How to start a Blog from scratch: (Part 3) How to Select A WordPress Theme and Plugins: | The Freelance Writing Blog

How to start a Blog from scratch: (Part 3) How to Select A WordPress Theme and Plugins:

Selecting a WordPress Theme:

In the previous two parts in this series of posts we had a look at acquiring a server, a domain and how to install WordPress on the server.

Now that we have WordPress installed on our server, it is time to give your blog-to-be a fresh look that reflects you, your brand or your product. We need a blog that immediately tell visitors who you are and what your blog is all about.

In the WordPress world the look of a blog is created by using a theme (unless you are a PHP developer who can create your own blog with code). Selecting a theme can be quite a daunting task and you may soon find yourself overwhelmed with too many choices. Just Google “WordPress Theme” and see how many results you find. In addition, every Theme’s developer will claim that their theme is the best solution.

In order to assist you we will consider at a list of handy factors to consider when selecting a Theme.

The following list is not exhaustive but will assist you nonetheless:

  • Create a list of all the features you want for your blog and evaluate all the themes you consider against these features. Do not compromise on the features you want in your blog.
  • Bigger is definitely not better in the online world. Unfortunately, some Themes are bloated due to all the features packed into them. A bloated oversize blog will load slow in a visitor’s browser which will have them leave your blog in seconds.
  • Make sure that the Theme is responsive. A responsive theme will display on all the different devices out there that is used to access the internet.
  • Do your best to stick to simplicity. Nothing confuses visitors more than a complex layout with many different colours and effects. A theme is only used to support your objectives.
  • Make sure that the Theme you select is compatible with all the major browsers. Not all browsers are equal. It is therefore important that the Theme Developer keep this in mind and test it against all major browsers. You can also test a theme prior to buying it by visiting its demo with various browsers.
  • Is the Theme supporting plugins you intend to use? Many WordPress functions are obtained by specific plugins. If you know which plugin(s) you are going to use please make sure that your plugin is tested with the Theme. You can ask the Theme Developer if you are not sure.
  • Does the Theme come with a Page Builder? Since you are not going to create the code to design and develop the different pages on your blog it may be a good option to select a Theme that have a Page Builder. A Page Builder will allow you to build the layout of your page by dragging and dropping Lego-like blocks.
  • Does the developer provide support? Normally a support period of 6 months is included in the license when a Theme is purchased. Once the 6 month period has expired additional support can be purchased. It is always a good practice to visit the support page (if possible) to see whether people who have purchased the Theme are happy with the support. Support is a very important factor when starting out with a new Theme which you still need to master.
  • Is the Theme SEO friendly? In today’s competitive online world, it is important to have a Theme that is SEO friendly. This simply means that the Theme is coded properly using best SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) practices and that it complies with W3C Markup Validation.
  • How is the Theme rated by its users? It is always a good idea to spend some time reading reviews and having a look at users’ ratings. Red flags will immediately be apparent if the theme does not deliver on its promises.
  • How often is the Theme updated? A Theme need to be updated regularly to keep in line with developments in the WordPress core software and to maintain security and protection against threats. It is best to avoid themes that have not been updated in a while. This information can be obtained by looking at a Theme’s changelog on the Developer or seller’s website. A changelog simply contains information about all updates that has been made to the Theme. Here you can see how often updates are being made and which issues where addressed in the updates.

In addition to the above factors there are two further considerations that need to be dealt with separately.

The first consideration is costs.

WordPress Themes can be as cheap as ‘free’. Whilst a free theme may sometimes lack the bells and whistles it may just be enough for you to get started. There are quite many Premium WordPress Themes that have free versions which may just be what you need. It is not uncommon to have a free Theme that ticks all the boxes on your list of needed features. Here is a list of 59 Free WordPress Blog Themes for 2018

The second consideration is for the instances where we see another person’s website or blog and simply need to have the same or similar layout for your own blog. Luckily there are online tools that can be used to see which platform or Theme used to create the website. If you already know that the website, you like is a WordPress website and you only need to find out which theme was used you can go to WordPress Theme Detector and paste the URL of the website (you like) in the “Site to check:” bar and hit enter. The website will process the information and indicate which Theme was used.

If, however you are not sure whether the website is actually a WordPress website you can establish the platform that was used to build the website by visiting Build With Technology Lookup and pasting the URL of the website you like into the Lookup Bar. If you find that the website is built with a different Content Management System such as Joomla or Drupal, you may do a quick search of the relevant Joomla or Drupal Theme and see whether the developers also developed a WordPress version. It is not uncommon to find that a successful Theme get developed to be used on different Content Management Systems.

We have (through our sister company – WebScripto Pty Ltd), assisted many website owners and bloggers with setting up a Theme for WordPress. The most popular Themes in our opinion are:

Astra

Avada

BeTheme

DIVI

And the one used to build this blog and all its functions … Thrive Themes

It is also recommended that you visit the following websites which offers different quality WordPress Premium Themes:

ThemeForest

Mojo Marketplace (Previously known as Mojo Themes)

MeridianThemes

StudioPress

Themify

Template Monster

Selecting a WordPress Plugin:

Before we look at selecting plugins for your blog it is important to consider the rule of thumb when it come to plugins. If you can live without a plugin then do so. Plugins can slow down a website/blog’s performance. As you will already know, a slow website or blog is avoided by people.

With that out of the way we can consider a couple of factors when selecting a plugin:

  1. As with selecting a Theme, first make a list of all the functionalities that your website/blog will need e.g. such as listing properties or selling tickets. If the WordPress Theme you wish to purchase does not have that functionality you may want to select a plugin to do the job.
  2. If you require a plugin to perform a specific function, chances are that there may be a couple of plugins available. For this reason it is good to make a list pf the plugins available for each specific function your website/blog requires. Now you are ready to make the necessary comparisons by reading each one’s reviews and taking note of the Average Rating of each plugin.
  3. In addition to the above it is important to establish upfront whether the plugin works well with your selected Theme. It is a known fact that not all plugins work well with all Themes or with other plugins. It does happen quite often that a plugin’s code may conflict with the Theme’s code or another plugin’s code. Conflicts in code will break your website/blog and may cause you not to be able to log into your WordPress Administration Panel. Although uninstalling the plugin will correct the error it will become difficult doing so if you are logged out of your website. The only way to delete the plugin causing the conflict will be to access your website via ftp software (file transfer protocol) such as FileZilla, CyberDuck or CoffeeFTP or via your cPanel and deleting it manually. It is important that you ask both the Theme developer and the Plugin developer whether the Plugins and Theme works well together and with other plugins on your list. This extra bit of planning will save you lots of frustration and costs later on in the process.
  4. As with Themes, it is important (for the same reasons) to see how often the plugins are updated and how dedicated the support is. Updates in WordPress Core files will normally lead to updating of plugins as well to keep it running smoothly alongside newer technology.
  5. As mentioned above, a plugin can slow down a website or blog. It is best to test a plugin (if possible via a free version) or reading comments from other users.
  6. Consider the costs. there are many free plugins that are exceptionally well coded and does what it is supposed to do. Similarly there are very well coded premium plugins that normally offers more than the free version. If the free version does what you require there will be no need to purchase the premium version.
  7. WordPress does a good job at guiding its users to selecting good quality plugins. WordPress do have a large repository of plugins which contains thousands of plugins (both free and paid) that meet WordPress’ coding standard. This repository is also incorporated in your WordPress installation and can be found in the Administration Panel under Plugins >>Add New Plugins.
  8. In addition to the WordPress repository a large number of extremely good quality plugins can be viewed,tested and selected/purchased at CodeCanyon.  Code Canyon only allows quality plugins on their list and allows you to read reviews, contact the developer, test the plugin and read reviews from users. Although we do trust products from CodeCanyon they are created by third parties and is sold outside of the WordPress repository.
  9. A good indication of the quality of a plugin is to view and consider the number of downloads in the WordPress repository. Although a plugin that has only be downloaded a few times may be indicative of an unsuccessful plugin it may also be a new plugin which users still need to get to know.
  10. It may be a good idea to search Google for a list of best plugins for a specific function in which they are compared. By doing this you may just find which plugin has the edge over its competitors. Be sure to read more than one comparison  to avoid possible authors’ bias.

I trust that this article will assist you in selecting your first WordPress Theme and Plugin(s).

In the next article we will look at installing your WordPress Theme and plugins and how to keep them safe and updated. We will also look at the overall safety of your website/blog.

If you have already acquired a Theme and/or Plugin, how did you go about in making your selection. Please share your approach and experience with us.

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Eitel Bock

About the Author

Eitel Bock

Eitel is the owner and Lead Website Designer at WebScripto Pty Ltd. When not working on a website he loves to write blog articles covering various aspects of Website Design and Maintenance. He is also the co-owner and Blogger of The Freelance Writing Blog.

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