One of the biggest overlooked problems with Word Press really isn’t a fault of WordPress: bad themes.
Because it is so easy to modify a theme, to customize the look, many people do- and then post their theme for others to download. Doing this can be an act of kindness- or have some ulterior motives- such as including a link back to the theme builders site- or even semi evil- by including code that delivers ad words proceeds to the theme builder.
In general, people who post themes have good intentions and there are a lot of very good themes out there. But- what are the deciding factors that make a theme good or bad?
This is not meant to be a comprehensive look- just some examples of what can and can’t go wrong with a theme.

Here is the most important tip for theme builders: check your theme on multiple platforms and browsers. We’ve had some problems with the theme “modern” which we use on this site- in some versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer (or “Exploder” as it is sometimes called -because it doesn’t display W3C standard code correctly) and the theme “jillij” which we love- but has problems as you can see from the comments on the link.
One major problem with theme builders is that they often find a theme they like and then tweak it to their liking without thoroughly knowing what happened before. It’s sort of like the communication game “Telephone” where you start with a long sentence and whisper it to the person next to you, who then does the same- and by the time it pass through a dozen people it may not mean the same thing. Themes can go through a horrible genetic mutation process, from just minor changes to images to accidentally deleting important tools and then being morphed again. A version history- or at least an acknowledgement of where a theme builder started would be a huge help.
We are in the process of building a list of best themes for WordPress- by evaluating themes we believe do the best job or offer the easiest to customize. Watch this site for more on this soon.
Feature sets: there are a lot of “tools” in WordPress for a theme builder to utilize- some are totally worthless. My personal peeve is against the calendar- it takes up valuable screen real estate to inform readers what dates you posted on. The good thing is it’s easy to remove from the sidebar- but it’s a leftover from the early days of blogging when everyone was trying to push frequency over quality.
The next three are coding issues and are ranked on how easy to hard they are to spot:
Easy to spot:
A theme (probably left over from 1.2) that didn’t support Permalinks (the ability to click on a posts headline and get a static URL that will always point to that post).
A little harder to spot:
A theme that didn’t tell you there were more results in your category than the default number shown by your settings in options. You may have 100 posts in that category, but it will only display the first 10 results with no way to see the rest. To find this out- you need more than your default number of posts shown in a category.
Hard to spot- and literally makes WordPress worthless:
The theme, Blue Horizon, generates search results for Google that are identical- instead of showing the actual contents of the post- it puts your blogs tagline in the content area. See the screen grab below (click to enlarge)
Google results from a bad theme

It took a while to figure out where the code was in the header.php file to fix this- and we had to install the Google Site Map plug in to even identify the problem- since the site would only index one page and stop (a total negation of the best reason to use WordPress).

NOTE: I may have jumped the gun on pointing the blame to Blue Horizon- it may have been caused by a plug in- Keyword generator- that didn’t work- but- as I was probing the header of Blue Horizon- I still came upon some mystery code in the meta data: “WordPress, themes, templates, Odyssey, Gemini, Fuiyama, Maximus,Trident, Vesuvius, sports betting and arbitrage, web, blog, web log, design, web standards, valid xhtml, CSS, 505, accessibility, useability, 508”

So- there are still things to be wary of in a theme.
There are nuances to every theme and you have to choose wisely. Some people who can code a little HTML like to have their site have a set number of static pages. The theme Coffee Cup is one of these themes. However, if you use this theme and keep adding pages without coding the links to match your pages, no one will ever be able to get to them. This is not a bad thing; some people don’t understand the value and power of the Category tool in WordPress and try to make everything a page instead of using posts effectively. See and I will probably post another post that is specifically about this subject soon.
I’ve seen themes that leave out categories- one of the most powerful features of WordPress, and link category support (the highly praised Connections theme left out link categories at one time- I haven’t checked lately).
Great coders also annotate their code. These are instructions in the code telling you what the code does. While many of you will never look into the theme editor window- or muck with a theme (not available on hosted solutions) for those of us tasked to do so, good explanations of what the code is doing is a huge timesaver.
While it’s easy to pick a theme based on looks, that’s like buying a kit car that looks just like a Ferrari but is really a VW under the fiberglass.
Hopefully, this post will help you evaluate what makes a good theme- and maybe even push a few theme authors to be more careful about what they leave out and to closely document what they’ve done.

For a more technical explanation of WP theme design focused on the hosted solution see (this isn’t the full link if you print this out.)
Here is a long piece explaining the parts and meanings of a WordPress theme:


Commenting area

  1. I totally agree, and thanks for the link.

    Even if a Theme is absolutely fantastic in almost every way, it is often the “almost” that makes it really frustrating. While people using the full version of WordPress can tweak to their hearts content, people who don’t know anything about HTML, CSS, or tweaking, or those using WordPressMU driven blogs like, are stuck with whatever the Theme designer did, which may or may not include those “almosts”.

    I wrote about some of the “almosts” in WordPress Theme Designers – Slapping You Upside the Head, and they include styling STRONG but not B for bold, styling EM but not I for italic, not styling CODE, PRE, HR, and other very common tags found in many posts (outside of the template files).

    On one lovely theme that I really admire, the designer took a bunch of shortcuts to force compatibility between browsers, and the steps he took stripped all margins and padding in tables, so if you want to add a table for data, it’s a squished up, borderless, ugly display.

    Others do things that don’t make sense like removing all padding and margins around lists, especially DL lists. I don’t know about you, but when I’m going down a list, I can’t stand seeing lines of text all crowded together. A little 5px padding helps increase readability.

    These are things that won’t label a WordPress Theme as “bad”, but it does label it as frustrating and annoying. Sure, B and I has been replaced by STRONG and EM, but do I want to dig into my database of over a thousand posts and replace every B with STRONG? NO! So have some backwards compatibility thoughtfulness.

    So I ranted and raged, but these things are really frustrating. Please, everyone, keep the little details in mind as you play with all the bells and whistles of designing WordPress Themes. It only makes your Theme really “the best of the best” when all the details are covered.

  2. I just could not resist. My theme being said as a “bad theme”!
    Sorry to answear but I DID test it under firefox, IE, Opera and Safari. It was working. The problem you are talking about is a server configuration problem which avoid the menu to work under IE. This problem, I could not predict it and it is now solved! Everything cannot work out of the box everytime.

  3. I think the point should be… Bad internet browser. I spend litteraly hours because of differences between browsers.

  4. As a note- I love Jillij’s theme- and I used it here as a point-
    We’re using it at and I hope it’s fixed (it works on all the browsers here- but it was doing that when we launched it for as well – they’ve since changed themes because of this problem).
    We have web standards- what we don’t have is a standard browser that unfortunately has 70% of the market right now. The best thing that could happen is if everyone switched to
    Thanks to Lorelle and to Jillij for their comments.

  5. I was really unaware of meta tags that my theme BLue Hoirizon had untill I was emailed about it. Since it was a derived work ( its a modified theme based on Daisy Rae Gemini ) the problem persisted. The original theme too had the same problem.

    But the day I was emailed about it , I made sure to remove the tags and replace the file on my server.

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