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A WordPress theme is a frame for your content. It should highlight your best work and attract your ideal reader. The design should have a seamless user experience both on desktop and mobile. With WordPress themes, there is not one solution. Why? Content differs from blogger to blogger. This post provides you with guided questions to find your best blog theme.
Before You Begin
Before you start researching themes and reaching out to designers, prioritize your goals. Frequently, bloggers mistake a new blog design as a solution to more systemic brand strategy and positioning issues. Before you start researching themes, finalize your responses to the following questions:
- What is the purpose of your site?
- What is the content focus of your site – photographs or text?
- Identify and prioritize the desired features you want to see in your blog theme.
- Who is your target audience? How do they prefer to engage with your content?
- What are your short-term and long-term goals?
More and more blogs are moving to an editorial-style layout, where the homepage can be customized to showcase various posts. If you are a seasoned blogger with hundreds of blog posts, this template works the best for you. It showcases your breadth and allows you to customize your homepage seasonally. My Penelope theme is a customer favorite with seasoned bloggers, like how Jessica from My Style Vita uses it!
If you are a new blogger, you don’t have a lot of content to display, and you are still trying to establish your brand and build your audience. A simpler, more traditional homepage layout is a better place for you to start. Both Olivia and Sophia work better for new bloggers. Jamie Kamber uses Olivia; you can see how makes it her own!
My WordPress themes allow two different ways you can customize the layout and features of posts. First, each theme comes with a post layout that is either full-width or includes a sidebar. Select the post format for each post. You can change the format after you publish, too!
Secondly, the customizer allows you to turn specific features on and off within the post. This feature allows you to customize your post layout based on your brand. The individual post features that you can control include the following: author bio description, author link, category links, comment links, date, excerpt length, featured image, related posts, social media sharing, and tags.
Why is this important? You can test features that help increase your pageviews by turning them on/off. For example, some customers have found more success with tags in their post than related posts images. You can then customize your post layout to serve your audience and brand best.
Not all WordPress themes come with this feature, so it is essential to read the documentation available with a theme before you purchase!
Archive Templates (Categories, Tags, Date, and Author)
When people visit your archives, they have usually come to that page from your homepage (menu) or an individual post. They clicked that term to find more posts related to that topic. They want to scan content. Therefore, abbreviated post views are the best for these pages. In all of my premade themes, you can select what layout you want for the archive and search templates as well as the number of posts to show. Each theme comes with four options – Classic Post (truncated full post, no recommended but an option), Grid Post (image and title), List Post (image, title, and excerpt), and Thumbnail (image only).
Navigations & Menus
In most themes, you cannot customize the layout and functionality of the menu, but you can customize what shows up in those fields. You can select what pages, categories, tags, posts, and links you want to include in it, and how to set it up yourself (Helpful Tutorials: WordPress Menu, When to Use Pages and Categories). However, there are three features that you should look for in your blog design:
- Fixed Navigation: Whether the navigation starts at the top or under the blog header, most people prefer fixed navigation – as you scroll down the page, the navigation stays fixed to the top of the browser. This feature is a great way to guide users to additional content.
- Search in Navigation: An easy to find search button is a must! Does your theme include the search function in your navigation? How does it work on mobile?
- Social Media Icons in Navigation: You also want to look for a blog theme that includes social media in the navigation. This feature allows readers to follow you on other platforms easily. All blog shop themes include this feature.
Widget Areas & Widgets
When shopping for a blog theme, it is vital that you understand a key difference with widget areas (Helpful Post: Best Practices for Widgets, Favorite Plugins, and Adding Categories to Your Widget Areas, and How to Create Image Links). You can customize what is in a widget area, but you cannot change, move, or add widget areas to different places in the theme. If you choose not to put anything in a widget area, then in most cases it will not show up in the theme.
Olivia, Penelope, and Sophia each come with five additional widget areas – Header or Footer, Instagram, After Post, and a three-by-three widget area in either the header or footer (depends on the theme). I designed these widget areas based on my experience with what works well for my custom clients.
Furthermore, Olivia, Penelope, and Sophia each come with six different custom widgets that are specific to my theme – About/Bio, Social Media, Category Widget, Tag Widget, Popular Post Widget, and Recipe Box Section. The Category, Tag, Popular, and Recipe Box pull designated posts to display the theme seamlessly. They work in any of the widget areas. These widgets make it easy for you to increase your page views by highlighting popular content topics.
Testing Your Theme
Once you’ve found the theme(s), that meet your layout needs, it is imperative that you test it out before you purchase it. Once you buy your theme, functionality improvements are mostly limited. Most blog themes have demo versions. When viewing each demo, check the site for the following:
- Browser compatibility: View the theme on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. If you can see it on your home computer and work computer, that’s also beneficial.
- Responsive Design: Observe the theme demo on a tablet and cell phone. Click on buttons and the navigation to make sure you like how things are formatted and work.
- Additional Costs: All of my premade blog themes are fully custom themes, which means that there are no extra costs. However, with Genesis child themes, you often have to purchase Genesis ($60) to use the theme.
- Pre and Post Sale Support: If you have questions before your purchase a blog theme, reach out to the designer. If you know someone else who uses the theme, email that person to get feedback on the designer. As long as someone has one of my templates active, my email is always open.
- View Examples of the Theme in Use: Check out the Theme Lookbook section to see themes live in action!
Using this guide, you should be able to find the theme that meets your needs. As I mentioned earlier, it is critical that you are realistic about the type of content you have and its strengths. If your content doesn’t match your theme, you end up with an underwhelming experience.