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One Year Anniversary Review: Choosing a WordPress Theme

One of the slick features with all and blogs is the ability to change the look of your blog in seconds.

This feature was added in WordPress 1.5 in the beginning of 2005 and continues to be one of the most fascinating and exciting features WordPress has to offer. With WordPress, you can change your WordPress Theme faster and easier than you change your underwear.

However, choosing the right look for your blog is a little more complex. It presents the WordPress blogger with a few challenges: How do you choose your WordPress Theme?

I’ll talk more about the design elements and techniques for developing your own web page design and WordPress Theme later, but let’s review some of the past year’s articles I wrote that helped WordPress and bloggers choose their blog looks.

In “Choosing a WordPress Theme”, I made it clear that your blog’s design should clearly reflect your blog’s content. After all, it is the first thing people see, so it should make a good first impression.

While it isn’t a requirement, in general, specific Themes match specific content. When users visit your site or blog, you usually have 10 to 30 seconds to make a good impression, no different than in person. Unfortunately, it is easier to click away than it is to walk away, so you may not get the chance to make a good second impression.

The first thing people want to know when visiting a site is “does this site have the information I want?”. How the site looks may help them to identify the content, matching or unmatching their needs with your site. If the content doesn’t match the Theme, then you may have to work harder to attract readers to your site. No matter how hard we try, there are certain expectations and assumptions made by people totally based on looks. If you want the “look” of your site to draw people in, consider matching the Theme with your site’s content.

I helped you understand the differences between different blog models and their “looks”, and how to really test drive a WordPress Theme to make sure it looked the way you wanted it on every possible page view.

In “How Do You Choose a WordPress Theme”, I offered the following to help people understand that choosing a look for your blog isn’t just about your preferences. It’s about your readers:

Choosing a WordPress Theme for your blog begins with personal choices, reflective of your taste and goals with your blog. The second phase kicks in when you start to think about usability. How will people use this blog and how to make it more useful to use.

How much effort do you put into choosing a WordPress Theme when it comes to thinking of others? Do you think about how people will find information about you, how to contact you, and how to find out more information? Do you think about how people will navigate your blog, moving around to read more of your writing and look at your pictures? Do you think about how people will search your blog? Do you think about adding a site map or any navigational aids like recent posts and most popular posts?

Do you think about your audience and how they will use and read your blog?

For a long time, web page designers have been working on web page accessibility issues, helping physically challenged Internet users access web pages with special equipment for the visually and physically impaired. In the past few years, the issue of usability has developed, paying attention to how people use your blog and how to make their usage easier and more comfortable.

In “Usability Isn’t Expensive. It’s Practical. Usability is Useful.”, I explained:

Accessibility is the development of a website or blog to be accessible to everyone. This means that the design must meet web standards and pass a range of validation tests in order to be compliant with many countries accessibility and equal opportunity laws. It also helps the website owner/administrator to have a website that can be viewed and used by the disabled, blind or visually impaired, those using cell phones, handheld computers, web-TV, and older and newer browsers. In other words, accessibility means designing a website that can be seen and used by everyone and anyone.

Usability is the ability to use the website. Yes, designing for accessibility lets the disabled and those using non-traditional methods of viewing websites use your website better. Usability is actually more than that. It looks at how users use your site.

As Johansson explains, good tests for website usability comes from real life situations. What are people looking for? How are they looking for the information? Where will they look on your website for that information? Have you made it easy to find? Can they move around on your site to find what they need, or even more information than they thought they were looking for?

Choosing a WordPress Theme is more than making a choice about pretty colors and graphics. It’s about making sure your readers know in an instant what your blog is about, and helping them easily fing the information they want when they visit.

Finding a WordPress Theme

While bloggers were limited to the WordPress Themes approved and permitted on, votes were cast by many recommending more WordPress Themes. Slowly those were added. Today, there are many choices and looks to choose from, including customizable Themes.

Full version WordPress users, however, were always on the lookout for new WordPress Themes, and finding them was often a painful hunt until the main sources were established on the WordPress Codex WordPress Theme List and WordPress Theme Viewer.

To help find WordPress Themes, I wrote “Help Me Find a WordPress Theme” and “Looking For Lists of WordPress Themes”, and offered these tips:

  • Look Past the Frosting: For the most part, there are only a few variations on layout and the rest of the look is “paint”…Basically, you have a header, content area, sidebar, and footer. There are themes with no sidebars (1 column), one sidebar (left or right), two sidebars (one right or left, or two side-by-side on the right or the left), or three sidebars, or even the rare four column, which is more of a newspaper style. Some have a prominent header, some smaller, or none. Some have a footer, some don’t. Everything else is just frosting.
  • Look For The Architecture: To find the one you want, first decide the layout architecture you need and forget about graphics and color. Do you want the sidebar on the left or right? Do you want a fixed layout or flexible or elastic, stretching the full width of the screen?
  • All WordPress Themes are Simple: The WordPress Support Forum gets a lot of requests for a very simple Theme layout from which people can play and develop their own Theme. Reality is, most WordPress Themes are simple once you take away all the colors and pictures…
  • Colors, Fonts, Graphics, and Styles Can All Be Changed: Remember, all the colors, graphics, fonts, and titles can be changed from within the style sheet. Ignore the pretty or garish use of colors and concentrate on what you want the site’s layout to appear. After you find a good layout, then you can go through and style it any way you want.

With the fast and easy blog-look switching capability, people still aren’t used to returning to find a new look on your blog. In “WordPress Theme Easy Remodeling: Does She or Doesn’t She?”, we discussed the issues of changing the look of your blog and stunning your visitors, initiated by this wonderful comment from my buddy, Petit from PetitOn:

Ousshhh! My heart took a nasty jump, when I went to your blog for the latest and the brightest on WordPress and blogging philosophy.

Suddenly I wasn’t at home, but in some white and bright desert. That was my first impression only, and the explanation came pronto: She’s only experimenting with some new and nifty widget machinery at WordPress dot com.

Your blog is your “home” on the web. As you work with it, you become familiar with its little eccentricities and nuances. You move through each room in your blog house with familiarity. As does your readers. When you change it, it’s like moving to a new home in a new town. Everything is not exactly where you are used to putting it. It takes time for you and your visitors to get used to the new place. So take care when you play quick switch without warning.

On a personal note, while I haven’t directly blogged about this, I have a definite opinion about frequent blog look switching and stylesheet switchers which allow your visitors control over the look of your blog with a click or two. My opinion is that this is a great gimmick for kids and a time wasting novelty. Spend more time on the overall design of your site and making it as user friendly and web standard as possible, and avoid gimmicks and games. The only place I think stylesheet switching has a place is on the sites of professional web page designers. It works as a type of portfolio, showcasing what they are capable of. For the rest of us, spend more energy choosing the right look for your blog, and then stay with it so your readers can return to a familiar space.

Think of your blog layout and design as part of your logo, your identifying personality. When people walk through the door, they want to see a familiar face.

Here are some of the articles I wrote over the past year to help you choose your WordPress Theme. I’ll be showcasing other articles about developing and designing your WordPress Theme soon. Stay tuned!

Articles on Choosing a WordPress Theme

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

Member of the 9Rules Blogging Network


  1. Posted August 22, 2006 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Do you know which wp 2.0 theme (good one) that allows us to adjust simple task such as color, fonts, size, etc?

  2. Posted August 22, 2006 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    There are more than 700 WordPress Themes available, maybe even more than 1000. Every WordPress Theme is simple to adjust if you know some CSS. The above articles will help you choose, and search this blog for the articles I’ve written that will help you design or tweak your WordPress Theme with searches such as WordPress Web Design or CSS WordPress Themes.

    I recommend you review how to choose a Theme first so you know what to look for in a Theme before you start learning how to tweak it.

  3. Posted August 23, 2006 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Maybe you can give 5 or 10 top best themes with widget support where we can modify it easiest of all.

    For example, default template is very good but its pretty plain. I like option where it allows me to pick color background. (HTML color code)

    I don’t see similar to this on any other themes that I know of. I’ve uploaded and tried hundreds themes in past 6 months. So far, I like Freshy themes. Let’s talk little about this one. It has light blue on sidebar background. I can’t find HTML color code for this one where I can change to different color in CSS php page.

    Of course, I am no expert but I am more of HTML code than anything else. Does CSS have different color code than HTML? Where do I find CSS color code list?


  4. Posted August 23, 2006 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I get these questions constantly, and my answer above is the best you can get on specifics from me. I’ve never met you, I know nothing about you, so do you expect me to be able to order a meal in a restaurant for you and have you be totally happy? No. Same applies to choosing or recommending a WordPress Theme. The menu is too big and even if I knew your preferences, I would have to spend a week asking you questions and researching all the various choices to find something that suited your needs. Honestly.

    EVERY WordPress Theme can be easily modified. There are no short cuts. Until very recently, and I mean VERY, almost every WordPress Theme was based upon the Classic or Default WordPress Themes, with different clothing on. The CSS is the clothing. They all followed the core site architecture physically and with CSS.

    You can learn everything you need to know about styling a WordPress Theme from my articles, as noted above, and the WordPress Lessons on the WordPress Codex. There are step-by-step instructions on changing every aspect of your Theme.

    If you know HTML then you know CSS. The two are twins, joined at the hip. Honestly, you cannot know one without the other. CSS colors are the same as were used over 10 years ago in strict HTML embedded styles. Find the HTML container you want to change and then look for the styles for it in the CSS. I will be posting a series of articles teaching CSS but you can also get a feel for how it works from my articles such as Understanding CSS Selectors and Attributes, CSS – The Things You Need To Know, and The Secret of Successful Editing of WordPress Themes. They will teach you all you need to know about CSS for simple editing of ANY WordPress Theme, and Finding Your CSS Styles in WordPress will help you find what you want to change in your WordPress Theme.

    As for the sidebar accessories called Widgets? Widgets can be added to any WordPress Theme. Some WordPress Theme authors have updated their WordPress Themes to include them, some have not, though that doesn’t mean Widgets can’t be added. Check the various lists and search for Widgets and they may tell you which have them and which don’t. Personally, I can do more by editing my own WordPress Themes than I can with messing around with Widgets. They are not a requirement to get some of the Widget features. Those are mostly for those who are using type blogs with little or no access or capability to edit the look of their blogs.

    I understand your frustration, but this takes time and research to find what works for you, and/or to make your own. The WordPress Lessons will help as will all the articles I’ve noted above. I just can’t order a meal for you. You can also ask those who keep up with what Theme is which on the WordPress Forum, if you want a second opinion.

  5. Posted June 16, 2008 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Is the blog software you’re running SQL based on your own server, flatfile? or hosted elsewhere? I’m in need of a blog for my site and would appreciate any help you could give.

    Thanks in advance


  6. Posted June 16, 2008 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    @ [RAGE]:

    WordPress is the number one most popular blogging platform. This blog is run on WordPress on the free hosting service. You can find out all the information you need for installing and using WordPress for a self-hosted version at WordPress and WordPress Codex, the online manual for WordPress Users.

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