Starting a blog involves many important decisions before you ever type a single word. Each of those decisions require a certain degree of contentment as you’ll being living with them as you launch and brand your new blog. You have to choose a domain name, determine how your new blog will be hosted on the internet, and decide on a blogging platform. Check out my series of posts on how to start your blog for more information.
Start a Blog | Post Series
- How to Start a Blog Today – The Ultimate Guide
- Choosing the Best Blogging Platform
- How to Choose a WordPress Theme – 10 Insightful Tips!
- Best WordPress Plugins for New Blogs
Now you need to make one last decision before you get your blog up and running – your theme. I love this part of starting a new site! A theme provides the look and feel your site visitors experience. I’ll walk your through some options and my own decision making process. Let’s choose a WordPress theme!
Free versus Paid Themes
I’ve been on both sides of this one. My first site used a free WordPress theme. The site was generally functional and allowed me to get up and running pretty quickly – AND it was free! Let me provide some of the factors that might limit you with a free theme.
- No Differentiation – You and a bunch of other people have the same theme.
- Lack of Updates – Free themes receive limited or no updates. Infrequent updates might mean incompatibility with WordPress over time.
- Lack of Support – You might have one person supporting the theme (or no one). The theme might be abandoned. Yikes!
- Limited Features – Limited ability to use the latest web design features and functions.
- Less Secure – High risk of sloppy code with holes for hackers or anyone looking to wreak havoc on your site.
In the event you decide to go with a free theme I highly recommend getting one from the free WordPress Free Themes Directory. These themes come from the WordPress community and by in large are a set of themes that follow the WordPress coding standards. Additionally, these themes provide the best security options when it comes to choosing among free themes.
A paid theme opens up more doors for your new site in terms of customization and design. If you’re not operating on a budget and trying to make a run at a profitable business, I highly recommend looking at paid themes to differentiate your new site. Here’s some steps and decision points I’d factor into your selection process for a paid theme.
Make a Design Board
What catches your eye with other websites you like? Do you have a model website you’d like to emulate? I highly encourage you to explore the websites and blogs in your targeted niche. Find your favorite ones and save them to a favorites list in your browser or capture some of the visual effects you like on a Pinterest board.
Over time you’ll begin to see certain design elements stick out. You’ll find functionalities that are must haves. Specific color schemes will probably emerge. What types of fonts do you like? Are their plug-ins, visual effects (parallax, sliders), or other ideas that your niche emphasize? How do you like posts displayed on the homepage or blog page (this is a big one)?
When you answer some of these questions you’ll go a long ways towards finding the right theme for you!
Responsive Theme – A Must Have!
A responsive theme is unquestionably one of the most important factors I’d consider in a theme selection. What’s a responsive theme – it’s a theme that automatically adjusts your content for the user screen size. Whether the user is on a desktop, mobile device, or tablet the look and feel of your theme will be the same.
When you’ve found a theme you like test it out. Try viewing the demo version on a desktop and a mobile device. You can also minimize a desktop screen size to check responsiveness.
Let me provide a case study on the importance of this one. Our current site has several months of Google Analytics data now. Our user device usage to access our site is pretty mind-blowing. In fact, 80% of our visitors use a mobile device, 10% use a tablet, and 10% use a desktop. Get my point? Device usage will differ some by based on each niche, but don’t expect it to change much.
Compatibility with WordPress Plug-Ins
I’ll talk on both sides of the fence for this topic. First, if you buy a great theme that has the design options you want, the idea of plugin compatibility becomes marginalized. Why? A great theme design that meets your needs shouldn’t need many plug-ins. With that being said, even with the most well matched theme choice you’ll still be using some plug-ins on your site. Make sure the theme your choosing won’t run into any snaps with the most popular WordPress plug-ins.
Search Engine Optimized
Ranking well in Google searches is an important part of any sites traffic. You don’t want your theme to be a reason for diminished rank. Choose a theme that’s SEO optimized with lightweight code and automatic updates. Also check to see if your SEO plugin of choice is compatible. I like Yoast SEO Premium.
Simple, Functional Design
Whitespace on your site is a good thing. Choosing a theme with a clean, simple design will go a long ways towards being pleasing to your visitor’s eyes. Additionally, a site that’s light on features, yet stylistic will run faster. Too many features, widgetized spaces, and code will slow your site down. Don’t get tricked into all the theme designers wowing you with feature overload.
Buy from a Trusted WordPress Theme Developer
WordPress has a strict and well established coding standard for themes that integrate with their platform. You may be really excited about a beautiful theme you found with a developer – only to find out after you install the theme on WordPress that the theme is poorly coded and doesn’t play nicely with WordPress tested plugins. How do you avoid this situation. Buy your themes from trusted theme developers. Here are a few to start your search.
How do you know if their trusted? Take some time to read their profiles. Get some clues about other theme development work they’ve done. Do they have any accolades, awards, or recognition for their themes? Check into what other users of their themes are saying by doing a simple search on the internet. What type of backend support can you expect to receive? How will you receive communication for updates (email, automatic)?
Here’s a consideration you’ll want to make in your theme selection if you plan to make modifications to your theme’s CSS stylesheet, PHP templates, or functions.php file. If you plan on making even the simplest of coding changes to your theme I’d suggest purchasing a 2 part theme that contains both a parent theme and a child theme. Say what? I know, I thought the same thing the first time I heard this terminology. Read on…
Let me pose a scenario. WordPress themes are updated pretty frequently. The last 3 months I’ve seen 3 updates to my WordPress theme. What if you make some coding changes to your theme file in between these updates? Maybe you wanted to change the styling of your homepage or added some custom design to your blog page. A potential scenario, and not to uncommon, is you lose all those updates and you have a site that looks terrible! Yikes!
Installing both a parent theme and child theme fix this situation. How? To put it in the simplest of terms, a child theme allows you to make coding customizations to your theme without these changes ever being lost when WordPress updates occur. This happens because the WordPress update only impacts the parent theme (which you never make any customization edits to). Additionally, this 2 part theme allows a novice to implement coding without worrying about crashing their site and causing potential permanent damage. I like the sound of that!
Not everyone needs this 2 part theme though. If you’re not a tech junkie or your likely not going to make even the smallest of coding changes (or experiment) on your website, it’s a moot point. Just get a single theme and avoid all this parent/child theme talk.
You can test drive some paid themes for free. Your offered a basic version of the paid theme with limited functionality. Many of the key features are hidden until you pay for the theme. Might be worth some consideration if you’re looking at paying some big bucks for a theme and your just not sure. The test drive will allow you to see the look and feel before you buy. Check out some of these “free” paid themes at wpmudev.
Security is a big issue with free WordPress themes but let’s not just assume paid themes get a free pass. Don’t get me wrong. Your risk for security issues with a reputable theme developer go way down. BUT, if you’re shelling out the big bucks why not be sure? Test out your theme zip file at themecheck.org for free. You can check for code quality, presence of malware, and whether the theme meets WordPress standards and common user needs.
Time to Choose a WordPress Theme and Start Blogging!
The look and feel of your website ties directly to your theme choice. I highly recommend a paid theme from a trusted developer to save yourself some hassles in the long run. You won’t regret the decision.
I’ve been using a two-part theme (Parent/Child) from StudioPress.com on our latest site. Our parent theme is the Genesis Framework and the child is Brunch Pro Theme (from Shay Bock). I love the peace of mind when WordPress updates occur with the parent/child theme setup. One more thing to share. I have an exclusive 25% off StudioPress themes or the Pro Plus all-theme package you’ll only find here!
I also like toying around with the code on my site to make customizations. The child theme allows me to tweak away and not break anything. I’ve also been impressed with the responsiveness on all devices (desktop/mobile). I often think a change I make to the styling or code will not translate and I’m still waiting to be disappointed.
In terms of customizations (without touching the code), Genesis offers impressive functionality through the theme options edit screen. I was surprised, based on past experience, how easy it was to change site layout, color schemes, and fonts.
The widgetized area is also intuitive, functional, and comprehensive. For example, I’ve been able to easily implement Google Adsense into my sight by using a simple text widget.
Let Me Know How it Goes
I hope this information was helpful and sparked some questions in your pursuit of the perfect theme. Good luck making your final theme selection as you choose a WordPress theme! Please share your comments, suggestions, or questions. I love being a part of the blogging world and learning from each other!