How to Know What Premium WordPress Theme is Right for your Site

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This is the 11th in our Blogging for Expats tutorial series.

So you’ve got an idea for your blog, you’ve worked your way through the basics of setting it up, maybe you’ve even posted a few articles. But your site still doesn’t look as professional as you’d like.

What to do. . . what to do. . .

Back in Tutorial #5 we discussed themes and how they can dress up your blog and help attract readers.

If you remember, WordPress is what makes your blog work, and the theme provides the look and feel of your site, and determines how it behaves. I used a house-building analogy: WordPress is the foundation, and the theme determines the exterior look, door and window placement and other decorative and functional elements.

Depending on your subject, you’ll choose one type of theme over another. Just as different home designs meet different families’ needs (think about trying to get to an upstairs master bedroom if you’re in a wheelchair, for example), different blog themes meet different needs and provide different functionality.

When you understand them, you’ll choose the theme that works perfectly to bring your subject and your audience together.

Theme Frameworks and Child Themes

Several of the best premium theme designers now separate the theme framework from the design.

Why separate them? Because it can save you oodles of time (yes, that’s a mathematically accurate number, oodles) later on when software updates happen. When the framework and design are intertwined, sometimes you’re stuck re-customizing elements. When they’re separate, your design changes stay intact even when the framework is updated.

Of my preferred theme designers, Studio Press has one framework, Woo Themes offers a mixture of framework/child themes and intertwined themes. They do offer you the option to create your own child theme.

Elegant Themes are all intertwined, but they give you the option to create your own child themes.

So one way or another, these three designers all make it possible for you to set up your theme to run on a framework with a child theme.

Don’t confuse the theme framework with WordPress. WordPress is still what makes your blog or website run. It’s still the foundation. To go back to our house analogy, think of the theme framework as the building’s framing, and the child theme as the design elements like whether the exterior is brick or stucco.

Here are a few basic theme styles, with descriptions of what they do and what type of business they’re best suited for.

Magazine Theme

A magazine theme presents the reader with a lot of options right off the bat. A typical magazine theme will have one large, eye-catching graphic at the top, then a lot of small headlines and excerpts of just a couple of lines. The home page is usually very busy, with lots going on.

This is not the type of theme you want if your topic is minimalism, meditation or something along those lines. However, if your site deals with celebrities, it might be just the thing.

Here are a few examples:

Corporate Theme

A corporate or business theme takes advantage of the full CMS (content management system) power of WordPress. These are full featured websites, not “just blogs.”

Portfolio Theme

Portfolio themes are designed to show off photographs, art, jewelry and other items that require lots of high-quality images.

Multimedia Theme

Multimedia themes showcase a variety of media — not just images, but video and audio as well. Perfect for musicians, videographers, or personal bloggers who like to share in lots of different formats.

Tumbler Style Theme

A tumbler-style blog, or “tumblog,” is characterized by short posts using a variety of media. A tumbler theme is also a multimedia theme in the purest sense, but its noted for the brevity of the posts.

E-Commerce Theme

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Specialized Business Theme

Just as there are many business and corporate themes, there are quite a few themes that have been designed with a specific business in mind. Here are just a few.

Real Estate Listings
Car Dealer, Real Estate or Rental Agent Listings

Woo Themes Listings

Designers

Fabric Theme by StudioPress

Book Clubs

Book Club (This is a child theme only, works with Listings framework above.)

Events

Event by Elegant Themes

Restaurants with Menus
Reviews and Ratings

In Review by Elegant Themes

Crafts and Hobbies

Bee Crafty by StudioPress

Education

Education by StudioPress

Wikis

Woo Themes Wikeasi

City Guide

Woo themes City Guide

Freelance

Freelance Theme by StudioPress

Mobile and Fully Responsive Themes

I’ve grouped these together, because fully responsive themes are the newest upgrade to themes for mobile devices. You can purchase a theme that’s designed exclusively to display well on smart phones, or you can get a fully responsive theme which automatically adjusts to look gorgeous on any smart phone or tablet, laptop or desktop computer. These are incredibly versatile themes, and eventually all WordPress theme makers will be designing them.

Many themes already work well in mobile applications, without any fanfare. About 35% of visitors to this site view it on mobile devices, and it’s a mark of the StudioPress theme’s excellence that it works just fine without any fussing or special code.

Personal Blog or Journal

These themes work well for traditional blogs.

Super Flexible Themes

These require a bit more customization, but you can get exactly what you want.

  • Prose by StudioPress. (This site runs on the Prose child theme and the Genesis framework.)
  • Woo Themes Canvas. (Be sure to click on the Business, Magazine and Portfolio links in the demo to get an idea of this theme’s incredible versatility. To see an example of a soon-to-be-launched site I built using Canvas, click here.)
  • Chameleon by Elegant Themes

So there you have it — just a handful of the thousands of wonderful premium WordPress themes available. There are some good free themes, too — I recommend Atahualpa if you’re going that route.

Remember, though, you should never use a free theme you find from searching Google. Only use themes that are available through the WordPress interface. Here’s why.

Comments

  1. Hi Susanna,

    I’m a permanent ex-pat – my parents were Brits who moved to what was then Southern Rhodesia, where I grew up. It went through a couple of name changes before ending up as Zimbabwe, in 1980. Aged 25, I moved to the UK, lived there for 16 years, I’ve now been in Hong Kong for 17 years and plan to move to Malaysia in the next 12 – 15 months – I already have my Retirement program approval!

    Anyway, enough of that…

    You’ve set out an extensive list of themes and frameworks here, but you didn’t mention Thesis. Thesis doesn’t use child themes in the way that StudioPress themes do (actually you can create a child theme for any theme), but it does use a custom folder to contain your own stylesheet and your own functions files, thereby separating your design elements from the underlying code.

    Whenever Thesis is upgraded you simply replace the default /custom folder with a copy of your own /custom folder, containing all your customisations to design, layout and functions, and your work is preserved.

    I like Thesis a) because I know it and I’m too lazy to learn a different theme and b) because it has an extensive range of hooks that enable me to create conditional functions in almost any area of the site layout.

    The custom functions file also enables me to create functions that I would otherwise have to use plugins for, and that’s great because I’ve been able to literally halve the number of plugins I was using on my main site.

    The downside of Thesis is that to get the best out of it you do need to know some code. That said, the support forums are fantastic and if you get stuck you’ll get an answer often within an hour or two.

    Cheers,

    Martin.

    • Thanks for weighing in.

      You’re right, Thesis is an excellent product, and many very good professional bloggers use it. I didn’t include it in my recommendation for two reasons: first, I’ve not used it myself and I try to recommend what I’m personally familiar with. And second, since my tutorials are aimed at beginning bloggers, I wanted to give them good options for themes that don’t require knowledge of coding to work with.

      Cheers!

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