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Themes that work best for architects are designed around projects.
You find really good WordPress themes on sites like Themeforest. A trick to finding project based themes on themeforest is to search for portfolios, photography and graphic design. You can find a list of my selection of good WordPress themes for architects here: Best WordPress Themes for Architects 2013.
1. Make sure the theme includes projects
The key to an architect’s website (and any other project based industry) is how that website manages and displays project information. A good WordPress theme for an architect is therefore built around projects. By default WordPress has two page types. The first is a page (which is for static content), and the second is a post (which is used for blog entires and is displayed in chonological order). WordPress does however have the capability to create a custom post type for projects. This is ideal because it separates your project information from the rest of your site. It also allows the project page to be customized specifically for the information you want to display for a project. You can manually add projects to any WordPress theme, but it’s much easier to just choose a WordPress theme that already does it.
2. Projects are not the same as galleries
There are two main ways to display projects and on the surface they both look the same, but they have a big impact on the value of your website. The first way is to display a series of images and when you click on an image it opens a popup box that displays a galley of project images. An example of this can be seen in the theme Folioway. This is beautiful, but it doesn’t harness the true value of your project’s content. A much better approach is how the theme The Agency deals with projects. It has a very similar grid, but rather than use a popup lightbox, it links directly to a project page. This achieves two very important things. the first is that it allows you provide information about the project, and all that means you’re providing more content for people like journalists, but you’re also providing more text for Google to find you. On a full project page you an provide a project description, a location, the clients brief, details like size and budget and type of work. You can also list the project team and materials of the work. All of this is real content that others can use to write blogs and stories around your architecture.Think about it, if I search for home melbourne stainless steel, it’s the project that lists all those key works which will be ranked higher than an image without any annotation.
The second issue is that you can’t link to a popup gallery because it doesn’t have it’s own URL, which means blogs and social media users can’t link to your project. By using the gallery approach you have stopped the viral affect of the internet. And that’s stupid. Say that again but with a dumass accent, and that’s stupid.
3. Live preview every theme before buying it
Theme sites like Themeforest often allow you to try a live preview of a theme. It’s really important that you try a theme in action before buying it. Often themes that look good in still images are not the same in real life. A couple things you want to check are
- How smooth moving parts like menues, toggles, tabs, and popup lightboxes are.
- How they deal with projects. Do they link to a dedicated project page (good), or just pop up a gallery (bad).
- How customizable the theme is. Many themes will have multiple colour choices and page layouts. For example, a theme may have several different page types like blog, full page, right sidebar, left sidebar, contact and portfolio.
- What shortcodes does it have. Short codes allow you to add things like tabs or toggles. All very handy for creating the style of the theme. [update: I’m very hesitant about using shortcodes that are included in themes now because in the future if you update the theme those shorcodes will break and you’ll need to edit every page where you used one. A much better better approach is to use a shortcode plugin, that way changing themes is a two minute exercise, not a two day pain in the ass.
4. Avoid visually complex themes
There’s a lot of very cool themes out there that are just too complex. When I fist see them I say, “Wow, this layout is really different.” Sometimes it has a beautiful full screen image, sometimes it has boxes that look like Windows 8, sometimes it has moving parts, or what ever else comes along. Once I get over my initial wow factor I start think about how a new user would interact with the site. For an architects site this normally comes down to
- Knowing your an architect
- Knowing where you’re located
- Understanding what services you provide, how you work, and why you’re different
- Looking through your projects
- And most importantly, getting the hell off your font page!
This last point is so important. You need to move people as quickly as you can off your front page to “real content.” Your front page is really just a teaser that links to other stuff, and that other stuff is almost always displayed as a simple page. And the problem with overly complex themes is that they cram so much stuff on the front page that there is no clear path for the user to take, which means you’re leaving potential clients to navigate your site by chance, rather than having a smart strategy in place (eg, A path that leads to some action taking place like someone contacting you, or subscribing to your blog). All of the themes listed on Best WordPress Themes for Architects 2013 therefore are generally minimal themes. They show essential information in a way that is familiar to users and any fancy features are additive and don’t get in the way of moving users to the important content.
5. Make sure it’s mobile friendly
Making sure your website is mobile friendly has become very important. For example, 20% of the traffic on Websites For Architects is viewed via a smart phone, or a tablet, and this is only going to increase. At the end of 2012 there weren’t so many themes that dealt with mobile devices well and so many people were using plugins to create a second mobile friendly version of their site. This has all changed and is now much easier. Theme developers are creating what’s called “responsive themes” which stretch and adjust the content of your site based on the width of the screen. This means everything becomes fluid and when your site is viewed on a smart phone it naturally adjusts and rearranges the content in a more mobile friendly way. Things like a website’s sidebar move to the bottom of the page and images resize themselves. The key message here is that when you search for a theme make sure you test if it’s responsive. You can do this in two ways. The simplest is to drag your browser window down to a small width. If the content rearranges then it’s responsive. The second way is to load the theme on your phone and see what it looks like. I do both, even though it takes a couple extra minutes because it’s worth it. All the themes listed on Best WordPress Themes for Architects 2013 are now responsive themes.