Which Themes Will Best Build Your WordPress Blog?

A Theme Is Expected To Make Your Content Look Good

First Steps In Blogging: Choosing Your Theme

I have been blogging ever since 2004, and for the greater portion of that time I have used WordPress for the platform (although I have also used others including Blogger). I’m one of those experimenters who is always changing things around, so I have used countless theme templates for my blogs.

I know it can get confusing sorting through the thousands of template choices, which seem to do a hundred different things, so I thought new bloggers, or people thinking of setting up their own blogs might benefit from some of my experience.

WHAT YOU WILL FIND HERE:

  • A quick rundown on what it takes to start blogging, and then a look at some of the types and choices of themes that will help you forge your online presence.
  • Start with a simple theme that best serves your site’s purpose. Or go with a professional theme that gives lots of support through forums, etc. Once you are used to the way a designer structures the themes, especially if there is an underlying framework (like Genesis), you will find your way around it and get it to function for you through familiarizing your self with the way that particular theme works.
  • This won’t tell you that any particular designer is the best, but just to give you, the new blogger, a beginners guide to sorting through a huge playing field of theme designs.

5 Blogging Decisions

Top 5 Website Decisions

  1. Choose your platform
  2. Choose your theme
  3. Choose plugins
  4. Write content and decide frequency of posting
  5. When and how to monetize your site

These are the most important decisions to make when you begin a blog.

Beginner’s Guide For A Headstart

WordPress Websites: Beginner's Guide to Easily Building a Website & Customizing It With Themes and Plugins (Writing Skills Book 4)
WordPress Websites: Beginner’s Guide to Easily Building a Website & Customizing It With Themes and Plugins (Writing Skills Book 4) Once you have your site up and running, will they come? They will if you get smart about the use of social media and the art of gaining readers.

Choose The WordPress Theme For The Purpose Of Your Site

Because WordPress is one of the most popular platforms, it has been extended through themes and plugins for all sorts of special uses. Some themes have special plugins incorporated right inside to make things wonderfully flexible and useful.

It used to be that each theme had its plugins for common features like slideshows, etc.

The prevailing wisdom is to allow those features to be handled by plugins as they are commonly used: separately.

News, Food, Photos? Ecommerce?

  • Most of the professional lines of WordPress theme designers have a whole slew of specialized themes all ready for you to create the exact type of site you want.
  • Photo blogs need to highlight their great pictures. Art blogs are similar. Portfolio highlights which have images instead of text for entries or large images with minimal text serve these sites well.
  • News site and how-to sites are well served with magazine style themes.
  • For most blogs a typical 2 column style with either a left or right hand sidebar is the classic theme choice.

WordPress blogs are so versatile that they can look like almost anything and function for many purposes from ecommerce to community sites (with the addition of buddypress or bbpress). The more complex the use requirements the more likely the theme will be highly complex and probably professional, costing a fee.

Those themes are a far cry from the early ones that had just a small number of templates.

What Is A Template?

The structures inside the theme which create posts, pages, contact pages, 404 pages, archives, etc.

 

How To Install A WordPress Theme In Your Site

Your Blogging Experience

Free Or Professional Themes For WordPress?

In blogging, one of the first things you will decide is the platform. This is the general software that supports your blogging site. WordPress is one of the most popular today, and can be both self-hosted (you pay for your hosting and run your blog on the server space of your hosting plan) or free, through WordPress.com.

Other platform examples:

  • Blogger
  • Typepad
  • Tumblr
  • Drupal

But since you have made the choice for WordPress, the next big decision is how you want your site to look and act, and that “frontend” experience is dictated by your “theme”.

Themes can be both simple and extremely complex, they can be free or professional (themes that you buy) also known as “Premium themes”. When I first blogged, I used only free themes. I now need more features and I have purchased professional themes.

Once you decide on WordPress, the fun just begins

At first it might seem there is little difference between free themes and pro, especially if you can find a free theme with support, with a community centered around troubleshooting and guiding newbies. There are even free themes with complex features, and a great look. But generally, a pro theme will have a higher level of design expertise, good code, and be kept up to date in compliance with the many upgrades that WordPress has engineered in recent years. In the case of the “Hybrid core” themes: the themes are free, but the support forums and articles require a paid membership.

I found many years ago that keeping up with the complexity of code, features that I wanted, and time to design were just too much for me as an individual blogger. I broke down and purchased a Pro theme membership.

Membership- what’s that?

OK. In professional themes there are often two ways to go:

Buy a single theme for a set amount of money OR buy a membership to a design company you like and have access to many themes and the support of experts. The choices are yours (choices, choices!).

Always Changing

The internet, and thus the type of writing and the look of websites, is always changing. The one thing that impacts wp theme choice today is the transition of web users to mobile phones. No longer is the desktop the primary way we access the web. This has resulted in another choice that we ought to be making:

CHOOSE A RESPONSIVE THEME FOR YOUR BLOG.

A responsive theme is one that looks good in a variety of size screens, and adjusts well to mobile users.

Most web designers are creating their frameworks and themes to be responsive now, but if you have made a previous decision, check to be sure your present one has “responsive” features.

My Own Challenges

I write lots of content and the field I blog in is crowded, and getting more crowded every day, so I need something that will stand out. One of the biggest problems for me has been the pagespeed, or time necessary to load a page on your computer screen. The template is going to impact these challenges.

CHILD THEMES ARE RECOMMENDED

The updates for WordPress result in the need for the templates to update, as well. When that happens many of the customizations are lost. Some themes have an interface which helps to preserve your changes either through use of an area to add your css or to add a “child theme”. I like it when the designer adds easy customizations to the backend or admin are of the theme.

Tips To Help You Choose The Right Theme

  1. Make a List. Do you want a blog, a gallery of photos or art? Need a portfolio for clients or e-commerce possibilities? What do you want people to do on your site?
  2. Check how much support is given for the theme. Is there support from creator or forum? How satisfied are the users of the theme? Take note of these things and add it to your decision.
  3. Check structure and flexibility of the theme. Does it have the type of pages you need? Are the style and your content a good fit?

About The Major WP Theme Players

Who Are They? What Are Their Benefits?

Some of these well known designer companies started with free themes. I used them in the past. This is not a definitive list, just some comments about the ones I know enough about to have opinions about their themes. The first two are theme platforms (theme structures that support many different styles).

Divi Is ET’s Cadillac Theme

Divi is their premier theme.
Divi is their premier theme.

Elegant Themes

This is the one I ended up paying for, probably because I am kind of artsy in my predilection for theme looks, and Elegant themes has one of the most artful, and just plain pretty, looks to their themes.

Elegant Themes, by Nick Roach, are a bit complex, but made easier with the back end epanel that automates most decisions of style and action. Support is so-so, but I don’t have other experience to compare it with. The entire line of many themes- all sorts of styles and basic purpose (they have a dynamite portfolio page) themes to choose from.

I have some affiliate links, if you decide to buy their themes and want to possibly support me in some small way. Note: I became an affiliate after I liked their themes, and am not advocating because I am an affiliate.

It seems like many of the best free themes went professional, and some of theme have limited free versions available. “Platform” Pagelines is one of those, look for others.

Platforms are the software that run the blog. WordPress is a platform for blogging. “Framework” is the basic structures under the “parent themes”, underneath those are the”child themes”. The platform runs all the functions and bells and whistles in the background, the theme or the framework has the basic and not so basic features that creates the look and use of the site. A parent theme is alone or under the child theme, which “sits on top” and is called for creating the specific look of the theme- the colors, graphics, and typography, as well as special templates. It can completely change the way the parent theme is experienced by visitors.

Not all themes are built apart from special frameworks, but many of the pro theme are, and the looks are usually the result of child themes. Look for Thesis and Genesis family themes to have this type of setup.

Best Theme? Review And Advice

What Are The Big Changes In Themes?

  1. Mobile friendly has gone from a suggestion to mandatory. This is driven by the shift of users from desktops to their phones for most internet use.
  2. Design plainly favors a “flat look” that is directly related to its good looks on a phone screen.
  3. Functions increasingly move from inside the theme to a separate plugin.
  4. Style ranges, but a light modern look reigns. Alternatively, handcrafted, like watercolor elements has grown in popularity.
  5. Clean interface and fast loading becomes ever more important for a professional site.

Thesis Theme by DIYThemes

Thesis is used by some of the most successful bloggers, but so is Genesis. It has a more open look.

At first this was the premier theme platform that all the serious bloggers wanted, Genesis has since caught up.

I used the designer’s, Chris Pearson, famous ‘Cutline’ theme for quite awhile on one of my blogs. His design technique is clean and he was known for his beautiful typography. The Thesis theme has a distinctive clear grid that supports all sorts of features. I have not purchased it. Some love this theme, others found it complex to work with (word on the street of bloggers I “follow”.)

Personally, I would consider working with it just because of its nice open feel.

Genesis Theme

I used Brian Gardner’s themes before he started “Studiopress” and loved them. If I had been ready to buy a theme at that time, I would have stayed with and bought what turned into the “Genesis” theme. I am still considering it, although I hate to switch from themes I am familiar with ( learning curve when starting to use a new type of theme).

Genesis themes have a distinctive blocky look that is eye-catching and easy to navigate. They can be highly customized (in my experience). They are very well supported.

What are the assets and liabilities of these choices?

Free Pro
Costs nothing Costs a fee
unlimited styles,some great,some poor pro styling
sometimes supported, usually by fans usually supported, by experts
often has built-in links to theme creator links can be deleted

What Was I Using?

Past tense because I bought a premium set of themes that did not live up to the promises. Caveat emptor.

I bought MySiteMyWay for myself, I liked them so well. Unfortunately they didn’t keep up with updating and I had to count it a loss.

Both Elegant Themes and Studiopress have proved reliable.

I also purchased and used Elegant Themes, and Studiopress, which I had used in the past.
Each one has a learning curve to use, but they also provide forums and support.

Presently, I use Elegant Themes on almost all my sites, but still experiment with the latest free WP theme that comes shipped with the software.

Become A WordPress Ninja

I WISH I HAD A GUIDE IN THE EARLY YEARS OF STARTING A WORDPRESS BLOG

There is no reason for a steep learning curve with all the great learning resources available today. A book will condense all the important steps so you can start the important part: writing all your great content.

WordPress Is The Top Choice, So Learn To Use It

WordPress Domination - Beginner to NINJA in 7 Days: In Just Seven Days, You Can Go From WordPress Zero To WordPress Hero
WordPress Domination – Beginner to NINJA in 7 Days: In Just Seven Days, You Can Go From WordPress Zero To WordPress Hero

Don’t let your WordPress blog just sit there, learn how to develop it into a powerful online presence. Even if you are starting from zero knowledge, a guidebook like this can take you quickly through all the steps.

 Buy Now

WordPress to Blogger?

Usually it is the other way around, but if the easy route is desired, Blogger is easier to learn.

Switch From Blogger To WordPress

Success Isn’t A Secret

WordPress Revealed: How to Build a Website, Get Visitors and Make Money (Even For Beginners) (Volume 1)
WordPress Revealed: How to Build a Website, Get Visitors and Make Money (Even For Beginners) (Volume 1)

The big three for many people starting a WordPress blog: builb a good site, get readers to come and stay, make some income.

 Buy Now

Get To Know Your Theme

Go to the forums or get some initial support to know what your theme can do for your site. It will save you lots of time and otherwise you may not use all the features.

Which is best? Do you have a theme you love?

WordPress Themes, Pro or No?

Which side of the fence are you on?