If you’re here, that means you’ve probably made the decision to use WordPress for your website (great choice!), and now you’re ready to create a beautiful, high-converting, kickass site for your blog or business.
Now that you’ve set up your hosting account, connected your domain, and installed WordPress, it’s finally time for the fun part…designing your website!
Before we start, if you need help getting to this point and setting up your WordPress site, no worries. I recently wrote a step-by-step guide to walk you through the entire process. Check out the Comprehensive Guide: How to set up a new WordPress blog in 2018. You can then come back here if you need help choosing your theme 🙂
Also, if you’re still on the fence about going with WordPress, this article, Why WordPress is best for SEO, may help you decide.
Alright, now for today’s topic: choosing the best WordPress theme for your website.
Choosing the right theme is more than just finding the theme that has the best colors, fonts, and looks the coolest. You want to make sure it has the right layout and elements for your website needs.
Whenever I design a new website for WordPress, I like to think about the ideal layout of my site before I look at any themes. This way, when I do start looking, I know exactly what to look for.
Below, I’ll walk you through my process for coming up with a basic website layout.
1. Create an outline
You first need to create an outline to organize all the content you want on your website. Your outline (also known as a sitemap) will be a list of all the sections and features on your site.
To do this, start thinking of everything you’ll want your visitor to be able to do. For example, a visitor should be able to read the blog. A visitor should be able to subscribe to the newsletter. A visitor should be able to sign up. And so on. You get the idea.
Once you’ve come up with as many statements as you can think of, prioritize the list from most important to least important. Then take your prioritized list and group similar items together. As you organize and group things together, think about how you can use the main menu and internal links to help visitors easily navigate between pages and subpages. Try to make it as intuitive as possible.
Here’s an example of a website sitemap.
Image source: http://karlcleveland.com/125/sitemaps.htm
Note: You can spend as much or as little time as you want on this step. You certainly don’t need to have everything perfect, because the theme you choose will impact the overall layout for your site.
This is just a good way to start thinking about the layout, so it’s easier to choose a theme that has the right structure and will make the most sense to your visitors.
2. Sketch out a basic layout
Ok, now that you’ve figured out all the content on your website, the next step is to sketch a basic layout.
You don’t need to spend too much time on this. Your sketch doesn’t have to be fancy or super detailed. Just think about what you want your pages to look like on the screen and where you want things to be located.
As you sketch, think about how your visitors will interact with each page. Think about what they’ll expect to see and where they’ll expect to see it. Also think about the main thing you want visitors to do when they first come to your website (like subscribe to your newsletter or sign up for your product). Make sure these elements are easy to find and have the highest priority on the page.
A fun exercise to help come up with ideas is to take a handful of blank pieces of paper. Divide each sheet of paper into six sections. Set a timer for 7 minutes and draw as many designs as you can. You may be surprised how many different ways there are to design a single page. It’s always a good idea to come up with multiple design options, and then see which one you like best.
Image source http://www.familien-poulsen.com/
Common questions about choosing a WordPress theme
Ok, so at this point you’ve done all your prep and are ready to look at theme options. How do you choose one that has everything you want and need?
With so many different themes to choose from it’s easy to spend hours and hours browsing online and looking for that perfect theme. To narrow down the options and save you a bit of time, I came up with a list of questions that should help you decide which theme will work best.
Should you use a free or paid theme?
You may be wondering what the difference is between a free and paid theme. Is it really worth spending money on a theme for your website?
Price can definitely be a big factor. I know when I started my first blog, I did not have the money to spend on a theme. If you’re willing to learn how to customize a theme yourself, or you find a theme that you don’t need to customize, then a free theme can be a great option.
However, there are a few things you should know before you decide to go with a free theme.
– Many free themes are not updated regularly or even at all.
– Many free themes have little to no support, so if you run into a problem it may be hard to figure out.
– This is not the case for all free themes, but many are poorly coded which can affect things like overall speed, SEO, and website security.
– There are usually limited options when it comes to settings and customization. So if you want to change how things look on your website, you’ll most likely need some basic html/css skills or be willing to learn.
Going with a free theme may save you a bit of money upfront, but a paid theme will probably save you a lot of time and energy in the long run.
When it comes to your website, you just want things to work. At least that’s how I feel. So, while a free theme may be fine, a paid theme is a much more reliable option.
What’s the difference between a theme and a framework?
After a few years of using WordPress, I was doing some research online and came across someone who mentioned using a WordPress framework instead of a WordPress theme.
At the time, I had NO idea what they were talking about. It sounds a bit confusing, doesn’t it? Well, at least I thought so.
But after reading several articles online, I finally learned the difference. And it’s actually not too techy or difficult to understand when you break it down.
A WordPress theme has all the code for your theme in one file. It has everything for the functionality and style of the website in one place. This sounds super convenient, and in a way it is, but it also can cause a few issues when you customize the site in any way.
With a Worpress framework, you are actually dealing with two themes. The code for your website is split up into a parent theme and child theme. The parent theme handles the core functionality, while the child theme is responsible for the look and feel of the website. As you can see, this is much different than the traditional approach, where everything is in one place.
If you want to edit and customize the code for your theme in any way, it is essential that you use a child theme, whether you use a framework or not. Please don’t edit the code for your theme otherwise. You risk messing up the entire functionality of your website. I’ve made this mistake, and it’s not fun (pro tip: backup your site often so you don’t have to redo the whole thing if something like this happens. I hadn’t at the time :/).
So learn from my mistake, and always use a child theme. This way if you make a mistake in the code, it doesn’t affect any of the core functionality of your website.
Also, if you use a child theme you won’t have to redo your design customizations every time you update or upgrade your theme.
Not all themes come with a child theme, but you can create your own. This plugin makes it super easy to add one (it literally takes 4 seconds).
It’s important to know, that even though any WordPress theme can have a child theme, it doesn’t mean any theme can or should be used as a theme framework. For more information on this, check out WPBeginner’s indepth article about child themes and when/why to use one.
When it comes to deciding between using a theme or a framework, I recommend going with a framework.
Where do you find good themes?
I currently use the Genesis framework by Studiopress with one of their awesome child themes. Genesis is used on over 300,000 sites, and is a favorite among many in the WordPress community. The Genesis framework is known for being beautifully designed, secure, super fast, and great with SEO.
Here are a few of the reasons why I love using Genesis:
Genesis makes it really easy to customize anything and everything about your website without having to mess around with too much of the code. Anything you see on a page can be moved, changed, deleted or reconfigured to be exactly the way you want it.
2. Large selection of child themes
Studiopress has a ton of beautiful, fully responsive Genesis child themes to choose from. You can buy the child themes individually or you can purchase the Pro Plus All-Theme Package which gives you access to all the Genesis child themes, (excluding 3rd party themes).
When I started using Genesis, I purchased the Pro Plus All-Theme Package, and it was such a great deal! You get all their themes at a huge discount. And they’re always adding new themes to their portfolio, which you get instant access to as well.
Honestly, it’s really worth it. It’s perfect for someone like me, who has multiple sites and likes to frequently test and try out new themes.
Genesis has a really great support forum and help desk. Having reliable support and help with your theme, is in my opinion, incredibly important when choosing a theme or framework. I’m not an expert when it comes to WordPress, so being able to ask questions and get help is a huge benefit.
Other great places to look for themes:
Before using Genesis I used Divi by Elegant Themes. Divi has an advanced drag-and-drop page builder, which allows you to visually edit the page any way you want. It’s really easy, flexible, and intutive to use. So, if you’re new to WordPress or if you don’t have any html/css skills, Divi is a great option.
One thing I loved about using Divi was the Elegant Themes blog. They always post great tutorials and videos. And, they have a bunch of beautifully designed layouts that you can download and import to use in your own site.
For more options you can also check out ThemeForest and Themify. I can’t say from personal experience, but I’ve heard they both have a great selection of themes.
Bringing it all together
One of the great things about WordPress is that there are a ton of themes and options to create the exact look and feel you want for your website.
With so many options, I know it can seem a bit overwhelming. But, I hope this post has offered a little help and guidance on how to choose the best theme for your blog or business.