Deciding on a theme for your new blog can be an adventure — it’s certainly one of my favorite parts of building a new website. But, before you rush out to look at cool designs, map out what you want your website to look like and what your goals for your website are. Finding a WordPress theme from among the thousands of themes out there, is easy, if you plan things out before you start and keep your requirements in mind as you look.
Choosing the right theme
The first step in choosing the right theme is to set goals and objectives for your website.
- Do you need an e-commerce platform on the site?
- Are you interested in building a community of enthusiasts to participate on your website?
- What design elements do you think are important for success?
- How will you ensure a great user experience on the website?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you need to still delay jumping into viewing options for themes. You should view the look and feel of other websites both in your niche and popular websites to flesh out your ideas. You might even go so far as to sketch out key elements of your website such as the home page, landing pages, and blog posts.
Now, you’re ready to start looking at themes that match your vision. The good news is that most WordPress themes are fairly adaptable, allowing you to customize them to match your vision. However, unless you’re good with HTML/ CSS, which are the computer languages used to tell browsers how they should render your content, major changes aren’t possible.
Finding a WordPress theme that works for both you and your visitors is an important step in the success of your digital business. While you can add some flexibility through plugins, it’s nice to find a theme that has most of the elements you’re looking for right out of the box. This makes your job easier and ensures the elements will function properly. Adding plugins risks breaking some parts of the website code so that elements might not work right together. Plugins also add some potential security risks, so try to limit the number and types of plugins you need to use.
- You want the new website to work for you and meet your goals
- How will you make money on the website — selling products, promoting professional services, and through affiliate sales?
- What will you put up on the website – landing pages, images, and video?
- What elements do you need — social engagement, newsletter subscription?
- Will you use static pages or all dynamic pages
- You want easy navigation so your visitors can find content easily
- What frame layout will work best — 2 columns, 3 columns, or simply a header and footer with a full-width page? Do your needs change based on the page goals, such as landing pages and blog pages? Can you adjust your layout for each page type or for each page?
- How many menus do you need?
- Fit – does the theme build the kind of brand you’re going for with visitors? Professional websites need to look very business-like and professional, Photographers need websites that look artsy, and Internet marketers need websites that look very Web 2.0.
My suggestions for choosing a theme
For instance, the theme I use for this website meets most of my needs, but still required some coding. I use a child theme built using the Genesis framework that was purchased for about $100 for the two parts. I also use themes purchased from Theme Forest for about half of that. Both are very good but not perfect. Sometimes adding a plugin can improve the website’s functionality without requiring any coding but, in my case, I wanted the change the color from the standard options provided by the theme and change the layout a little, which required some coding. If you’re not an expert with HTML/CSS, I recommend you learn on W3 Schools, where you can also test your code to ensure it does what you wanted before installing it on your website, since this is one of the few ways you can “break” your website. Another option is to use a sandbox.
If you want a more in-depth treatment of building a website using many illustrations and suggestions, I recommend you check out my ebook on building a website from scratch. It’s free for subscribers.
There are lots of places where you can find themes but I strongly encourage you to avoid website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress.com (which is different from WordPress.org, which is where you’ll find the most commonly used content management system that does most of the heavy lifting for you when designing a website). Look for a WordPress theme, which works best, especially for newbies.
You can choose between a plethora of free and paid themes, although I recommend finding a paid theme. Read on to see why.
Free WordPress themes:
Many sites are built on Free WordPress themes. But, they do have some limitations. Here are some disadvantages of a free WordPress theme:
- They may not be as flexible
- You may find them less stable, so you might need to tweak your site occasionally or choose a new theme
- The features aren’t as robust
- They may not be up-to-date with the latest version of WordPress and may not be updated as WordPress improves its software
- Some common plugins might not work with free themes
- They may even contain malware (this is an unconfirmed report from a blogger). Some have security issues, as well.
- Because they’re free, you may see them all over the web, which makes it more difficult to brand your website
- No support
If you’re strapped for cash, choose a free theme from WordPress.org, as these likely work best and are more stable.
Premium WordPress themes
There are many premium WordPress Themes to choose from and they are more flexible and full-featured than the free ones. You’re likely to get some support from the developer, but they’re not going to customize it for you. The best premium themes are designed for less experienced developers and provide sample content that allows you to replicate the theme you viewed before ordering, which allows you to more easily set up your website with your own content to look the same.
These are premium WordPress themes, but they feature skins over a basic premium architecture they’re built on (called child themes). They’re really a template system rather than just a theme. You’ll have to pay for the system (anywhere from about $79 for a single theme to several hundred dollars for a multiple-theme option). You can customize the theme yourself or buy a skin to put over the Thesis or Genesis theme. The major advantage of these products is they are very stable, fast, and highly customizable.
I also like many of the themes from Elegant Themes. You can check them out at Elegant Themes
Now, I’m not an SEO expert (and we’ll be bringing some on to show you best practices), but I do have some advice about SEO as it relates to picking a theme. Spiders, those bots that crawl the internet and determine what your website is about, determine your page rank, your relevance to a search query, and thus, your position in the search results look for certain elements that are impacted by your theme, such as load speed, clean code, and more. Spiders generally read your website starting at the header, then the left-hand content (top to bottom), then the right content, and finally material in the footer.
This means you want stuff likely to appear as keywords in search queries where the spider can find it and the more prominently the keywords are placed on the page, the more relevance the search engine will give that page when it returns search results.
So, here are some suggestions as you look for a theme:
- Banner ads might negatively impact your SEO since they’re at the top
- Left sidebars are less preferred than right sidebars
- Navigation bars can impact your SEO depending on how they’re coded in the CSS (cascading style sheet, which controls the look of the blog). User experience is a key element of SEO so you want menu bars that optimize navigation.
- Look for themes that come SEO-optimized, offer mobile friendliness, and load quickly
In finding a WordPress theme, figure out how much you can afford to pay for a theme. Many WordPress themes are free, others have small costs associated with them, and still others can cost several hundred dollars. A new trend is to sell a theme using a subscription model, which incurs a yearly charge for using the theme. In other cases, you can find themes that incur a single payment but allow you to use the theme on multiple websites, which is great if you build many websites.
In general, you get what you pay for, but you may not need all the bells and whistles of a more expensive theme. So, it’s important to compare the costs and benefits.
Changing your theme is often costly, frustrating, and time-consuming. You should take that into consideration and invest both time and money wisely as you will likely use the same theme for many years. A good theme, allows you to adapt and change your website or pages on the site easily without requiring a new theme or a major effort.
Take your time and never jump into choosing a theme without careful consideration. This is a major decision, one you must consider carefully whether you’re building a new website or updating the theme on your existing website.
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