Choosing a Theme

Choosing the right theme for your blog is more than just what looks aesthetically appealing, and this post will go over what things you should look for in a great theme.

I am super excited about this post because I get to put my web design hat on and get on my soapbox a little.

Let’s define what a theme is really quick. A theme is the design of the site created using code. It’s how all of your website looks, but it is not only about its aesthetics. This post will guide and explain what to look for in a good theme beyond it’s aesthetic.

Before we get to the steps, I want to add one rule to your theme selection. You have to use live demos. Never choose a theme purely from screenshots. Live demos will actually give you a feel for how the theme works and what the experience will be like for your readers.

First, Look At The Layout

The layout is the format in which things are placed. You’ll often see grid layouts for blog, where the posts are listed side by side. Other ways to see layout choices are where the navigation menu is placed, what posts look like, what pages look like, where comments will go, and if there is a sidebar and where it’s located. The layout is often the first thing a web designer figures out, even before they start coding anything. Also, it’s easy to confuse the layout with the aesthetics, and I’ll talk more about what the aesthetics specifically are.

Second, Make Sure It’s Responsive

Responsive means that the site will adapt to different screen sizes. A responsive site will format to mobile, tablets, laptops, and desktop monitors without you having to do anything additional. Since more and more people are browsing the web via mobile devices, you must have a responsive theme to adapt to those devices.

Responsive view of A Geek Girl’s Guide via Inspect Tool

When a theme says it is responsive, actually test to see what that means. You can do this while on the live demo by inspecting the site (right click and choose Inspect in the menu). From there you can adjust the width of the site and watch how it responds. There is even a tool to mockup the site in the width of a specific device, like an iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy 9.

An alternative to a responsive site is having a theme just for desktop and using an Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) site for mobile. AMP is good for cutting down on loading speeds on mobile and creating a simple and clean layout, but you also lose all design and content control, analytics, proper linking, and Google controls that version of your site. I recommend using a responsive theme no matter what.

Third, Check Usability

Usability is how easy your site is to use for your readers. Usability is massively overlooked by bloggers, which is unfortunate because it is a vital part of web design and keeping your readers on your site. I’ve done usability testing on sites and have been a tester for other sites letting them know when their site is user-friendly and when it is not. This is my soapbox portion because usability on blogs is ignored often and it absolutely shouldn’t be.

Think like a reader and how they would use your site, and go through those steps. Some steps and questions you should definitely look through are:

  • How can users comment?
  • Where is the comment box placed on a post? Is it easy to find?
  • Where are sharing buttons placed so readers can share your content?
  • Is there a convenient place for a search bar and if the demo has a search bar, where is it?

Comments, sharing, and search are vital parts of usability and are also what you as a blogger should make sure are easy to do. Because if it is not easy to do, readers won’t bother figuring it out.

Another part of usability is the site’s readability. Part of this goes into aesthetics, but the usability questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Is the post easy to read? Is the font dark enough? Is it large enough? Is that something I can change?
  • Are links easy to identify? If not, can I change that?

As someone who is not just a blogger myself, but also a reader of blogs, please check your site’s usability. It is also helpful if you have others also check the usability because they can find issues that you may have missed.

Fourth, Check For Features

Featured post slider on A Geek Girl’s Guide

Features are additional perks a particular theme will offer. Carousel slideshows are an example of this. On the homepage of A Geek Girl’s Guide, there is a post feature slider. That would be considered a feature. I’d argue that a sidebar is a feature, as it is not required for a theme to function. If there are any particular features you want to have, make sure to include that in your searching.

Finally, Look at Aesthetics

Aesthetics do still matter, but definitely not as high up as these other factors. Aesthetics include color choices, font choices, various overlay options, etc. Layout can affect aesthetics, as the layout is part of the visual aspect. But layout also plays an important role independently.  Aesthetics are easily changed which is why I don’t think choosing a site for its aesthetics are very important.

That is my guide of what to look for when choosing a theme. Taking a little bit of time with it will help you out in the long run. And it is possible to change a theme later on, so if your blog outgrows a theme it can be changed pretty easily. But also keep this guide in mind when looking for a theme.

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