If you're websites on the Drupal platform, I'll bet my entire life savings that the first thing you ever did was try to install new Drupal theme. I'll bet my future earnings that even today you're still occasionally changing themes and wasting a lot of time doing minor modifications that when summed up merely distracts you from the website itself.
Yet, it's easy to understand why themes beg for so much attention. With the correct theme, you can accommodate all the nifty little widgets and codes, and may also mean better search website rankings and tons of fresh traffic every day.
So what factors do you need to consider to make this whole productive Drupal themes hunting business easier? Here are five important ones:
1) Theme Width and Columns
Typically, Drupal themes come in 2-column or 3-column formats, with widths ranging from 500 pixels to 960 pixels wide. If you're websites for non-profit purposes, a 2-column theme can look more compact and reader-friendly. Since you have less images of products or links to other websites to display, you can focus exclusively on the content without leading readers away from your website.
On the other hand, if you're websites for profit, you may want to consider a 3-column Drupal theme that will be able to accommodate your Google Ad-sense, Chitika and Text Link Ad codes comfortably without squeezing everything in the content area. 3-column themes allows room for expansion, but in the event that you've filled up all available space with ads, then it's time you removed the non-performers and use only the advertising services that work for that particular website.
2) Use of Images and Icons
A theme with images and icons can look good, but it rarely increases your website traffic or subscriber base. In fact, most "A-list" websites have plain vanilla themes with a simple logo on top. Reducing the amount of images also means faster loading time and less stress on your servers. This vital aspect of server load becomes apparent only if you have tens of thousands of visitors a day, but it's worth designing for the future.
A image-laden theme also distracts readers from the content itself. This is the reason why top end websites use images intensively in the content areas to add value to a post, but the theme itself is simple and rather minimalist.
Ideally, a theme should allow you to use your own header image for stronger branding purposes, yet replace images and icons with links and text, or just not use them at all unless absolutely necessary.
3) Compatibility with Plug-ins
Another time-sucking activity is installing plug-ins that improve the functionality of your website. There's a plug-in out there for almost everything you want to do with your website, but while most of them are free and easily obtainable, it's not always easy to install the plug-ins and insert the codes into your Drupal theme.
If your theme is too complicated, it may be a headache to even insert that one line of code you need to make a plug-in work. This is often the case with advanced AJAX-based Drupal themes that have too many files and heavy coding. I've always preferred a simpler themes that stick to the default Drupal theme as much as possible, so I can cut back on the learning curve and just get on with my life.
Remember that the purpose of your website is to deliver timely, relevant content to your readers, Any theme that preserves or improves the reader experience is good, any theme that subtracts from the experience is bad.
A lot can be said about SEO but at the end of the day if you have content worth reading eventually you'll get the rankings you deserve. However, that doesn't mean that you don't need SEO; it merely means that as far as optimisation is concerned all you really need to do is to make sure:
(a) Your website pages are formatted properly, with the name of the page first followed by the name of the website - some themes can do this automatically without modification to the code or use of a plug-in
(b) All your blog content titles use the H1 tag, with the main keywords used instead of non-descriptive text for better SEO relevance
(b) Your theme has clean source codes, and if possible all formatting is linked to an external CSS file which you can edit independently
5) Plug-And-Play Ease of Use
Can the theme be installed easily on an existing website without having to move things around? Can the same theme be used and customized easily on your other websites? These are some additional things you may want to consider when theme-shopping, especially if every minute of downtime on your website may mean lost revenue.
While it's hard to make comparisons due to the sheer amount of free and paid themes out there, it's still a good idea to have a test website. Test any theme you plan on using, and make sure your test website is also fitted with all the plug-ins and miscellaneous widgets used on your real website. The last thing you want is for your readers start seeing weird error messages on your website.
At the end of the day, a theme is just a theme. Instead of spending your time installing them, it may be wiser to outsource the task and focus more on your readers.