Planning your content first can help you choose the right theme.
Note: A theme sets the look and feel of your site. Although all themes in our Theme Showcase fundamentally work the same way, themes can have significant differences regarding specific layouts, options, and functionality.
One of the first things that most people do with a new site or when freshening up an existing one is spend loads of time looking at themes. Once they choose a theme, it’s not uncommon for folks to spend considerable time and effort customizing it, all without planning for content. If you’re in that group, I hope you’ll reconsider your approach.
You see, content should come first.
Are you a blogger, a freelancer, or a business owner? Do you love tinkering with design and want your site to look just so? Explore our different WordPress.com plans — some, like the Premium plan, come with advanced customization options and unlimited premium themes.
This is a good thing for everyone to remember, not just first-time bloggers. A site with ho-hum content — or worse, no content — will keep people from coming back, assuming that they find your site in the first place.
Content should drive the theme, not vice versa. What good is a pretty site if no one looks at it?
Why do so many people work on their theme first?
Most of us are visual thinkers. Others may just overestimate the importance of how a site looks and underestimate the importance of what it says.
But there’s another reason. Writing can be hard work.
There have been times that I’ve played with themes as a procrastination method when I was unsure what to write or self-conscious about sharing my writing.
Spending time looking for themes and customizing them are ways to feel like you’re working on your site (and you are) without doing the hardest and most personal work: creating content.
The good news? Having a plan can guide you even during those times when your muse has left the building or your internal editor is hollering at you that your writing isn’t good enough.
So let’s put a plan together!
Measure once: define your scope
Maybe you’re a brand-new writer or perhaps your blog’s focus has shifted over time. Or maybe you haven’t changed your theme in a while and want a new look.
No matter which group you’re in, you should spend some time thinking about what you want to write about — and what you don’t want to write about — before picking a theme.
Let’s say that you want to write about travel. Specifically, you want to write about places you’ve been, places you want to go to, travel tips, and travel gear. However, you absolutely do not want to write about the ins and outs of frequent flyer programs because who can keep all of that stuff straight?
Congratulations! You just created the beginning of a content plan.
Hint: Use the Reader to browse other blogs on the same topic you want to write about to see how others organize their content.
It’s helpful to create a basic sitemap at this stage.
Tool tip: I used Creately, a free online tool, to make this sitemap, but you can use a pencil and paper. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
A sitemap serves as a visual representation of how your content is organized and how each piece relates to the whole.
Measure twice: decide on basic presentation
Now that you have an idea of what you’re going to write about and how you’re going to organize it, let’s talk about how you want to present your content. Here are a few things to think about, using our travel blog example for reference:
- Will your content be text-heavy with essays about your travel or image-heavy with pictures of places you’ve been?
- Is there specific content that you want to draw particular attention to, like a travel tip of the week? If so, how will you do that?
- Are you planning to use widgets to showcase content, link to your social media profiles, or encourage people to follow you? If so, do you want to add them to a sidebar, footer, or maybe both?
- Speaking of sidebars, do you want one? Are there any other layout options you need, like multiple columns?
- What general colors or style are you looking for? Perhaps a glamorous look for today’s jetsetter or a retro vibe invoking the golden age of travel?
- Are there design elements or features that will help your visitors more easily navigate your site to find the content they’re looking for?
You may find that sketching a basic layout, or wireframe, is helpful.
Tool tip: Like the sitemap, this wireframe example was done using Creately, but again, pencil and paper work just fine.
Using your plan, it’s time to get working on creating content. You just need a bit of content to get started, so don’t worry about having everything set before you pick a theme.
Hint: If you need some inspiration, we’ve got you covered with daily prompts or our free ebook, 365 Days of Writing Prompts. Once you’re off to a good start, consider using an editorial calendar to help keep you going.
Once you have just a few pieces of content in place, you’re ready to go theme shopping!
Using your notes on presentation, check out our Theme Showcase. Use the filters at the top to narrow down the selection. You can also choose to include free themes only, premium themes only, or all themes.
If you have the WordPress.com Business plan on your site, you also have access to our premium themes.
Next, pick a few themes that come closest to the layout and style that you’re looking for and have the features you need. You should be down to a handful of themes at this point, so spend time poking around each demo site, then choose the one you like best.
So that’s it!
You should now have some new tools in your toolbox to help you build or update your site using a theme that will fit your needs.
We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and tell us how you picked your current theme or which tactics you used to plan your layout around your content. Or, if you’ve been inspired to make some changes, let us know how things go!