How To Choose Your Best WordPress Theme

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wordpress theme basicsI have been getting this question asked a lot lately from fellow marketers, bloggers and even friends.

They all have one thing in common and that is, they all are interested in creating their first website on the Internet.

The easiest way to do this is using wordpress and this leads us to the following…

Question:
What is the best wordpress theme?

Answer:
It depends on what you want it for.

I can’t just recommend a one size fits all kind of theme because there is no such thing as the perfect theme.

Every wordpress theme is built around solving something. It can be fast loading times, great SEO capabilities, flexible customization, ease of modification, etc.

1. Identify Your Project’s Core Requirements

First things, first… Write down everything you need focusing on one single site only (one project). 

  • Are you planning to have a blog?
  • Do you need to create landing pages, squeeze pages, sign-up pages?
  • Are you planning to have a review-based website?
  • Maybe a protected membership site?
  • Is it for a niche-based site for selling affiliate products?
  • Perhaps planning a huge three-part product launch?

You need to understand that the more things the theme can do, chances are the less specialized it is in every one of them.

Maybe you want the combination of a few of these and that’s perfectly doable as long as you make a smart choice when buying your wordpress theme (and that’s exactly what I’m going to help you with).

By now, you should have identified at least one strong core requirement for your project.

2. Understand Your Inner Geek

Knowing what your real skill sets are, can also help you pick the best theme for your needs, so here you go.

  • Do you understand HTML?
  • Are you comfortable with CSS?
  • Have you edited PHP code before?
  • Would you rather use selection boxes to edit your pages, squeeze pages, etc?
  • Would you be willing to outsource or learn by yourself?

The more you know about how all of these things work, the easier it’ll be for you to edit and create the website that you want.

However, if you don’t understand anything of this and would be more comfortable outsourcing the development part, you can also do that (in fact, many marketers don’t know any of this, so don’t feel left behind).

If you want to be more in control, don’t want to outsource any of this and still, would like to give it a shot at designing your own website; then there are many themes that allow you to do exactly that.

So far, you should have identified two basic points here:

  1. Your main core project requirement
  2. Are you going the DIY route (do it yourself) or just outsource it?

3. WordPress, Themes, Frameworks & Child Themes

There are three possibilites when it comes to build a website around WordPress:

  1. Themes
  2. Frameworks
  3. Plugins

Before going any further, let’s quickly (and very briefly) define what WordPress is, so you can understand the layers in which themes, frameworks and plugins, actually fall in.

3.1 WordPress

WordPress is a content management system (CMS) that you install on your server and it is absolutely required for building your website.

Think of it, as the foundation layer.

3.2 WordPress Themes

You install themes on top of wordpress and these are responsible for providing extended functionality.

Depending on the theme, these can include:

  • SEO tweaks
  • Extra Widgets
  • Adsense ready
  • Banner integration
  • Social Media integration
  • Easy theme modification such as custom headers, custom backgrounds, custom colors and more
  • etc

There are literally thousands of wordpress themes out there, both free and paid.

3.3 WordPress Frameworks

A framework is installed on top of wordpress and its main purpose is to serve as a parent theme so child themes can be built upon or modified without altering the main file structure of your framework.

3.4 WordPress Child Themes

A wordpress child theme is installed on top of a wordpress framework.

Consider a child theme as a “skin” for that parent theme. So if you were to modify how your site looks, you only modify your child theme leaving your main framework untouched.

The advantages of working on an environment like this, is that you can work on your child theme as much as you want and if you do mess it up, you can install your child theme again and get your site exactly as it was in the beginning.

Important: this is NOT the same as having a backup file restored.

Here are two different scenarios for you to understand this better:

First scenario (not using a framework)

  1. Install WordPress on your server.
  2. Select a free theme or buy a premium theme.
  3. Upload the new theme, activate and configure.

Second Scenario (using a framework)

  1. Install wordpress on your server.
  2. Select a free framework or buy a premium framework.
  3. Upload the new framework (same as uploading a new theme)
  4. Select a free child theme or buy a premium child theme.
  5. Upload the new child theme, activate and configure.

If you think the second scenario is more complicated, it is the same exact thing as the first one, it just involves two extra steps that once you know what you’re doing, takes no more than just a few extra seconds to complete.

4. WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins are basically additions used to extend your wordpress theme/framework capabilities.

There are thousands of wordpress plugins (free and paid) and you just need to look out for the functionality that you want and you’ll probably find something already created for it.

5. Real Life Examples

By now, you should have a rough understanding of what wordpress and plugins are, what a framework means and the main difference between a parent theme and a child theme.

It is a lot of information already (I know!) so let’s check a few real world scenarios so you can see how all of these pieces work together.

5.1 Thesis Framework

They refer to their child themes as skins and I was using this framework with no child installed right here on the marketing with sergio blog.

Thesis has a very robust platform, has amazing SEO performance and provides very easy access to modify its properties although if you’re feeling more creative, you won’t get far without having to dabble with a lot of code.

The Thesis framework does not offers any kind of free skins on their own.

You can support me by buying the Thesis Framework through my affiliate link here.

5.2 Genesis Framework

This is what you are currently seeing here on the site.

Right now I’m experimenting with the Genesis sample child theme but I may change it in the next days, like I said, I’m on an experimentation phase as I write this.

Genesis offers a few free skins themes and child themes here (all require the genesis framework to work) which I might say, are very sexy looking.

Genesis strongly encourages to install a child theme (same as a skin theme) before any prior work so this way you ensure your installation is non faulty and when the updates come, they can be applied without affecting how your site looks.

Again, you can support me by getting the Genesis Framework through my affiliate link here.

5.3 Optimize Press

This is a WordPress Theme that its main strenghts reside on building membership sites, big product launches and has a wide library for creating custom squeeze pages.

On the technical side as it is a wordpress theme, this means that if you have a blog already installed and you still want to use Optimize Press, either you get a new domain name for it or create a sub domain name in order to use it.

Don’t know if you’re going to do a product launch soon but if you do, you can support me by buying Optimize Press through this affiliate link here.

5.4 Premise 2.0

Premise 2.0 is the direct Optimize Press’ competitor.

They are both built for creating squeeze pages, landing pages, membership sites, etc.

The main technical difference resides in that Premise is a WordPress Plugin and not a WordPress Theme.

In other words, you can add a lot of extra functionality to your current wordpress site without the need of a subdomain or a new domain for this to work.

To buy Premise 2.0 for WordPress, you can do so through my affiliate link here.

5.5 Optin Skin

This is a WordPress Plugin and has just been released today.

The Optin Skin plugin, basically allows you to add more features to your site, no matter if you’re using a child theme or a regular wordpress theme.

Its main purpose is to add optin forms and social media boxes anywhere you want in your blog.

A ViperChill’s Glen Allsopp development, so you know this thing just HAS to work.

If you want to support me, you can buy the Optin Skin for WordPress through my affiliate link here.

Conclusion

Whew, this was a long update but I hope it helped you understand all these crazy terms about wordpress, frameworks and child themes on all those weird geeky terms.

You should know that there are a lot of affiliate links on this post and I’m not providing any kind of bonuses if you buy through them (sorry guys).

I am currently writing my first product and it’ll be about blogging from scratch and on that training I’ll address every single thing mentioned here but in more detail and perhaps even with videos.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of this, don’t hesitate to ask me either on the comment section, through my contact form or even replying back to me if you’re already on my subscriber’s list (through e-mail).

Hope you have an amazing start of week and let me hear about your own experiences with wordpress themes and frameworks and if I missed anything as well.

Until next time, take care!

Sergio

PS. Tomorrow I’ll let you know why I’m moving from Thesis to Genesis. It has nothing to do with one framework being better than the other, so stay put!

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22 Responses to How To Choose Your Best WordPress Theme

  1. Daniel Sumner
    Twitter:
    February 27, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Hey Sergio,

    Great info on all the different types of themes and variations of WP available.

    First of all Optin Skin, can ‘t believe it. I was currently inquiring about the same plugin with developers to create my own. Guess I got beat to the finish line :-(

    I use Thesis framework with my blog and a custom design. I chose the Thesis theme mainly for the SEO capabilities and the ease of customization.

    I also have two niche blogs running Genesis and the lifestyle child theme which is also very good and works well for SEO.

    A far as Premise and Optimize press goes, I haven’t used them yet but will in the future. My days of creating HTML sales pages from scratch are over I think :-D

    Thanks Sergio, some cool info there man

    Dan Sumner
    Daniel Sumner recently posted..Is Finding Time to Blog a BIG Challenge?My Profile

    • Sergio Felix February 27, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      Hey Dan,

      Sorry that you got beat on that plugin development but even if you’re still building that new site of yours, you can still promote the new plugin as an affiliate, right?

      I think I actually saw one site of yours with the (Genesis) Lifestyle’s child theme somewhere I just can’t remember where.

      Premise 2.0 looks a lot more elegant than what you can do with Optimize Press but we still need to prove how great the new version will be against Optimize Press.

      Optimize Press has been chosen even over Kajabi by the big marketer’s and many people don’t know that.

      Creating HTML sales pages from scratch… yikes, I would only do that (again) IF I absolutely was building something very unique.

      I think that teaching people how to create good looking pages could be a great niche but I’ll worry about that later, I really can’t take more things right now.

      Thanks for stopping by Dan and for your great comment.

      That shows people that sometimes you need one or two themes/frameworks so you have more flexibility over your own sites.

      Take care and speak soon mate! ;-)

  2. Joe Lampo February 27, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    Hello, again, Sergio! Thanks for your email reply earlier today, and for this blog post, too! Great info hear for your readership. You have filled in a number of gaps to complete the knowledge one needs to make an intelligent, informed decision on what route to follow in developing a website. For the blog I am currently building, I am using WP v. 3.3.1, which I know is fully compatible with the Genesis Framework. With the info you supplied in your email, together with what you have written here, I have decided to purchase the Genesis Framework, which was what I was leaning to from the start. I think it lends itself well to building a blog. I was glad to learn from you via the email that the purchase of Genesis enables one to use it repeatedly for building additional sites.

    You’re on the right path, Sergio, in developing your blog in this manner. Keep up the great work! I look forward to all your future posts! Stay well!

    • Sergio Felix February 27, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

      Hey there Joe,

      I expect the Genesis framework to go almost hand in hand with the most updated WordPress version so I think we’re pretty much in good hands with these guys.

      I’m glad you’re taking an informed decision with this information, that’s the goal of these blog posts and I can see they have served you well on this one.

      Thank you for your interest and support, have a great day Joe! ;-)

  3. Patrick Griffin
    Twitter:
    February 27, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Hey Sergio,
    This is a great introduction to WordPress.
    I wish I had a guide like this when I first took my first steps into setting up a WP blog.
    So if this is your free stuff I guess your paid product will be really excellent.
    I am not really sure I am happy with my theme and the look of my blog at the moment but it is better than it was before.
    One funny thing is I once used a blog with a parent and child theme without having the faintest idea what the concepts of parent and child theme even meant.
    And recently I had a frustrating time when someone asked me to help choose WP themes for them without doing any of the preparation work you describe in this post.
    I felt like saying that I might as well just choose something at random because, as you say, you can’t choose a theme without at least some basic understanding of what you want it to do.
    By the way I have been trying to write this comment for the last three hours but I have been rather distracted in an online seminar room right now.
    P.
    Patrick Griffin recently posted..Monday Moaning: You Can’t Take Away Our Benfits…We’re Entitled!My Profile

    • Sergio Felix February 28, 2012 at 7:07 am #

      Hey Patrick,

      I remember that site of yours and you’re right. It actually had a parent and a child theme… And you now what’s funny?

      It was Genesis with the Lifestyle Child Theme!

      Choosing the right theme can really make your site stand out and look great or be plain and be so boring that nobody wants to stay there at all (much less, leave a comment).

      The reason why every marketer out there says “just install wordpress and pick a theme you like” so lightly, is because you can change it afterwards…

      But that doesn’t means it has to suck from the beginning either!

      Pick the right one from the start, and I can assure you that your very first comments will be very cool ones and you might even land a few loyal readers from it!

      It shows you care about what you do, something that many people still don’t understand.

      Glad you liked the overview, this is just the surface, I’m willing to be way more creative and detailed with the upcoming paid product.

      Thanks for commenting and speak soon man! ;-)

      PS. A simple rule of thumb I use to decide if something is right or wrong… If you’re unsure about it, then it’s not right.

      Hope that helps!
      Sergio Felix recently posted..How To Choose Your Best WordPress ThemeMy Profile

  4. Jens P. Berget
    Twitter:
    February 27, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

    Hi Sergio,

    Great post.

    There are so many options. And you’re absolutely right. What you do, and which one is for you, it all depends. I have been using Thesis and Elegant Themes, and my others before that. But right now I am using the Genesis Framework, and I believe I’m going to stick with that one for a long time. And that’s mostly because there are so many options to do things, and the child themes are professional and they keep launching new ones all the time (great for my clients).

    I have also bought Premise a while ago, and it’s brilliant to create sales pages and optin pages. I haven’t used it for anything else.
    Jens P. Berget recently posted..Content Development for Real Business ResultsMy Profile

    • Sergio Felix February 28, 2012 at 7:30 am #

      Hey Jens,

      You’re one of the newest Thesis to Genesis guys and I think your current theme rocks man!

      I see Genesis as a rising star and couldn’t agree anymore on the consntat new theme development.

      In this very short time I have with them, they have released two new themes (I bought the full package) and I have to say I’m more than impressed with them.

      The themes are different in a way they have distinct features from the prior themes. It is not like they changed a little bit the menu css properties, changed some fonts and call it a day.

      Premise 2.0 is a monster compared to the first release but I still have to conduct a lot of testings to be able to review any of the new additions properly.

      Thanks for stopping by and looking forward to read more about your first clients Jens, have a great day! ;-)

      PS. I bought Elegant Themes like a year ago and can’t say I’m a happy customer.

      1. The sliders were buggy as hell.
      2. The support forum was non-existant and irrelevant.
      3. Theme glitches were classified as ‘third party features’.
      4. Failing to be updated, the TimThumb exploit ended up having hundreds (if not thousands) of hacked blogs.

      PPS. I can’t risk anyone’s business with a company that works like that, so I don’t promote them at all and would never recommend them to anyone either.

  5. Sandy Halliday
    Twitter:
    February 28, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    Sergio, It’s hard to believe how far WordPress has come from the days when you had to be a bit of a Geek to use it!

    It was only a few years ago that I shied away from WordPress because I was put off by people who said it was best to stick to the Blogger platform unless you knew HTML.

    It was only after I heard so many people singing the praises of what you could do with WordPress that I became determined to learn how to set it up and use it. I bought
    a fairly expensive video course and got my first blog set up. That was the days before one click installs of course! Since then they have made it incredibly simple to set up and use.

    But, the choice of themes and plugins is certainly confusing. It took me about a year to decide on one and I am still not sure I have made the right decision! Will be interested to see what you decide about Genesis.
    Sandy Halliday recently posted..Did I Have Too Many Google Ads On My Blog To Rank Well?My Profile

    • Sergio Felix February 28, 2012 at 7:51 am #

      Hey Sandy,

      I know it’s crazy, right?

      Having to deal with complex stuff like creating users, databases, assigning user’s roles to a database… I really can’t understand how you guys did it before without going crazy first.

      Many friends I had in college used to have blogs, the vast majority used Blogger (Blogspot) and the few ones using WordPress were looked as the geeks of blogging.

      Just the installation steps were enough to make people scared from WP but the ones that did try it, were highly rewarded in the end.

      You’re 100% about what is happening today as well.

      The confusion relies on what theme, framework and plugins to use and move on to the next thing.

      You wouldn’t really believe me if I told you how many themes I beta tested and tried before even getting started buying premium themes.

      I’m still on migration mode to Genesis (hence, no header, opt-in form, social media icons, etc) but I will write a few more articles about Genesis, hope they can help you make an informed decision.

      Take care and have a great day Sandy, thanks for being interested! ;-)

      PS. I’ll let you know the same rule of thumb I told Patrick…

      When deciding if something is right or wrong… if you’re unsure about it, then it’s probably wrong.

  6. Andrew Stark
    Twitter:
    February 28, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    Hi Sergio

    The reason so many people struggle with wordpress is that they jump in without asking themselves what they want to do with it? It’s such a powerful piece of software and it’s amazing that the basic out of the box script is totally free and be installed in minutes with only a few clicks of a mouse.

    Currently using socrates theme, and when I’m feeling flush I will be looking to get something a bit better as I don’t really like the header and some extra banners seem to always appear linking back to the theme’s owner.

    Really look forward to seeing your product, should be a good seller as so many people are wanting to start a blog but get sold really bad information by hustlers who don’t actually know the material they’re selling.

    Andrew
    Andrew Stark recently posted..8 Traffic Exchange Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb..My Profile

    • Sergio Felix February 28, 2012 at 8:25 am #

      Hey Andrew,

      WordPress is insanely easy when you know what you’re doing, not that easy for newcomers though!

      I’ve heard good things about the Socrates theme in the past, although I can’t give my own opinion since I have never tried it myself.

      Might be worth trying it out for quick development on small niche based sites though!

      Thank you for your keen interest Andrew, that’s exactly what I want to target here…

      Teach others how to do it right and stop wasting their money on products that will only lead to more confusion and frustration.

      Take care and have a great day! ;-)

  7. Francine February 28, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    Nice sharing of post I really want to learn about this wordpress..

    • Sergio Felix February 28, 2012 at 6:54 am #

      Well, you have come to the right place then Francine. ;-)

  8. Robert
    Twitter:
    February 28, 2012 at 3:12 am #

    choosing a wordpress theme ahhhhhhhh!!

    This must be one of the most annoying things to do when starting a new website.. It is even worse for newbies because they change their wordpress theme like crazy – well I did anyway.

    You have covered some of the best theme’s on the market today. I think I will try out the “Genesis Framework” on my next website.
    Robert recently posted..Sorry But Content Is Not King!My Profile

    • Sergio Felix February 28, 2012 at 8:06 am #

      Hey Robert,

      Man, you just hit the nail on the head so I’m telling it out here…

      I actually applied the more than 3K available free themes from wordpress.org when I was getting started.

      When I was finally done browsing and applying themes like crazy, I had around “15 top picks” from the whole database.

      Then I started going back and forth between my top picks, tweaking them, modifying them, I honestly was spending all my time working on the themes than anything else.

      After a few months I finally (thank God) reached a point in which I actually said… “screw this, I’m going to go with something premium…”

      And then I started all over again my search, only it was premium themes so I know exactly what you mean man.

      I believe Thesis and Genesis are both very cool frameworks but I’m a bit more inclined towards Genesis right now (hence the switch) I still believe Thesis is a contender on its own.

      Glad to have you here on the blog for the first time and looking forward to check out your site Robert, take care! ;-)

      PS. The BigFoot theme is one of the very select themes outside of frameworks that I’m going to recommend on my paid product about wordpress blogs.

      I found that theme via Matt Wolfe’s Business And Blogs site (must check his podcasts!) and I think it is a very cool looking and simple to use theme.

  9. Cat Alexandra
    Twitter:
    March 6, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Hey Sergio,

    Great outline on how to choose a well-suited WordPress theme. I like how you laid this all out. I’m putting together a series right now where some of this info is relevant…I may want to grab some of these ideas and apply them into the content.

    Thanks for the great breakdown – it’s certainly one of the best of its kind on this subject that I’ve seen.

    Cat
    Cat Alexandra recently posted..Internet Marketing Myths Exposed!My Profile

    • Sergio Felix March 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

      Hey Cat,

      Glad you liked the content and thank you for the great compliment!

      Let me know when you get your content put together, I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy checking that out, take care. ;-)

  10. Jeevanjacobjohn
    Twitter:
    March 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Awesome Guide, Sergio. I wish I had this 1-2 years ago. I spent a lot of money on design – changed my design every now and then – premium/free themes, frameworks.

    It is just that when I see someone else using a “better” theme than me – I decide to go buy that theme – Crazy me! Spending unnecessary time and money on buying themes.

    I used to do this until recently. Now, I have decided to save up money and use the theme that I am using, because it might be the best one (I have always had some kind of plugin/page error for most of the themes I used, don’t really know why).

    Thanks for the awesome guide ;) I am sure that it is going to help a lot of people,

    Jeevan Jacob John
    Jeevanjacobjohn recently posted..Do You Read Your Old Posts?My Profile

    • Sergio Felix March 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

      Hey Jeevan,

      If I’m honest, I wish I had this myself too lol I also spent a lot of time trying to find a theme that would suit what I wanted to do but unfortunately I had to find out for myself and I wasted a lot of time there.

      Thank you for the kind comments and I’m glad you’re error-free now. ;-)

      PS. Are you using Headway Themes right now?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] was a lot of response on the prior article on how to choose your best wordpress theme so thank you everyone for commenting and engaging on the [...]

  2. How To Install A Free Wordpress Theme From Your Dashboard - May 18, 2012

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