Wordpress themes for easy visual editing that will last a long time
March 19, 2021 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I have a former client whose self-hosted Wordpress site broke because their theme no longer worked with the most recent PHP versions, and unfortunately the theme is no longer being updated. I need to migrate their site to a new theme with a minimum of effort and am overwhelmed because I haven't worked in Wordpress for a while and suspect that it's got a lot more WYSIWYG tools for customizing themes than it did in 2015.

I would like a base theme that will be forward-compatible with new versions of PHP so I don't have to keep on dealing with the risk that their site will go down again. I don't want to be messing with CSS either. The website site is very small, about 12 pages, and I'd like the ability to easily create menus that I can visually style without using code. Very basic interactivity like hover submenus and controls for responsive design at key device breakpoints. What would be a good theme for me to start with that allows WYSIWYG controls and has developers supporting it for years to come, so that it's always going to be compatible with new versions of Wordpress and PHP? I don't want to subscribe to anything, but if it saves me a ton of time and comes with good support, am willing to spend some money up front.
posted by oxisos to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's unreasonable to make any predictions about how well themes will be supported in the future, but Automattic (the Wordpress organization) has been very good about updating their own themes, even ones that are quite old—they're all named for the year, so "twenty fifteen" or whatever. They're all responsive—I think any decent theme these days is. They're pretty basic and each one brings a different design concept to the table.

Depending on how much you want to get into it, you can create a child theme that riffs off of one of these to add special features, so if that breaks, there's much less to wade through. You can also just add custom CSS to a theme right in the admin view, if that will suffice.

One thing to be aware of with a lot of the paid themes is that they have so many configurable options that you'll need to block out a fair amount of time just figuring out what you can configure, never mind the time spent actually configuring them in a way that looks good.
posted by adamrice at 10:36 AM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

fwiw, many of the changes to PHP that cause themes to break are fairly well-documented and have quickish fixes if you can chase down the error messages in the logs, which will give you some time to assess your options.

I think the most correct answer for forward-compatibility and "developer support for years to come" and "won't break on you" is "the default themes that ship with Wordpress." (Even Twenty Ten gets security and compatibility updates, though it's lacking many things you'd want in a modern site.) Each yearly theme showcases the most recent built-in features, so you can work out what's doable through visual tools (including the newish block editor) before looking at code-based customisation or plugins that might be abandoned or break somewhere down the line.
posted by holgate at 10:39 AM on March 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I recently started updating a website on Wordpress after not doing much with for several years, and fwiw found out that (at least in the theme in use) you could move pages around by clicking Appearance and then menus, so you didn't have to mess with declaring pages to be parents of other pages (I did both because I'm a belt-and-suspenders sort of person). Don't know if this helps you with your menu issue or not.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:53 PM on March 19, 2021

Best answer: Seconding adamrice. Use the WordPress 2021 theme if you just want it to work for a long time. Premium themes might have WYSIWYG editors that are flashier than the built in WordPress one, but you'll find if you ever have to migrate (again) that it can be a nightmare.
posted by gregr at 1:42 PM on March 19, 2021

Seconding cycling through the PHP errors and updating problematic lines. Shouldn’t take more than a couple hours. Since the theme won’t be updated you can just edit in place.
posted by michaelh at 3:32 PM on March 19, 2021

Check out Divi.

Currently on sale. It is a little resource hungry, but on a decent server it runs well.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:20 AM on March 20, 2021

Best answer: Thirding the suggestion to check out Automattic's own themes first using their demo sites. All the recent ones (approximately 2017 onwards?) are responsive, and all of them let you set up submenus without touching code.

Even if you don't end up using one of them, it'll give you a good idea of what's provided by a good-quality basic theme. As you'll have discovered by now, there are so many feature-rich themes with more fiddling than you want. Start simple, and look for the list of what can be customised to make sure you can poke the bits you want to play with.
posted by harriet vane at 4:51 AM on March 21, 2021

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