The old adage – first impressions are everything – applies just as much in today’s digital age as it ever did in the past. The web gets more visual by the day – dull and dreary sites are only a few clicks away from engaging websites. Thankfully WordPress makes creating eye popping experiences a piece of cake, even for those who might think the word ‘web design’ comes from a foreign language. Indeed, one of the greatest elements of WordPress is that your content and design exist as two separate items. At any time, with the flick of a button, you can radically alter the design of your site.
Your content simply rearranges itself under your selected new design. WordPress takes care of everything. This flexibility means it’s literally quicker to change the look and feel of your site, than it is to change your own outfit. Trust me, I just tried. WordPress refers to the various designs you can use as ‘themes’. Some themes are merely simple changes of colour and font while others represent dramatic overhauls to the entire functionality of your website. Don’t forget you’ll need WordPress web hosting to house your finished website as well.
Free versus Paid WordPress Themes
Of the thousands and thousands of themes available for WordPress – all fall into two broad categories: free and paid. WordPress installs with a handful already installed, and many more free themes available within the control panel. To test a few of these free designs, login to your WordPress account, select ‘appearance’ followed by ‘themes’ and then ‘install themes’. The search options you will see allow you to find a perfect free theme, and install directly from the safety of WordPress.org – you don’t even need to leave the comfort of the control panel. Don’t worry – you can’t break anything, go right ahead and install a few right now to get a feel for the system. These designs though are just a small fraction of what’s available (just Google ‘free wordpress themes’). Outside of the WordPress control panel you will find countless websites offering free designs. Sometimes the designs are truly free, other times they are a way for a business to promote their more complex paid designs or some other item. For example – www.web2feel.com/browse-themes offers a range of excellent designs, but some of the themes auto create a sponsors section on your website (which you can of course remove or alter) promoting pre-selected businesses by the theme creators. Spend a little cash, and there are some truly exceptional themes. You needn’t spend an arm and a leg either, there are many bargains to be had, such as – www.elegantthemes.com who offer 86 themes for a mere $39. Theme specific sites like http://themeforest.net offer a dizzying array of paid themes. For avid WordPress fans it’s very easy to lose an entire weekend sifting and comparing themes at websites. Which is why you might want to think a little more granular about what you need from your site.
WordPress Theme Categories
As I mentioned in part one of our WordPress guide – WordPress Web Hosting Help, WordPress is so much more than a mere blogging platform. You’ve probably used countless WordPress websites and never known it. WordPress sites don’t have to be the typical blog layout of old, that you might expect – a simple vertical list of posts. You can view a wide variety of WordPress sites hosted at 34SP.com here at our WordPress Sample Sites. Themes are created for a range of focused uses, some of which include:
Magazine / news – a theme that provides a layout akin to a news website. Expect to see featured story areas, sub stories, categories and a generally busier feel.
Portfolio / gallery – aimed at designers and artists, these themes help creative users showcase their work. The designs are more visually impactful and artistic.
Shop / ecommerce – used to sell items via your WordPress site.
Industry specific – Designed with particular niches in mind such as restaurants or real estate.
Task specific – Created for one specific task e.g. a wedding or launching a new website.
Considering a WordPress Theme
You just saw the perfect theme, it’s so mind bogglingly-amazing you should hand over your £50 and carry on full steam ahead right now? Wait. Patience my keen WordPress friend! I always find it wise to take a moment and list exactly what you need from your new site, sleep on it for a night and then check the theme again in the morning. Does it really offer everything you need? What’s another day, when the perfect theme will last for years. Seriously, I’ve saved myself from a number of terrible choices with a cool, considered approach.
As WordPress evolves themes need to keep pace too. While its rare for a theme to break overnight from a WordPress update – sometimes they need an update to be compatible with the latest greatest WordPress release. Nothing is worse than seeing your beloved design wrecked by an update to the core of the WordPress code – which as we discussed in part one, you should always keep up to date with. Before signing on the dotted line for a theme, check the theme developers site. Does it seem fresh and recently updated, is there a community, a forum where other users can discuss the theme? Or does it look like the theme was a one off side project 5 years ago and not touched since. Do you need support? One advantage of many paid themes is that these designs give their creators a financial drive to keep developing and supporting the design. Many paid themes will offer some level of additional support to their users – or extra paid support if you need the design tweaked for a specific purpose of your own. Consider any advertising you may run as well. Will you be placing advertisements on your site, from local sponsors or systems like Google Adsense? If so, scan the theme of your dreams carefully. Are there obvious placement areas for banner ads? Of course, integrating features like Google Adsense is cinch with plugins and widgets, and we will cover these in our next WordPress help article.