With the growing popularity of WordPress comes a constantly expanding selection of both free and premium WordPress themes. While having a ton of options is often a great thing, it can also become unnecessarily stressful and feel totally overwhelming—especially if you have no idea what to look for. Today, I’ll walk you through my process for choosing the right WordPress theme for any project.

Determine the purpose of your website.

The first step in choosing the right WordPress theme for your project is to clearly define the purpose of your website. Are you planning on selling products (e-commerce)? Starting a small business site but hoping to expand as your company grows? Planning to create a huge corporate site, with lots of pages required? An online magazine? Portfolio site? Simple blog?

Determining the purpose of your website will greatly narrow your potential theme choices. If you’re setting up a small business site, you’ll clearly want to avoid wedding themes. Likewise, if you’re building a portfolio site, you’ll surely need something a little more featured-packed than a simple blogger-oriented theme.

Make a list of your must-haves.

Creating a list of your must-have features should be a top priority when choosing the best theme for your site. The lack of key features in a theme can cause some major issues as you’re creating. You’ll likely be forced into adding on extra plugins (and time) while turning your site into more of a piecemeal project.

You’ll need to determine what’s most important to you: are you looking for a particular menu or header style? Is it important to have built-in image or video sliders? Do you want to play around with CSS animation? Add columns easily? Want a bunch of easy to use shortcodes built right in, or perhaps a WYSIWYG page builder? Make a list of your must-haves, and your theme choices will quickly be narrowed down.

Investigate the theme’s level of built-in customization capabilities.

Most themes come equipped with at least a handful of customization capabilities. These include things like uploading your logo, changing basic font and link colors, and setting the fonts you’d like to use. This may be enough, depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish. Other themes will offer you the ability to customize the finest of details, allowing you to totally personalize the theme’s look and feel—all without any programming knowledge required.

If you’re looking for a theme to truly make your own, then choosing a more customization-friendly one is definitely your best bet. If you’re content with just a few options, or if you’re handy with CSS and don’t mind setting up a child theme, then one of the simpler themes will likely be just fine.

Do your best to future-proof your site.

The worst thing you can do when building a website is to ignore the future and only consider your immediate needs and the current trends. What’s popular in design right now, the size that your website needs to be right now, the web trends that are happening right now. These are all things that will be constantly changing over time.

Of course, when choosing a WordPress theme, you can’t guarantee that it’s going to be updated forever, or that it’s going to grow and change as the web grows and changes. However, it’s possible to narrow your choices down to reputable vendors, which help in ensuring a certain level of future-proofing. I recommend sticking with some of the more popular premium themes available on Themeforest, going with a free WordPress-developed theme, or choosing a framework like Genesis or Thesis. These are ever-evolving and constantly competing to stay ahead of what users are looking for. This will help to ensure that you’re getting updates at least a few times a year, and your website isn’t falling victim to becoming totally outdated.

Decide what functionality you’ll need to rely on external plugins for, and which ones you’ll use.

Assume that you’ve narrowed down your theme selections based on the suggestions above, but you’re still missing a key piece of functionality for your new site. Maybe you need event registration, maybe a robust calendar solution, or maybe an advanced e-commerce platform. Whatever it may be, you’ll need to rely on an external plugin to accomplish whatever functionality isn’t built into your prospective themes. This is when built-in plugin compatibility will come into play.

Once you’ve found a plugin or two that appear to accomplish what you’re looking for, you’ll want to determine whether or not they are compatible with your theme. For example, some premium themes come with built-in support and styles for the e-commerce plugin WooCommerce. This means that the plugin will be styled to match the overall look of your chosen theme, and you may even have some control over things like button colors, font sizes, etc. Without these built-in styles and compatibility, you might just end up being stuck with the default look of an external plugin (assuming you aren’t a CSS guru)—which can sometimes throw off the look of your whole site.

Ready to start looking at some themes? Check out a list of my favorite WordPress themes here!