How to Select a Theme for your Membership Site

Trying to pick a WordPress theme can be a little like entering a black hole. Time and space will cease to exist and before you know it, you have spent unfathomable hours searching for something that doesn’t exist – the perfect theme.

With thousands upon thousands of WordPress themes to pick from, my goal for this post is to save you from having to spend more than 60 minutes making a decision on which theme might be the best one for your membership site. The sooner you are able to make a decision, the sooner you can get your website launched and start attracting new members.

One of the great things about MemberPress is that you’re not restricted to any one particular theme. Any page or post can be protected and customized as required.

So let’s get on with it.

Decide What’s Important To You

Your first step in this process should involve writing down a list of what you are looking for in a theme. With so many available, it’s probably a good idea to separate your list into two categories.

  1. Features you must have.
  2. Features that are nice, but optional.

It’s pretty rare to find a theme that has absolutely everything you want right out of the box – trust me, I’ve spent hours looking. Some features are going to be more important to you than others and it’s up to you to prioritize them.

You might want a theme with an off-canvas menu or maybe you need a theme with support for two menus built in. If you’re familiar with CSS, maybe the color scheme is not important to you or maybe you’re looking for a specific homepage design – full-width or boxed layout.

So, first things first. Write out your list and then come right back so we can run through some of the other features you might want to consider important.

Strong Support and a Large User Base

A large user base and support system are critical. You are virtually guaranteed at some point in time to require support. Nothing is as frustrating as running into a problem and having to wait 3 days to get your question answered. Most of the time, top themes, whether paid or free, will be able to provide you with a reasonable level of support – even if it's not directly from the theme's author.

For example, both StudioPress and ElegantThemes have a forum based support system where you’ll likely receive an answer to any questions you have within a day or two, if not faster. Many of the more popular themes available through ThemeForest also offer great support.

The larger the user base is, the more likely you’ll be able to find a quick solution to any problems that arise. The challenge you're dealing with today was probably overcome by someone else yesterday.

Paid vs Free Themes

Free vs Paid WordPress Themes

Although there are thousands of free themes available for WordPress, that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy to find a good one. You might find it difficult to locate a theme capable of serving your membership community with all the features you desire.

You’ll find varying opinions on this topic, but mine has always been that paid themes are the better route. There are plenty of options to choose from plus, in most cases, a paid theme means you receive better support, more frequent updates, and more.

Features & Functionality

Most paid themes include plenty of features and functionality. They have to in order to remain competitive, and that works out well for you. Here are some things you should look for:

Mobile Responsive Design

A mobile responsive site is, in my opinion, an absolute must. Apparently, Google feels the same way since they rolled out their mobile-friendly algorithm update in April of this year. The bottom line is that a mobile friendly website results in a better user experience for your members who will more than likely be accessing your site on their mobile devices.

User Friendly Navigation

A website that’s difficult to navigate will frustrate your members faster than almost anything else. When you’re selecting a theme, pay close attention to the ease of navigation – how quickly and easily can your members find the things on your website that are important to them?

Pay attention to both desktop and mobile navigation, since both are important. Of particular concern should be the efficient use of screen real estate on mobile devices.

Ease of Customization

In order to make your membership website stand out from the crowd, it’s important to pick a theme that makes customizations easy. Depending upon your level of technical expertise you might consider a theme like Elegant Themes Divi or WooThemes Canvas. Some of these multipurpose themes might offer a little more functionality than you need out of the box. In those cases taking a closer look at a lightweight framework like Genesis and a child theme might be a good place to start your search.

SEO Ready

Using a theme that is search optimized right out of the box means you have one less thing to worry about. Eventually, you might decide that you want the added functionality of something like the Yoast SEO Plugin but to start with, having your basic SEO needs covered should be a must have feature.

Flexible Layout Options

Having the ability to select from multiple layouts may not seem like such a big deal when you’re first getting started but over time you’ll want to experiment with optimizing the layout of your membership site. When that time comes, it’s nice to have options available. Custom widgets and widget areas along with multiple sidebar options are a great feature to have, even if you don't use them right away.

Wrap Up

Picking a theme for your membership site need not be a complicated process. We’ve outlined some of the more important features and considerations when making a decision but don’t worry, you’re still left with thousands of potential options.

You’ll probably never find a theme that meets 100% of your needs or wants so it’s a good idea to prioritize before you begin your search. And remember, you can always change your theme down the road, so don’t get too hung up on having everything perfect the first time around.

Please share in the comments which theme you selected for your MemberPress site.

What were the deciding factors for you when choosing your theme?

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Categories: Advice How To
About Joe Fylan

Joe uses WordPress to create websites of all types and loves sharing his experiences of using this software with other users. If you need a steady stream of great content for your website, or you want the latest WordPress news and reviews check out his writing services and WordPress blog.