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What is a WordPress Theme? (And How to Pick One)

Last Updated on 

March 3, 2024


Ryan T. M. Reiffenberger

If you’ve used WordPress before, you know that there are many parts to the machine that IS the WordPress engine. Between the different taxonomies like Posts and Pages to the Permalink Configurations, Plugins, and Themes you can use, sometimes it gets difficult to tell what part of the website is what and where you should be going to adjust settings.

To break this down, we will be publishing a series called “How to Build With WordPress”. In each part of this series, we will be breaking down the most common components of a WordPress website and what functions they perform in the overall goal of getting your website online. Our goal with this series is to get more information out there to help small business owners and freelancers like yourself learn how to build your own website without the stress of a huge price tag associated.

So What is A WordPress Theme?

In short – A WordPress Theme is the component of your website that handles the visual framework for how your site will look to the world on desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Specifically, your theme will usually control the Global elements of your site, such as site-wide fonts, colors, and formatting. In some cases, your theme may control the layout of your home page, and in all cases will give you the ability to specify whether or not you want a static page as your home page, or your blog archives as your home page.

???? Designer’s Tip: Our team recommends that you ALWAYS pick a static page for your home page instead of your blog to ensure that you have full control over the main landing zone of your website. This will allow you to specify later on your SEO Preferences for proper listing on search engines.

When selecting a theme, there are a few considerations that you want to take into account. Once you select your theme, you will find that changing it later on may become increasingly more difficult due to formatting differences between theme packages, so it is important to select carefully when building your site.

Consideration 1: Feature Richness

One of the most important things that we tell our clients is that you want to be sure that your theme is feature rich, but free whenever possible.

???? Designer’s Tip: Unless you’re paying a design company specifically for a proprietary theme they have developed for your site, we do not recommend purchasing a theme. There are plenty of feature-rich themes available that are free to use such as OceanWP.

When we talk about a theme being ‘feature rich’, we are referring specifically to the settings that you would expect all baseline themes to include:

  • The ability to adjust Typography such as Fonts, Kerning, Spacing, Font Colors, Link Colors, Heading Colors, etc.
  • The ability to adjust Container Settings for Desktop, Tablet, and Mobile devices
  • The ability to configure the Header including the Logo, Site Title, and Menus. Social Media Icons are a bonus.
  • The ability to configure the Footer including Copyright Text, Layout, Menus, and custom HTML embeds.

Consideration 2: Responsive Design Compatibility

In addition to being feature rich, you want to make sure that the Theme that you are using is a Responsive Designed theme. Responsive Design refers to the strategy of website design that allows for your website to automatically adapt itself for appropriate viewing on a Desktop, Tablet, or Phone – depending on what the visitor is using. A good example of this would be how the menu on our website shrinks down to a hamburger icon File:Hamburger icon.svg - Wikimedia Commons (yes, it’s really called that) instead of showing all of the items across the top when you view our website on a phone.

???? Designer’s Tip: If you want users to feel more comfortable using your website on mobile, focus on designing the experience to be as engaging as possible, as users who are on mobile tend to exhibit shorter attention spans. (And no, we don’t mean putting 5+ buttons right there for them to choose from…)

Considering that 50+% of visitors use mobile to view your website, that’s 50%+ of people who could be viewing a ‘Desktop’ version of your website, which will definitely not be an easy user experience for your visitor if this is not included in your selection.

Consideration 3: Flexibility of Use

For people wanting to change their site on the fly, flexibility may be another consideration that you want to take into account with your theme. Because of how difficult the process can sometimes be with changing themes, it is helpful to have a theme that has multiple configuration options for Header and Footer layouts depending on the desired appearance you want your visitors to see. We additionally like to give bonus points to themes that have page-specific controls as well.


When selecting a theme for our own design process, we had to take each of these considerations into account – especially Consideration 3. In order to build solid and function – yet flexible – websites, we needed something that met all of these qualifications. Your needs may vary, so take each of these into account when making a choice for your website. Once you’ve chosen your theme, it’s going to get harder and harder to switch without additional work being incurred.

Need Some Help With Your Website?

We offer free consultations on any projects, as well as guidance and advice if you need help moving in the right direction. Drop us a line – we’d love to chat!

Disclosure: Our content is reader-supported. This means if you click on some of our links, then we may earn a commission.

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