Once you have your domain name and web hosting all set up, it’s time to find a theme. Theme shopping is one of my favorite parts of setting up a new blog! A theme, also called a template, provides the basic layout and functions of your site. There are thousands of free themes available on the Internet, and just as many paid ones.
- is SEO optimized
- has Responsive Design
- is widgetized
- is easy to customize
- has menus
- is currently supported and is updated regularly
- works in all browsers
- has optional paid customization
What does all this mean?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and good SEO will help your blog’s ranking on search engine return pages (SERPs), which in turn helps improve our site’s visibility, which means more visitors. Top ranking sites show up on the first page in Google when you do a search for a particular term that they rank high for.
Responsive Design means it is set up to work and look good on mobile devices as well.
Widgetized means that it has widgets – little pieces of code that make it really easy to customize the layout and functionality of the site. Don’t worry though; you will not see the code or have to deal with it in order to make the widgets work, you just drag and drop them. There will be several widgets already available in a widgetized theme, and you can add more if you want.
I put “optional paid customization” on the list, because when setting up a site, you always run into little tweaks that need to be made, or even just non-essential changes you want to make, but can’t figure out how. And when that happens, I usually go to the support forum and try to find help there, but sometimes, you don’t have time to spend several hours looking for answers and trying to change one line of code, and in those instances, it is great to have the name of someone who is familiar with that particular theme and can provide support and customization for a fee.
Other built-in customization options to look for are things like different site and page layouts (for example, the number and locations of sidebars), theme colors, custom headers (so that you can easily add your own logo), menus so that you can set up the navigation on your site any way you want, etc.
Free WordPress Themes
Free themes can be great, and if they are designed by a responsible developer, they will be there to answer questions and will update the theme regularly, to make sure it works with new releases of WordPress etc.
But there are many themes out there that have been abandoned by their creator and, while you might be able to find forums where others offer advice, with no regular updates, the theme is going to fall behind the quickly advancing online and mobile world sooner or later, leaving you no other option but to switch to another theme.
Switching themes sounds easy enough, but believe me, I have done that several times, and it is a HUGE pain. It always takes way longer than you think and you end up spending days or weeks getting it to look right. Since things are rarely set up the same way in two themes, images might look totally different, the header logo dimensions might be different so that your logo looks squished on the new theme, and you will spend a lot of time digging around trying to find where things went, etc. So my advice is to really think your site through before choosing a theme. Make a list of what you absolutely need and want on your site and make sure that the theme you pick comes with those features. Then find a theme that has been around for a while, is regularly updated, gets great reviews from users, and has a developer who is responsive and active in the support forum.
Premium WordPress Blog Themes
Premium means paid, and in my opinion, that’s the best way to go. While there are no guarantees for anything in life, as long as you buy at a trusted site, chances are you will get all the “must have” features, great support, and an optimized theme that is easy to work with and that you will be able to use for many years to come. But again, read reviews, contact the developer or company before buying with questions (of course to get answers, but also to see how quickly and well they respond), look at what others have done with the theme (this will give you some idea of how it can be customized), etc. before buying.
A couple of good places to get a premium blog theme are:
Personally, I am a big fan of StudioPress, and use their Genesis Framework on both this and other blogs. They provide all the “must-haves” listed above, and their support is phenomenal. I have received so much help just from posting in the forums. And they have a list of recommended developers if you want to get your site totally customized.
Once you find a theme you like, download it to your computer, and save it in a place where it’s easy to find. In the next post, we will go over how to install WordPress and activate your new theme on your blog.
Other posts in this series:
- The pros and cons of free vs. paid blogs
- How to set up a free blog on WordPress
- How to get a domain name and web hosting
- Installing WordPress and activating your theme
- Blog pages: What to include, how to publish
- Posts, categories and keywords
For a complete list of the blogging products I use and recommend, see the Recommended Blogging Tools & Resources page.