Blog Design: Choosing Themes in WordPress

I have a theme addiction.  I enjoy fooling with them.  It’s like playing dress-up in your stylish big-sister’s clothes. Why, then, is my blog so, well, plain?  It’s the same reason that designers often wear simple black;  I know too much and making decisions is hard.

If you’re using a simple free account, then fancy themes are significant investments–a good one can cost sixty, even one-hundred dollars!  Whoa.   Premium accounts and Business accounts can get access to the Premium (not-free) designs without any additional costs.   But fancy or simple, when we go beyond playing “dress-up”  and start tailoring a theme to fit our content, well, that’s when a little knowledge will be a significant help.

This blog has already made some design decisions.  I am gearing up to market on Pinterest.  Now my posts all have a title in the featured image, which makes for a somewhat redundant look on the theme I use at the moment.  My posts also don’t have dates.  I think, personally, all posts about blogging should have dates somewhere on the page.   Technical material gets old.  Three year old advice, well, it’s like dog-years, isn’t it?  Right now, with this theme, the best I can do is put the date in the footer (which isn’t a bad idea, but not as elegant as a bit of light text at the top of the post).

I pay attention to themes.  Full-on magazines like the Kitchn just make me gasp!  But that’s not appropriate for this blog. I’m serving up homespun blogging advice, not lemon-thyme chicken thighs. (Oooh.  Now there’s dinner).  While my technical skill level is reasonably high, I did completely blow up my last blog using those super-powered Divi themes.  We all have our limits.

Sage Advice on Picking a Good Theme

Tip #1.  Don’t worry too much about the theme before you have at least some content. 

It’s helpful to actually have some content to use when we’re testing out a theme.  It also helps us to ask better questions of ourselves.  What do I hate about the present theme I’ve got?   What do I like?  What can I live with?   What is a must-have?

Once you have content, then you can start the “try out” feature in the Theme gallery and take a look at what your blog might look like, without making a commitment.  If you’re thinking about buying a theme, this is critical.  I bought Gema once, back in the Olden Days.   I thought the cool “Gema” font would come with it, but alas, it does NOT.  It’s just a cool picture and the font wasn’t in the package!  Gema lasted about a month before I began to hate it, mostly because I had really wanted the font for my title.  I had purchased it for a feature that it didn’t really have. I didn’t read the instructions.   You need to try themes before you buy.  

If you’re just starting out, begin with something simple and work on the customization.

Tip #2.  Theme Layout is possibly the most important feature to consider. 

I am currently using a very simple, blog-style design with no static page.  This is suitable for my content. One of my students is putting together a website for a brick and mortar photography studio.  He needs a portfolio design.  He chose Boardwalk, which was useful enough to begin with but he had problems with how it showed his content.  When he began to load up the content into it, we began to see that it wasn’t all that suited. The pictures were sliced up oddly in the opening page.  Now he’s working on Radcliffe 2, a newer design, good for photographic portfolios.  Having actual content significantly helped him to see good from bad–for his particular blog. 

I want a grid design for Impractical Advice, with “Departments” like a magazine and perhaps a “weekly” flow for content.  (This is probably biting off more than I can chew though.  While I’m posting every day now, I can see a day when life is going to HAPPEN and I might have trouble posting once a week!)  Still, it’s good to have ideas about what we want in themes.

I currently use the latest-blog-first layout because I know (from research) that Google’s algorithms (and probably other search engines) want to get into content right away.  A big graphic at the top shoves content waaaay down the page, which is said to depress SEO rankings.  Smaller graphics that don’t take up too much at the top of the post are said to be better from an SEO perspective. But who are we kidding?  My pages are rarely going to get there–maybe one day, but not now. 🙂  A nice picture at the top that doesn’t take up too much real estate on the page should help.  The giant banners?  Not so much.

I’m doing more research on layout to find a better way than this current theme to merge visuals and text.

Tip #3: Study the competition. Look at other blogs with their design in mind.

Consider the goals of your website or blog.  Text and visuals play different roles in a mental health blog, a foodie blog, or in this case, a brick-and-mortar photography studio blog.   Study people who create similar types of contents for similar kinds of audiences  for good ideas that you like in terms of layout.  Also, take a good hard look at themes, layout and design from blogs and websites that you just happen to LIKE, especially those you find in the WordPress Reader.






Author: Lola

Recovering academic, real-life, honest to cornflakes anthropologist (Ph.D. and fieldwork and everything), tech-head and social media researcher.

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