WordPress Theme Confusion? How To Choose A Premium Theme For Your Blog

WordPress themes are available for free, for a “premium” or for more money a custom personal theme, but how do you choose between which type, and then choose which theme? I’m a blog customizer, I spend my days editing, changing and (hopefully) improving blogs, so I hope I’m in a position to know what I’m talking about.

The Options

A question that I get asked regularly is “Should I buy a premium theme?”. This is the wrong question, the real question is “What theme is best for me?” whether that’s a free one, a premium one, or a custom one.

Theme Jargon – Some terms to know:

– “Theme” – the design of your site. Sometimes called a skin, or a template, it’s the ‘clothes’ of your website. Template is often used interchangeably as themes are made up of template files.
– “Magazine Style” – all this means is rather than showing the Posts in a list on the home page they may show the top posts from different categories, perhaps with an image slider for the latest or featured posts. There are many examples that we’ll go through below.
– “Columns” – Your content counts as a column, so a two column theme means one content column and one sidebar. If you want two sidebars, you will need a three column theme.
– “Widget ready” – You can use sidebar widgets, so can manage your sidebar more easily. Also sometimes called “widgetized sidebars”.
– “Flexible Width” – The width of the site will expand and contract depending on the width of the browser window and/or the users screen size. The alternative is “fixed width” and is more commonly used.
– “Theme Options” – Some templates have an options panel to configure elements of the site without any coding.
– “Child Theme” – This is a theme that works off another (parent) theme. Sometimes these can be referred to as skins but more accurately are a separate theme you install which requires the other ‘parent’ to work.
– “Theme Framework” – Used to describe a basis from which other themes can be created. Thesis and Headway are often described as theme frameworks outright, while Woo Themes and StudioPress create all their different themes based on their own frameworks to provide commonality of options and coding.

So the first thing to do is to take a look at what you like the look of. Then we can talk about your skill level and knowledge with regards to changing the theme.

Free Themes

There are a lot of free themes out there, and just because they’re free doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any less well written or lack some of the options of their paid-for counterparts.

http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/ is the official repository of themes, with over a 1,000 of them for you to peruse.

With thousands of options it can be hard to choose and time consuming. However this time is not wasted as will give you an impression what is out there and. Most sites give you filtering options so you can narrow by by color (though colors can be changed), layout, number of columns and so on.

So what are the good free WordPress themes? Atahualpa has a LOT of back end options to customize your site (and possibly the World’s Largest Save Button™); Thematic looks basic but has a lot of widget ready areas for easy customization; LightWord is clean and simple; I do love Mimbo for a magazine layout that now has a Pro (premium) version too; Freemium looks great; The Latest is clean and bright for a magazine style theme.

There are plenty more great ones, even one that looks like the WordPress Dashboard. Why would you want this? I’ve no idea.

Premium Themes

These are ones that you have to pay for, the “premium”. The advantages are:
Theme options menu. This can range from changing colors, to changing layout, adding/removing links, advert blocks, SEO options, from the simple to the very complex.

Support forums. This is the preferred way WordPress/Automattic want premium authors to offer differentiation to free themes, by providing a support forum. Most good premium themes will have a support forum to answer your technical and how-to questions. Do not underestimate the value of this, often you can cut and paste from a similar question that has already been posted to easily solve something that has been bugging you for days.

Updates. As the theme author is getting paid for their work they will often provide updates that fix bugs or add features. Usually these are free upgrades to paid members.

There main disadvantage is that licenses can be restrictive. You may only be able to use it on one or two sites, or there may be some footer attribution link back to the author that you cannot remove. Personally I try to avoid these, and go with GPL themes – you can read more about GPL WordPress themes here – but to summarize it’s best to go with GPL if you can. Go here for a list of commercial GPL themes.

Premium themes I have used are (most of these are affiliate links as I promote them so often I thought I might as well get some benefit, but feel free not to use them and go to the sites directly):

1. WordPress.org Commercial GPL Themes – the official list.

2. Solostream offer them mostly in “magazine-style” and have been recently updated with pretty great selection that have nice features, particularly the auto-thumbnail resizing and a featured posts slider/glider.

3. Woo Themes have some free options too but an awesome selection of paid-for themes. Regularly updated, they have themes in all different categories for different types of websites, plus each theme usually comes with between 5 and 10 in-built colors schemes you can switch between. Usually there are a great number of menu options too. They have an excellent demo viewer on their site where you can switch between any template and style.

4. StudioPress sell the Genesis framework and a great selection of child themes.

5. Thesis is the daddy of all premium themes though it is lagging behind a little at the moment (the new version will address that I’m sure). Brilliant and a pain to work with in equal measure, it gives you a vast number of menu options, but something as simple as adding a header image is a mystery to the new user. Changing layouts, fonts, colors and what appears on the page is as easy as can be (and as fun), but it’s plain vanilla “out of the box” and can take some time and knowledge to make it look different to all the other Thesis sites out there.

6. Headway has a unique Visual Editor that lets you easily change the layout and look and feel of your blog right in front of your eyes. This makes it simple to change colors and fonts, and completely removes the need for any coding. There is a learning curve in how the system works and what the options do, and it’s not perfect (yet) in many ways, but is a fantastic option for the non-technical blogger.

7. Theme Forest is different as it takes user submitted themes and sells them for a commission.

8. Builder Theme from iThemes is a great theme with a massively user customizable layout via a menu options page. They have lots of other great themes there too, but BUilder has a powerful, if potentially overwhelming, set of options.

Custom Themes

The truly professional blogger will get a unique custom theme. The advantage of this is that no-one else will have the same design as you, and you can brand it more with your own, or your business personality.

This can be done from scratch, or is often done using a customized premium theme framework like Thesis or Headway or others. There are different ways of approaching it. You can get a designer to develop a design of your site and then send it to a coder or customizer like me who can then code it onto the theme framework of your choice or from scratch.

Some companies design and code themes, I actually didn’t design my own site, which gets many compliments. This was done by the wonderful guys over at Unique Blog Designs.

The downside of course is the cost, and it can be quite substantial whether you pay a designer and coder separately or together, it doesn’t come cheap. However it’s your site, it’s your brand, it’s your business. An advert in the paper or Yellow/White pages lasts only a short time and can cost 25% of a unique blog design. It’s an investment like any other.

So how do you choose a theme?

The ultimate question! There are a few guidelines:

Design/look. This is the #1 criteria if cost is an issue. The closer the design is to what you want then the cheaper it will be in terms of paying someone (like me) to change it, or in terms of your time changing it yourself. Do you care if other people have the same theme? If not then a free theme that looks the way you want it will work fine.

Theme options. Some free and most premium themes come with menu options that control a variety of things. Do you think you’ll want to easily adjust colors? Or choose between different layouts? Or select how posts appear and perhaps from different categories? Then you may need one that has a strong options panel.

Technical expertise. Do you know some CSS and HTML? Are you comfortable changing how to query posts using PHP? If so, or you think you can learn, then design is again your #1 factor. If not, then best to make a choice that doesn’t involve these unless you can find someone to do them for you.

Exact requirements. If you require an exact look and feel then you (or someone else) will need to customize either a free or premium theme, or get a complete custom one written for you.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I’ve worked on some great and horrible looking sites that the owner has thought the complete opposite and either hated what I did or loved something I loathed. My place is not to judge, it’s to do what is required, and help you make the best choice for your circumstances.

If you have any questions please let me know. Have I missed off your favorite? Are there are other great themes that I should recommend?

Theme Video Tutorials For WordPress Premium Themes

Using premium WordPress themes is great, but often you need to watch video tutorials of how to do something. There are lots of sites with different videos for different premium themes, so after constantly directing people all over the place for their theme tutorials I decided to put them all in one place. Theme Vids was born, a site housing all the best premium theme tutorial videos in a central location. I’ve put together a short video below so you can see how to use the site.

Each weekday a different video will be shown and so the category links to your theme and the search box may be your friend to find relevant tutorials. Currently I am just covering Headway, Thesis, Woo Themes, and Flexx, but if you want other premium theme videos added just contact me from the site and let me know. I’ll be adding any training videos I do to there too, so will be redirecting clients to it over the next few months.

I’m always happy for any feedback so please let me know what you think of the Theme Vids, and what can be improved.

Want A Free Premium Theme?

As an extra bonus, when you join the Income Blogging Guide Course, we will install a WordPress Premium Theme on your blog for free. More details are in the quick video below and the text afterwards.

Premium themes make the managing of your blog much, much easier. They are more flexible. They make changes to your blog much easier. They save you time and they improve the Search Engine Optimization of your blog.

And that’s why so many people buy them and rave about them.

But you don’t have to buy the premium theme… we will and we’ll install it for you as well…all for free, after you join the Income Blogging Guide Course

The premium themes on offer for free are:

The Headway Theme (value $87) – Click here for more information: Headway Theme

The Flexx Theme (value $79.95) – Click here for more information: Flexx Theme

This is an extra, unadvertised bonus on top of the 5 bonuses promised already.

All you have to do is come and join us at the Income Blogging Guide Course, choose which Theme you’d like and we’ll install it for you – all for free.

We also have the Thesis Theme on offer for just $40 including installation. If you were to purchase the Thesis Theme yourself it would cost you $87 plus installation.

You can have the one theme of your choice installed on an existing blog or a brand new blog…the choice is yours.

Now that’s a bonus worth having!

Join up now and get your extra bonus of a free premium theme. Here’s the link to join: Income Blogging Guide Course

The sales page doesn’t mention the free theme bonus but that’s because it is an unadvertised bonus (until now!).

Headway WordPress Theme Preview

Headway is a relatively new WordPress theme that attempts to simplify customizing your site with different colors and layouts, in an easy to use interface.

What is Headway?

Headway is a premium (aka paid-for) WordPress theme. It is designed for those who don’t have the time and/or knowledge to customize a theme using traditional coding methods, and instead gives them a easy to use tools, such as drag-and-drop and color-pickers, with which to easily redesign and customize their site. Even if you are a pro at this sort of thing, custom hooks and the usual custom CSS are also available.

The thing that will blow you away in the new version, is the Visual Editor – you can edit your site at the same time as seeing exactly what it will look like!

The video below shows a preview of how this works, prepare to be excited about the design opportunities for your blog! (click here if you can’t see the video)

I had a chance to meet some of the guys behind Headway at BlogWorldExpo, and they are excited about the brilliant customizable features in Headway, and have even more planned. As you would expect, any owners of Headway today will get access to new versions for no charge.

The version in the video is not quite ready for release, but you can get this easy WordPress theme here very soon.

If you want to promote Headway yourself and make some money, you can sign up as an affiliate here.

Theme Wars Launches!

Theme Wars is an interesting new concept from Unique Blog Designs, the geniuses behind my blog theme. Essentially it’s a blog theme store with a twist.

1. Each week, any blog designer can submit an entry (his/her original design) into our “Weekly War.”
2. The Weekly War will be a contest to design a particular type of theme (e.g. magazine, business, etc.) as voted on by the community (via poll) the week before.
3. The top two designs which the community votes for will be sold in our Theme Store. The winning designers will receive 25% and 10%, respectively, each time his/her winning design sells.

Theme Wars

There will probably be between 3 and 8 news themes each week and it seems a great way to get fresh new designs for bloggers, and for blog designers to get paid or their work. Take a look.

New Blog Theme on BTG

For those of you who haven’t noticed, I have a new blog theme on my site, click here to visit me.

I’ve been preaching the virtues of having a custom design for a long time, and now thanks to Nate over at Unique Blog Designs I now have an awesome one myself.

Comments would be much appreciated, we have some tweaks to finish off but I’m very, very happy with it! Check it out 🙂

Are You An Affiliate Marketer? Get The Affiliate Theme Now!

If you set up new affiliate sites often, then you’ll know what a pain it can be to constantly create new designs. That’s where the aptly named Affiliate Theme from Unique Blog Designs come in.

The guys who have created my new design (coming very soon!), particularly Nate Whitehill have done a sterling job coming up with a solution to that problem. In fact it’s more like a solution+.

For a general brief overviews, take a look at the Affiliate Theme promotional video below.

Nate kindly gave me the theme to test, and I have to say it’s one of the most powerful WordPress themes out there, in fact, it’s one of the most powerful affiliate products full stop.

Of course, you have to have to have affiliate products to promote, and the requirement to set up different sites on a regular basis.

I took the theme for a test drive, and recorded it using my favorite free screencast tool, Jing, take a quick look at the video below.

You may need to turn your volume up and also depending on the size of your screen, scroll down a little to see the pause button and progress bar.

As you can see there are a huge number of options, you’re able to change the background image (from pre-made templates) and color, font colors via a neat color picker (that would be a great addition to Thesis), page layout, call to action buttons, footer code and much more.

There are three packages that you can see on the Get Affiliate Theme page, ranging from $97 for single use; $147 for multi-use, free lifetime upgrades, 10 bonus header graphics; through to the Super Affiliate package for $197 with 30 bonus header graphics, and a higher affiliate payout for the theme. Personally I would have liked to see free lifetime upgrades on the single-use package too, but the main users will be people using this on multiple sites – in fact the main benefit is from being able to use this on multiple sites because of the wide range of different sites you can make from the same theme.

As a great bonus there are video tutorials, a knowledge base, a support forum, and Affiliate Interviews with top affiliate marketers such as Yaro Starak, Ryan Wade, Zac Johnson, John Chow, Jonathan Volk and Jim Kukral.

Overall the theme fulfills a certain, growing need. That is for an easy, fast way to get affiliate sites setup. Using WordPress as the base means it’s free for everyone, so with hosting, a domain and this theme, all you need is the products and you’re halfway there. The big half remaining is adding content, driving traffic and making sales. But at least the first half was easy 🙂

Affiliate Theme

New Premium Blog Design

Unique Blog Designs, until know, have been known for their individual unique blog designs and also their free WordPress theme. Now they have released the Citrus theme.

Citrus Theme

Available in six great different color schemes, the Citrus theme can switch between schemes using the built-in admin panel. It also allows you to change the logo, use it’s built in advertising system, and change the layout between “blog-style” and “landing-style”.

One of the best features is its auto-image resizing. No need to create a differently sized thumbnail image for the homepage, the theme will do it for you.

There are many premium themes out there, such as Revolution, Solostream and Woo Themes, so if you’re thinking of a new premium theme, also take a look at the new Citrus theme from Unique Blog Designs. If you use it already please, let me know what you think!

Are You Looking For A Neat Corporate Theme?

I often get requests for themes that are free or cheap. Whilst most of us know that custom designs are the best for blogs, it’s often not an option for a new blogger because of cost.

It’s lucky then there are plenty of great free and low priced themes out there. Adrian over at Rubiqube dropped me a line to let me know about his new Corporate Sandbox theme. It’s minimalist and neat, see if it’s to your taste.

For low-priced “premium” themes that are well coded and easier to customise, I always recommend Brian Gardner’s Revolution themes. Even his free themes are a dream to customise compared to lots of other themes! Also take a look at Solostream to see if there’s anything you fancy.

If you know of any other great themes, feel free to leave a comment or send me a note.

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