Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

The Lazy Blogger’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect WordPress Theme

by Susan Pomeroy

Thesis theme framework for Wordpress

Do you want an up-to-date web site with the latest super-cool techie bell or whistle? Don’t we all?  And WordPress: it’s so contemporary, versatile and inexpensive. So, pick a theme already, and get to it! (A WordPress “theme” is the design template that determines layout, type, color, etc. for your content—your site or blog’s “look and feel.”)

But wait a sec. There are huge differences among themes, differences that can be invisible until you start working with them. Choosing a sloppily constructed one, or one that isn’t updated, can be an expensive mistake. Here’s how to pick the right one.

Premium (Paid), or Free Theme?

There are thousands of free WordPress themes. For a long time, all themes were free. And some of the free ones have problems. Issues I’ve encountered include:

  • Themes that “broke” when I upgraded WordPress
  • Coding so sloppy that really basic and simple customization turned into a humongous job
  • Standard WordPress features that didn’t work

This being said, if you have simply a plain-vanilla blog, or simple blog plus a few static pages, and you don’t need a custom look, many free themes will work just fine. A good place to start looking for good free themes is the WordPress site:

But if you’re planning a more complex site—for example, you need a content management system (CMS), a magazine- or newspaper-style front page featuring many items, an e-store, a digital portfolio, a real estate site, or a photoblog, selecting a theme is much tougher. You need a specialty theme which has the appropriate features already built into it from the start. For these more specialized and complex sites, as well as for any site that will require extensive customization, I would tend to look at a premium theme first.

Premium Themes

It took me a long time to warm up to the idea of paid premium themes. Now I’m a convert. Most premium themes are cleanly coded, work well, and are regularly updated. Prices generally run from $20 to $80 or so for single-site use. Some wonderful themes I’ve worked with come from:

Ithemes: specialized premium themes including magazine, real estate, ecommerce and online gallery/portfolio (I have used several of these themes and am an iThemes affiliate)

Themeforest: many well-designed specialty themes, updated at the discretion of their authors.

Woothemes: many magazine- and news-style themes, with support. (I have worked with several of these am an affiliate.)

The Market Theme: one of the top paid premium theme specially designed for ecommerce (I am an affiliate). (For more on ecommerce and WordPress, see my article “Ecommerce: How to Choose the Best Shopping Cart for Your Site.”)

Theme Frameworks

Recently, “theme frameworks” have come on the scene. These are basic themes which offer the ability to customize the design using more mouseclicks than actual code. (Here’s a somewhat technical intro with a discussion of the pros and cons of each major framework:  including some that are not mentioned here.) So, they’re highly adaptable to your particular purpose, and suffer few update problems. Three of the most popular theme frameworks are

Carrington (free)
Thematic (free)
Thesis (paid premium)
ThemeHybrid (free)

Thesis, for example, which I use on this site, allows you to have either a magazine-style home page, a conventional blog page with either 2 or 3 columns, or a simple static home page, with a few mouse clicks and no programming at all.

End Theme Overwhelm!

There are thousands of gorgeous themes out there, and it’s easy to fall into overwhelm unless you have a plan. Here’s how.

  • First, know what features you need in your theme and cannot compromise on.
  • Then, troll for templates that already have all or most of those features, designed by reputable sources with a good track record in providing working themes.

You’ll end up with a handful—or maybe just one or two—themes which offer the features you’re looking for. At this point, cost might be a deciding factor. Or you may want to experiment among the themes on your short list to find the one that works best for you. Don’t sweat the final decision. If you’ve done your homework, any of the themes on your list will make you happy and serve you well for a long time.

Have you ever chosen a theme that broke? That you love? I’d love to hear your experiences.

P.S. If you already run a WordPress site and want to keep it updated without hassle… and you’d like complete automatic backups of your site, plus full restoration if there is every any disaster… check out my new service, CompleteWP Update & Restore.

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