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Let’s Talk About Themes, Shall We?

Starting up a blog is kind of like buying a house: first, you have to decide what neighborhood you want…

Starting up a blog is kind of like buying a house: first, you have to decide what neighborhood you want to live in. (Welcome to WordPress.com. You’ll receive your fruit basket shortly.) Then, you have to figure out what kind of home you’d like to have — that’s the theme you choose. Finally, you fill your new home with stuff; i.e., your content. Step number two can be a bit tricky, so that’s what we’re going to focus on today. Let’s pick a theme!

I'm not sure we have a theme that matches up with this one. (Photo courtesy of YardSale.)

I’m not sure we have a theme that matches up with this one. (Photo courtesy of YardSale.)

There are lots of options — 200+ — and you might not always have a particular vision as you’re getting started. Should you move into a minimalist loft, like Publish? If you’ve got a big art collection to showcase, maybe you need a gallery like Hatch or  Gridspace. You might like a place with some old-timey charm, like Vintage Kitchen, something with a bit of whimsy like Balloons, or something ornate like Matala.

Decisions, decisions! And within each of those broad categories, there are multiple options. Your loft could be dark and edgy like Vertigo or clean and bright like Watson. Maybe your gallery is going to share space with the written word, so you need something like React. It’s enough to make you want to move back into your parents’ basement.

So what are some guiding principles that’ll get you into the perfect place? Let’s stop torturing the real estate metaphor and get to some concrete tips. Here are the big three to consider when you’re choosing a theme:

Your style.

No matter how popular your blog becomes, no one is going to spend more time on it than you, so it behooves you to make it a place you think is comfortable, good-looking, and reflective of you. You might admire the bold typography of Blog Simple, but if you’re personally drawn to the softer look of Ever After, you’ll be happier with that in the long run.

Why? Let’s beat down another metaphor: I might admire the woman who can pull off a perfect pair of skinny jeans, but when it comes down to it, I’ll only ever be comfortable in baggy trousers. If I put on the skinny jeans, I’ll be self-conscious and will spend all night tugging at my clothes to get them just so. Eventually, I’ll give up and leave them in the closet (my closet can attest to this).

So it is with your theme. Pick something that doesn’t speak to you, and you’re looking at lots of tweaks to try and make it feel like “you.” Eventually, you may find yourself blogging less and less, and all because you won’t admit to yourself that what you really love is the moody color scheme and delicate scrollwork of Dusk to Dawn. Set yourself up for blogging success by picking a theme you’ll like looking at every day. (Or, if you’re like most of us, a dozen times a day. You know you do. There’s no shame here.)

Your content.

If you have an idea of your blog’s focus when you’re starting out, you can further narrow down the world of available themes. If you love photography and know you’ll be posting images with most posts, you’ll want to consider themes that will showcase them, like Simfo and Mixfolio. If you haven’t touched a camera since your Polaroid bit the dust but you love writing poetry, there are themes that make your text the star, like Runo Light and Manifest. There are also themes for specific purposes, like Soundcheck for your band’s website or Confit for your restaurant.

True story: if you search for Creative Commons photos of "confused house" on Flickr, you find a lot of sheep. (Photo courtesy of infomatique.)

True story: if you search for Creative Commons photos of “confused house” on Flickr, you find a lot of sheep. (Photo courtesy of infomatique.)

What if you’re not sure what your site will be, or you envision yourself posting a bit of this and a bit of that? First, welcome to the 99% of bloggers. Second, the Theme world is your oyster — there are plenty of themes well-suited for housing different types of posts. Chalk! Delicacy! Eight! Twenty Twelve!  Take a look, see what kinds of visuals you’re drawn to, and then consider our third pillar: your time and energy.

Your time and energy.

All our themes are designed to be easy to work with, but some can handle more customizing and futzing that others. Some, like the newly-released Cheer, are pretty much going to look how they look. Others, like Twenty Ten, will let you upload a customer header image and make other tweaks to the home page. Still others, like Minimum, have a variety of layout options for your home page and are highly configurable.

How much time and energy do you want to put into your theme, as opposed to the content you’d like to create? Be realistic about what you want to do. The last thing we want is for you to feel frustrated by your site — we want you to stick around and publish. And while we’re confident that we can help anyone work with any theme, we also don’t want you to spend your time on theme options if what you want to be doing is posting about your awesome DIY project. When you’re considering a theme, take a few minutes to take a look at its features and customization options, and let that be a factor in your decision.

Perhaps this is your style; we won't judge. Well, maybe a little. (Photo courtesy of McBeth.)

Perhaps this is your style; we won’t judge. Well, we might judge a little. (Photo courtesy of McBeth.)

There’s more to building a great site than just picking a theme, and you can always add on a custom design upgrade to make all the little details just so. Still, the theme will be the skeleton on which the rest of the site hangs, so make sure it’s one your can not just live with, but love. If you’re still trying to find The One, head to the Theme Showcase and take a look around (you can use the blue “Find a Theme” button to help you filter).

Bonus secret!

Maybe you want a seasonal holiday theme. Maybe you’re changing the focus of your site. Maybe you’re just indecisive. In any of those instances: you can always switch themes. It’s as easy as heading to the Appearance → Themes area of your dashboard, picking a new theme, and clicking “Activate.” This might not be something you want to do every week, but there’s no harm in trying something new or giving your site a fresh look.

Are you happy with your theme? What criteria did you use to make a decision?

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  1. I’m very happy with my theme. I am using Twenty Ten. I love it because I have been able to really tweak the design to suit my needs. It feels like my house when I go there and I hope others enjoy the look and feel as well. I tried to make it a fun place to visit. It still continues to be a work in progress. :)

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  2. I admit to frequently playing around with themes. I really admire bloggers who make a theme their own with individual colours and widget combinations. Content is the most important ingredient but choosing the right theme is a must! I use Origin for my main blog and Twenty Eleven for my simple, uncluttered poetry blog. But 2013 could be the year I dare to change! Thanks for an interesting topic.

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  3. It’s all creativity. You can take the same theme and customize it (without the upgrade!) to meet your needs/demands or suit your style. All you need is a friendly layout and a perfect background and header image. :)

    Just like mine. :D

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  4. You are so right! When I first started my blog a few months ago, I just threw a theme up without giving it much thought. It bugged me until I dedicated some time to finding one I really like, but one that also gave my blog the warm and homey feel I was looking to find. I won’t lie. I spent hours going through themes, until I finally settled on one. :-)

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  5. I like my theme as well! It has allowed me to customize the way I did my website. But this article has given me great inspiration to either use a theme more geared toward my photography or…to start a new blog for just the photography and link to it from my main blog. Hmmmm, good things to think about over this holiday season!

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  6. I’m just starting and have a lot to learn about themes. I just chose the one that appealed to me the most. I like others comments, like: “Creativity” and “Playing around with the themes to find one that fits.” I will take a day, soon, to spend on choosing just the right theme.

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    1. I use Pilcrow, too. I love how clean and legible everything is. But there’s still plenty of room to put a lot of content on the front page. Frizztext, your font really looks like an integral part of your blog style…cool how you customized it!
      Greetings from Maryland,
      Melanie

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  7. I have a photoblog, and I admit I’ve changed my theme several times in the past. I currently use Nishita (light) and I really like it. It’s clean and it allows me to showcase my photos at full width. So I think I am sticking with it for the long haul.

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  8. I tried several themes when I first started my blog and I settled on Twenty Eleven. I like that I can use my own photo for the header. I also like the simple, uncluttered look of this theme. It works for me and makes my blog feel like home.

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  9. I love my minimalist Oulipo theme. There is no clutter to distract from the essence of the blog: the content. And because it looks so basic, and so pretty, with black words on a white background, it helps keep me in line with my original intent of focusing on words instead of pictures to convey my stories. It makes me a better writer for that.

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  10. I’m 50% happy with my theme, but it seems like I’m finding more and more bloggers with the same one! And I’m not tech-savvy at all so I have no idea how to personalize my header or font or anything.
    This post was helpful because I’ve been doing something re-thinking about my blog and what I want it to symbolize/represent. I’m definitely sensing a blog change coming up in the coming months! :)

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  11. I have a book blog and I’m currently using Choco Demo. I wanted to change to give my blog a new look for 2013 but I couldn’t seem to find but 4 or 5 templates that matched. All the others didn’t always work. The words were sometimes too small, or to big or things were off center or worse would completely disappear because a widget or category doesn’t exist. So, I’ve given up on changing for the moment and have decided to focus on content. I’m excited for 2013. I hope to really step things up and hopefully increase subscriptions and views. Nice post!

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  12. The most interesting and challenging thing I did with my theme was to turn it into a more religious blog, when I first saw piano black at wordpress.org I felt in love with it, was a great surprise to see wordpress.com team making it free. but It was simply too techy and avant-garde and is hard to match it with old icons and symbols, but I turn him into a elegant and sophisticated philo-religious blog. There is a lot of customizations I can still do, but for now it’s simply the way I want it to be. ;)

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  13. My theme is 2012; I might change it sometime but I’m happy with it just now and it has been a good one to start with. My priority when choosing was easy readability – it’s amazing how often I am completely put off following a blog, or even reading a single blog post, which has tiny font size or is light text on a dark background. Headache inducing!
    I am not myself dyslexic, but having spent the last ten years teaching children, I know many children and other people find reading squashed typeface on coloured backgrounds, or light coloured typeface, incredibly difficult. Something for folk to consider, if they want to attract as many readers as possible.

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  14. My Theme is Something Fishy. It’s almost summer where I live and I loved the ltitle worm and the crab at the bottom. I like that it’s a light and funny theme, but it’s the third I’ve used since I started my blog almost a year ago. I do need change from time to time and I loved the way this theme displayed my posts (big picture and some text, everything is very tidy), so I’m sticking with it for a while.

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  15. I love Nishita. I illustrate every post, so I want a theme which will show off my pictures beside the text, and have a wide page for the text beside the pictures. I also wanted a striking and distinctive photo for my header. I would like the text a little larger, but use HTML and Pristina for words I want to emphasise, or my poetry.

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  16. When I started I used Liquorish and I really loved it. I
    started to post more pictures and also wanted to do other things in side bars. I tried lots of those available using the preview theme. It was really good because I could immediately see which I liked and how the new theme would effect my posts. I also asked in the forums what people thought of my blog. Two people said they didn’t like the purple :( Never mind – I love it although it is a lot lighter now than it was originally.
    After going through nearly all the themes I had a short list and chose my current theme Triton Lite from amongst them. It gives me all that I want in terms of displaying pictures, extra side and foot spaces and is really easy to use.
    The only thing I am slightly unhappy with is the font. If I decide to stick with this one I will probably upgrade to use a darker one with a different style to be easier to read.

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