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Starting a blog? Congratulations, you own a confusing screen that does nothing!
But seriously. You’ve purchased hosting and installed WordPress. You own what will become your blog. It’s hard to imagine it right now, but truthfully, you might have just set out on the most exciting path you’ll ever take. Making a living from home. Doing what you WANT to do with your life or making a difference in other’s lives. EEK! (No, not right away. But everybody’s gotta start somewhere.)
(If you haven’t purchased hosting yet, you can get a great discount on hosting here.)
First of all, for real, congratulations on starting your blog! But um… now what?
This is the part where, when I started my first “blog”, I just sat there and stared at WordPress and clicked around a bit before I eventually admitted defeat.
But you’re not gonna do that. You’ve got blogging to do, so let’s get doing it.
The number one thing to remember when you are OVERWHELMED by trying to set up your blog is that you can do this, there is a way, and you will learn the way. When you get frustrated, take a break, re-group and then come back to it. Trial and error is awesome. (Now I should say something inspiring about someone famous who had to make a light bulb 417 times before he ever discovered he could build theme parks. And now that same guy has sold a billion copies of his book that no one was originally interested in, “Theme Parks are worth the effort”. But you’ve heard it before and the moral of the story is, if you want this make it happen.)
SO, now what?
You’re logged into WordPress. You’re staring at your new “dashboard”. This is home.
It’s time to pick a theme. But what’s the best wordpress theme?
Or, what’s “theme” at all?
The theme is the way your blog looks. The colors, the fonts, the layout and the functionality make up the theme. Your theme is also probably the first massive frustration that you’re gonna run into. (You’re officially on your own, no Siteground chat to hold your hand here.)
Choosing the best WordPress theme for your blog feels like a BIG deal.
The single most important thing about choosing a theme is to ensure that you choose a theme that is RESPONSIVE. This means that your blog will automatically adjust to fit on the screen of a mobile phone or tablet. 80% or more of blog reading is done on a mobile screen, and if your blog doesn’t fit on that screen no one will be sticking around to read it.
The next most important thing, perhaps, is to remember that while the theme you choose does matter – you want people to take you seriously – it does not matter as much as you think right now.
One day, it will be imperative that you get your site beautiful and functional. However, if you get massively hung up on this right now, your blog might never even get off the ground. Remember, the vast majority of blog post reading is done via mobile – clicking into and out of a post from Facebook or Pinterest etc – and these readers will never even see your home page. Just food for thought.
Free Themes – pros and cons and how to install ’em.
There are thousands of free themes available, and if you are just trying this blogging thing out as an experiment or you are just making a family newsletter blog or a personal fun blog, then a free one is probably fine. You can access and install TONS of free themes right from your WordPress dashboard.
I’ll show you how! But first, a few things to know about free themes. For starters, they are free. Don’t expect tech support from the designer. (That’s only fair.) Second, try to choose one you are pretty happy with as is, because you will be on your own for customization. I really don’t suggest you go messing around with the coding of your theme trying to make it look different. That is one great way to break your blog.
→To install a free theme, go to “Appearance” about half way down the left hand side of your dash board, and click “themes”.
→ (This is my themes area, you won’t see those Divi themes in yours. That is the theme that my blog uses.) You can access the free themes by clicking the WordPress.org Themes button.
→ These are the free themes available for you to use! If you hover over one with your mouse, you will see options to read the details and preview it, or install it. If you know you wanna go with a free theme, click the install button on the theme you have selected to get started.
→ Once the installation is complete, click activate! You now have an active FREE theme.
Paid for themes – if you want a little more option for customization, need tech support or want to start out with something a little more professional looking.
(The following links * are affiliate links! If you purchase anything through these links, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you. IF you do make a purchase, I STRONGLY recommend that you then also become an affiliate so you can promote the products as well!)
I tried a few free themes, and I was SO discouraged by the way I couldn’t change anything about the way they looked, especially knowing that there was no tech support. I loved some of the beautiful themes available for purchase at Creative Market*. (Just FYI they do great FREEBIES every Monday, so it’s always a good idea to set up an account there, even if you’re not buying anything now).
I felt the problems with a free theme weren’t totally solved by buying one individual theme that still required me to code to change things. Yes, you will probably get some tech support, but it will be limited. The designer is still only getting a one time fee. If you have some computer confidence and are a little bit adventurous, maybe purchasing a theme from Creative Market* is the way to go for you!
Another exceptionally well-reviewed theme company is Genesis Themes*. Many, Many successful bloggers use and love Genesis Themes*. (I have not personally used them, but I trust the bloggers who recommend them!) If having a totally custom theme or changing a bunch of things isn’t what interests you, you’d probably be very well off to buy a theme from Genesis and use it as it is! That would be a very easy way to have a great theme.
What I’m using (- the best WordPress theme as far as I’m concerned!)
I am not computer confident. But I knew I wanted the option of customization. I wanted my blog to look the way I WANTED IT TO LOOK. (Right?) I stumbled across the answer to all my theme customization coding problems one day, and I have never looked back. I bought a membership with Elegant Themes* and downloaded their Divi theme. (With a membership you get access to over 80 themes. So there’s lots of choices.)
But I don’t care about the 79+ other themes. Divi is absolutely amazing in that instead of coding everything into place, it works on a drag and drop builder, where you can place modules instead of code. Yes, there’s still a learning curve, but essentially the textbook is written in plain English instead of CSS. (CSS is some sort of code.) And it’s a membership, so it comes with tech support. You know how I love tech support!
There is a training video for every aspect of Divi. You just sign in and watch. This changed my whole blogging world. I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to achieve what I have achieved so far if I hadn’t purchased Divi. Having a membership to Elegant Themes* and installing Divi took away all my technology troubles when it came to themes.
Not only did Divi give me the ability to be able to build and change my website however I want without worrying about coding, it also means that I have a 100% designed by me blog – with no coding! There is no other blog in the world that looks like mine. Which I think is kind of cool.
(UPDATE: I have since moved to the EXTRA theme, with Elegant Themes*, which is built with Divi but it has MORE customization options! Woohoo! The BEST WordPress theme EVER!!)
If you purchase a theme (from any company) it will come with installation instructions. The installation can vary a little depending on who you purchase it through, so I can’t walk you through this part. But I can say, with Elegant Themes*, I had no problem following their instructions and installing Divi.
Quick tips for anyone considering Divi: A child theme is a great idea for any theme you download and use. This basically means having a “copy” of your theme running so you can make changes to the copy without hurting the original. Often you have to make your own child theme. (I dunno how!?) If you join Elegant Themes and download Divi, they already have one created for you to use! Just follow the directions below AFTER installing Divi to install your child theme.
1-Download the Child Theme (https://www.dropbox.com/s/n11cbiohvi7pw … i.zip?dl=0)
2-Go to Dashboard => Appearance => Themes.
3-Click on Add New.
4-Click on Upload Theme.
5-Choose the zip file, you have downloaded from the link above
6-Click on Install Now button.
7-After the installing was completed, click on the Activate link.
Note that if you do choose to go with Divi (or EXTRA), DO NOT BUILD YOUR POSTS WITH THE DIVI BUILDER. It is better to keep your posts builder free, as then you could change themes with little effort in the future if you wanted to.
You picked a theme and got it all installed. Now what?
Here’s where this how-to-blog series gets really series-y. Most blog tutorials will leave you here, with a friendly wave, they will say – “Go blog! Be successful!”
But I know you still don’t have a blog. You STILL have a confusing screen that does nothing. Even if, with your theme installed, it is a HUGE step closer to being the blog you want it to be. You’re still just at the beginning.
38 thoughts on “Choosing the Best WordPress Theme for Your Blog”
This is such a helpful post! Thank you! I’m going to go with Divi and FINALLY move forward, as WordPress has been a huge roadblock for me! I’m looking forward to your Divi cheat sheet! And the next post that continues this one!
(My blog will be up and running soon!)
HI Cara!! YAY! I love divi, and actually they’ve recently released DIVI 3.0 and I am DYING to try it, but I have just joined a major ad network and they requested no big theme changes in the first month. GAH. Divi might feel daunting at first, just like all the other themes – with all the learning, but they have a FREAKING AWESOME tutorial available for every. single. aspect. of divi. Take full advantage of those tutorials girl. Give yourself a full month or so to really design a theme you love – and feel free to shoot me an email with questions. (If I CAN answer them, I will haha.) I’d love to see your blog when it’s up – stop back here and post the URL!!
I watched a few of the tutorials last night just to get a feel for it and see if it made sense to me, and I thought they were excellent!! Thank you again for your help and your posts–I’m excited to read all of them!! And I’ll definitely let you know when my blog is up and running–I’m so excited to finally be able to move forward again!! 🙂
Hi Cara and Carly, I am just getting started too and it is getting a bit overwhelming with all the reading I have been doing. I am,however, going to take the plunge and get started this week so Carly I will probably be burning the email lines to you. Cara since we are starting about the same time if you would like to keep in contact that would be great! Thank you to the both of you for the inspiration.
HI Marti! So excited for you! Looking forward to your emails, and to hearing about how it’s going for you – blogging is an uphill but wonderful journey… take it slow and steady and just keep marching on!
Hello Carly. Could you explain this statement from your post a little more, please: “Note that if you do choose to go with Divi (or EXTRA), DO NOT BUILD YOUR POSTS WITH THE DIVI BUILDER. It is better to keep your posts builder free, as then you could change themes with little effort in the future if you wanted to.” – If I use the Divi or EXTRA theme, how do I not use the Divi Builder to “build” (does that mean when I “write”) my posts? And, how does using or not using the Divi Builder to build my post affect changing themes later? Thank you so much!!! (I don’t have a website yet but have been investigating to see if I want to tackle blogging in the future, and am so glad to have come across your free mini-course!!)
HI Margie! Sure thing: When you are writing your posts you will have the option to either just write the posts in wordpress (by default) or to “turn on” the builder and “build” your posts with it. The divi builder, while allowing for more flexibility in the styling of your posts, uses short code that doesn’t work with other themes. (So it’s fine as long as you’re using divi or extra but isn’t fine if you want to change themes). Basically, if you were to turn off the builder and move to another theme, you would lose the formatting of those posts, and have posts full of short code. The builder IS available as a stand alone plugin however, so in reality, it’s not a big deal at all. I still recommend not using the builder tho, as I just find that it’s much easier for quick edits and whatnot on posts if you can just click into the post without having to click again into the module. (It’s way less complicated that I am making it sound, and you will totally understand what I’m saying once you see the backend of the divi theme 🙂 )
Would you say that writing without the builder helps with site speed as well? I keep reading that Divi sites can be a lot slower do the heaviness of the builder. This is the main thing holding me back from going with them so far. It comes up a lot about the shortcodes and speed.
Most likely yes. We do not KNOW for sure how using a builder will impact your rankings, but it certainly has the potential. I do not use a builder for my posts. A post builder can also affect your ability to use an ad network.
If I start out with a free theme is it a lot of work to then change to a purchased theme? Also when I went to the siteground through your link the tech sales told that I would be charged to transfer my existing domains to them, is this right?
HI Vicky! Starting out with a free theme is JUST FINE – and I’m sure whatever siteground told you is the right thing, they will know more about that than I do – I think I did have to pay 15 or 20$ to transfer my domain… but when I did they re-registered it for another year so it worked out as free. But maybe they don’t do that anymore? Their customer service is awesome, however, and you will love them!
I’m not sure the actual question was answered here. If you start with a free theme is it a lot of work to then change to a purchased theme?
Just discovered your blog Carly and I love it. Can’t wait to get started with my blog. Thank you x
EEK!! Exciting Joe – all the best to you!
Hi Carly I was wondering if I should switch to WordPress, I currently own a blogger platform. Would you recommend wordpress over blogger? Are there any additional perks to WordPress?
HI Priscilla! That’s a hard question for me to answer since I have never used blogger. (I’m biased, so I would say switch, but you should really ask someone else who knows more! I’m sorry!)
So far this morning your blog has seriously given me so much info from the work at home job ideas, to how to start my own blog. I am definitely returning to read more that you have to share!
That’s so great Ariana! Good luck on your work from home journey!
Can you tell me more detail about this paragraph?
“Note that if you do choose to go with Divi (or EXTRA), DO NOT BUILD YOUR POSTS WITH THE DIVI BUILDER. It is better to keep your posts builder free, as then you could change themes with little effort in the future if you wanted to. ”
I am thinking about moving my (newbie) blog off of Textpattern onto Divi, based on your post. Since reading your post I have done some research on Divi, and my concern was that the general consensus is that you can’t ever change your theme without difficulty if you commit to Divi, without getting a lot of “code pollution”.
HI! Basically, exactly what you said. IF you use the builder to build your posts, you will get code pollution when (if) you move away from the builder (unless you use the builder as a plugin on any theme you use in the future. That’s also an option.) BUT if you just don’t use the builder, you can avoid the problem and still have all the benefits of divi!
Hi Carly! Thank you so much for your tutorials that helped me to start my website. I decided to download the good theme straight away not wasting my precious time learning the free theme, went to the Elegant Themes website, – oh happy days! – they offer 20% off their membership at the moment! Woohoo! So my credit card was very pleased. Now I have to brainstorm how to use Divi. I’m not mentioning my website’s name yet, it looks like an embarrassment at the moment. When I proudly announce its name in the future, I won’t post 5 comments a day on your site with my URL.
Thank you so much once again for all your help! Hope you are settling into your new home all right, you know, we moved 7 years ago, and we still are settling, take things easy.
Love from Irina x
Hi Carly! Is there a downloadable link for an EXTRA child theme? I Just signed up for EXTRA and am following your step by step process of starting a blog, but because I don’t have Divi as a parent theme, wordpress said it failed to add the child theme. I could be totally doing this wrong, but just trying to get things right from the get go!
I don’t know of one, but you could reach out to ET support – they are GREAT! (And yes, that’s right you can not use the divi child theme, because it is for divi 🙂 )
Hi Carly! I am loving all this information you are giving! You are sure making my brain turn haha. So, do I use the child theme of DIVI then for my main theme and do all my work in that? Thanks
Yep, do your work in your child theme!!!
Me again! Also when I installed the Akismet plugin it’s saying, I’m almost done and I have to up an account through them to get rid of spam and then when I click there it’s 24.00…do I have to do that in order for it to work?
mmmmmmmmmm Perhaps they have changed it but I don’t have the paid version…
I love this series of how to’s for blogs! It was the best decision I ever made to sign up for this and will be posting your blog sign up everywhere!
I am SOOOOOO glad you’re loving it! PLEASE do share it <3
After many years of video production, I began working as a sleep solution specialist is retail stores, basically a mattress consultant. I think my blog will focus on the mattress and sleep industry but I still have my video production skills and equipment that I would like to make use of. Can I incorporate video into any of the blog site programs?
I love to change themes regularly, hahaha. But it is not easy! Thanks for sharing
I am SO stumped on how to make my logo A.) Big and visible and B.) With a transparent background.
Did you pay for yours??! I can’t find one I can make for free and save thats big enough for the top and has a clear background. What did you do??
Lexy, my logo is a PNG format, which is how it’s transparent. You cannot get transparency with a JPG so that may be why. You can check places like Fivrr for a cheap logo, but I just made mine in Photoshop. 🙂
First I want to say Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! I used to have a fairly successful hobby blog years ago which I let go of. I have been thinking about doing this for almost a year now. I finally took the plunge. (three-year contract with someone else.) I did it yesterday and the moment I logged on and started looking at themes my stomach dropped. I am, in the long run, thankful for that part of this experience as it has led me to you. I couldn’t find anything on the blog that I got the info from. So thank you!!!
No problem – best of luck!!!
Loving your course!! It is soo helpful!
Do you have a child theme for EXTRA? I downloaded the child theme for Divi, but it would install on my wordpress because I’m using EXTRA.
Oh I don’t have one for extra, no, I’m sorry!