Choosing a WordPress Theme and PlugIns

You’ve taken the first steps:

  1. Purchased your domain name
  2. Found a hosting service that’s ideally optimised for WordPress
  3. Installed on your site

Now the fun really starts as you need to choose and install a WordPress Theme and plug-ins so you can create the style of site that you’d like.

Choose your WordPress Theme and plugins carefully, they impact how your site looks and how you create content Click To Tweet

What does a theme do?

Your site’s appearance and initial impression are determined largely by two things: your theme and the graphic density of your site (the number and quality of graphics, such as your header). A good theme will make the difference between a professional-looking site and one that isn’t. The ideal route is to start with a good theme and then add professional (or semi-professional) graphics.

Themes are customisable to differing degrees. Modifying the PHP theme files directly is possible in all themes but you want to avoid this if you can (unless you want to learn PHP programming!). You are better off choosing a theme that already has the functionality and look that you want.

You are also typically better off choosing a Theme framework over a regular theme. A theme framework allows you to customise directly through the theme options page. A good theme framework will allow you to select the number of sidebars, the width of sidebars, all your fonts and colours, and much more through the WordPress dashboard. This may save you hours (or days) of wandering through style sheets (CSS files) and PHP.

Many themes are free and some are paid for. I usually opt for a premium paid-for theme, My previous site used Thesis from DIY Themes. This one uses Divi from Elegant Themes which I use often. I have even become an affiliate, as I like their style, design and build options. Also, the Support has been very good.

Free theme or commercial?

You can use a free Theme (Atahualpa White, House, Hybrid, Thematic, Revolution and Lysa are all clean, uncluttered themes, suitable for any type of professional site). However, very few offer Support which is usually advisable, particularly if you are just starting out.

Most commercial themes cost in the range of $35-$80. It’s usually not worth saving $80 in order to spend an extra dozen hours styling your site (and then possibly failing to get the look-and-feel you want and having to start again anyway).  All commercial themes provide some degree of support, usually through a forum.

Many themes have a sidebar area.  You can place “Widgets” in the sidebar to customise the feel of your site.  Popular widgets include Menus; Archives; Tag Cloud and Calendar.  You can also download different widgets that add all kinds of functionality. A widget sidebar area is also a great place for an opt-in offer to help you build your database list.

Plugins are amazing!

Plugins can provide the functionality to do almost anything you can imagine. There are over thirty thousand WordPress plugins listed in the official WordPress Plugin Directory alone, so there is an almost overwhelming number to choose from. Don’t get too carried away though as you could end up overloading your site and slowing it down – though there are plugins to help speed your site up.

There are always lists of top plugins to use being published online as there are so many to choose from.  When selecting plugins look for the star rating and the number of times the plugin has been downloaded as these are good indicators of whether the plugin is going to do the job you want it to.

Essential Plugins

I always include the following basic plugins that I feel are essential:

  • Spam filter, I usually use Akismet which comes with your WordPress download
  • SEO – SEO by Yoast or All in One SEO are the most popular
  • A backup program – many to choose from and I’m always testing new ones
  • Google XML Sitemap – to make sure your site is found
  • Google Analytics – to see who’s visited your site

I’ve used plugins for social media sharing; building forms; linking to MailChimp; including Eventbrite events on a page; creating an online shop, check out WooCommerce; creating membership sites and a whole range of other functions. The Twitter quote in this blog is added by a free plugin called Click to Tweet.

I could go on…..and on……and on!

The basic version of most plugins is free but for additional functionality, links or style you may need to pay extra. I’m just working with a Pricing Table plugin for this site from Ready!, which I’m thrilled with as I’ve been looking for one that would give me the functionality and look I wanted without a lot of coding. I did have to purchase the Pro version rather than use the free version but felt it was worth the extra.

In WordPress, content is mostly separate from presentation, so you can change your theme later. This isn’t something I’d recommend. If you do this, you will lose most of the work that you have put into styling and customising your theme.  So, you will need to start over again making stylistic adjustments to the new theme.

Choosing your theme and plugins carefully is essential to your site. If you aren’t confident to do it yourself then take advice from a web developer.

What are your favourite theme and plugins?


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