As someone who has built websites professionally for many years now, there are a handful of things I look for in any template or theme I might use to create a website regardless of what kind of site it is, and the platform on which it was built:
- How long has it been around? A template or theme that was released yesterday just doesn’t have the track record you want to see for either features or support. This isn’t to say that you should limit yourself to older themes, but instead to look for either a theme created by a team with an illustrious track record, or one that has been around for a while but is regularly updated with new features.
- How easy is it to update? If you, or someone else on your behalf, creates an exquisitely beautiful website, but you can’t update it because it’s too complicated, then it’s not sustainable for you or your business. Unless, of course, you have the budget to pay someone else to deal with that.
- How flexible is it? If you change your career slightly in 14 months, do you need to start your website all over again or does your theme or template have the flexibility to let you add new features and/or change existing ones?
- How fast is it? The speed that your website loads affects not only the user experience, but also how Google ranks your site in search results. You should always aim for as speedy as possible (and your web hosting plan affects this the most) with the features that your site needs to succeed. Ideally, speed is one of the features listed in the description.
- How secure is it? WordPress themes, especially, can integrate with the WordPress backend pretty tightly which can leave your site more open to hacking. And the same is true So when evaluating a theme look for mentions of their efforts at keeping your site secure.
But what if you’re creating an author website? What do you look for on top of those basic principles?
- Easy social media integration. Your author platform should extend beyond your website. Your website is basically the hub for your online presence as an author, and your social media profiles are the community and announcement mechanisms for your work. You want to ensure you can easily link people to where they can connect with you online, and also display feeds from your profiles too. This can be done with plugins, but whenever it’s possible to have something built-in to your theme it will be more streamlined and elegant.
- Mailing list integration. Whether you’re sending people a newsletter, your blog posts, or just the occasional news, having a mailing list is a great tool for any author to help reach their fans and sell more books. And whether you use MailChimp or another web marketing platform, you want
- Simplicity. Some templates come with lots of bells and whistles and require you to use them. Maybe a template has a space for a high-quality, large-scale photo with the page title at the top of each page, but it’s more important that people can get to the page’s content without having to scroll. Or, maybe a template was designed to make a blog look great, but doesn’t give you many options to make the rest of the site look great too. Or, maybe there’s a search widget in the navigation menu that you can’t turn off, or the space for your name/logo just simply isn’t big enough, or there are all these e-commerce features but you’re just going to point people to Amazon… you get the idea. Keep in mind that the more complicated you make something, the more complicated it will be, both the create AND maintain. I’ve written about my argument for simplicity in author websites before, but I’m a big fan because I see how they work as well, if not better, than author websites that throw everything + the kitchen sink at you.
If you’re new to this, and plan to do the work yourself, make sure you talk with people you know about their experiences to get their thoughts on how their project(s) went since they’re likely to be candid with you. Choosing a template doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind and go in a different direction, but it isn’t always easy and often means you need to start all over again in the creation of your website. This is another argument for simplicity — start small, with the basics, and grow from there. Ideally, your selected template will grow with you.