WordPress themes not only add design interest to your blog, they can often add functionality too. For example, the Gazette is a WordPress blog, but with a magazine-style theme making it look less “bloggy” and more like a web site. Yet, it still maintains all the benefits of a blog. Stop by Moultrie Creek Books and you’ll see a WordPress blog used as a storefront to show off the books on sale there. Now travel on over to Moultrie Journal and you’ll see a more traditional blog but with a very cool photo slider front and center to catch your interest. All of this is done with themes.
The Gazette runs on the Magazine Basic theme from Themes by bavotasan. He offers both free and premium themes at reasonable prices. Both the bookstore and the Journal use themes from Elegant Themes. This designer uses a subscription model for his themes. You subscribe for $39/year and can use any of his themes. Elegant Themes include several styles of photo sliders, an extensive shortcode library and a number of different page templates that will turn your WordPress blog into a quite impressive site. Looking for feminine themes? Take a look at bluchic. If you don’t want to get too carried away, you might take a look at simplethemes. These themes don’t lack style, but they don’t require the work needed to make your posts look good within the theme. [More on that in a minute.]
Sample settings panel for a theme from Elegant Themes.
Many of these premium themes come with their own settings panel where you can choose colors, fonts, layouts and more without needing to know much about web design. The sample you see here is from Moultrie Creek Books. If you want a custom heading, you will still need to create your own graphic file, but your theme will often provide details on size and file type to use as well as provide the upload facility to get the file loaded in the correct place within your blog.
One feature to look for in a premium theme is shortcodes. While even the most basic WordPress site includes shortcodes for embedding media into a blog post, other themes provide shortcodes to create buttons, boxes, magazine-style text callouts, text columns, tabbed text and more. In the shortcodes same shown here you see an example from Moultrie Creek Books where I use two shortcodes – a box and a text column – to generate the book details for each book listed. When a theme doesn’t include shortcodes, you can install the WordPress Shortcodes plugin to get that functionality.
Another very useful feature found in newer themes is that it’s mobile friendly. The term used is “responsive” If your blog uses a responsive theme, your content will automatically adjust to whatever device your visitor is using to view your site. With so many of us now using tablets and phones to access blogs and web sites, this is feature will be most appreciated by your readers.
WordPress.com users aren’t left out either. They have a huge selection of free and premium themes to choose from. Thanks to upgrades to the WordPress platform, these themes now allow a lot more customization than earlier themes did, giving you lots of flexibility to modify your design. Here you see one of the free themes listed in the theme catalog. Click on the Details link to get a description of the features included in the theme. This one supports sticky posts and featured images and lets you customize both the header and background.
Use the Live Preview button to get an idea of how the theme will look with your content and experiment with the options available for that theme to see how your customizations will work. With Live Preview, you can do this without impacting your current theme until you have everything just the way you like it. I use the Under the Influence theme for my fictitious Moultrie Creek Online Historical Society at WordPress.com. It gives me lots of flexibility without costing money. It’s also available for self-hosted sites at WordPress.org.
While a premium theme with all these new features will make your blog look great, there’s often some level of extra effort on your part too. For example, to get the magazine look here at the Gazette, I need to create an excerpt for every post I publish. And, to make them look their best, I should include a featured image too. If you go look at the front page today, you’ll see this post is currently the one of only a few posts with a graphic. In the bookstore, I use the book cover image as the excerpt for each book post in the store so you can browse the “shelves” like you would in a brick and mortar bookstore. At the Journal, each of the photos in the slider are posts, but there is a specific way they must be set up to generate the image and caption just right. All of this takes time and effort, but the result is worth it.
WordPress gives you a lot of design flexibility through its theme component. There is a huge community of theme designers offering everything from minimal to extravagant options. You not only have the opportunity to have a design that’s completely yours, you also have the ability to change it whenever you’re so inclined. All it takes is that first step.