’s well-coded, fast, free of security issues, has a clean interface, and integrates with your SEO plugin of choice.

Are there hidden costs?

Seeing a price tag associated with a WordPress theme is one thing. Recognizing that you’re going to have to shell out money later is another. Think about whether this theme will force you to pay for additional themes in the future. And what about plugins? If you’re not comfortable with coding, will you need to hire a developer to help you manage it? All these costs add up and should be considered at the original time of purchase and download of a new theme.

Where: The Source Location of the Theme

In addition to assessing the theme and developer for overall quality and reliability, you should also think about where you’re getting the theme from. As I already noted, there are a variety of places where you can procure a WordPress theme from, but do you know which ones are known for consistently producing high-quality theme offerings?

Here are the ones you need to know:

WordPress.org

WordPress Theme Directory

For high-quality free themes, there’s no better place to go for them than the official WordPress Theme Directory.

Marketplaces

Creative Market

WordPress theme marketplaces are a pretty cool option as you can get super granular in your search query, and then sift through results regardless of who the developer is behind it. Here are some of the most trusted theme marketplaces:

Independent Theme Shops and Developers

WPMU DEV

The last of your options will come in the form of the independent developer who sells themes directly from their website. One of the best reasons to go this route is because they typically offer membership or bulk pricing, so you’re not stuck paying top dollar for just one theme. If you’re looking for quality and value, start here:

When: The Longevity of the Theme

Let’s talk about the general lifespan of a web design trend, shall we? A few of these trends—like minimalism, which I hope never goes out of fashion—will have an enduring legacy. There are others, however, that die out either because they become obsolete (think of something like image sliders) or because they have no place in modern design anymore (like sidebars).

Even if you have found a really great WordPress theme that checks off all the other boxes here, it’s still important to assess it for its modernity and longevity as you don’t want to get stuck with something that will go stale in six months or even a year’s time.

Here are some options to consider to be on the safe side:

Multipurpose themes

Multipurpose themes could be a good way to get around this problem as there are a number of options you can play around with. Plus, once you get the hang of one of those themes, you’ll be able to seamlessly jump into any of the other designs and layouts included.

WordPress theme memberships

Memberships are awesome too since you don’t have to worry about cherry-picking themes at random. You’ll have an entire collection available to you for the length of your membership, which also gives you the ability to use as many of their themes as you want. (It’s also great when the theme developer adds new, more modern theme designs to their collection, so look out for that.)

Builder themes/plugins

Builder themes like Upfront may be the best solution in terms of ensuring the longevity of your theme. They’re easy to use and give developers a lot of flexibility and control over reshaping and tweaking their design to fall in line with current design standards.

Why: The Theme’s Alignment with Your Own Goals

Finally, we come to the “why” of it. It is here where you need to ask yourself how well the WordPress theme you’re considering aligns with your business’s niche and goals.

Here is what you need to consider:

Your niche

If you build websites for a specific industry or niche, it’s ideal to find a theme that was built specifically for that purpose or that can accommodate all your needs. Think of restaurant websites that need to show off menus, membership sites that need forums, photography sites that need galleries, etc. If the theme wasn’t built with that purpose or audience in mind, you’d have to spend more time finding the tools to help you do it later.

Your goals

You should also think about what your business’s goals are.

Do you want to churn out a bunch of sites, making minor tweaks to themes? Or do you want themes that give you more power and flexibility to create something truly custom and unique for customers?

What it really comes down to is whether or not you consider yourself a WordPress developer or implementer. If you’re not comfortable with coding or just aren’t ready to commit a certain amount of time to each job, then that should factor into the theme selection process as well.

Wrapping Up

The actual choice of WordPress theme will ultimately fall on you to make. Why? Because only you will know which one will serve as the best reflection of the business you’re building the site for. Hopefully, this guide can get you started in deciding which WordPress theme will work best for your needs in terms of quality, convenience, cost, reliability, support, and more.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: What’s the most unlikely of places you’ve found a quality WordPress theme?

8 Responses

  • WPMU DEV Initiate

    Great article

    I have tried Enfold, Avast, and Divi, and between these three I am liking Divi the most. I have purchased their lifetime membership and WPMU DEV and Elegant Themes blog are my first two destinations if I have any questions. I think these two companies (along with cloudways as a host) play really good together, and I wish more integration between them.

  • New Recruit

    Thank you Brenda for this article!
    The Independent Theme Shops and Developers are definitely the most difficult to evaluate because it’s quite difficult to find real feedback about them (and not affiliated ones). I know you don’t do affiliate here, so the list you provided is definitely a useful reference.
    I have one question: does anybody around here have any experience/opinion about BuddyBoss themes? I like what I see in terms of features and designs but I would like some feedback about: general cleanliness of the code (future-proof, easy to work on and extend, made the WP way and not the “my way coz it’s better”,…) and the quality of their support. Any insight on that? Considering the price of some of their most advanced solutions, I really can’t just try it out, especially considering it’s for a non-profit website that I’m working on on my free time.
    Any feedback (or advice for other themes) would be really appreciated!
    Thanks and good Sunday to you all. :D

    • WordPress Enthusiast

      Hello Fred,

      I can’t speak from experience with BuddyBoss, but I can tell you from extensive experience that if you need a good theme for non-profits or low budget sites that GeneratePress is a pretty nice setup. They have a premium addon package for less than the cost of dinner for two and the framework is well developed, and very easy to use.

      Hope this helps!

      Best regards,

      James Morris

      • New Recruit

        Hello James,

        Thanks for your reply! I’ll keep a bookmark on GeneratePress but for this time, I need a template really focusing on BuddyPress. I’m sure BP will work perfectly in GP but this time I’m looking for a solution where I won’t have to change most of the styling or implement to many extra features that I need.

        Thanks again and have a great week!

        Fred – FLQ

  • The Exporter

    Hi Brenda

    One of the biggest providers of Themes is Envato with ThemeForest. Thousands of themes they have but only a few are really worth and great. The main problem with those so called ELITE Authors which are just the opposite of ELITE!!!
    For example. Years ago we were happy to purchase the Javo Directory WordPress Theme by javothemes in its version 2. It had lots of features included and the (javascript/css and html) code looked OK – one problem is that you actually can’t see how the code is BEFORE you purchase the themes and its plugins.
    At the beginning their bug fixing was fine but very slow and after two months it really slowed down a lot. The main problem was that the site did not perform on GTMetrix well at all but instead of solving those problems they started to develop a version 3. Unfortunately that version 3 had lots of plugins outsourced which were before integrated into the site. As they said their Lead developer had left their team and founded Lava Code (they have also plugins on WordPress.org). They were no more on Theme Forest! And here is actually where a major problem starts and people should look very carefully from where the additional plugins come which makes a Theme look great at first place before you purchase it. In the case of Javo Directory it was since Version 3 Lava Code – an external company no more integrated to Envato and very very costy.
    Even more extreme was that then suddenly they stopped to give proper support to those plugins – as they are no more covered by the Envato policies. Which means when your Envato Theme or any other Theme integrates other plugins make sure in advance that those are covered by their policies.
    We had then a longer month long conversation with Envato who was really helpful at all time and finally we got our money back (which does not cover many other costs actually which occurred only because of this Javo Team and Lava Code Problems). But we used the time to find a proper team and we found one which is worth to be called ELITE Authors in Lebanon. Really great guys.
    As a result of this we would like to add to your great article that it is very important to check if the integrated plugins are really programmed as plugins or if they are only added to the general Theme code like it was in Version 2 and even more important, that the integrated plugins are actually covered by their Theme support policies and that they don’t cost you an additional fortune and bare in the risk that they split up again – like it happened before.
    On Envato it is often only a Mass Production of Themes and it is hard to find good ones. One first step is actually to read first all BAD (one and two star reviews) If you can’t find many of them then be aware that authors delete bad reviews and don’t let them show up. Therefore always check also other sites where the Theme gets mentioned, – don’t read the theme descriptions as those are often only promoting material again from the Theme developers and their companies but read the comments and reviews.
    And most importantly NEVER EVER BELIEVE in statements like:
    “Introducing our top-rated award-winning directory theme with added features and new designs.”
    as in the case of the Javo Directory WordPress Theme it meant that they were successful with their version 1!!! – and that the version 3 is complete different and has more or less nothing to do with their so called “award-winning theme beside its name! “added features” means in that point that the features have been outsourced to plugins provided by another company which is no more covered by the support policies of those who sell the Theme – Envato!!! – And don’t forget to check if their statements on the advertising site at Envato concerning PageSpeed etc are true by simply testing out their demos.
    in case of the Javo Directory WordPress Theme they state 95% pagespeed and 70% ySlow score (which is really not good at all as a value over 90% should also be possible in YSlow) By testing the demo you will soon realize that it performs much lower than that and shows lots of errors in GTMetrix too.

    Your alarm bells should ring up when you read something like:
    – advanced payment addon required
    – Lava review addon required
    – Easy to login with many SNS accounts using Lava Social Addon – which means nothing else as also this plugin has to be purchased separately from another company and is not covered by the Envato support policies!
    in our example all the following stuff will cost you much more then the actual Theme on Envato. Which means it is not at all wysiwyg ;-).
    ==== Addons (Paid – Lava plugins are on Sale : 90% off or Free now ) ====
    Lava Advanced Map manager
    Javo Advanced Single Listing Pages
    Lava Rating / Review
    Lava Custom fileds for Items (shops) : create your own custom fileds (input, textarea, dowpdown)
    Lava Paypal payment for woocommerce : Plan to have more payment types (Membership, packages)
    Lava Save Favorite Listings
    Lava Get Directory
    Claim / Assign Listings .. etc
    (Lava plugins are very cheap or free. please have a look at our demo site for the details)
    Woocommerce Vendor (Compatible with Lava WC Vendor Manager)
    Woocommerce Bookings (Compatible with Lava WC Booking Manager)
    ——-
    Check also how often the plugin receives updates and what kind of updates:
    Version 3.3.1 – 01. June 2017
    Fixed: Minor CSS, JS
    Version 3.3.0 – 30. May 2017
    Improved: Member page style.
    Fixed: Minor CSS, JS
    Version 3.2.2 – 15. May 2017
    Added: Compatible with the newest lava code addons .
    Added: The Newest Version of Plugins (Ultimate Addons for VC, Slider revolution)
    —-
    As you can see here it is often related to so called minor changes and be aware that you probably need to update the (in that case) lava code addons too – hopefully for free.
    —-
    ENVATO is a great place for ideas but you really need to check out those so called ELITE AUTHORS before you buy a theme and a last very good way actually is to contact one of those who has already purchased the template and simply ask them. This is how we found out a good Theme Developer Team!

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