What to Look for When Choosing a New Blog Theme


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:

It's Customizable

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.

It's Responsive

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]

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17 Responses

  1. Roxanne D'souza

    What I did was googled like mad and checked out a million sample pages until I found a free one that I liked and looked good. I’m still on blogger.
    I had a new header at that time, and my main criteria as that whatever template design I chose, it had to show my new header properly. I put my blog to private for more than 4-5 hours and I downloaded template after template that I kept testing, until I finally narrowed down my search. Then with the remaining 3 I asked opinions from my family and friends, and hence that’s how I landed up with what I have currently.

  2. Filipa

    I edit my own theme on blogger and I’ve also received a few compliments from my readers about how beautiful and clean my design is (makes me really proud). HTML and CSS aren’t that difficult and you need a little practice and then you’ll be able to achieve anything you want. I also like to design themes, so if anyone wants a theme designed by me, feel free to contact me 🙂 My rates aren’t high!

    Filipa from http://www.ohmyfilipa.blogspot.com

  3. Jeanine Marie

    When I started out on Blogger, I went to Etsy and bought a great template that the seller was willing to customize for me. When I moved to self-hosted WordPress I went through so many templates until I finally found the one I wanted. It worked fine for awhile, then I ended up buying the paid version and doing the customization work myself. I am still tweaking it, but overall I am very pleased with the results.

    Jeanine Marie

  4. way2dress

    For me free themes work just fine. Overall, it is about the content and not about how fancy your theme looks. If your blog is interesting, you have good photographs or articles, readers will come to you anyway!

    • Kayte

      I mostly agree! However it is imperative to have a cohesive, clean and organized site. Even if you have stellar content, if the reader can’t find it or it looks messy, they won’t stay for more than 5 seconds.

  5. Jen

    Good timing on the post. I just went over to a new theme since I felt like the one I had just wasn’t enough. And I noticed a few other people had it and I always like having a theme that other people don’t have.

  6. johngates

    sponsive 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)

    for more information visit my profile

  7. Anastasia

    I recently redesigned mu blog for which I found a web designer and he made me a brand new customised design. I am very pleased with the results, i got dozens of compliments. But. I just want to warn girls, who are thinking to do the same – don’t repeat my mistake! It will take days, MONTHS, you will spent lots of time and money. I don’t even know why I was so against ready blog themes before! There are some really good ones and they are SO cheap ( in comparison with a brand new design). Alas, I realized it only when we launch online store and I was searching a template for a shop. The strong point is that their are made by the prof designers anyway, so unless you want something too complicated and forward-thinking, I highly recommend to search for a template.