All About WordPress Series choosing your theme

All About WordPress- Choosing Your Theme

This site is all about helping people start a blog or website in order to generate an income online. WordPress is one of the things I am most passionate about and I’d like to make as clear as possible for you, my cherished reader. I aim to make things as clear as possible so even the most non-technical among us can follow along.

In WordPress, your blog’s overall look which is its design is determined by the theme you choose. When you first install WordPress, your self-hosted site uses a basic default theme which comes prepackaged with WordPress, but here’s where most people want to customize their design to make it all their very own.

In this post right here, I will share how I chose my theme, which theme I use and tips to help you choose a theme for your own blog or website.

Some of the links in this post are our referral links (to products we not only believe in but also very happily use ourselves), meaning, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you make a purchase. The commission we earn helps us to keep our blogs up and running smoothly. We thank you! O:)

Free themes vs. paid-for themes

Should you use a free theme or a premium theme?

For many years I used free themes and even taught myself how to customize them. This was an amazing and rewarding experience. Obviously, if you’re on a budget, free themes are where it’s at that is at least until you’re able to purchase yourself a paid-for-theme.

Here are some common problems with a free theme:

  • Many are not updated regularly.
  • Many are abandoned completely.
  • There is no support for most of them.
  • The quality of the coding is not always ideal.

For these reasons, I switched to a paid-for theme and I’d advise you to do the same.

If you’re able to do so, I would love to share my experience with you in hopes that you’ll choose the same products (especially because my theme just couldn’t be any easier to customize and operate.)

The WordPress theme I use

I’m going to be super honest with you here. I’ve got a problem! I’m a theme junkie. I pick one and then before you know it, I change my mind again. When I first created this site, I choose StudioPress’s Genesis theme and then for my child theme I used Parallax Pro because of a site I saw and just loved it on there. To be honest with you I purchased all the Genesis themes because of my theme addiction and it has enabled me to do so much with my blog. I am a lifelong Genesis fan.

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Reasons I use and recommend Genesis

Genesis is one of the most well-known and reputable WordPress theme companies in the world. They have a vested interest in keeping their customers happy. Not only that, they have built a reliable product. Here are the reasons I use and recommend Genesis.

1. Genesis is built on a 2-part framework (child themes)

A good theme consists of a 2-part system with two layers: the main “parent” theme underneath, and the “child” theme on top.

The “parent” theme provides the functionality of the site and the “child” theme allows design customization without touching (and potentially messing up) the framework, or “parent,” underneath.

If you don’t use a child theme, not only do you run the risk of messing up the functionality every time you edit your design, you will also have to redo your design customizations every time you update or upgrade. Believe me here- this is not fun with a capital N!

What is a WordPress child theme?

Child themes are confusing for many people. I know it was for me at first.

I recently came across this anthology helping people understand child themes:

“Imagine you want to paint a beautiful piece of artwork to display in your living room. You have two choices. You can paint directly on the wall, or you can paint on a canvas.

Painting directly on the wall would be risky, wouldn’t it? Because if you make a mistake, you would have to redo the whole wall. Also, if you move to a new house, you would have to repaint the artwork on your new living room wall.

However, if you paint on a canvas, a mistake would only require a new canvas, not a new wall. Second, if you move, you can simply take the canvas with you and rehang it on your new wall. Simple.

It’s the same with themes built on a framework. Making customizations to a parent theme (i.e. a theme without a child theme) is like painting directly on your living room wall. But using and customizing a child theme is like painting on a canvas.

With a child theme, there’s less to mess up and you won’t have to “repaint” (i.e. make your customizations all over again) when you upgrade your theme. (And plan on upgrading because there are new updates for WordPress all the time.)”

I recommend using a child theme, but not all themes come with a child theme. The default WordPress themes, for example, don’t, but you can create your own.

2. Support

Another excellent benefit of a paid-for theme is support. There is a great support forum and help desk for the Genesis theme (you’ll be given login info once you go through the purchase process) if you need it. Especially when you are a new blogger, being able to ask questions and get help is a huge benefit to you.

3. Mobile Responsiveness

Most themes available are built with mobile responsiveness in mind, but make sure that your theme does have it.

4. Large selection

There are many Genesis child themes to choose from and they are continuously adding more. You can buy the child themes individually or you can purchase the Pro Plus All-Theme Package which gives you access to all Genesis child themes (excludes 3rd party themes) at a huge discount.

Tip: If you buy an individual theme, you’ll pay for the Genesis Theme Framework and your chosen child theme together. If you decide to buy a different child theme down the road, you do not need to buy the Genesis Theme Framework again, only the new child theme.

5. Even more features

In addition, with Genesis, you’ll get built-in SEO, great coding, speed and more. There’s a helpful info page here.

Which child theme should you choose?

The choices are overwhelming. First, make sure you choose a theme that’s mobile responsive. You can find the Genesis child themes here. Browse through the selection and find a few that stand out to you.

Some of the biggest bloggers have this one tip for us when choosing a theme and that is to look past the images, colors and fonts. Instead, choose a theme with a layout you like. In other words, focus on the elements on the page (sidebars, main content column, header, footer, etc.), their size and where they are located.

Overlooking the colors and styles is difficult to do for many of us because these are the things that quickly catch our eye. But they should be initially overlooked. Styles, like colors, fonts, background images and similar elements are much easier to change and require less coding than moving elements from one part of the page to another.

An anthology of elements vs. style

Again I’m using that blogger’s anthology  to better explain the importance of elements over style:

Pretend you are choosing a new winter coat. Better to choose one that fits your body rather than one with fancy trimmings. You can easily add fancy trimmings later if you’d like, but it’s a lot more complicated to alter the fit of a coat.

Another mistake is to choose (or not choose) a child theme based on its name.

For example, the Foodie Pro theme is lovely and very popular among food bloggers. However, it can work just as well if you’re not a food blogger. Likewise, the Author Pro theme is not only for authors.

Again, look at the layout of the design.

Tip: Sketch out a basic layout of your desired design on a piece of paper before you start looking at child themes. Use other sites as inspiration. What do you want it to look like on the screen? Where do you want things located? Your sketch shouldn’t be fancy or even terribly detailed. Simply start with these four elements: main content column (about how wide? set to the right? the left? centered on the page?), sidebar(s) (no sidebars? one sidebar? on the right? on the left?), header (how tall? logo centered? logo on the left with links to the right?) and footer (lots of info? minimal?).

Once you have a rough idea of where you want things to go, scroll through the child themes and find ones that best match your sketch.

Another thing to keep in mind is if and how you will monetize your site. For example, will you put ads in your sidebar? Choose a child theme with two or three columns. Do you want large images front and center because you’re showcasing your portfolio? Choose a child theme with gallery capabilities.

Tip: Use the filters at the top of the page to quickly find themes that match your criteria. Note that the homepage of many of the themes might have a different format than the internal pages so be sure to check out and explore the demos for each child theme you are considering.

Some Alternatives To Genesis

If you’re looking for an alternative to Genesis, Elegant Themes are a second option if you want to try something other than Genesis.

Their main theme is called Divi which:

  • Is fully mobile responsive
  • Comes with a choice of pre-made templates to get you started
  • Has a drag-and-drop interface which makes further customizing your theme flexible and easy

Another theme I’m crazy about right now is from Bluchick- it’s the Olivie Theme.

And take a serious look at Pretty Darn Cute Design Premade, high quality and pretty WordPress themes that run on the Genesis Framework. Excellent setup tutorials, support, and community to help you every step of the way. “It’s time to make your website fun again!”

No risk: an added benefit

Both Genesis and Elegant Themes have money back guarantees. So, if you decide to go with a paid-for DIY theme, you can give one or both of them a whirl at no risk. If you’re anything like me you’ll gladly keep them both and just go crazy switching your design around. I know- you’re supposed to concentrate on content but with all those design elements just laying around how can one help themselves?!

Genesis quick links

There are many resources available to Genesis users. I found this list put together to help you find them easily.

  • Genesis Child Themes – If you have some coding background and/or will work with a designer, these are all the child themes available. A good designer should be able to customize any of them for you. If you want to work with a StudioPress-recommended developer, find a list here: Genesis Developers.
  • Showcase – A list of sites that use the Genesis Framework. This shows how customizable Genesis is.
  • StudioPress Pro Plus All-Theme Package – If you are a designer or think you would like to become a designer, or if you think you might be using several different Genesis child themes in the future, consider buying the Pro Plus All-Theme Package. I also wrote a little post about when you should (and shouldn’t) buy the whole package.
  • Genesis-Specific Plugins – There are plugins created specifically by StudioPress for Genesis. I use Genesis Simple Edits. (Here are all of my Favorite Plugins.)
  • Refund Policy – Did you buy Genesis and it didn’t work for you? You can get your money back within 30 days.
  • Support Forum – Ask just about any question you can think of in the forum. The moderators are super helpful (requires login).
  • Genesis Tutorials – This is a large list of general Genesis tutorials. There are also tutorials by Community Members (requires login) written by Genesis users.
  • Responsive Design Tool – A great way to check to see how your site looks on various mobile devices.
  • StudioPress Blog – Subscribe to the blog to keep up with updates, new theme releases and more.
  • Become a StudioPress affiliate. Every time you refer someone to Genesis, use your affiliate link. Read more about affiliate marketing and my top tips for affiliate marketing.

What are the best free WordPress themes?

When I first started blogging I didn’t have any sort of budget that I could spend on blogging so I used free WordPress themes for many years.

If you have similar budget constraints, or if you are not sure if you’ll stick with blogging long enough to justify the purchase of a theme, these are my recommendations for free themes:

1. WordPress default themes – These come prepackaged with your WordPress installation. Each year a new one is released and is named accordingly (i.e. Twenty Seventeen came out in 2017, Twenty Sixteen in 2016, etc.). They are coded by so they are typically safe bets.

If you can, choose the most recent theme available as it is typically written with the most up-to-date standards, but regardless of the one you choose (you might prefer a previous year’s look more), make sure you always keep it updated. Notifications to update your theme will appear in your WordPress Dashboard when available.

Note that these WordPress themes do not come with child themes. As I’ve said, I always recommend using a child theme if you are going to make significant changes to your design. The good news is, you can create your own child theme if you’d like. Doing so is pretty scary for some people because it requires coding, but it’s actually not that hard to do. Here’s a tutorial I would recommend.

2. GeneratePress – This theme has excellent reviews in the WordPress Theme Directory which is always a good sign. And as of this writing, it is updated regularly—another great sign. What’s nice about this theme is that it also has child themes available.

What’s Next?

I hope that you have some great ideas about choosing a theme. Most things in blogging can be changed. If you start with one theme and want to change it later, it’s certainly possible.

Next, I’ll be posting my tutorial which explains how to install a WordPress theme. Be sure to bookmark my site so you can get that post the second it is posted.

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Kelli M. Riebesehl

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Some of the links in this post are our referral links (to products we not only believe in but also very happily use ourselves), meaning, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you make a purchase. The commission we earn helps us to keep our blogs up and running smoothly. We thank you! O:)

Kelli M. Riebesehl | Blog Strategist