Finding the Best WP Theme For Your Blog

Today we’re going to talk about wordpress themes, in particular finding the best wp theme for your new site. While many people find this piece the most frustrating, it’s one of my favorite pieces of putting together a new site. I like it because there’s no right or wrong, and I get to express who I am and what I want my site to be through this theme.

Before your theme hunting it’s wise to have a few things decided ahead of time ~ just to cut down on the length of time you spend doing this, because believe me, it can be an easy task to get lost in, there are so many choices and so many gorgeous themes out there!

1. What do you want the theme to say?

Your theme speaks for your site, what do you want it to say?

Clean, neat, tidy?
Show images related to your topic?
Bright and colorful?
Neutral and tame?

You know what they say about first impressions, and this couldn’t be MORE true than when a reader comes to your blog. You have about, Oh I don’t know, 2 seconds, maybe, if you’re lucky to make a good impression. The color, look and feel of your blog will be a lot of your first impression.

I suggest you keep your site as clean as possible. You don’t want a bunch of clutter, buttons, widgets etc in your sidebar.

You also want your sidebars clean so your content is what becomes the focus. It’s the point of your site. You want people to be able to focus on the content without being distracted not only by your sidebars, but the theme itself.

Sidebars:

How many sidebars do you want? You can get themes with a wide range of sidebar configuration, you can get 1 sidebar, 2 on the same side, one on each side of your content, and now there are even themes with 3 sidebars ~ a large one at the top of the page with two narrower ones below (like this site).

There’s no right or wrong, but here’s some of my thoughts on sidebars.

1. I’d say keep your sidebars on the same side.  It gets a little smushed and hard to focus on your content with stuff going on on both sides of it.

2. I love the 3 column themes simply because you can easily put a larger opt in box at the top and it is prominent and clear that you want people to sign up. (which is super important).

So before you go theme hunting make a decision on the number and configuration of sidebars you want. You can easily search through theme directories by number of sidebars which will lessen the time and number of themes you need to look through.

Navigation:

How do people get around your site? Are you going to have categories in the sidebar? Are your categories going to be at the top of the page? Are your pages going to show up at the top of the page.

When I first put this site up I had a cute theme on here ~ I really liked the theme, however, the pages showed up in this random area in the header area and it just was not a good configuration for the pages. I used this theme for quite a while, but at some point I decided this site needed to look more professional ~ which is when I switched to another theme, and then a bit later found the theme it has now, which is Vigilance. (if you click the free trial link you can still get this one for free)

It was navigation that really got me hung up for my new site. I wanted to have my categories at the top, in the nav bar. But I also wanted them to be nested. So I would have a main topic, then any smaller topic in that category would show up in a drop down menu people could click on. It looks really clean and neat. It helps people find exactly what they’re looking for without searching through tons of semi related posts. It also lets me talk about a bunch of different things, and only show 3 or 4 main categories. Which I really liked.

Well I’ll tell you. I had a hell of a time finding a theme that would do that. I found a bunch of themes that SAID they would do that. I installed a bunch of themes that said they would do that and none of them did. I knew there were themes out there that did it, but I couldn’t find them. :(

It was then that I remembered that Rosiland Gardner’s sites were like that in the Super Affiliate Handbook. So I went back to her sites and looked to see which theme she was using. Unfortunately it was a paid theme. I went back to the drawing board looking for free themes. Finally, in such disgust and frustration I just went and bought the Lifestyle theme. It was everything I wanted in a theme. It also provides tech support in the forums, so I could get some help customizing it I needed it.They have many themes other than the lifestyle, but it was what I was looking for.

This is the first time I’ve ever paid for a theme. But I have to say it was well worth the money. I am now going through and adding this theme to some of my uglier niche sites. Once you have the theme you can use it on as many sites as you want. I was also amazed looking through the Studiopress gallery just how different the same theme could look. I didn’t change much on the theme, a little bit of the color and the header and that’s it. It was pretty simple and well explained in the forum tutorials.

If you decide you want what the StudioPress themes offer I will do a $10 theme install (over half off the regular theme install price as a bonus for buying through my link) and some basic customization for you, if you need it.

**Update**

There’s been a change in the way the lifestyle theme works. They have now made it a “child” theme for their “Genesis” theme framework. While it sounds really complicated it’s not, you just have to upload both themes to your site for them to work. Now if you want the lifestyle theme you will have to buy the child theme as well as the Genesis theme. (you only have to buy Genesis once. If you find other child themes by studiopress that you like you will only have to buy a new child theme, not Genesis).

They have also changed the color palette of the Lifestyle theme to a bright turquoise, which I’m not super fond of.

This morning while I was looking around the net I came across a theme membership site called “Elegant Themes” this site has a LOT of different themes, and you get access to all the themes with your annual membership fee of under $20. (you still can use all the themes you’ve downloaded if you cancel your membership after the first year. You just won’t have access to support and any new themes) I picked them up today and I’m loving them.

The themes are very clean, they have a lot of different kinds of themes, some regular blog type themes, some magazine themes and some combo type themes. Many of the themes have nested categories, which is the one thing I really loved about the Lifestyle theme. :)

What makes these themes super great (other than the very low price) is they are SUPER easy to customize. Each theme has an “epanel” in your wordpress dashboard where you can click/unclick and make changes without every touching the code. VERY COOL. You can even change colors within the theme (like links, headers etc).

So all in all this is a super great deal. I had the classic lifestyle theme on my new site, (Everyday Life and Balance) but changed it over to one of the elegant themes this morning. (cherrytruffle). I had a hard time picking which theme I wanted to use lol. I really like the one I chose but miss the featured posts slideshow at the top ~ but I think I can put it in with a plugin, so I’m going to look into that.  I am going to be switching some of my other niche sites over to these new themes as well.

Customization:

While you’re looking for a theme keep in mind that you can usually change the header pretty easily. There are some things that are harder to change in a theme, like the font, and things like that, but background color and the header are usually pretty simple to change if you love the theme but hate the color.

Blog vs. Magazine themes:

A regular blog theme has sidebars, and one column of content. New content shows up at the top of the theme and it just goes down.

Magazine themes are heavy on images. There are usually multiple columns on the page offering information about different categories or topics. I feel like magazine themes can sometimes be very overwhelming ~ because there’s so much going on you don’t know where to start. However, there are some much more simple magazine themes now, including the lifestyle theme. If you think you will be using a lot of images ~ or your topic lends itself well to images you might want to think about a magazine theme. You will be able to show many images on the front page ~ which can pull people into your content.

Just think when you look at your theme how it will play to your reader. Will they be able to find what you want them to see? Will they be confused? Will they be able to navigate with ease through the homepage to the actual content? Most magazine themes only have a snippet of content for each post on the homepage ~ people will have to click through to see the post.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of magazine themes, they are growing on me. If you have a site that has 3 or 4 main categories ~ like a health site with nutrition, supplements, exercise as the main topics a magazine theme could be fantastic. Especially if you have nesting categories. You can set up each of those categories as a column on the front page and people will be able to navigate quite easily through the content.

How to find the best wp theme for your site

This can take some time, so set aside an hour or so to go theme hunting. Think of it as an adventure and have fun with it.  There’s a couple ways to start your search.

1. Google what you want.

If you know you want a blue 3 column theme then go ahead and google that ~ it will bring you some options you might like.

2. Theme directories.

My favorite way though, is to go to a theme directory. There are so many of them online now. You can google wp theme directory ~ or you can check out a couple of my favorites.

Rock Kitty ~ unique themes on many topics.

Free theme forum ~ this isn’t exactly a directory, but a forum with tons and tons of themes.

3. WordPress dashboard.

You can also now look for themes through your dashboard in wordpress. Just go to the add new theme area in your dashboard and you can search and upload from there. I haven’t used this method so I’m not sure what kind of themes the will bring you when you search from there, but it’s an option.

So once you’ve chosen your theme you can upload and activate it. :) You’ll find the instructions to do that in the top half of this post on installing a wp theme.The second half of that post is about plugins which we’re going to work on next week ~ but if you want to get a head start, you can start on that. I’ve got a couple extra plugins I’m going to talk about though.

I’m going to figure out the mclinky thing today and add it to the challenge post for the week. So when you get this all done (which means you have accomplished the challenge! YAY)  go back and comment on the weekly challenge post so you’ll get your new site included in the linky. :) I can’t wait to check out which themes you guys choose!!

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Comments

  1. annachristine says:

    Hi jackie,

    I purchased the genesis lifestyle theme based on your recommendation. I am having a helluva time figuring out how to get the featured posts portion on a page. for example on your take action page/build a blog, how did you manage to get the same look and feel as the featured posts? or rather, how do you get your archived posts on a page? unless you are manually placing them there. I hope that makes sense.

    thanks

    • Jackie Lee says:

      HI Anna Christine ~
      I totally missed this comment ~ sorry. Under the take action ~ that is a menu I set up under the appearance/menu area ~ I dragged/dropped categories under each other while creating the header. Each of those options in that list are actual categories. In the theme setting area there should be a spot to choose how you want the “archives” to look ~ I chose to show a thumbnail, and chose the size I liked. You should be able to do all that in the theme settings area under Genesis in your WP dashboard. The key is that they are just categories, and I created a custom menu and dragged and dropped all the categories in an order I liked them to create that drop down menu.

  2. In choosing teme for your blog specially powered by wordpress, choose a color that is readable and pleasant to the eyes of the reader.

  3. It is quite difficult to find a perfect theme because there are a lot of themes that are available and can be used without any charge at all.

  4. The good thing about WordPress is you match the theme to whatever you are talking about. There are no boundaries with it. It is a great program.

  5. WordPress is fantastic. There is a theme for everybody and that is why it is so widely used. Like has been said already, the user only spends so much time on the site so you want to catch their attention. Cheers!

  6. This is the reason why I love wordpress, they got thousands of themes that we could choose from. I love playing around with themes and experiment on how people will react on them. Actually we only have seconds to capture the attention of our visitors, a person normally click on a site and once they don’t like the site they leave. Loading page, navigation and content plays a great role for us to keep them comming.
    .-= diocelin@website design münchen´s last blog ..XT Commerce Abonnement Modul =-.

  7. Jackie,

    I can’t agree with you enough about Elegant Themes. I picked up a year long subscription in January and have used a couple of these themes already.

    The other great thing is they add about 2 new themes a month and members have access to all of them. For someone just starting out, you can’t find a better deal.

    B
    .-= Bcarter@Making Money Online´s last blog ..How You Can Get Beating Adwords Free =-.

  8. I would choose a theme that matches your topic or the feeling of the theme matches your topic. The theme doesn’t make any difference when it comes to monetizing. You can monetize any site with any theme. Just look until you find one that FEELS good to you.

    No you’re not going to be in your cpanel ~ you’ll be in your wordpress dashboard. :) You’ll have to log into your site by going to http://www.yoursiteurl.com/wp-admin then use the username and password you created when you uploaded wordpress.

    Jackie

  9. I know you stress not getting bummed out looking at Themes to create your site ..I have spent an hour trying to go thru the themes and am not closer to finding one to my liking. Since I’m trying to monetize my website I’m looking for a theme that will be sort of genetic. this is giving me a headache already. I have tried watching the video on uploading the file and now I am petrified am I suppose to be in my cpanel?

    Turned around for the moment

  10. Jackie, you have made my job quite easy now. I have been pondering about starting a personal blog, and I wanted to do everything from the scratch on my own. Things like choosing the design, layout and perfect theme are all new concepts to me. Luckily I hired a web designing firm here locally to take care of my business website. But for my personal blog, I wanted to do everything. You wouldnt believe, I cannot finalize the design for more than 3 weeks now :( I did lots of search on google and thats how I landed here and I am glad for it. The theme directory links you provided are really helpful and I think I have almost made my choice. Besides, your justifications are so true for whatever you have written. Thanks.
    .-= Melvin@Rental Properties Auckland´s last blog ..Otahuhu, Auckland City =-.

  11. I agree with the fact that magazine themes can be overwhelming.. I had one on my niche blog and a few of the people over at WA said that there was just too much going on! I switched to the flexibility theme that Todd was talking about above and I love it. Everyone else agreed that it was much better looking and I’ve been getting much better reviews! I think to start out you just need to keep it simple, I still have a ton to learn about wordpress so why make it more difficult on myself… Great post jackie thanks for the help!

    Dennis
    .-= Dennis@How to do a kickflip on a skateboard´s last blog ..How to do a Kickflip on a Skateboard updated Sun Mar 14 2010 6:43 pm CDT =-.

  12. that’s too bad, I will have to ask for a refund then, it was pushing it to get that theme, but I figured the $22 was ok but now it’s almost $50… bummer
    .-= Anna@beginspanishnow´s last blog ..Helpful Spanish Phrases | Simple Phrases For Asking For Help In Spanish =-.

  13. That lifestyle theme looks awesome. A magazine theme would work real well with my theme. I may have to check it out soon!

    Jackie,

    I currently use Flexibility Theme 2.0. If someone wants OUTRAGEOUSLY customization, I STRONGLY recommend it. It is FREE and INCREDIBLY EASY to use… Sorry on the caps, lol!

    Really though. For anyone just starting out, check out flexibility theme 2.0. And Ryan (the creator of the theme) replies to e-mails fast. You can easily change the size, layout, fonts, color, add adsense very easily, and lots of other stuff. You have to know absolutely no HTML.

    If anyone is interested and has a question, feel free to e-mail me at LilDosen02@yahoo.com. I will probably pay for a more professional theme soon, but when you are just getting started, flexibility 2.0 is perfect… literally. I guarantee you will love it. And, I would be more than happy to help you out.

    Jackie, feel free to e-mail me about it as well if you have any questions that you want to ask me.

    -Todd
    .-= Todd´s last blog ..Your Weekly Dose of Inspiration =-.

  14. It appears they recently changed the Lifestyle theme to be a child theme to the Genesis theme. Which means for the lifestyle theme to work you also have to have the Genesis theme. I’m sorry I didn’t know this ~ in fact, I just found out today.

  15. I’m so bummed, I sucked it up and bought the Lifestyle theme because I like ho clean it is.. and it doesn’t work, there is a bug in it and it says it’s a broken theme. I contacted tech support and just waiting for a response.
    anyone else have this problem?
    .-= Anna@beginspanishnow´s last blog ..Helpful Spanish Phrases | Simple Phrases For Asking For Help In Spanish =-.

  16. Oh wow, I just realized it may look like I’m pimping my latest post as it seems to fit so nicely, lol. I’m not. If you’re new, go free, just don’t pick the first one you see. :)
    .-= Dennis Edell´s last blog ..Do You Have a Good Website/Blog Designer? Meet CJ – My Awesome New Designer! =-.

  17. Attention all readers: Did you like the article? Find it useful? Good, now read it again…and a third time. ABSORB it.

    Jackie did an excellent job and I can’t express enough how important it is to try to get all your specs right, right from the jump.

    I’m not a newbie but oh so wish I had articles like this when I was. I went through dozens (nope, not kidding) of freebies before I was ever satisfied.

    Nowadays the freebies are better and you really can do some nifty things with them.

    Eventually, after studying hundreds of blogs and learning what I have, I went custom…but it’ll cost ya, so make sure you’re ready. :)
    .-= Dennis Edell´s last blog ..Do You Have a Good Website/Blog Designer? Meet CJ – My Awesome New Designer! =-.

  18. Jackie – I am sorry, this is related, but a little off topic. I have been thinking about where to go from here. I had been putting together lots of niche sites, but with limited time available I am finding this overwhelming. So am thinking about working towards an authority site of some sort. I know that you are advocating an authority blog, but what about a static site instead, or do these not have the same earning potential??
    .-= Mark´s last blog ..How to Increase Adsense Income =-.

    • Hey Mark,

      I have no idea why you would want or consider an html site when wordpress makes adding content, customization, list building and monetization so simple an easy. I’m sure an html site can make money, it’s really not about the platform, but not sure why would want to hassle with the difficulties involved in coding an html site if you are going to do a true authority site. You’ll need to continue to add content which can be hard with a static site.

  19. To what extent does the basic customization cover?
    .-= Anna@beginspanishnow´s last blog ..Helpful Spanish Phrases | Simple Phrases For Asking For Help In Spanish =-.

  20. If you get adsense revenues on your blog, do you need a special adsense ready theme, or can you just whatever code you need from Google yourself once you know how to with most any theme in the theme editor section.
    .-= Debbie Schooley´s last blog ..A Fun Website To Visit =-.

  21. I can remember when my domain and webhosting were finalised and I had to choose a theme… I found this great magazine theme (I still like it a lot today!) but then my “mentor” told me I would have to do better than this one for my party site… so I eventually choose this “cute, babyish” theme that fortunately had a lot of glitches (or maybe I was too stupid at the time to realise that you can actually just move the widgets back in place when they disappear from the sidebar if you add another one…lol) and I had to drop it for another nice one… but after a few months it also was not the theme I had in mind.

    In the process I looked at so many beautiful themes (people are so creative) and it becomes quite difficult to choose one that will be relevant to your niche. I knew what I wanted, but I also realised that many of the themes I liked, did not always came with clear instructions as to how to customize/change it to what I wanted it to be. I also found that many of the designers could not really be contacted or even if they provided contact details, just did not bother to reply/help you.

    For a newbie, that can really in a way be a setback, because like I said, quite a few of the themes I liked, I had to leave behind because there was no help.

    Off topic… it amazes me sometimes how YOU can turn “something” into a very informative post, Jackie. I have been following you for many months now and I realised that when I sometimes see/read something, it actually reminds me about a post you did one time or another… I’m beginning to see the value of using comments, questions, e-mail info, even keyword searches (provided by my stat counter) that bring visitors to my site, to find new content I can write about.

    Thank you for all the information (and your time) you share with us!
    .-= Elsie@kids theme party ideas´s last blog ..A New Look for Kids-Theme-Parties & A Freebie =-.

    • thanks for the story Elsie. It can be frustrating. Just remember you can switch your theme as you go. So it doesn’t hurt to grab a few you like and test them out for a while to see which you like best.

  22. Jackie, such great suggestions on themes! One thing I’m starting to find is that there are also plug-ins for just about ANYTHING you want to do!

    LOL – reminds me of the IPhone commercials where they say, “Yea…there’s an AP for that”.

    Love your site and your layout!
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..Clutter Busting Challenge – Week 1 (update) =-.

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