One of the most important decisions you make for your WordPress blog is which WordPress Theme you will choose. Should you choose a free WordPress theme, or should you pay for one? What kind of theme should you get?
Your theme becomes part of your visual brand; it is what people come to know you as online. It can either help or hinder your ability to build an audience.
A bad theme can confuse your audience, slow your blog load time down (hurts your SEO), and even have malware. So how do you choose a theme for your blog?
How To Choose A WordPress Theme
Every blog is not like every other blog. There is no one-size-fits all WordPress theme. A real estate blog is not going to need the same theme that a photography blog will.
1. Get a theme that fits your blog type.
What kind of blog do you have? Is it a:
- Personal Blog: A personal blog is one you write for personal enjoyment. It might be a journal, or just feature your interest or industry. You’re not using it to make money or a living. You just want to write.
- Portfolio Blog: A portfolio blog showcases the work that you do. Galleries are going to play an important role in your blog. You might be an artist, designer, photographer, or agency.
- Marketing Blog: A marketing blog is meant to market a product, service, or platform to its audience. It will need things like landing pages, mailing lists, downloads, calls to action, etc. SEO and other techniques to grow a large audience are particularly important.
- Magazine Blog: A magazine blog is one that is about information. It might be politics, news, long-from content–content is truly the king. The product, the focus, is the information for the reader. It typically has ads to support it, and requires a robust theme to help readers navigate the amount of content on the site.
- Story Blog: This is a slightly “new” blog type that is becoming more popular with themes and plugins devoted to the art of telling stories. Catchy visuals, map elements, reader interaction–think of The New York Times’ famous “Snowfall” feature.
If you know what type of blog you have, you know what kind of theme you’ll need.
2. Plan your design before looking for a WordPress theme.
Do you have an idea of what you want your WordPress blog to look like?
Many of us habitually draw diagrams of what we’d like our site design to be. I have notebooks filled with diagrams of squares, possible layouts of websites–I’m always thinking what the ideal design would be for what my blog is and does.
I also list what I want the theme to have; this plays heavily into knowing what type of blog I have. For example, I might decide that the theme should:
- Be responsive.
- Be shopping cart compatible/enabled.
- Not have an image slider.
- Feature posts from specific categories on the home page.
- Be highly customizable.
- Have a gallery.
It’s a good idea to know what you’re looking for design-wise before looking for a template. Just like you shouldn’t go to a grocery store hungry and without a list, you shouldn’t look for a WordPress theme without an idea of what you want.
Because once you get into a collection of great themes, everything looks good. Suddenly you’re choosing a theme better meant for online apps instead of a photography business.
You can’t let a theme collection decide what you need. You must decide what you need and then find the the WordPress theme that fits. In that order.
3. Consider using child themes.
Many WordPress theme designers use the child theme approach. A child theme relies on the “parent” theme. The child theme gets its functionality from the parent theme.
Child themes remove the headache that comes from switching themes and needing to constantly re-enter settings such as analytics code or social media links. With a parent-child theme system, you can swap out child themes and not have to worry about your core settings being removed each time. The parent theme takes care of those and keeps them stable. The child theme just changes the look.
Should You Use A Paid Or Free WordPress Theme?
No shortage of theme providers online, that’s for sure. Everywhere you look, you find WordPress themes. How do you choose one? Is it OK to use a free theme?
Don’t let “free” be your first deciding factor.
Right now, take the idea of “free” as your main deciding factor off the table. While you might have a budget and a limit on what you can spend (that’s fine), approaching your online content marketing presence and business with “free” as your foundation is off.
Now, just because a theme is free doesn’t mean it’s bad. And just because a theme costs money doesn’t mean it’s good. I have a test blog on my own WordPress multisite that’s “hidden” that I install themes on just to mess around with them and see how they can be customized and if I like them. If I’m paying for a theme each time, that hobby is going to get pretty expensive.
So to experiment? A free theme is probably fine. But when it comes to my front-facing blogs, the ones people see, I pay.
Do you really want to spend hours, days, weeks, and months creating the best content you can on a theme you weren’t willing to pay for?
I always think that the amount you are willing to invest into a project or business is directly related to how much you’ll work at making it successful. If I invest a few hundred dollars in my blog, I’m highly motivated to not let it die in a month.
Take every opportunity to support the WordPress community.
While free is attractive, when it comes to paying for something my thinking is this:
- I want to support the WordPress development community and encourage great themes.
- I want to get in the habit of being willing to pay someone for their work.
- I want designers and developers who are starting out to not get caught in the trap that they have to work for free for “exposure” and then face backlash when they dare ask for money for their work so they can make a living.
- I don’t want to install something just because I don’t have to pay, and then demand help for free when it breaks my WordPress install.
There could be a whole discussion on the tendency for people to not want to pay while still expecting ideal results and support when things go wrong, but we’ll save that for another day. If the above listed ideology doesn’t matter to you and you’re looking to get a site up and running as cheaply as possible…
Well, OK. How about this list?
- Paid themes usually have some level of support and customization.
- Paid themes from larger providers often have custom plugins that are meant for their themes.
- Paid themes are often maintained for updated versions of WordPress (it’s in their best business interests).
- Providers of paid themes have it in their best interest to not create junk or they won’t be in business long.
There is value in supporting the business of someone who is trying to stay in business. They have a reputation to maintain.
Though some of these businesses offer a few good free themes as an enticement to buy a theme from them later (there are a lot of us experimenters out there) don’t expect a ton of support for a free them. Don’t expect lots of customization, don’t expect the developer to take the time to walk you through how to change the colors in the CSS file.
Free themes come with an as-is understanding.There may be exceptions, but don’t expect it.
Beware providers that don’t keep out bad themes.
What’s a bad theme? It’s one that has links and crappy code that breaks other plugins and sneaky links and slows down your site. It might look fantastically beautiful.
Since I’m not able to go through the code in great depth and know what theme is bad or not, I have to:
- Rely on the reputation of the theme provider to not dispense bad themes.
- Use WordPress plugins to check for bad code, such as the Theme Authenticity Checker or Sucuri’s SiteCheck Malware Scanner.
If you’re more code savvy, you are in a better position than I am.
The themes you find via WordPress.org should have been inspected for any nefarious code or links that are sometimes sneaked into a theme. There are a lot of themes to choose from there, and they offer a search system that lets you narrow down the theme you want based on the options you are looking for.
Who should use a free theme?
If you’re blogging for personally for yourself and not as a business or to make money, finding a good, simple free WordPress theme is fine. In that case, make sure your free theme is:
- Maintained and updated.
- Compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
- One you can handle if there is no support.
The WordPress community is great for helping each other out, and most developers are willing to provide basic support at least. But don’t build your blogging business empire on a free theme. Bad karma, at the very least, to be unwilling to spend money to make money.
Free WordPress Themes: The Ultimate Guide: A fantastic article that covers everything you’ll need to know about choosing and using free WordPress themes.
You don’t want to choose poorly when it comes to selecting a WordPress theme.
Choosing poorly is a very bad idea.