I’ve been building websites using WordPress since spring 2009. To date, I’ve built 6 websites (which I still administer) and have helped build 2 others, all on self-hosted WordPress. While I’m definitely not a professional web guru, I have learned a few things through these experiences.
You can get themes (free or paid) that look like just about anything you want, from a fenced in garden to a newspaper layout to a photo gallery. Generally speaking, cleaner and simpler is considered better in 2014, so you don’t need to go all out. Choose your theme carefully, even though it’s easy enough to change.
• The layout. Do you want a right sidebar, left sidebar, or both? Can you choose to disable it completely for some pages? Do you want multiple columns? Where does the menu go? Can you pick what goes on it?
• Pages and Posts: You will need both!
• The default colors and fonts. Yes, they can be changed, but if you can pick one that has everything you want, why not?
• The header area. Do you want a logo as well as a header image? How tall a header? Interactive header?
• The blockquotes. You may not care as much how blockquotes look as I do, but some styles are seriously annoying or cutesy.
• Headers. What size, font, and weight does the theme give to h1, h2, h3…etc headers?
• Threaded comments. Always a plus, and can be added via plugin.
• Responsive mobile integration. A frill only a couple of years ago, this is now necessary. A responsive site will adapt to being viewed on smart phones and tablets with varying sizes of screens…and always look good.
• Advertising. If you want to add ads, how and where will the theme display them?
• Widgets. Widgets are the visual elements often found in a sidebar that allow the visitor to interact with an application and the operating system of the site. What areas are widgetized? How many options do you have?
• Shortcodes. Does the theme provide shortcode support? (Some add-on plugins come with shortcode capability.)
• Updates & Support: When was the theme last updated? Is it proven compatible with the latest WordPress installation?
Free or paid?
If you’re a beginning blogger on a budget, it’s more important to own yourname.com than it is to own a premium theme. Test out some free ones at first. My favorite free theme is twentytwelve. It is clean, simple, and works well on mobile. It’s what I used on this site until recently, as well as others I’ve built. There’s nothing unique about it as it’s been downloaded three-quarters of a million times, but that may not matter to you. Your header image will make it your own.
Some cons of free themes are lack of support, worry about losing your customizations when upgrading, and worry about security. At some time these concerns will probably weigh on you as they did on me, and you’ll go looking for answers, even if they cost something — but probably not as much as you think.
In November 2013 I purchased the rights to use Beautiful Pro Theme on the Genesis Framework. I initially installed it on a group blogging site, then on my author site, and then, finally, on this site.
Why did I choose Genesis Framework? Well, I’d heard good things about it and, when I dug through their site, I liked what I saw. I liked the idea of a solid foundation for the theme that would handle the security and upgrades automatically. I liked that the themes are all responsive and optimized for mobile devices. I liked that I could reuse my chosen theme on more than one site. I liked that my questions were answered quickly by a real person via email.
There are specific plugins designed for all the Genesis themes. I’ll be talking more about plugins in an upcoming post, so for now I’ll say I have made good use of three of these Genesis-specific plugins: the favicon uploader (a favicon is the tiny image that appears next to the site name in your browser tabs), a column creator (that I used for the book covers on farmlit.com, and the post navigation buttons allowing the reader to move from one post to the next.
On the website, they liken WordPress as the engine of your car, Genesis as the frame and body, and your theme as the paint job. Dozens and dozens of themes for various preferences and needs operate on the Genesis Framework. If you are a real estate agent, a photographer, a journalist, or the drummer in a rock band, there is a theme to suit you. I was looking for something clean and modern that worked well as both a website and a blog. I went through their many themes and kept coming back to Beautiful Pro Theme.
What I specifically like about Beautiful:
• the social media links and search bar are in the header, so they’re present on every page or post, with or without a sidebar
• The short, wide header image doesn’t take up a lot of real estate above the fold
• The fonts are modern and easy to read on clean white
• The 3-column footer area
• The light gray menu bar is easily customized for the pages I want displayed
• It’s created for text more than images, perfect for a writer
If you’re on WordPress, what do you look for in a theme? How did you choose your current theme?
**Yes, I am an affiliate for Genesis Framework!