Where do I begin?
Themes are a very important part of the WordPress environment as they determine the look, feel and much of the functionality of your website. There are literally thousands and thousands of themes available for WordPress, and making sense of if can be overwhelming even for experienced WordPress users. Unfortunately all themes are not created equal and with so many options available we know that it can be hard to even know where to start.
There are many things to consider when selecting a theme, such as price and design, but for my money the most important criteria is to choose a theme by an established and well-reputed theme developer who offer good documentation and support.
My next recommendation is to take your time and avoid making impulsive decisions when selecting a theme. Taking the time to research themes before you buy, install and configure a theme and then start building your site could save you a lot of time and effort if you realise too late that you have chosen the wrong theme.
The main criteria to keep in mind when considering a theme are:
Obviously, the theme's appearance is of paramount importance. If the site doesn't look good, it may negatively affect the visitor's first impression of not only the site, but of your business as a whole. A good looking theme will lend credibility to your business and keep visitors engaged as they browse your website.
It is important to select a theme that works - both on the front end and the back end of the website. Some themes provide specific functionality that will benefit your business (e.g. booking engines for sites that handle a reservation based business like hotels, doctors, theatres, etc). Themes of this type can be a real timesaver, but as with most things in life, the more bells and whistles they have, the more potential there is for things to go wrong. Other themes will be pretty basic in their functionality (keeping the coding more stable) and will leave the extra functionality to plugins which can be installed with virtually any theme.
Quality coding - or the lack thereof - can make or break a website. Many themes might look good, but if the coding is not sound and has bugs, it can seriously affect the overall performance of your site can cost you in the long run. Choosing a well coded theme from a well established developer is always highly recommended. Premium themes might require a minor investment, but the savings in time, frustration and lost business will more than make up for that initial expenditure.
Quality themes will usually come with a mix of documentation and support. Documentation might be in the form of a pdf document or a webpage, but will act as a "how to" manual for the theme. In addition, reputable theme developers will offer some kind of support: either in the form of a support email address where you can contact the theme developer directly, or a support forum where users can ask questions to be answered by members of the development staff or the theme's community, or Many themes do not come with the benefit of quality support. If something goes wrong or you have questions that need answering about the theme, it is invaluable to have the support of the theme's developer.
Free always sounds good, but as the adage goes, you do get what you pay for. Sometimes it is well worth a small investment in order to assure peace of mind and to minimise headaches down the road.