Choosing a Template for Your Blog
A WordPress theme is basically your layout and appearance. Some WordPress themes are free and some are paid. If you’re looking for a theme solely on the basis of cost, I’d recommend searching the WordPress Free Themes Directory and browsing around. The downside to using a free theme is that if there’s anything you want to change about your layout, you’ll be hard-pressed to find support to guide you through the process. And most free themes don’t have the impressive features that come standard with paid themes.
That’s where paid themes have the clear advantage.
Features to Look For
There are thousands of paid themes out there – literally. Thousands. So how do you pick one that’s right for your blog? When you’re doing your Theme shopping, look for the following features:
- Flexibility – How much do you want to tinker with your blog’s layout or design? Some themes are pre-designed (and can’t be changed), while others are more of a “framework” with movable elements.
- SEO – Does the theme allow you to code things like post titles and descriptions that will draw search engines (and readers!) to your site?
- Support – How responsive is the support team to help with your customization questions? Established themes like Thesis and Genesis have thousands of answers to commonly asked questions in their support forums…and if you post a question, you’ll get a response within a few hours – if not minutes!
- Skill level required – Do you have to be a CSS genius to make minor changes to your site, or does the theme have drag-and-drop functionality?
- Visual Appeal – This is usually the first thing that draws us to look at a theme, but it’s important to remember your audience. Will the readers be able to connect with you through your layout, or will it project a false or distant image?
It can get confusing trying to sort through all the themes out there, so I’ll list a few of my tried-and-true favorites.
Everyone has their own personal tastes, so I can’t make a blanket recommendation without hearing about your blogging goals, style and audience (although if you want to get my professional opinion for your blog, you can always contact me and I’ll try to steer you in the right direction). But here are the ones I use the most:
1. Genesis Framework
Technically, Genesis only refers to the parent framework, while individual templates are available in the form of child themes. If you go to the StudioPress website, you’ll find dozens of child themes available – so you can give your blog a quick-and-easy makeover if it strikes your fancy…although admittedly, you should know some CSS coding if you want to get too fancy with it. Other developers have also created skins for Genesis, so you have the amazing flexibility of the Genesis framework without having to hire a professional designer to customize it for you…although from time to time, I do custom Genesis layouts myself.
Genesis has a killer community support forum (over 65,000 sites to date) and tons of loyal users. That’s because they have SEO capabilities built right into the theme and gorgeous advanced features like sliders, image galleries, and seamless integration with premium plugins like Gravity Forms.
The Blog Maven site was built on Genesis – I LOVE IT.
Okay, so this isn’t a single theme: it’s a bunch of related themes with different audiences in mind. WooThemes has dozens of professional looking themes to choose from – from e-commerce layouts, to real estate templates, to mommy bloggers and photographers. They also feature some sparkly new mobile responsive themes that will detect whether your visitors are on a mobile device…and then route them to a sleek, simple version of your blog.
In terms of layout, WooThemes is the best for out-of-the-box functionality. If you see a theme you like, there will be relatively little you need to tweak or adjust – a simple upload of a header image, and you’re done! If you do want to customize a theme, support is provided by the Woo team themselves, and you get lifetime access to their support forums, tutorials and videos with your purchase. They have my vote for the widest appeal and the best theme-shopping experience.
3. Thesis Framework
Thesis is the framework I recommend for bloggers who are migrating from Blogger to WordPress, and who want the same “feel” for their blog as they had back in Blogger. (If you want to see how Thesis works in its right-out-of-the-box configuration, check out Small Things, which I helped move to WordPress. Wives With Knives also uses Thesis, but was customized with help from a designer.) You can choose a single column layout, or have one or two sidebars.
If you’re not satisfied with the appearance, there are also skins available (once again…some free, some paid), which you can use to “dress up” Thesis to help it match your blogging style.
Thesis has a fantastic reputation for technical support, as it’s been around for years and is used by over 45,000 bloggers. You can imagine the size of the support forums! Finally, it has great SEO capabilities and was one of the pioneers in making post-by-post changes to your SEO specs…so more readers can find you in that great big Internet ocean.
4. Elegant Themes
Elegant Themes is a theme house with dozens of premium WordPress themes to choose from. They have dozens of blogging themes to choose from, as well as business themes, newspaper themes, and themes that will give your WordPress site an App feel. You can’t beat the price (Currently $39 for ALL their themes – combined!), so if you visit Elegant Themes and see something you like, it’s a total bargain.
Having worked with Elegant Themes, I’ll say that customizing these themes is somewhat more difficult than with other theme houses, but if there’s a theme you like out-of-the-box, Elegant Themes is a no-brainer. And they do have a fantastic support team that’s super attentive to any questions you post in their support forums.
One example of a site I’ve built with Elegant Themes is Un Souci Care Binders.
5. Theme Forest
Theme Forest isn’t a single design house, but a marketplace for independent theme developers to sell their WordPress themes. There is some very high quality work available on Theme Forest, and the designers who showcase their talent there are doing cutting-edge work. They feature tons of mobile responsive themes, and they’re the #1 seller of portfolio themes (that showcase a designer or artist’s portfolio). Many of their themes also have a retro flare, since that style is hot right now. When you visit Theme Forest, you’ll want to select “WordPress” at the top, since there is design work available for a number of different web platforms.
Because of the marketplace nature of Theme Forest, when you find a theme that interests you, make sure to check out that theme’s ratings and poke around the Comments for that theme. You may uncover some incompatibilities with different browsers, but any of the most recent themes for sale should be top of the line.
A few sites I’ve worked on built on themes purchased from Theme Forest: Blue Note Web Design (my web design company – check us out!) and Emily White Designs, my business partner and a true creative genius.
Anything I Missed?
If you have a theme you’d like me to review, drop me a line and let me know. I’m happy to take a look and give you (and other readers) my opinion.