Making your site pretty | Choosing a theme for your WordPress website or blog.

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(image by John Morgan, used under CC BY 2.0, modified from original.)

This post is part of a series of articles that will teach you how to build your own website, step by step. You can catch up on all of the steps, right HERE (plus get a printable checklist).

The topic of WordPress themes is a big one. There are thousands of them.

A theme is a template that changes the appearance and the usability of a website, without changing any of the basic functionality of the WordPress software (it’s kind of like clothes for your site).

It’s easy to change your theme at any time, simply by going to Appearance > Themes in your WordPress dashboard. There are places where you can upload themes that you’ve found or purchased, and you can even search for themes from right within the dashboard (under Themes > Add New).

This video will show you how to change your theme.

 

 

With any WordPress theme, or any other theme that you may later install, you can always see what the theme will look like, without actually activating the theme for your live blog, by clicking the “live preview” button, located just under each theme. This way you can check it out, and see how it will look with all of your content, before your visitors will see it this way. Inside the live preview, you will also be able to go ahead and activate the theme, should you choose to do so, by clicking “Save & Activate” at the upper left of your preview.

The theme you are using on your blog will determine the sub-menu items you’ll find under the Appearance tab in your left navigation menu. Different themes will contain different options for various customizations in the theme, such as colors, fonts, header options, etc.

 

You can also upload your own theme. This is how you will install a theme which you have found online elsewhere, such as if you have purchased a premium theme like the Thesis theme. Installing a theme is super simple. Click the “Install Themes” tab at the top of your Themes page. At the top of the next page, there is a tab which says “Upload”. This link will take you to a page which will allow you to browse through your computer and find the folder for your theme (which you would have previously saved as a zip file). Once you’ve found the file, click “Install Now”. Once the file is uploaded, you will see your new theme listed on the Themes page, and you can then activate it.

So, how do you choose the best theme for you?

Well, there are 2 types of themes out there. There are free ones, tons and tons of them, and then there are premium themes, which you’ll need to shell out a little bit of cash for.

Free Themes:

You can find free themes from either inside the WordPress dashboard like I just mentioned, or by simply doing a Google search, including any specific criteria you want your theme to incorporate (for example, if you want your blog to have 2 columns, with a blue and green color scheme, search “blue green 2 column WordPress theme”).

The advantage of a free theme is that it is… well, free. They are also usually very simple and quick to install, especially if you find them from right within the WordPress dashboard. They can be super convenient, because once you’ve got a free theme installed and activated, you’ve got your colors, fonts, layout, and any other design elements totally done for you. And, there are lots to pick from, but…

There are also a few disadvantages. They can be much more difficult to customize (if not impossible), meaning that you’d better love all of those design elements, because you might not be able to change them. You may or may not be able to add your own logo. They sometimes aren’t as easy to optimize for search engines. In fact, some of them are full of horrible, bloated code that the Google spiders can barely crawl through. And also, a major downside of “free,” is that there is usually no customer support available, or updates for the theme so that it can keep up with WordPress, which is ever-evolving.

If you start having any issues, that free theme could end up costing you time…which is definitely not free for a handmade seller.

Not all free themes have these disadvantages, and free themes are getting better and better these days… There are lots of good ones out there (including the themes that come installed with WordPress – these are created by the WordPress people, are regularly updated, and contain good, clean code). However, this is just something you need to be aware of in your search for a theme that you love. Just be aware of potential issues when you’re searching.

Here is a directory of a zillion free WordPress themes (okay, not a zillion… but there ARE a few thousand): http://wordpress.org/themes/

I used free themes for several years. I just could not convince myself to pay money for a theme when there were so many free ones out there. Each time I came up against something I didn’t like in a particular theme, or if it was limited in functionality in some way, I simply changed to a new one.

When you are just starting out with your site, this will probably work just fine for you. However, as time goes on, and especially if you start blogging (highly recommended!), you will find yourself getting pickier and pickier about the themes you choose, and at that point, you’ll probably start looking at premium themes.

Premium Themes:

The premium theme I swear by is the Thesis theme; I absolutely adore it, and I use it on all my sites, including this one. As soon as I began using it, I started seeing my website climb higher in the search engines. It is search engine optimized, and allow you lots of room for customizations. It also offers customer support, and is frequently updated.

Unlike most free themes, Thesis adds an entire design menu option into your dashboard, that you can play around with and change the look of your site, through fonts, colors, and columns, etc. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. The good part is that you have lots of freedom with how your site looks. You can also easily upload your own logo, which will really help you maintain your business’s branding. You can then customize your fonts and colors to match, and have a very cohesive look that coordinates with your Etsy shop and existing brand.

However, the downside is that there is a learning curve with Thesis. And, without taking a little bit of time to learn how it all works, your site will be a tad more on the plain side. I am personally all for that, though; I prefer the minimalistic look, and I think it makes it easier for your visitors as well. I also think that for us handmade sellers, a simple website makes our product photos totally pop.

 

Coming soon on this site…

I’ll be doing a series of videos on different themes… I’ll take a theme, and show you all the things you can do to customize it. I’ll be starting with a couple of free themes, so keep an eye out for those in my Website Tutorial Library.

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