What is a WordPress theme and How do You Choose One?

Did you know there are literally THOUSANDS of WordPress themes to choose from? When you only need one, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. via TheEssentialWebsite.com
If you’re looking to start a website, hire a web designer and/or learn about web design, then this post is for you.

Today we’re going to talk about WordPress and WordPress themes. But first, let’s make sure we all know what WordPress even is.


Back in the day, websites were (and still are sometimes) built in a certain software (i.e. Dreamweaver) on someone’s (the designer’s or developer’s) computer. If you needed to make a change to your website, you’d have to go back to that same person because they had the software on his/her computer and could access the backend of your website. Another example is iWeb from Apple. If you wanted to make any changes to a site built with iWeb, the changes would have to be done from the computer where the site was built (FYI – iWeb doesn’t exist anymore).

Today, most people use a Content Management System (CMS) to design, build and update their website. Examples include Squarespace, Drupal, Joomla, and of course, WordPress. The beauty of a Content Management System is its accessibility. For Content Management Systems like WordPress, you can access your site from anywhere with a username and password. Thank goodness!

Since our specialty is WordPress (and it’s the only CMS we use), that’s what the focus of this post will be about. But even more importantly, we’re going to talk about WordPress themes.

WordPress Themes

When you install WordPress onto your domain/URL, it comes with a pre-installed, basic, free theme. This means that as soon as you install WordPress, it already has a “look” to it (vs. a blank white screen). That “look” is the result of a bunch of code that’s telling the screen how and where to display fonts (bold, big, italic, small, serif, sans-serif), colors (black, red), images (aligned right, aligned left), etc. All you have to do is add text and images, specify colors, etc., and your site is pretty much done (well, kinda).

You must have a theme installed on your WordPress site or else it won’t work. The theme can be free, premium, or custom.

When we first started learning about WordPress, we were royally confused!

We didn’t understand what a theme was, and we certainly didn’t know which theme to use. There were THOUSANDS of them available. We would buy a theme, attempt to figure out what the heck we were doing, then ask the company for a refund the moment we got frustrated (which was VERY early in the process). We did this at least five times! Then, we decided we wanted to understand more about WordPress, and we ended up falling in love!

To help you understand, we’re going share with you the best explanation of a WordPress theme. StudioPress (the maker of hundreds of themes that are powered by the Genesis Framework) explains it like this:

“WordPress acts as the engine of your car.

Genesis (the framework) is the frame and body of the car, and is the basic design, security, and SEO foundation of your website. In handling all the core code, Genesis also helps to “future-proof” your site, so all your customizations won’t disappear when it comes time for your one-click software upgrades.

Lastly, a child theme is the pure design element that rests on top of your framework — the cherry red paint job on that car. Or blue. Or black. Pink. Green. You get the idea, whatever works for you…”

We actually don’t use Genesis/StudioPress, but we LOVE their explanation.

So, back to themes.

We want to give you some numbers that will likely surprise you and could make you want to never (have to) design your own website or it might intrigue you enough to start theme-shopping.

WARNING: If you have trouble making decisions or are a shopaholic, you may want to steer clear of theme-searching/shopping!

Did you know that there are literally THOUSANDS of WordPress themes out there? And within the thousands, there are free and premium themes. Within free and premium themes, the amount of choices is so overwhelming that your head will be spinning in no time.

Just on the WordPress.org site, there are a thousands of free themes. We couldn’t find an overall number, but we did some quick filtering, and here’s what we found:

  • When we searched for themes with two columns, there were 1,757 themes available.
  • When we searched for themes that allowed for a custom background, there were 1,535 themes available.
  • When ew searched for themes that were under the “Latest” category, there were 4,182 themes available.

Obviously, there’s some overlap in these numbers, but it’s still a lot…and that’s only from ONE SITE. And those are just the FREE themes!

For fee-based (premium) themes, there are so many options out there that it’s nearly impossible to decide. The Themeforest website has 28,478 Website Templates and Themes. By the time you are reading this post, that number will be higher. Most of the other fee-based theme sites out there don’t show their total numbers, but let’s just say it’s too many to count. This site shows some numbers from various sources, but it is from 2013. Imagine what those numbers look like today.

We’re about to tell you our personal opinion on WordPress themes and talk about the only one we use, but before we get to that, we want to share just a few more links and facts with you.

The following sites offer some of the most popular premium WordPress themes on the market. The sheer number of them is overwhelming (and a little insane!). Just take a gander if you dare:

The following sites offer tidbits of info to help you choose a theme:

Finally, we wanted to throw out a crazy number just for kicks and giggles. If you’re not seriously confused (or overwhelmed) on the whole theme topic just yet, how about this…

The amazing thing about WordPress is that you can add plugins to your website that extend and expand the functionality of WordPress.

Ready for it?

There are currently 47,518 WordPress plugins at your fingertips, and that’s just within the WordPress.org website. There are also thousands of fee-based plugins out there that aren’t even listed in the WordPress.org plugin directory. And by the way, those 47,518 plugins have been downloaded a total of 1,452,653,316 times as of today! HOLY SMOKES!! Since the numbers will be even larger when you read this post, you should totally go check it out for yourself. It’s kind of fun to see such huge numbers!

So, after making multiple purchases and then getting refunds due to frustration and being clueless + being extremely overwhelmed by the number of options available, how in the world do we decide what theme to use on the sites we build?

Luckily for us, it’s (now) simple! We stopped trying to learn our way around different themes and focused on ONE. By focusing on one theme and learning how to use every aspect of it, we were able to finally make a decision, feel comfortable with WordPress and themes, and confidently offer a 100% customizable product/service to our clients.
We stopped trying to learn our way around different themes and focused on ONE. Click To Tweet

Enter Beaver Builder:

Beaver Builder is a fully customizable WordPress Framework (and is our new personal favorite) that starts with a blank canvas. We are moving away from Thesis, (which has been wonderful and what we used for 5+ years) to be able to offer even bigger and better designs and functionality for our clients! Though Beaver Builder has some pre-fab templates that aren’t a blank canvas with design elements already place, we much prefer the blank canvas as a starting point.

The challenge we had with StudioPress and Genesis (which we did use on one client’s site) is that it came with so much code already in there that it took forever to try to figure out what something was and where it was in order to tweak it even in the most minor way. We realized that we work better from a blank slate where we don’t have to work through a bunch of code just to get something to be red or 500px wide. Beaver Builder has its core code in a place where you really don’t (need to) access it. So, you don’t have to go searching for the exact place where you need to change something. You simply put different elements where you want and need them to be, utilize Beaver Builder’s unique tools to set the styles for each element on your site and/or write your own CSS when needed (the code the makes your website look pretty).

We could go on and on about Beaver Builder and why we use it and love it, but we’ll save that for another day. In a nutshell – it works for us, and we can customize it to match the website dreams of our clients.

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to themes:

Unless you (1) are able to make decisions very easily (meaning, you can sort through the thousands of themes and pick one that looks like what you’d want your site to look like…and you don’t mind that there may be others out there whose site looks almost exactly the same); (2) know how to code; and/or (3) plan to and have time to take a web design course…then it’s really best to hire a professional to do the job.

You’ll save yourself a lot of time, frustration, anxiety, gray-hair-growing and/or hair-losing, and more! Plus, if you hire a designer who uses a theme/framework like Beaver Builder, you can pretty much guarantee that your site will not look like hundreds of others (unless, of course, you like a certain theme/layout and ask your designer to make your site look like that). Check out some of the sites we’ve built using BeaverBuilder and Thesis!

We both chose to not only learn the skills to create our own websites, but we loved learning about WordPress, themes/skins, coding, etc. so much that we made a career out of it.

Now, if that’s your passion, then heck yeah – let that bad boy loose! But, if you have products and services to sell, a business to run, and you don’t have time to mess with coding a website, then it’s truly best to hire someone to design and develop your website. Trust us – it is NOT worth the lack of sleep and/or extra money you’ll end up spending from probably having to start over and hire someone later, etc.!
Hire a professional web designer so that you can focus on what you do best! Click To Tweet

Do you have any questions about WordPress, themes, BeaverBuilder or anything else mentioned in this post?
Post your questions below and we’ll happily answer them!

About Stefani and Janet

Hi there, we're Stefani and Janet, co-founders of The Essential Website. We design and code WordPress websites for businesses and bloggers who want to shine online, and we do it with style, strategy and a bit of spunk! We're both dog lovers, travel enthusiasts, escapers of the 9-5, and proud computer geeks. Thanks for stopping by, we're so happy to connect with you.


  1. Carolina Santamaria on January 18, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Wow this post is brilliant! So complete! Themes are a key subject on blogs and you covered it all, thank you for sharing.

    • Janet on January 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Glad you liked it, thanks for reading Carolina!

  2. Sandra crespo on January 18, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    I love this super informative !!! As a fairly newbie in the blogging world I quickly learned how confusing WordPress can be. I am thankful that it can be accessed from anywhere as long as you have a username and password.

    • Stefani on January 18, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Oh yes, it surely can be confusing, Sandra! So glad the post was helpful and informative :).

  3. Chanelle on January 18, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    This was so helpful! I definitely needed this, thank you.

    • Stefani on January 18, 2017 at 3:06 pm

      Thanks, Chanelle! We’re so glad you liked it!

  4. Shannon on January 18, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    This is fabulous! I am currently in the process of getting my blog to look great and this helped so much. Thank you

    • Stefani on January 18, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      Yay! We are so happy to hear that, Shannon!

  5. Ola on January 18, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    I’ve been thinking about moving over to WP. I’m not sure though if the themes you’re talking about apply to the WP.com or the self hosted kind. I’d also like to know if having WP increases à bloggers “reach”?

    • Stefani on January 18, 2017 at 5:49 pm

      Hi Ola,
      We’re talking about the wordpress.org (self-hosted) platform. WP doesn’t necessarily increase reach. Sharing content, keeping your site clean of spam and hackers, updating your software and content, and promoting yourself are the keys to more reach. Hope that helps. Let us know if we can help with anything else! 🙂

  6. Our Family World on January 19, 2017 at 1:02 am

    This is really helpful for those who a newbie, my friend should know this tips and ideas.

    • Stefani on January 19, 2017 at 9:58 am

      So glad you found them helpful! 🙂

  7. ellie on January 19, 2017 at 8:51 am

    I found the WordPress themes that were available on the site, were ok but nothing amazing, especially not the paid ones. I used Pipdig for my WP theme and it’s exactly what I wanted. There was certainly a learning curve when moving from Blogger to WP.


    • Stefani on January 19, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Thanks, Ellie! I’m not sure which site you’re referring to where they weren’t amazing. We’d love to know. We’ll look into Pipdig for sure!

  8. Shane on January 19, 2017 at 11:52 am

    WordPress can get tricky when it comes to design! You have broken it down in an easy to digest manner 🙂

    • Janet on January 19, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      Glad you found this helpful Shane! Thanks for reading!

  9. Meg Kerns on January 19, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    I love that you’ve included EVERYTHING that a wordpress user would question. I know I often have questions working with my own and client sites. Thank you for the assistance!

    • Janet on January 20, 2017 at 9:54 am

      You’re so welcome Meg!

  10. Fatima Torres on January 20, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I’m so glad you took the time to break this down. A lot of people have asked me about creating a WordPress theme over purchasing one, and I honestly didn’t know what to tell them. I use a template on my blog. This post is very helpful in answering their question, so thank you!

    • Janet on January 20, 2017 at 9:53 am

      So glad we could help! Thanks Fatima!

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