This series of tutorials was originally developed as class material for WordPress Fundamentals. In class we like to use Hands-On exercises to explain a process. For the ‘How to Choose and Install a WordPress Theme’ class we decided to use the ‘Responsive’ theme by CyberChimps as our example theme for the research and install process. See image below of the Responsive Theme posting in the WordPress Themes Directory that describes the features of the Responsive Theme.
How to interpret the theme’s reviews?
Most of us start our search for a theme, by looking at the theme’s features and evaluating the quality and quantity of the theme’s reviews. A five-star rating based on opinion of the developer’s family and six close friends is not that all impressive. It is a good practice to take some time to actually analyze the reviews to find the ones that discuss the technical aspects of using the theme.
If I find that the reviews on the WordPress Theme Directory not that helpful, I will Google or BING the theme name to see what is being reported about the theme that is not on the WordPress Theme Director review pages.
Your final choice of theme not only represents the look and feel of your business; but its ability to expand as your business grows. The mark of a good business site is that it supports your business, without consuming all the valuable time and energy better spent growing your business. Read the reviews. They could save you from putting time and energy into a theme that could fail you, and your business, at a time when you can least afford the distraction of upgrading a failing theme.
What kind of support can I expect with a free theme
At some point during the life cycle of your site you will probably have some questions concerning your theme. Support, good documentation, and a reasonable expectation of clean code are the primary reasons experienced developers use premium themes from trusted sources. For now, we are discussing the “free theme” world. Themes from the WordPress Directory come with a promise of clean code that conforms to the WordPress Framework; but the level of support for any given theme is a research topic.
Many theme developers are of the “as-is, where-is” school of design, and do not offer support for their free themes. Remember, in most cases theme developers just designed something to fit their own needs and then generously contributed the theme to the WordPress Theme Directory, and moved on to their next project.
If you are seriously considering a free theme that does not seem well supported by the developer, it is always a good idea to ‘Google’ or ‘BING’ the theme developer’s name. Review what comes up as part of their online profile. It’s a way to find out how many themes they have produced and what other folks think about the features, functionality and reliability of their themes.
Some developers of particularly popular free themes have actually built a community of other developers and super users around the successful theme. The theme user-group offers voluntary support for dealing with support forum questions, theme bugs and up-grade issues. In the for free environment this type of theme support is rare and tends to coalesce around only the most popular themes in the WordPress Theme Directory. Even if a theme has a large install base and you can post questions support forum, it is important to understand that posting a question on a support forum does not guarantee an answer…just saying…
There is another type of theme developer represented in the WordPress Theme Directory. These are design firms who develop both free and premium themes. For some high-rated free themes in the directory, there is the option of upgrading to a ‘Pro’ version of the free theme for a nominal amount; and with the upgrade comes both additional features, a better support forum and documentation. If you have used the theme and find it fits your needs, the benefits of the upgrade might make financial sense.
When I entered the search phase [‘Responsive’ Theme+CyberChimps] I found the section of the CyberChip site that offered the Pro upgrade for $25. With an additional search I came across a $10 coupon. So if I had my site set up on the Responsive theme and like what I had experienced so far, but really wanted a little extra support, for $15 I had solved my support issue.