Customizing WordPress

by | Tech Tips

So… What exactly is a “Theme?”

If you are brand new to WordPress, you might be wondering what this “theme” stuff is all about. I figured best to start with the source. WordPress itself defines a WordPress Theme as “a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.”

To put that in layman’s terms, adding a theme is like dressing up all fancy and throwing on some makeup- it makes your site look sexy on the outside without changing the real stuff on the inside. Since themes don’t modify the guts of your site, it’s easy to swap them around without changing the content itself. This is useful because as your business grows, your website goals may change. Therefore, you can easily modify the appearance to better suit your needs without worrying about losing any content. Themes can also change the admin backend of your site (the way you add/update content), and even help your SEO.

Free vs Paid

Now, there are two types of WordPress themes: free and paid.  I’m going to go straight to the point- you want a paid theme. Why?

1. A dedicated development team keeps your theme up to date.

This is important for new security issues, updates to WordPress core features, and other things ‘web’ that change over time. If you’re blogging for purposes other than business, then maybe this isn’t as critical, but as a business owner, the last thing you’d want is to cheap out on a free theme and then have your site crash a few months down the road because the developer is no longer supporting or updating it, or worse, that your site gets hacked.

2. Customer support is at your finger tips.

Trust me- you will want it! Can’t figure out why some plugin won’t work? Is a widget’s styling off? Scared your site is getting hacked? Don’t worry- with paid themes there is a support team ready to help. I’ve used customer support for the websites that I’ve made too many times to count. I don’t know what I would do without them.

So in the end- I’d advocate for a paid theme. It’s just worth it.

3. Who needs plugins? My theme already does that!

Many paid themes come with a ton of extra functionality ready to go. If the features aren’t included in the theme, you would probably need to search for third-party plugins to install, which complicates things. When your site’s functionality relies on a bunch of different sources, you may come across the same problem as the “free theme” problem- all the plugins might not have development teams maintaining them. Say you want an online purchasing feature on your website and you are using a plugin for customers to make purchases. If the plugin crashes one day and you can’t contact the people that built the plugin, you’re screwed.

So in the end- I’d advocate for a paid theme. It’s just worth it.

Themes Built for You

The most obvious point, but it is the most important one as well. You should pick a theme that relates to your niche, industry, and/or business. If you have a blog about politics, then don’t use a design what was made for a web hosting site. For most bloggers, the option is very simple as they choose a theme that is very generic and add a logo that matches. This might not be a bad option for someone with a low budget who is just starting out.

Simple’s Always Best

There are many free themes in the market that has alot of complex features. It might look very good in the display, but it might not be the best for functionality. If you want a theme that has alot going on, get a custom one because that is the only way you can assure functionality. We suggest you don’t get into the fancy work instead go for simple designs because they are easier to modify and are compatible with most browsers.

Browser Compatibility

Always make sure that your new theme is compatible with all browsers. It is good for those themes to be w3 valid and cross browser compatible because you know that you are not leaving any one behind. Some people might suggest that you should not worry about older browsers like IE 6 if it doesn’t work. And most tech designers are now ignoring Internet Explorer compatibility completely. You don’t need to support a theme or a designer when he/she did not put enough time to provide quality work for you. There is still a large audience that use Internet Explorer and other browsers, so make sure you look for browser compatibility.

Responsive Design

Be sure to verify that the theme has responsive design. Responsive design means that your site’s appearance will respond to the size of the screen it is being viewed on- like a huge monitor, small laptop, tablet, or phone. Nowadays it’s possible that more people could be viewing your website on their smartphones than on a large computer screen, so you want to make sure it looks good for them. You can check this easily after installing and activating the theme by shrinking the width of your browser and seeing if your site “responds” well to the change in screen width.

My Recommendations

There are tons of free themes that you can download. But we recommend that you go for something that you will get guaranteed support for. Commercial themes are a one time fee, and you get life time support. Below are the commercial theme providers that we highly recommend:

Elegant Themes – (Super easy-to-use themes. Love these guys- their customer support rocks!)

ThemeLab – (Themes from the WordPress team themselves)

Headway Themes

StudioPress

Themify – 20% off coupon “wpbeginner”

iThemes

Installing Your Theme

Once you’ve settled on the theme you want to start with, installing the theme is very easy. Simply follow these steps:

1. Download the Theme

Download the theme files in a zip file.

2. Upload the Theme to your WordPress Admin Site

In the admin view of your WordPress site, go to Appearance > Themes. Click on “Add New” at the top of the page and upload the zip file.

3. Activate the Theme

Once you have uploaded the theme, hover over the theme and click on the “Activate” button.

All Done!

Now comes the fun part- customizing your theme! I can’t give step-by-step instructions here on how to customize your theme because each theme is different and it’s best to follow any tutorials provided by the theme itself regarding customization. My advice is to just play around with it as much as you can to start to figure out how to control different features, and enjoy!

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