May 10 2007

Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme

Published by Meg at 2:45 pm under blogging, wordpress

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.

Blogpond Google Results

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):

  1. Has a good code structure
  2. Emphasises post title
  3. Emphasises blog name
  4. Has unique page titles
  5. Validates, or nearly validates in terms of technical specifications via the Markup Validator
  6. Aesthetic wish list (3 2 columns, photo image, not too wide a border up top, customisable, widget ready, not too narrow on a page…)
  7. 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).

I’ve chosen the Paalam Theme by Sadish. So far so good :)

w3c validation

CSS Validation

This is a submission for the Problogger Group Writing Project, whereby Darren Rowse is giving away $1001 (USD) in prize money (kindly donated by Chitika)

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62 Responses to “Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme”

  1. Top 5 - Group Writing Project Day 3on 10 May 2007 at 7:23 pm

    […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  2. Group Writing Project - Day 3on 10 May 2007 at 7:37 pm

    […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  3. Some good posts I managed to read todayon 10 May 2007 at 9:34 pm

    […] 5 ways to keep your Wordpress Blog valid Top 5 steps for choosing a blog theme Top 5 reasons to start a blog Top 5 Gradients for blog design Five reasons to love Ubuntu Top 5 […]

  4. Top Five Group Writing Project: Day 3on 10 May 2007 at 10:04 pm

    […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  5. Donnaon 11 May 2007 at 12:40 am

    I have to admit that the whole theme issue is a bit over my head, but I do know that the new site looks great! Well done on orchestrating the move!

  6. Megon 11 May 2007 at 12:42 am

    Thanks Donna

  7. Mjuboyon 11 May 2007 at 1:36 am

    One more important thing is to make note of all the modifications you make to the theme files so that it will be easy to implement them when you change themes.

  8. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  9. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  10. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  11. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  12. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  13. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  14. Kathie Thomason 11 May 2007 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for this Meg - I spend hours looking at themes wanting to get the colours right or to find one that I can do some modifications to without major problems.

  15. Megon 11 May 2007 at 12:29 pm

    No worries Kathie - hope it helps :)

  16. Andy Beardon 11 May 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Meg you have no idea how many “top themes” by “highly rated theme designers” are a load of junk as far as structure is concerned.

    If you get stuck on something, just drop me an email. I am always happy to help regular readers and I can’t charge any fees because I am not a consultant ;)

  17. Megon 11 May 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Hi Andy

    I think I AM beginning to get an idea just how many….

    Many thanks for your kind offer :)

    I actually did start an email to you a few days ago, but then decided not to impose - so I do appreciate you saying that.

  18. Top 5 Group Writing Projecton 12 May 2007 at 2:43 am

    […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme […]

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  24. And the winner is… [FitForFreedom]on 12 May 2007 at 9:53 pm

    […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  25. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  26. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  27. Runningmonkeys » Blog Archiveon 13 May 2007 at 3:06 pm

    […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  28. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  29. Wordpress Tips » Adsense Theme Wordpresson 14 May 2007 at 12:57 am

    […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  30. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  31. Eric Ton 14 May 2007 at 2:35 am

    Is there a way to make the paalam theme fluid, or fix it at about 780 pixels wide? I know I’d have to do something about the banner graphic.

  32. Andy Beardon 14 May 2007 at 9:09 am

    you can do almost anything with any theme, it is just CSS, and the way columns and content display within a theme is in many ways the easiest part of the CSS to modify.

    As an example it is fairly easy to add a 3rd column to a 2 column theme, and I did on Blog.txt which I use, and on Cord’s theme on http://www.marketinghipster.com

    Most complicated is making changes in the way posts are displayed in various sections of your blog, which is them playing around with various PHP Wordpress loops.

    p.s. shopping for some diggs if anyone cares to help

  33. Megon 14 May 2007 at 9:32 am

    Andy

    Thanks for jumping in here! I wouldn’t have had a clue.

    p.s. have dugg http://andybeard.eu/2007/05/digg-friends.html

  34. Andy Beardon 14 May 2007 at 9:36 am

    Thanks Meg, I think it just got buried :(

  35. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  36. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  37. […] Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme by Meg […]

  38. […] Top 5 steps for picking a blog theme - another really interesting article […]

  39. Eric Ton 18 May 2007 at 2:34 am

    Wondering why you think two columns are better than three, and whether it matters to have the sidebar on the left or the right for problogging purposes. Thanks.

  40. Megon 18 May 2007 at 8:16 am

    Hi Eric

    I actually wanted 3 columns, but this theme came with 2. Andy (Beard) tells me that you can add an extra column, but I can live with 2 for the moment.

    If the template is well coded, I don’t think it matters if the sidebar is on the left, but it was a disaster on my last theme. But I’m no expert…

  41. Andy Beardon 19 May 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Eric I think a lot depends on what you define as your intended navigation route for your traffic funnel. I experiment with all kinds of layouts for blogs with different intended purposes.

  42. […] beurteilen. Manche Themes sind kontraproduktiv und setzen falsche Schwerpunkte für Suchmaschinen (vgl. blogpond) oder missachten die einfachsten Grundregeln der Usability (vgl. wikipedia) - das Blog findet, im […]

  43. Nishantheon 21 May 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Most of the templates are craps. Thats why guids like this are so important. Thanks dude
    -Nish

    ————————————————
    Freelance Flash/Flex Developer
    http://www.vebguru.com

  44. Megon 21 May 2007 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks Nish

  45. steveon 22 May 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Wonderful post! So much good information. Thanks also to Andy for jumping in with your words of wisdom too.

  46. Megon 22 May 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Hi Steve

    Many thanks :) Andy is a fountain of information, which he generously lets flow…

  47. Gregon 23 May 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Ooops - i think i have to work on my theme!

  48. Megon 23 May 2007 at 8:51 pm

    Ouch! Validation isn’t everything but your google search results aren’t good :(

    “Urbanchaos is a black and white widget-ready 3 column unique wordpress theme.”

    http://tinyurl.com/35dwnm

  49. […] that i am not an expert on themes which is why I am going to refer you to a post by Meg on Blogpond Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme where she breaks down finding a theme into 5 […]

  50. Julieon 04 Jun 2007 at 9:59 pm

    Thanks for the heads up about the theme. Mine seems to be alright in the seos, but I’ll do some more digging just to be sure. :)

  51. Andy Beardon 04 Jun 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Actually it isn’t that great, you have the whole left sidebar before the content among other things.

  52. Megon 04 Jun 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Not to mention how Google sees it in a site:julieannebonner.com search!

    (Hi Andy, how are you :) )

  53. Andy Beardon 04 Jun 2007 at 10:38 pm

    There are some funny bugs which I haven’t fully worked out with priorities and filtering in plugins which can cause all kinds of mischief with description plugins.

    When you do site:andybeard.eu you will get the same on my blog though it has unique descriptions on each page that is messed up.

    In real serps you get something else messed up - some content from my footers on each post.

    I have been too busy on other things to fix it fully, I suppose I might just get it done later today, but I would prefer to get other things done.

    My blog is “organic” in that it changes slowly as I test things. I haven’t wanted to change too much for the last 6 weeks due to dodgy things happening with supplemental results. I currently have over 1K pages reported as indexed with almost no supplemental results, and then occasionally I get to see some additional listings under supplemental. Until that settles down, let sleeping dogs lie.

    Hehe, how am I? Tired ;) - in that interview he really wanted to know about shills didn’t he?

  54. Megon 04 Jun 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Hi Andy,

    So you do (re Google)…. There are a lot of “to dos” aren’t there? I have to get rid of a lot of duplicate content by having the two blogs, but hey it’s only been a month ;)

    Tired - know THAT feeling! Re the interview - he sure did! All the good responses came to me later, of course. I was checking out the map of where the hits came from on the interview and my son thought it was way cool that I know someone in Poland :) Mind you that doesn’t explain the other 2 from there :)

  55. Andy Beardon 04 Jun 2007 at 11:42 pm

    But then I am not on a fixed IP ;) I might have noted I had to come back and listen to it later.

  56. Julieon 05 Jun 2007 at 12:16 am

    Okay, so I got a minute to really take a look at the search results and I see what you mean. I just glanced at the titles as I was headed out the door. Every result starts with recent posts and it has nothing to do with the title of the article. Argh!

    So, is there no fix for this? That’s really annoying. I really do not want to have to change my theme again. Thanks for the help. :)

  57. […] I am frustrated. Really frustrated. Meg who I met over at Blog Catalog, let me know that she downloaded the theme I am currently using, […]

  58. […] of today was spent tweaking some elements of my blog. As per my own advice, and some fresh discussion on that post), I thought it was time to follow-up how my blog was […]

  59. […] Additional reading. Meg writes about Top 5 Steps for Choosing a Blog Theme. […]

  60. Karen Bryanon 02 Aug 2007 at 1:09 am

    I must admit I found it a bit overwhelming to choose a theme when I started my new blog about business blogging recently. I stuck with Wordpress because my original blog for my travel business was Wordpress and I was happy with it and all the various plugins.

    I didn’t really know exactly what I was looking for but assumed I would know when I saw it. I choose the Sumansa theme because I though it looked right, it gave a modern business like impression.

  61. Megon 02 Aug 2007 at 11:02 am

    Hi Karen

    “..I though it looked right, it gave a modern business like impression” - it does look good :) I hope it all goes well for you.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  62. Lynn(new comment) on 29 Jun 2009 at 3:54 am

    Really useful post - I’ve spent more time looking for blog designs than I have filling the blogs with content. Step 2 is particularly useful - wouldn’t have thought to apply all those criteria to the design. Thanks.

    Lynn’s last blog post..Free Plugin To Add A Top Banner To Your Blog

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