The following post was written specifically for WordPress users but, the principles apply to any blogging platform where you have the ability to choose a theme or a blog skin, including Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr etc.
Starting a blog is easy. Just sign up on any blogging platform, choose a theme, and start writing, right? Well, yes and no. If you’re serious about blogging, you might want to plan the image of your blog as carefully as its topic. Most readers will decide if they’ll click away from your blog before they’ve even read a word. Why? Because of their first impression: Does the site look professional? Is the navigation clear and accessible? Is the content easy to read? Is the site beautiful? These questions are answered unconsciously in split seconds and choosing the right theme will greatly help you build a blog that passes this first test.
Now, how to choose the right theme for your blog? Browsing for themes can be dizzying; there are literally thousands of options available. Here are the most important things to consider before you make your choice:
1. Determine What Your Blog Needs Are
What is the focus of your blog: photography, story telling, or recipes? The angle you plan on taking should influence the theme you choose, so the right content elements are showcased. You should also make a list of what you want your blog to display: horizontal or vertical menus, how many columns, full size pictures or thumbnails, ads, print options, social media icons, etc. Look at other blogs for inspiration; this should help you determine what you need. Not all themes offer the same features nor are they all customizable to the same extent, so you should pick a theme that looks like it will fulfill your needs the best.
2. Choose A Blog Theme You Find Appealing
This may sound obvious, but although themes can be customized to a certain extent, it's not worth installing a theme you'll need to redesign from the ground up for you to be happy with it. Plus, in my experience, if a theme was skilfully designed, the same level of detail was often also used in building the administrative part of it.
3. Make Sure The Theme Offers Lots of Customization Options
It’s extremely rare that a blogger will use a theme “out of the box”. A great number of tweaks can be done to personalize a blog: using a graphic header; changing the font size and color; displaying a pattern or a picture in the background; adding a stroke around pictures; customizing the search option; adding social media icons, etc. These are all options you may take for granted, but not all themes offer them. My rule of thumb is the more a theme can be customized, the better it probably is. Look for themes that allow you to change a great number of options and graphic elements within the WordPress interface; this will allow you to personalize your blog even if you have no coding experience.
4. Check For Browser Compatibility And Responsiveness
People use all kinds of different devices and browsers to navigate online. For your readers to be able to view and access your content, your need to make sure the theme you choose is compatible with most, or even better, with all devices and browsers. A theme offering “responsive design” is great because it automatically adapts to different screen sizes (from a regular computer screen to a mobile phone) without the need for additional coding or the use of a second theme for mobile displays.
5. Read Theme Reviews
Before downloading a theme, always read reviews from other users. Check for a theme that has lots of reviews and ratings that are overwhelmingly positive. Go deeper in the content of the reviews too, sometimes you’ll find information about features you’re looking for that may not work well or details about compatibility issues that could become a problem down the line.
6. Look For Theme Documentation and Support
As you work on customizing your blog, you're bound to encounter hurdles along the way. You should always make sure the theme you're choosing offers support. Trust me, you'll need it at some point, whether it's to report bugs or to ask about things that you don't know how to do. Some theme designers maintain a support forum, which is just as good if not better than email support because you benefit from an existing knowledge base and other users are often quick to help out. Documentation and tutorials are great assets too, and they are more commonly offered with paid themes.
7. Check When the Theme Was Last Updated
Knowing when a theme was last updated tells you whether it’s well maintained or not. Some theme developers release their theme and never update it again (this is especially true of free themes); others add new features and fix bugs as they come along. Between WordPress that regularly updates its platform and plugin developers that constantly release new versions, bugs occur regularly so you want to make sure you commit to a theme that is future proof. WordPress’ Theme Directory shows this information prominently in the right hand-side column. If you find a theme on another site that doesn’t show when it was last updated, chances are it’s also listed on WordPress.org, so be sure to make a quick search to get the information.
One last word of advice: don’t be afraid to use a theme that seems to be mainstream, assuming your blog will look like everybody else’s. Popular themes have gained their notoriety because they’re great tools to build custom blogs, not cookie cutter web sites. Choosing a reliable theme ensures you’ll be able to make your blog your very own, allowing you to differentiate yourself and ensuring your blog will be easy and fun to update in the future.
How To Choose The Right WordPress Theme was written by Marie Asselin, a French-Canadian graphic designer, translator, and blogger who has spent more hours than she cares to admit tweaking WordPress themes for her own websites or her clients’. She is the author of food and travel blog Food Nouveau. She lives in Quebec City, QC. Twitter: @foodnouveau