How to Decide on a WordPress Theme for Your Blog

Today I have a treat for you. Today we have a special guest, one of our new subject matter experts, Kelly Exeter from Swish Design. Kelly is one of those people who produces a heap of great content and also runs a business on the side. Kelly is one of the go to people in Australia when it comes to blog design.

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I received a question from Nils from Soul Thoughts who asks a question that many bloggers who are starting a blog. What is the best WordPress theme to choose for my blog (and how to make that decision). I’m not a designer, so I’m going to let our design expert Kelly share her tips on choosing the right WordPress Theme.

You can either listen to the episode via the podcast player above or check it out on iTunes or Stitcher. Alternatively if you prefer to read – Kelly has written up the full show below for you to keep coming back to including all the links and resources mentiond in the episode.

How to Choose the Right WordPress Theme for Your Blog

Hello! I’m here today to try and answer this very big question: What are the best themes to use if you have a WordPress blog?

And the very short answer to this is – there is no best theme. There are many themes out there that will work well for your needs. The hard part is narrowing down the list.

If you type ‘WordPress themes’ into Google you will usually end up some place like ThemeForest where, at current count, there are over 6000 themes to choose from. Even somewhere with a slightly smaller selection like Elegant Themes has 87 on offer and Studiopress, the home of Genesis themes has over 50.

So – how on earth do you choose the best theme for your needs from this wealth of choice?

Well, my number one suggestion is to stop looking in those theme libraries and start instead with the blogs out there whose designs you love.

Most WordPress themes these days are built on off-the-shelf templates which means that blog you love, you can access the same theme they’ve used.

A quick word about this however – that blog you love – is it their header you particularly love? Or their typography? Or their imagery?

If so, those are design elements that can be incorporated into any theme out there.

When you’re deciding on a theme, you really need to choose one based on it having a layout you like – so you like how their logo and menu are placed, how their blog archives are laid out, how their blogs posts are laid out, and most importantly, what elements they have on their home page and where those elements are positioned.

For example, if you choose the Metro Pro theme from Genesis – make sure you are choosing it because you like how it’s laid out … not because the demo has.

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So – let’s say you love the new Being Boss blog design at beingboss.club and you’re thinking that could work well for you. The first thing you want to do is find out what theme they’re using. You do this by viewing the source code of the website.

To do this, type into your browser window: view-source:http://beingboss.club/

(NB: You can do this for any site by typing in view-source:FULLWEBSITEURL)

Once you’re viewing the source code do a search for this: wp-content/themes.

This will come up in a few places in the source code and the word that directly follows the word ‘themes’ in the source is the name of the theme.

image00

So for Being Boss, I can see their theme is called Art Mag.

If you then Google ‘Art Mag WordPress theme’ you’ll see it’s a theme you can buy from Themeforest for $49.

A word of caution.

When you’re checking out your favourite website, loving how it looks and you’re thinking I’m saying just buy the same theme and your site can look like that too, there is a giant caveat here. If you’re loving how a site looks, it’s probably because they have killer imagery. If you don’t have the same killer imagery, then use the same theme as them all you like, your site won’t look like theirs.

image01

This, incidentally, is both a good and bad thing.

The bad comes from the disappointment you feel because your site doesn’t look as as the one you like the look of.

The good comes from the fact that you can use exactly the same theme as someone else but your two sites will look quite different because you’re using different imagery, logo, fonts and colours. Just make sure your site uses great imagery and fontography and you’ll be fine.

Another thing that’s important to remember is that when you install a theme, any theme, on your website, it needs to be set up to look like either the demo version or the website you loved. In other words, it won’t look like that straight out of the box. If you’re able to follow instructions, then, using the theme documentation, you should be able to get the layout looking the way it was sold to you in the demo.

If you’re struggling, get in touch with the guys at ThemeValet.com. For $99 or thereabouts, they will set the theme up to look like the demo for you.

Another caveat – if your site has no pages and no posts (ie no content), it will be very difficult to get it looking like anything. So I always recommend creating at least an About and a Contact page and loading in 2-3 blog posts before loading in a theme and trying to make things look pretty.

Now – what if there aren’t any sites out there that have caught your eye? Well, some fairly common themes doing the rounds currently are:

  • Simple Mag which can be found on ThemeForest.com – this is particularly great if you’re looking for a magazine style layout.
  • If you’re looking for a more bloggy type layout then Foodie, Metro and Lifestyle Pro are all great looking, easy to use Genesis themes and can be found on StudioPress.com.

Note: with the Genesis themes you first have to install the based Genesis framework (which comes as a theme), then you install and activate whichever of the look and feel themes you’ve chosen.

Another really important thing you need to keep in mind when choosing themes these days is that they are responsive on mobile. Happily, most themes in most marketplaces these days are. All the themes I mention today certainly are.

Now, what about themes like Divi, Bridge and the X theme?

These are themes that allow you to set up your site pages pretty much any way you like via inbuilt Page Builders that allow you to drag and drop elements.

This sounds like a dream but in reality, I have found these Page Builders to be really slow and painful to use. You make a small tweak to say the padding around an image, or the size of a heading, for example, and then you have to save the draft of the page, and then preview it … it’s really slow going and frustrating.

Also – as much as these types of site sell themselves on being easy for non-tech savvy people to use, they’re just not.

Now, if you are quite tech savvy, these themes are amazing because they offer a huge amount of flexibility and design freedom. If you are not tech savvy, just do no go there – they will make you cry.

Of all the ‘Page Builder included’ themes out there (and I have seen many) – the one that has impressed me the most is the X theme. At Swish Design (my business) we have the ability to design and build custom themes and this is what I intended to do with my own website re-design at kellyexeter.com.au recently. I did the page design, and then because I needed the new design faster than my guys would be able to code it, I actually rebuilt the site using the X theme (+ Beaver Builder instead of the X Theme’s inbuilt Cornerstone builder) as a temporary measure. And guess what, it did the job so well I haven’t bothered to get my guys to code a custom theme for me after all.

No other theme like that – not Divi, not Bridge, not any of the several ones I’ve tried – have been as easy to use as X + Beaver Builder.   

So there you go.

As I mentioned at the start, pointing you in the right direction as to a ‘best theme’ for your needs is a very ‘how long is a piece of string’ question because there are so many variables to consider.

My major tip in this regard is that, if ever you’re in doubt, choose the simpler solution.

And remember, people are coming to your blog to read, and they’re mostly doing so on mobile. So as long as your theme is responsive, loads fast, and makes it easy to read your posts on mobile devices, you’ll already be ahead of the pack.

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Kelly Exeter has been a web and graphic designer for 15 years and has worked with WordPress for over 8 years. You can find her at Swish Design by day, and tinkering with her personal blog design at night.

How did you go with today’s episode?

I hope this has been helpful today. If you have more questions, I would be more than happy to tackle them myself or enlist one of our subject matter experts.

Disclaimer: ProBlogger is an affiliate for some themes and services mentioned in this article. We make a commission if you purchase these products which is how we keep the vast majority of what we do on ProBlogger free (and how Darren keeps his expensive coffee habit going). Affiliate products are carefully chosen and are always genuine recommendations of products that we either pay for and use ourselves or that come with strong recommendations from our trusted expert friends.

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  • jillchongva

    With the latest version of Divi, there is now a preview button that eliminates some of the edit, save, preview frustration 🙂

  • Darren Goerz

    How would you rate the standard Worked Press themes? Doing research to build my first blog. This was very helpful but I am considering going with a built in theme at first.

    • I’ll pass on your question to Kelly Darren.

    • Do you mean the Standard WordPress themes Darren? As in the 2014/2015/2016 etc themes that come bundled with WordPress? They are fine and of course do the job – but as far as making them look unique – this is difficult because they are built for absolute beginners and are very same-same. But they are a great way for beginners to get their heads around some basic customisation 🙂

  • Some great tips here! 🙂

    Especially going around and looking at other blogs you love. It’s good to take bits and pieces of what you like from different blogs, and imagine how that would mesh together into one nice whole.

    Other than that, if you’re using Genesis Theme, there’s a plugin called Genesis Extender that allows you to more easily customize Genesis themes to suit your needs. The caveat is that you need to know a bit of CSS. But it’s a pretty cool tool.

    Sincerely,
    Leonardo “List Legend” LaVito

  • rachael brook

    I just found your podcasts last week and I’ve already listened to a
    majority of the episodes… I’ve been listening about how to get your
    audience engaged and then I realized I haven’t engaged with you! Thank
    you SO much Darren for creating these podcasts. You’ve changed the way I look at my blog, which I am now going to relaunch and put into place all the tips I’ve learnt from you. It’s greatly appreciated!

  • Robert L

    Hi Darren,
    Great podcast episode as always!

    I really like how your web designer did such a great job on your site and especially the theme for the podcast section of your site. The layout with the player at the top looks fantastic. I would like to do a very similar look for my new podcast section of my site.
    I sure hope you wouldn’t mind sharing who the web design company is that did the podcast section of your website.

    • Hi Robert – our designers, Mario and his team, are our own developer team and not an external design team.

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    mokshastocks giving sureshot tips in stocktips,mcx commodity,NSE,NCDE segment.you want more tips contact on

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  • Thanks for these great tips !
    http://www.blog2blogueur.com

  • DCS

    Really helpful podcast for bloggers to get started. Some other tips from a WordPress Web Designer:

    If a theme has a live demo version play around with it. -Really- play around with it. Can you easily change fonts, the color of the fonts, does it have a self explanatory user interface that shows you how to change and customize the theme? Does the theme play nice with other WordPress plugins that will change the design of the theme? For example if you wanted a different header picture on each page and wanted to install a plugin to do that, would it work or would the theme overwrite? How responsive/helpful is support on theme?

    Read the reviews. Good ones and bad ones. Read the comments. Especially if you’re dropping money on a theme. Ask questions before the sale.

    For premium themes, they often times have one or two free themes. Even if you don’t like the design of those themes spend some time playing around with it. Sometimes if you like the framework of a theme you can use lightweight plugins to get the desired look or change the look to mimic something else.

    Some helpful ones, unfortunately not free but really, really worth it.

    Visual Composer. It’s a page builder but it’s fantastic. You can preview without having to save and it comes with a lot of nice, built in elements.
    Blog Manager for WordPress: This will let you actually style your blog. Do you want two posts in a column? A big featured image picture and text underneath? What about the meta data (author name, post date, comments, etc)? Do you want control over how to style that data and what it displays? This plugin lets you do it.
    Widgetkit by YooThemes: I’m usually not a fan of a subscription based service for Plugins but the Widgetkit is worth it. It comes with a ton of different elements that let you design your blog/site. Make sure you choose the subscription for the Widgetkit and not the themes.

    Lastly, do not forget about WordPress security. You need it. Never ever use the admin username that comes with WordPress. Delete it and make your own. Use a strong password. Install Wordfence and Shield. WP Spam Shield is also good for keeping your site free of spam comments.

    A great site to help you build your WordPress blog/site as well is WP Beginner. Happy Blogging!

    http://www.themindofdcs.com
    http://www.svtwebdesign.com

  • This is very useful. I am looking at moving my blog from Blogger (custom domain) to WordPress, purely because it looks much easier to make it look amazing – apply a theme and you could be done in a couple of clicks.

    Am I naive or is it just as simple to do with Blogger? Most articles I read seem to be WordPress and advice articles favour WordPress over Blogger.

    • Dean,

      A self-hosted WordPress website/blog is more complex than Blogger. But the huge advantage with WordPress is that you “own” the space (as long as you pay your domain name fee and website hosting fee). Plus, WordPress has so many options — you can create something simple for starters, and it can grow with you over time.

      • Thank you for the reply Laura. I have signed up for WordPress and have been trying to import my blog into it to play around and see what I like. Unfortunately it won’t import so I can’t comment on what I like/don’t like just yet.

  • Kelly, I’m so glad you advised listeners to look at site designs they like (or specific elements they like). My company creates custom WordPress websites, so there’s more flexibility than using an out-of-the-box theme, but I always do the same as you — ask clients to find at least three sites/elements they really love. This practice lessens the chances of entering the black hole of WordPress themes, never to emerge! (Yeah, I’ve done that, too.) Excellent podcast; I will share it with my readers.

    • Oh yes – know all about that! We do custom themes too and the fact that the sky is the limit is too paralysing!

  • Danny Lee

    Awesome podcast and blog! Thanks SO MUCH

    • Danny Lee

      And on a personal note, I could listen to Kelly just reading her grocery list! 🙂

  • Danny Lee

    Hi Darren. Awesome job on the podcast as always!

    I’m launching a new blog, I had almost decided to go with a Genesis theme until I started seeing some interesting buzz about the (relatively) new Thrive themes. They claim to have an installed based of about 9,000 websites, so they appear to be gaining some good traction. I really liked the feature set, especially some features which normally would require additional plugins such as LeadPages, OptinMonster, etc. If I can get by with ONE good tool that is integrated, that’ll be my preference, but of course my next concern is whether they are any incompatibilities with tools (such as Click Funnels, for example).

    THANKS!

    • Hey Danny – I know this is a bit late but with your questions above, best to ask the Thrive themes guys about any possible incompatabilities with Click Funnels (etc)

  • Judi

    Thanks Darren and Kelly for the tips. As a beginning blogger, I’m wondering what are the big benefits of paying for a theme (framework) like Genesis vs one of the many free themes offered. Is it just that the paid themes are less common? Are the free themes difficult to customize/get support? Do you recommend starting out w/free theme and then switching? Is it a huge headache to switch themes once you’ve accumulated a lot of content? Any resources you recommend to get more info about themes and customization? Thanks again for the great podcast.

    • Hey Judi

      The paid themes are just generally better supported and more robust than the free themes. Also – the paid themes are constantly updated which is important from a security point of view.

      Should you start with a free theme and then switch. You certainly can. The free themes are generally quite simple and they can be a good way to get your head around WordPress customisation before venturing into more complex customisations x