Turn Your Blog Into a Reader Magnet

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One way to support your expat, overseas lifestyle is by creating a blog-based business. To help with that, I’ve created a tutorial series on the basics of starting and running a WordPress blog. The series is called Blogging For Expats, and this is the 5th installment in the series. Click the links below to review the first four:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

WordPress Themes

The theme is what makes your WordPress site look and behave the way it does.

Here’s an easy way to think about it: WordPress is like your house’s foundation and framing. If your basic structure is a 1,000 square foot rectangle, the finished house will also be a rectangle, not an oval or an octahedron.

Once you’ve got that rectangle, though, you decide whether you want the outside to be of brick, stone, wood, glass or some other material, where you want the doors and windows to be, and so on. That’s the theme.

Themes provide more than a pretty face for your blog, though, they also impact the way it works. Just as door and window placement in a building will affect its heating and cooling, and just as your house will stay warmer or cooler with triple-glazed instead of single-glazed windows, a theme built on clean, comprehensive code will work more efficiently.

This matters because it directly impacts your reader’s experience.

Think about how you feel when you go to a website and it takes forever to load, or when pictures or other objects don’t show up where and when they should. Do you want to do that to your readers?

A solid, attractive theme will attract readers and help you get more message out to more people.

There are thousands and thousands of WordPress themes available. Some are free, some are not. There are some excellent free themes and some stinko premium (paid-for) themes.

When you’re just starting, it’s tempting to choose a free theme. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you’re aware that at some point if you’re serious about your blog, you’ll need to get something more professional.

If you do choose a free theme, be careful where you get it from. Don’t ever choose freebies that you find from searching Google or another search engine, stick with the ones you get directly from WordPress. Here’s why.

Before You Choose a Theme

So before you choose a theme, you need to give some serious thought to what you want readers to do once they land on your home page.

Here are some questions you should answer before you begin theme-shopping.

  • What’s the Subject of Your Blog?
    If you’re a photojournalist and you want to showcase your work, you need a very different theme from the one I’m using here. If your blog is about sewing, fishing, health or pets, your appropriate theme choices will be very different.
  • What kinds of media will you add to the blog?
    If you’re planning on providing audio, video or large graphics, you’ll need to choose a theme that can accommodate them.
  • Do you want to interact with your readers?
  • Will you be displaying advertising on your blog?

Study blogs that you find visually appealing. Analyze what you like/don’t like about them. Some things to consider:

  • Are you looking for a specific color scheme? If you want red and black, don’t bother looking at themes in yellow, brown and orange.
  • How many columns do you want?
  • Should your design be simple and uncluttered, or popping with color and graphical elements? If your topic is simplifying your life, it doesn’t make sense to have a site with screaming psychedelic colors and lots of busy-ness. How effective would a site like Zen Habits be if it looked like Entertainment Tonight? Your theme should support and enhance your message, not distract from it.

Recommended Themes

Free Theme

The best free theme available, in my opinion is Atahualpa. It’s extremely versatile, allowing you to use up to four columns. Changing colors is easy, they offer tons of one-click options, and they keep updating and improving it.

This site ran on the Atahualpa theme for its first year.

Premium Themes

Elegant Themes offers an annual membership that gives you unlimited access to all of their themes — and they keep adding more. Their latest is a mouthwatering concoction called “My Cuisine,” designed for restaurants.

As of today, they offer 61 different themes. Some are created for special markets, like the restaurant theme, an e-commerce theme and a real estate theme. They offer a good selection of corporate, design, gallery, magazine and tumblr-style themes as well.

Your membership fee gives you unlimited support for a year and use of any or all themes. You’re not compelled to renew, but you’ll lose access to support if you don’t. And their support is good — quick and helpful.

Price is an extraordinarily reasonable $39.

WooThemes has several pricing plans and a large selection of themes (some of them free!).

Their themes fall into the following categories:

  • Magazine
  • Business
  • Portfolio
  • Personal
  • Multimedia
  • Enterprise
  • Tumblog

They offer some specialized themes for the restaurant and real estate business as well as a travel theme, with about 90 themes on offer at this time.

Twelve themes are free. You can buy a theme for $70, and they’ll throw in two more. If you’re going to be building lots of blogs, you can join their “club” for $125 and $15/month to have unlimited use of all their themes, or for slightly more you can have the same access plus access to all their original Photoshop files.

StudioPress Themes for WordPress themes separate the WordPress functionality from the design. The basic framework is called Genesis — that’s the part that makes WordPress run. On top of that you add a “child theme” to give your blog the appearance you want. This site is currently running on the Genesis framework with the StudioPress Prose Child Theme.

Once you purchase the Genesis framework you can use it on as many sites as you want. Each child theme also has unliminited usage. If you’ll be building multiple WordPress sites, you can purchase one license for the Genesis Framework, then separate child themes for a different look and feel. As of this writing they offer 36 child themes.

The basic Genesis Framework is $59.95. Child themes vary in price from $24.95 to $44.95, or you can buy all the child themes for $249.95.

Any of the choices outlined above will give you an attractive WordPress blog that functions well.

If you’d like to pick my brain about a theme for your blog, you can set up a brief consultation.

Do you have a favorite WordPress theme? Let us know what it is and why you like it!

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