There are few things as exciting as changing the look of your blog. One of the easiest ways to do that if by finding a new premade theme and installing that on your blog.
However, before you jump into the thick of choosing, purchasing, and installing a new WordPress theme there’s some (blog) soul searching you need to do. The last thing you want is to fork over money for a new theme only to realize that it does not fit your blog’s needs. In order to know your blog needs, for now and the future, you need to have some basic blog branding in place.
- Is your blog’s content mostly text, photographs, or a mixture of both?
- Who is you ideal reader and what are some of their reading preferences?
- What are some actions you want your readers to do when they land on your blog? This can be both whether they land on the home page or an individual post.
- Are there any “must-have” features you want in your theme?
It is super important that you know your goals before you begin looking at themes. Going with the prettiest theme is tempting, but pretty design only gets you so far. You need to be intentional with your decisions.
Once you’ve got that figured out, it’s time to do some theme search. While searching for new theme, keep in mind your blog’s goals!
When shopping for a new blog theme, the overall layout should be one of your biggest considerations. You want to find a theme that matches the layout you want as closely as possible. The layout is the base of the theme and much harder to change than colors or fonts. So you want to know from the get-go
- Do you want a one-column, two-column, or grid layout?
- Is the layout easy to change on the WordPress dashboard?
- What widget areas are available on the theme? This includes footer widgets, above header widgets, below posts widgets, etc.
Your blog’s home page is one of your blog’s most viewed page – it’s your hub. While outlining your blog’s goal, you should’ve come up with 2-3 specific actions you want you readers to take. What are those? Is your main goal getting your posts front and center or are you hoping for more newsletter sign ups? Are you hoping to highlight your newest posts or some features posts? Do you have specific offerings (products or services) you want readers to know about?
Different themes allow for different home page set ups. Which set up is best for you and your blog will depend 100% on the answers to the questions above. For example, if you want readers to sign up for your newsletter, having a theme that features a sign up box in the home page like on the Victoria theme will be essential.
Individual Post Layout
When looking st themes consider more than simple the home page. Look at what individual posts look like.
- Do they offer enough room for your images?
- Does it have a sidebar or no-sidebar? Is this something you can easily change?
- What details are included such as post date, author, categories, tags, comments, etc?
- Does it included related posts built in or will you need a plugin?
- Can you easily add call to actions below the post such as author boxes or newsletter sign ups?
Categories Archives Layout
Category Archives are pages that display all posts within a category. Usually people view the Archives to search for other posts within a category instead of seeing your posts in chronological order. Along with considering the overall layout (sidebar, no sidebar, widths), consider the format of posts on these pages.
- Are posts shown in full, in excerpts, or a grid?
- What kind of details about each post are available on the archives?
Navigation / Menus
Generally speaking a blog’s navigation and menus are pretty easy to take care of. You can easily decide which links to show and how (1-level menu or drop-downs).
Not sure how to edit your menu? Follow my tutorial on WordPress Menus
That being said, there are some features your theme will have built-in or not and they aren’t always easy to add.
- Number / Location of Navigation: Different themes will have different locations for the navigation and will determine how many menus you can have. For example Victoria has 2 menu options – above the header and in the footer. Whereas Roslyn has 3 possible menu locations – above header, footer, and in the header right.
- Navigation Extras: Do you want a search bar or social media icons in navigation? Not all themes include the possibility of adding these things so if it’s something you want, make sure you look for it.
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Available Widget Areas
I already briefly mentioned this but it’s worth highlighting. When shopping for a new blog theme, it is super important you know which widget areas are must-haves. You can easily change and customize what is in a widget area, but adding or moving a widget area is much harder to do, if at all possible.
If, the theme you are looking at has extra widget areas you do not need, it’s not as big an issue. Usually, if a widget area is empty it will not show. However, adding a whole new widget area can become a huge headache or mean extra customizing fees for you. So as you shop for a new blog theme, consider:
- What widget areas are available in the theme and where are they located?
- What widget areas are must-haves for you? Think of footer widgets, after posts widgets, above / in header widgets, home featured widgets, etc.
Before purchasing a new wordpress theme, you should also consider what extra features and services come with the theme or are available from the theme’s developer.
- eCommerce compability: not all themes are compatible with eCommerce plugins. If selling products from your blog is something you wish to do, this is something you need to take into account.
- Niche specific plugins compability: do you regularly publish recipes? Are you a book blogger? If so chances are you use certain plugins to make your life a little easier. Most of these plugins will work with almost any theme. However, it’s worth looking to see if there a theme that is specifically compatible with plugins you use. For example, my Roslyn theme comes with out-of-the-box styling for EasyRecipe which means all recipe cards will match the look of the blog!
- Responsive Design: Responsive design is no longer a “nice thing”, it’s a must have. If your blog’s theme is not mobile responsive or mobile-friendly, you’re setting yourself up to penalties from Google.
Last but not least, you should look at what kind of support and documentation is available from the theme creator. Is their documentation easy to navigate and complete? Is there an easy way to submit support tickets or ask questions? If you can’t find this information easily or it looks convoluted, you might be better off with a different theme to avoid future frustration.
Using this guide will help you find not just a pretty theme but a theme that works for your blog and goals. If you theme does not support your blog’s content and goals you’ll be left wondering why you aren’t seeing the growth you hope for. Whereas being strategic about which theme you purchase and install on your blog can help you grow by leaps and bounds.