Does it matter what theme I choose?

Does it Matter What Theme I Choose?

That’s a good question!  Here are some responses from experienced bloggers.  The Blog Tyrant writes: “Three Problems that Make Me Leave Your Blog in Three Seconds…Problem 2: A butchered theme.”   Jennifer Slegg tells us: “I cringe when I see a blog using the ‘out of the box’… template.” And John Saddington advises: “… the design includes not only the outward appearance but also the internal mechanisms and the quality of code – your content depends on it! Make sure that you have the best theme for your needs that you can possibly get…”

Hmmm… “Butchered … cringe … your content depends on it…”  Those are pretty strong words.  Yes, you’ll have to agree, it does matter – a lot – what theme you choose.

What is a theme, anyway?

Let’s start by defining what a blog theme (aka template) is. According to the About.com Blogging Glossary, a blog theme is:

A template designed specifically for use to enhance the visual appearance and usability of a blog. Many blogging software providers offer a selection of themes for bloggers to choose from for their blogs. Alternatively, predesigned blog themes can be found through a variety of websites, and many web designers create custom themes for blogs.

If you have computer programming skills, you can of course design your own blog theme.  But many of us do not have those skills, so we depend on themes developed by skilled programmers. Many blogging platforms, like WordPress or Blogger, have a wide variety of themes available for free, as well as “premium” themes available for a reasonable price.  Alternatively, you can hire a website designer to create a totally unique, custom theme for you.  This of course will cost more, but if you have really big plans, especially business plans, for your blog, it is something to consider.

Why is it important to choose my theme carefully?

There are a number of reasons for being careful about choosing the best theme for your particular blog.  These include:

  • If your blog looks professional right from the start, you’ll appear to have “authority.”  People who come to your site and take a quick look around are more likely to think you have expertise in both your content area/niche, and are an experienced blogger. They will be more likely to sign up for your RSS feed and/or your email newsletter, and to bookmark your site and visit it often.
  • Your theme design is an important part of your “brand.”  If you already have a logo, a business presence in the “real world,” or are already known for your books, or other aspects of your life, you will want a theme that reflects your brand, and into which your logo, colours, and other brand-related items will fit well.
  • Your theme design can make or break the readability and usability of your blog.  If readers find it hard to read your blog because of color, font size, blinkies, a complicated or messy layout, or other problems, they will quickly move on to other sites, even though your content may be very useful and well-written.
  • Unless you have strong programming and design skills, you will need a theme that already has as much as possible the design you have in mind.  Some platforms, especially WordPress, give you access to a great many “plugins,” “widgets” and so forth that you can use to customize your theme.  You can also learn a bit about coding and try to create some of your own customizations.  But the more of these customizing methods that you use, the slower your blog can often run, and if you don’t have strong skills you can make your blog look messy as well.  So start with the best theme you can find, even if it costs you a little (as premium themes do), and then either hire someone experienced to customize the theme, or try one or two small changes at a time, experimenting to see how they work out for you and your readers.
  • Different blog users have different expectations.  Your theme needs to be appealing to your target audience – and to relate to your niche.  You’ll often find “teenage” blogs that use black backgrounds and unusual font styles and colours – and many teenagers will be attracted to that, especially if it fits in with a niche like “zombies.”  On the other hand, if you are reaching out to a seniors audience whose eyesight is no longer so great, and who are accustomed to a more “professional” look that they would expect on a blog about medical issues, you’d likely want to go with a white background, and an easily read sans-serif type font in a fairly large size.
  • Different purposes of blogs require different theme styles as well.  There are blog themes that are created especially for certain purposes.  Examples are photography blogs, magazine blogs, seasonal blogs, news blogs and so on. Just as books and magazines come in different shapes, sizes, paper types, hard or soft cover, different fonts, various illustration styles, and so forth, according to their topics and audience, so do blogs need to have appropriate theme styles.
  • Blog themes aren’t just about what you see on the surface.  Go to any blog or website, right click your mouse on the page, and click on “view source.”  What’s THAT? you ask incredulously. Well, that is the programming code that makes the blog look as it does – and behave as it does.  As one of the quotations at the beginning of this post says, “the design includes … also the internal mechanisms and the quality of code – your content depends on it!”  If you choose a poorly coded theme, you can run into more trouble than you would believe possible – your blog can run slowly, your blog’s design doesn’t look like the advertised example, you end up with poor SEO, and many other problems you may not even realize are there, but are affecting your blog – and users – negatively.  When you choose a theme, therefore, check out user reviews, and also how many people are using it.  You might think that a theme that has only a half dozen users would be unique – but it might have something to do with the coding.
  • There are lots of sources for blog themes.  The themes offered on major platforms like WordPress or Blogger usually get accepted only after being carefully tested – and even then, some are better than others.  The really popular ones not only look good, but they have good coding – and they usually offer you lots and lots of options so that you can truly customize them and make them uniquely yours.  You can also find privately designed themes for sale on the internet, and many programmers offering their services, but be sure to check them out carefully!  Look for reviews from other sources than what they say about themselves.

What are some of the choices different themes offer?

We’ve already mentioned that there is a choice of blog types – news, photography, journal, and so on.  Here are some other things to look for.  You’ll find a variety of these on every theme, but the actual choices will vary from theme to theme.  And always remember to keep your niche, your blog purpose, and your target audience in mind – as well as your brand, business, and so on.

  • very minimalist themes that provide loads of opportunity for bloggers to add lots of their own html, CSS, and other coding to make their blog very unique
  • number of columns, variety of column layouts, with placement of columns on left, right, or bottom; fixed-width or flexible-width
  • support for adsense and/or other monetizing systems
  • able to use a wide variety of widgets and plug-ins
  • choices on how comments will be handled
  • compatibility with certain platforms, coding languages, etc
  • compatibility with ipads and other mobile devices, as well as with various social networks
  • ability to support photographs, videos, slide shows, podcasts, and other media
  • choices of fonts, colour schemes, custom link colors
  • opportunity for custom headers, backgrounds
  • a choice of pre-defined templates within the overall theme
  • opportunity for featured posts
  • pages in addition to posts (including ability to use your site as a combination blog and website)
  • custom menu options
  • variety of design customization within your posts: the standards like italics and bold, font sizes, and such, along with varieties of heading styles, lists, links, quotation styles, indenting, and much more.

Yes, that’s just a sample of the many different options available in blog themes!  In an upcoming post in this series, we’ll talk more about how to use some of the different design options to make your blog as attractive and usable as possible.

And be sure to check out the links at the beginning of this post for more useful information on how to make your blog content the best it can be!

Question of the Day: What design features do you want that will make your blog unique, attractive and usable for your niche, audience, purpose, and brand?  Sit down right now and make a list.  Be as specific as possible.

Tip of the Day:  Get ideas by looking at a lot of different blogs, especially those in your niche, and those that fit your purpose.  When you find ones that you think are similar to what you are looking for, check them to see if you can find out the theme they have used (it is often listed at the bottom of the page, but if not, check elsewhere).  Then check out the theme itself at its source, and see what options and features it offers.

Put it into Action:  Many platforms like WordPress will offer a wide variety of themes.  You can experiment with different themes before you settle on one and publish your blog.  If after a while you aren’t totally happy with it, you can try a different theme.  Some platforms don’t offer very many choices, other offer hundreds.  If you really want to stay fairly simple with your blog, you can use a platform like Blogger, but if you have big plans, you’re better to try a platform with more choices.  Also, if you plan to start out with a free blog platform, you’re best to choose one that you can upgrade later on, rather than trying to switch to a different platform.  So get busy – choose your platform and then try out some themes!

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