So…you're ready to take your blog to the next level. Or maybe it's just time for a change. A really easy way to change the look, feel & functionality of your blog is with a new theme. If you're on WordPress.com or Blogger, I'm assuming it is VERY easy to change your theme or color scheme, but even on WordPress.org (self-hosted) it's not as hard as you might think. Since my only experience is on self-hosted WordPress, I'm going to focus on that platform for this article.
First, when you're ready for a change, decide what TYPE of theme you want. I see a lot of bloggers are moving towards magazine themes (IFB's theme is a magazine-type theme), which are essentially “teasers” for every post and the reader must click-through to read more. This type of theme makes for very clean, image-rich sites, but it also puts another step between your readers and your content in that they must click through to read the full article; your image and first few sentences must be VERY enticing to get them to continue! Another pro for magazine themes is that they allow you to put a lot of content (at least partial content) on the home page.
Think about how YOU like to read your favorite blogs and design your own from that point of reference
If you want to scroll down and be able to see all the recent posts without having to click through, then go with a blog layout, but if you prefer to pick and choose what you read by seeing teasers/images first, choose magazine. Done.
Next, pick your theme! There are literally THOUSANDS of themes out there (Theme Forest is a good place to browse through some) so be prepared to spend time looking. You've already got your choices narrowed down to magazine vs. blog, but another good way to choose a theme is to determine what themes your favorite blogs use. It used to be that a lot of fashion blogs were using Thesis (which is what I use and can't really recommend, the newest version anyway), and now it's Genesis. And of course, a lot of the “big” ones are custom designed, so if you want to go that route, look at their footer to see who the designer is.
I'm also going to go ahead and say it: You get what you pay for. If you download a free theme, you're less likely to get good (fast, effective) support if you have questions. Expect to pay $50 to $100 for a good theme, which in the scheme of things isn't a lot, especially if you'll use it for years.
Some things to look for when choosing your new theme:
Look through the Showcase section of the theme's website to see how many different things bloggers have done with the theme. Most themes are easily customizable nowadays (it's best to use a custom.css file that overwrites the theme's css file instead of editing it directly), and it's super-easy to learn basic css either by taking a class or going through tutorials on W3 School. Also, Firebug for Firefox is a great tool to use to inspect css elements on sites you like, as is the ‘inspect element' when you right click on Chrome.
Responsive themes show just as beautifully on mobile devices and tablets as they do on the computer. This is SO important now with your readers accessing your blog wherever they are. In my opinion having a responsive theme is a must-have now for any blogger. (check your analytics; you may be surprised how many visitors are reading your blog on their mobile device)
Vibrant Support Forums
This is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing I do every time I'm theme shopping and it's always served me well. You want to notice how active the forums are, when the last post was made, how many representatives from the theme are on there helping answer questions, etc. I've used the support forums often while customizing my themes and they've turned out to me unmeasurably helpful. Also pay attention to any complaints and see how they get resolved.
Access to Developers
If you've done all you can with the theme, but still want some extra customization, make sure the theme has developers and/or designers they can recommend to work with you.
Always demo a theme before paying for it, and make sure you know what you're getting with your purchase, and you'll be well on your way to upgrading your blog!
[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]