Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Wordpress Themes 101

So selecting a theme for your Wordpress blog, should be simple enough right? You look a few themes up on Google, maybe look through a list of galleries, and click on the one that looks best or has the best interface and voila! That is it, you’re done.

While you may think that choosing a theme is as simple as choosing one which looks the best, it is not as simple as that. The looks or aesthetics of a theme is just one part of what makes a good WP theme. There is a lot more to it than just the appearance.

Free and Premium Themes

Before I begin, I need to get this out of the way: avoid free WP themes if at all possible! Spend a few bucks on a premium theme, go for the Thesis theme, or the Elegant ones, and if those are not viable options budget-wise,  stick with a cheap premium theme but in general, stay away from the free ones.

Why, you might be wondering, am I in vehement opposition of free themes? It is because of one simple reason: ‘there is no such thing as a free meal’. Free themes might look to be totally harmless, however most of them come with strange code encrypted in the footer section. As a rule of thumb, you would never want to have any unknown code on your website!

Solutions and Alternatives?

If you rule out free themes (which, like I said, you should), be prepared to fork out some cash, because at this point, you have 2 alternatives: either have a custom theme developed by an in-house team or outsource it to a partner or a 3rd party, or choose one from any of the hundreds of premium themes for WP available on the internet.

Purpose of the Blog

The kind of theme that you select would entirely depend on the purpose of your WP blog. Wordpress is a powerful platform, and with WP, you now have the ability to build any sort of a website.

Like I said, your choice of theme would depend on the kind of blog you have. For instance there are themes for personal blogs, video or photo blogs, corporate websites, e-commerce websites, advertisement and IM blogs, e-magazines, sports blogs… the list goes on.

Start with what the purpose of your  blog will be, what kind of a blog it will be. And choose your theme accordingly.

Things to Consider when Purchasing a Theme

Apart from what sort of a blog it will be, there are numerous other considerations when it comes to purchasing a premium theme. The following set of aspects should be considered:

1.       Price – Most probably, the most important thing for a majority of the people out there. As a blog owner, you will in all probability have a limited budget, and a specific amount of money to spend on a premium theme. In addition, to get the best value, make sure you get a multiple-site license if you plan on putting the theme on more than one website. To ensure that you get the best bang for your buck, consider the following points before making the purchase:
§  Is the theme you’re purchasing appropriate for your blog and its conent?
§  Are you getting access to a single-site or multiple-site license?
§  Is the cost payable a one-time cost, or a recurring yearly cost?
§  How many themes are included in the package?
§  Refund options?
§  What kind of after-sales service do you get?
§  Is the Photoshop (PSD) file included with the package?
§  What extra goodies do you get?
2.       SEO Concerns – Regardless of what anyone says, SEO is an essential aspect of getting traffic and being able to make money off your website. It is therefore all the more important that an ‘SEO-friendly’ theme is chosen for the purpose. For two reasons: (a) if you do SEO yourself, such a theme is essential, and (b) if you don’t have time or the expertise for SEO, a SEO-friendly theme will pretty much take care of at least the on-site SEO metrics for you by its own self, such as setting meta information, using headings, setting up categories and tags, support for all popular SEO plugins and having a clean and simple layout. You can demo the theme to check if it indeed offers these things.
3.       Browser Compatibility – With the advent of many internet browsers, the popularity of IE, the surge in the use of Firefox and Chrome, and not to forget, cellphone browsers, a good theme will provide support for all browsing platforms and browsers. As the website owner, you would need to ensure that your website look uniform on all browsing environments. If the theme is browser-friendly, it will provide this information on its website, or you could check this yourself by demoing it on various browsers yourself.
4.       Customizability – A good theme will let you edit the layout and customize, edit and change just about each and every aspect of it. Finding a good theme that fits your exact specifications is easier said than done, however a highly customizable theme will certainly make the job much easier. Good theme developers understand this and design their themes accordingly. For instance customizable headers, switching sidebar layouts, choosing a different color scheme and allowing you to put your corporate or brand logo. All important aspects to a good theme.
5.       Widget Support – Widgets are small applets that you can add to your blog to improve its functionality in one way or the other. Most common areas to add widgets is the sidebar, footer or header of the website, however some widgets do not appear on the website, and function without being visible. For instance some widgets let you create popup opt-in forms, others add different SEO aspects to your blog, add a ‘recent comments’ or a ‘recent/popular posts’ field, allow for improved search functionality, add adverts to your website, while some allow you to add Facebook ‘like’ boxes or Twitter ‘follow’ boxes, add additional menus to the blog and so on and do forth. Every theme comes with its own set widget-ready areas.
6.       Customizable Homepage – A homepage traditionally displays all recent posts in one place. And in WP, that is still the default setting, however since there is a whole host of different blogs that can be started on WP now, it is important that the theme allows you to customize your homepage accordingly. For instance if it’s a photo blog, you might go for a completely different homepage than the traditional one. A good theme will not only allow you to do so, it will also let you change various elements on the homepage.
7.       Videos and Images – Google, with its recent Panda update to its search algorithm now places a great deal of emphasis on image and video integration, and adding these to your blog will not only allow your blog to be ranked higher on Google’s SERP, it will also attract and engage visitors and bring traffic to your blog. A good theme will make multimedia integration as easy as copy-and-paste: convenient, easy and simple. No tinkering about with the code, simple copy-paste embedding mechanism. Furthermore, it will also allow you to easily set size, change orientation, alignment etc.
8.       Social Media – In addition to multimedia integration, Google also takes notice of blogs which make social media integration an important aspect of their websites. Getting traffic from these sources is considered to be authority referral traffic, and could see you get ranked very quickly. Besides, everyone is on Facebook and Twitter right? It’s an amazing, free marketing platform. And superior quality themes will almost always provide some form of social media integration: whether it’s like, tweet or share buttons to all popular social networks, follow buttons, and at times, even Facebook ‘like boxes’ and streams. You will of course need to set these up.
9.       Appearance and Looks – Last but certainly not the least in any sense, is the way a theme looks visually. Aesthetics are important, and an visually-attractive, appealing-looking theme will attract users. If your theme looks dull and boring and doesn’t do anything to catch attention (even if it has great content), chances are that your visitors will be put off before they even get to the content on the page. You need to wow them with looks, and present them with an attractive looking website as soon as it loads up.