The Internet is Full of WordPress Themes
It can be quite confusing for the small business intent on DIY web design to try to find the right theme from the right place, and without experience there is quite a reliance on luck. Read this article and you should be able to make a better choice and be able to understand the best place to start your search from.
Free WordPress Themes
I don’t recommend free themes unless you’ve get the skills to code one of the bare bones ones, so we are going to cover Premium themes and Vanilla Website Builders here. If you really want to go free I would only consider using one from the WordPress repository which will download directly into your wp-admin as they are all vetted and will not carry any malware, but they may contain links back to their authors.
Premium WordPress Themes
A premium theme is basically any theme you pay for, and you should expect to pay between $40 and $200USD for them.
Theme market places
One of the best things you can do when you are researching your DIY web design project is to spend time on Envato’s Theme Forest. Theme Forest is a huge market place for themes, and they have a very large number of extremely skilled theme builders there. You buy a theme and Envato take a cut and give the rest to the author. All themes are pre-selected and Envato are apparently quite picky so the quality is generally pretty good.
At the very least you can use Theme Forest to aquaint yourself with trends, what is possible, and to find out what you really like. Always read everything on the page before buying! Some themes are better than others, some have great supprort and others have none, some are fully compatible and some will break with the latest ecommerce plugins.
My biggest critisism of Theme Forest (and some other theme houses) is that they pander to the wants of their customer base too much, which has meant that the best selling themes are often the ones that come with the most “stuff”, and seem like the best value. Most of it is just useless fluff though, and more code makes website speed suffer and provides more surface for hackers to attack. The slimest code that will actually do the job is always the best choice.
That said you can get a great looking website built in a fairly short time from Themeforest. Always check what the support quality is like and that it supports your version of WordPress and big plugins like Woocommerce.
Premium themes, bought direct
There are many theme houses, and they vary wildly in quality, especially in code quality, speed and security.
There are designers that create slimly coded, well support themes that are great choice, and there are designers that don’t. Without having web develepment skills it’s a case of reading reviews and articles to find the best of the bunch.
I tend to find that the best theme designers tend to be the ones that look less flashy and brash at first glance. It’s easy to be swayed by gorgeous colours, graphics and photos, only to find the theme is a dog, so always go for functional before flash. You can make a great website without being flashy, you just have to concentrate on the visitor and give them what they are after.
Woo make Woocommerce which is my favourite ecommerce plugin by miles. It’s exteremely powerful and complex, but also possible for mere mortals to use on a daily basis, and their themes are just as good as Woocommerce.
I’ve limited direct experience with Studio Press, but I have read many glowing reports about them and Genesis Framework over many years. The one theme I did work on was easy to use and no bloated code.
I liked the themes I’ve worked on from WP Zoom. They tended to be simple and functional, so if you find one that suits your needs well you’d likely make a good website out of one. I did find them a bit restrictive if you want to really get creative, but then that’s a problem with all premium themes to a degree.
There are many others with some good, some bad and some variable.
Vanilla Website Builders
These would be my choice as if you choose the right one you won’t be held back be the restrictions of the theme design, and as you learn the builder you will empower yourself to fire up other websites in the future. This is an emerging side of web design and I seem to hear a lot of developers and designers that are against these tools because historically the used to create masses of junk code, and fixing the code afterwards was a horrible job. But things have changed and there are products onb the market that create clean code that can be read by humans. Additionally they improve the speed and efficiency of web design projects.
The down side for the web design DIY folks is that there is always going to be a learning curve that is steeper than that of premium themes, and you have to have an idea about your design before you start.
I have used a few builders but the one I liked most is Beaver Builder. It’s slim, powerful and easy to use. It will work with most themes, but I would recommend using the Beaver Builder theme as well, for full ground up, unique web site builds. It does not work well with Mod Security so if you run that on your server expect to have to whitelist a few rules.
I’ve never actually used it, but you may want to check out Genesis Framework by Studio Press too, as they have a large and loyal following.
There are also other builders that turn out great websites like Hubspot COS and Adobe suite, which I’ll cover in more detail in a seperate article.
Can you really create a professional website with page builders and themes?
Yes you can, and they are ideal for DIY web design projects as they are easy to use and provide all the business benefits that you need. Notice I said “business benefits” not “design benefits” as you will almost always get a better design by going to a professional, but if you don’t need a website that looks like you’ve spent a ton of money on it, then you can probably DIY the design.
I think we are going to see some disruption in the web design space as the design and build technology improves. Web designers will still add tremendous value by bring in expert eyes, top line design quality and real digital marketing muscle, as well as tieing it all together with SEO, Social, and online PR
Digital marketing is a lot of work, and many specialisations are required.
Good luck with your design project, what ever you choose to do, and don’t forget to check out our ebook below for more details about page design.