May 10 2007
Choosing a blog theme is bloody hard work if you are going to do it right. Recently I said “Not all themes are equal“. I thought I had chosen a solid theme, it turns out I was wrong.
After a couple of days, this is how Google saw my blog.
Note that in the Google bot’s opinion, my categories were more important than anything else. I investigated other sites that were using the same theme, and the results were pretty similar.
Now I could have a blog consultant look at optimising my theme, but that would take hours and a few hundred dollars. I’m just not prepared to spend that kind of money on a blog which doesn’t make any money!
So I was back to the drawing board. Here are my top 5 steps to chosing a blog theme.
Step 1. Researching
Firstly you need to understand the basics of what makes a good blog template. I read, amongst others, the following articles.
Is Your Blog Template Holding You Back? on Problogger by Wendy Piersall from eMoms at Home
Is Your Blog Theme Keeping Readers Away, Five Free, Beautiful WordPress Themes to Help your SEO and its follow up Five More Fabulous and Free WordPress Themes by Sarah Lewis from Blogging Expertise.
Sarah had presented some great themes, but none of them really grabbed me. What it did do was give me a better idea of what I should be looking for.
Step 2. Defining your Requirements
So, from my research I determined what I wanted from a theme (and the first few are straight from Sarah’s post):
- Has a good code structure
- Emphasises post title
- Emphasises blog name
- Has unique page titles
- Validates, or nearly validates in terms of technical specifications via the Markup Validator
- Aesthetic wish list (
32 columns, photo image, not too wide a border up top, customisable, widget ready, not too narrow on a page…)
- Not too many bugs, as I wouldn’t know how to fix these.
Step 3. Investigating
This is probably the most time consuming. It requires visiting theme after theme (WordPress Theme Viewer is a great place to start), reading comments, seeing how much support is being offered by the developers of the theme and visiting the developers website as often they have released other themes.
Look for fast responses from developers when bloggers experience difficulty or bugs with the theme. I appreciate that the many wonderful themes have been generously provided free of charge, but if you’re not very experienced at fixing glitches you are going to need a developer or community forum to provide a minimum level of support.
Step 4. Testing / Validating
When you find a theme that you think might suit your criteria, look for where it’s actively being used. Methods I used was to look at trackbacks to a theme and also comments and follow links to these blogs. If the blog isn’t using the theme, then there’s a chance that the owner may have experienced problems. Another method is to Google the theme name (or how the author likes to be credited on the template).
Once you’ve found the theme in action check how the Google sees the posts in the blog. Do this by using “site:example.com” (or site:www.example.com) in the Google search box. You would ideally be looking for the post title and the first few words of a post. This will vary (and may be prefixed by the date or author), but what you DON’T want to see is the same “blurb” under every result.
Assuming you like what you see, go to the Markup Validator and test the URL of the blog that is using the theme you are considering. Being given the green light would be extremely rare, but you are looking for (according to Sarah) probably less than 15 errors. In general the more errors, the sloppier the coding but of course, this could be because of customisation by the blog owner, so you need to look at the type of errors and the magnitude. You can also validate your CSS via the CSS Validator.
This is a topic probably best left to an expert, but if you have a vague idea about CSS you can get a feel for the severity of the errors.
Step 5: Installation, Customisation and Follow-up
So assuming you’ve found a theme that you are comfortable with the next step is to install it (most themes come with installation instructions) and select it. As soon as you’ve done this do a quick Markup Validation on your URL and see how it looks. This is important because it give you a benchmark BEFORE you go making any changes to it. If you find any errors, see if you can highlight where they are.
Throughout your customisation keep checking to see if any new errors are showing up. I know I had a few appear with things in my sidebar, but I managed to weed them out.
Finally, check with Google in a day or so to how your posts and pages are being indexed, and cross your fingers that you don’t need to start the process again (this is where I’m at).