This is the part of a multi-part series about using WordPress for birding blogs. Click here to start at the beginning.
Think of themes as the clothes that your site wears. The basic content of the site is the same, but the way it’s displayed is different. The theme tells you what colors, fonts, and the layout of the site. Themes are one of the biggest differences between WordPress.com and .org.
Themes on WordPress.COM
You are restricted only to the themes that are available on their site. Some of them are free and some of them cost money. If you have the customization upgrade, you will have the ability to change out the colors and fonts in the theme that you choose. If you know enough code, you can even add some CSS to your theme. The interface to change all colors, fonts, and header of your site are pretty easy on .COM and it doesn’t require any knowledge of coding.
Themes on WordPress.ORG
Now, things are .ORG are much more interesting. You are able to put any theme in the entire world onto your site. You can even code your own theme if you feel so inclined.
As is always the problem with choice, it can be very overwhelming. There are hundreds of thousands of themes on the internet for WordPress… so how do you choose?
It’s important to get a theme from a reputable company because many themes out there are full of spyware.
Free .ORG Themes
If you have to have a free themes, you should check out the free themes on WordPress.org. These themes have been vetted by volunteers to ensure that there is vicious code. If you have a little money to spend, I highly recommend that you get a paid theme because they are normally better coded and will make your content really shine.
Paid .ORG Themes (in no particular order):
It may seem weird to pay for a theme when there are so many free themes available, but you do get what you pay for. Most paid themes have advanced functionality and are updated regularly to meet modern coding standards. The internet is constantly changing and it’s normally just not worth the effort for theme creators to spend time keeping up free themes… but they will keep up themes that they get paid for. Paid themes normally come in two varieties: One time payment or annual renewal fee. More and more designers are leaning toward yearly fees because it makes them more money and therefore they can devote more time to not only keeping their theme updated but to adding additional features to that theme.
The number one requirement for all themes is that it is responsive.
Responsive means that the theme changes so it can be viewed optimally on mobile, tablet, and desktop devices. As of the writing of this post, more than 60% of all websites are viewed on a non-desktop device. That means that more people are viewing your site on their phone or tablet than on a desktop. This trend will continue and even more sites will be viewed only on a hand-held device.
Kitchen Sink Themes
Many themes appear to offer everything under the moon. I would recommend that you try to avoid themes that are all things to all people. This extra functionality means that there is more code in the theme and that causes code bloat. Bloating will cause your site to run slower while browsers read through all the extra code… which will cause your visitors to leave. So try to choose a theme that offers just what you need and nothing more so you can have a lean, mean website!
Widgets are small bits of code that you can insert in your site to add functionality beyond what your theme can do. Most themes offer areas to add widgets, normally in sidebars and footers. Widgets are incredibly useful and there are hundreds out there to choose from (fewer if you are on .COM). If you’re tech-savvy enough, you can even code in sections for widgets into your WordPress theme.
Popular widgets include tag clouds, archive lists, category lists, email signups, Facebook likes, extra menus, galleries, pulling content from social media outlets like Flickr, Twitter, or Pinterest, top posts/comments, and contact forms. The nice thing is that WordPress will create all the content for you so you can add categories or tags to your posts without having to also go in and add them directly to your widgets.
I encourage you to use widgets, because they keep people on your site. It’s helpful to see how your site is organized and your visitors can see what other great content you have without having to search for it themselves. I would recommend limiting your sidebar and footer to five each and not all the same five. Definitely make use of the Search widget and display it at the top of your sidebar.
I hope that this has been a helpful overview of what is possible with WordPress. Please look out next week for the next part in my WordPress series.