What is a WordPress theme? Think of your blog like an automobile: WordPress is the chassis and the nuts and bolts holding it all together; your content is the engine, driving it forward (better start writing some turbo content!); plugins are the customizations, the expensive tires, rear spoiler, and alloy wheels; the theme is the paint job. It’s how your blog looks to the outside world. A good paint job can’t hide an underperforming engine, nor can an automobile truly look good with rust patches and dull paint.
Okay, so that analogy is a slight oversimplification. In fact, your theme is so much more than the external appearance of your blog. A good quality theme will be well coded, helping to reduce load time, and search-engine-optimized for good SEO.
This post is part of the Blog Cogs Start Blogging With WordPress Today tutorial.
- Start Blogging Today with This WordPress Tutorial
- Choosing the Right Domain Name for Your Blog
- Registering for a Bluehost Web Hosting Account
- How to Install WordPress on Your Domain
- Optimizing the WordPress Settings
- Installing WordPress Plugins
- Install These WordPress Plugins Now!
- Choosing and Installing a WordPress Theme
- SEO Optimize Your WordPress Blog Posts
- Improving Your WordPress Blog Security
Premium Versus Free WordPress Themes
You have three choices when it comes to choosing a theme: free, premium, and custom.
Ignoring custom for now (as a new blogger, you’re unlikely to have a couple thousand dollars to burn on a custom theme), what are the differences between free and premium themes? It would be easy to say that you get what you pay for and premium themes are the only option you should consider. But that would undermine the work done by a lot of developers who are happy to provide good quality themes for free. Here are a few differences you will find between premium and free themes.
Premium themes include support (often as a ticket system) in the price; however, this often runs out after six months or a year requiring you to pay for further support. Response times should be fast. Free themes may offer support via a forum on the developer website but they are under no obligation to do so. Response times can vary from hours to never. Often the best source of support is the WordPress support forums where other users of the theme may be able to help. It’s a good idea to check the support available for a theme before choosing.
When WordPress releases an update, it is the responsibility of theme developers to make sure their themes are compatible and release an update themselves if they are not. Premium theme developers must do this immediately or they will lose customers. Free theme developers may also do it immediately if they are responsible, or they may do it in a few weeks when they have time.
As mentioned above, premium themes should be well coded with good SEO. Free themes are often stripped down versions of premium themes to entice you to pay for the premium theme at a later date and so may not be as well optimized.
The developers of premium themes want your money. To get it they will offer you a lot of features with their themes. The developers of free themes also want your money. To get it they offer stripped-down versions of their themes for free hoping you will upgrade later for the extra features.
There are good themes and there are bad themes. A good theme is a good theme, even if it is free; a bad theme is a bad theme, even if you paid $59 for it.
My advice is to try as many free themes as you can and work out what you like and what you don’t like. Then visit the premium developers listed below, do the research, read the reviews, try the demos, and ask the developers questions – if they want your custom they’ll be happy to answer, and if they don’t perhaps you should cross them off your list.
Where to Source WordPress Themes
WordPress Theme Repository
If you’re on a tight budget and looking for a free theme, then you need look no further than your WordPress dashboard. Click Appearance > Themes, and click Add New. There are literally thousands of free themes to choose from. To narrow down your options you can use the feature filter to look for themes that fit your requirements. The dashboard allows you to preview every theme before you install it, but I recommend you go to the developer’s site (just Google the name of the theme and ‘WordPress theme’) for a better demo, list of features, premium options (if you want to upgrade later), and the kind of support available.
Broadly speaking, there are three styles of theme: blog, business, and magazine. The only difference between the three types is the appearance of the front page.
Here’s a brief description of each of the theme styles with a few suggested themes to look at.
A simple blog theme puts the focus on your latest posts. The home page will probably display a simple list of your most recent posts (either the full post or an excerpt depending on your settings), perhaps with a featured image beside each one. These themes are easy to set up and are good for simple blogs on a single subject.
- Rams (all of Anders Norén’s themes are beautiful and free)
- Twenty Sixteen (the current default WordPress theme)
Business themes put the focus on your landing page. This page lists things like your services, about, portfolio, call to action, recommendations, products, contact details, customer reviews and probably a few of your latest posts. This type of theme can work well if you offer services and products alongside your blog.
Magazine themes have a busy front page that displays content from a number of different categories alongside images and advertisements. These themes are good for displaying news and articles from multiple categories in any niche you are blogging in. These themes often come with a lot of options for customizing the front page. We use a magazine theme (Valenti) here at Blog Cogs.
Premium themes cost money so do plenty of research before you commit. There are many places to find premium themes. With this option, you will need to sign up for an account, pay for your theme, and then install the theme manually, either via the WordPress dashboard or via FTP. Here are a few sources of top quality premium themes to get you started:
- Elegant Themes
- StudioPress (developers of the awesome Genesis Framework)
- ThemeForest (premium theme repository)
A custom theme is where you hire a developer to design and build a theme to your specifications. It can cost $2,000—$3,000 so isn’t for the beginner blogger. But if your blog does well, and you have a little cash to splash, a custom theme is the best way to stand out from the crowd while getting exactly what you want from your theme.
How to Install WordPress Themes
The simplest way to install WordPress themes is to upload a free theme from the WordPress repository via the dashboard. Go to Appearance > Themes >Add New.
From here you have several options. If you know the name of the theme you want, you can enter the name into the search box. If you don’t then you can browse the popular themes or use the feature filter to help narrow down your search.
Once you’ve found a theme you like the look of, you can click Details & Preview to see a live demo, read a list of features and see some user reviews. If you still like the theme then click install to install the theme.
Once you’ve installed the theme, you need to activate it to start using it on your site. Go to Appearance > Themes and you can deactivate and activate your installed themes as often as you like.
Upload via the Dashboard
If you have downloaded a theme in zip format (probably a paid, premium theme), you can also install it via the dashboard.
Click Themes > Add New, and then click Upload Theme.
Browse for the theme you want to install, and then click Install Now.
You’ll see the message below telling you the theme has been installed successfully.
Once installed, you can preview it (it probably won’t look very good until you customize it, so don’t worry) or activate it to start using the theme.
Upload via FTP
The methods above will be fine for the majority of theme installations. There may, however, be occasions where you have to install themes via FTP. Before you do this you must get your FTP login details from your web host. Here’s a guide to show you how to get your FTP login details from Bluehost and set up FileZilla FTP client:
The themes are located in the wp-content/themes folder. With this method, you need to upload the unzipped folder to FTP. If you don’t have suitable software installed, there are many free compression/extraction options available to download such as PeaZip. Once you’ve unpacked the folder, simply drag and drop the unzipped folder into the wp-content/themes folder. You can then activate the theme on your WordPress dashboard as described above.
Customizing Your WordPress Theme
We are not going into to detail with custom CSS and child themes here. We’ll deal with those topics in future posts. This is just a quick guide to some basic customizations to get you started.
Depending on which theme you have installed, your customization options may vary from too many to count to none! To see what customizations are available, click on Appearance > Customize which will open the customizer dashboard as shown below for the current default WordPress theme, Twenty Sixteen.
From here you can upload a header image and background image, change the color of your links, background, and text, and add and edit menus.
Deleting WordPress Themes
Whichever method you used to install and activate a theme, you can delete it via the dashboard. Go to Appearance > Themes, but before you delete the theme, make sure it is not your active theme. Then hover over the theme you want to delete, click on Theme Details, and then click delete.
You can also delete themes via FTP. Just log in to your FTP client, navigate to wp-content/themes and delete the theme there.
Next: SEO Optimize Your WordPress Blog Posts
Now you’re ready to write your content, but before you start throwing words at the screen, take a moment to learn how not all content is created equally. For your site to rank highly in search engines, you need to pay attention to search engine optimization (SEO). The next part of this guide shows you how to SEO optimize your posts. Click the button below to get started.