This weekend I finally got round to something I’ve been planning for months: installing a new WordPress theme on the blog. It’s now live and I’m sure regular readers will have noticed the difference.
But the process got me thinking. I’m fortunate to have a bit of knowledge on the technical side of website management because of my job in digital marketing, but I’m far from a tech guru. Whenever I have to attempt to code anything I break out in a nervous sweat!
So rather than just writing a quick post to say, “Hey guys, check out the new theme!” I thought I’d walk through my process and offer a few tips for anyone else without a handy tech friend who is struggling with theme installation.
Why did I decide on this theme?
My new theme is Inspire, by Boost Developers. I couldn’t be more pleased with how it has turned out.
I first came across the theme a couple of weeks ago and have been circling around it making a decision on whether or not to purchase. After a bad experience last time I attempted to install a premium theme, this time I was much more wary and did a lot of research.
Not only did I spend ages fiddling with the live demo, but I also took the time to read all the comments on the developer’s thread. I was impressed to see how helpful they were to anyone who had an issue and the quality of their replies was high. Any potential problems I spotted whilst browsing the live demo had a solution somewhere in the comments or the FAQs and any issues I ran up against whilst installing the theme were dealt with the same way.
The developer’s how-to videos were another helpful feature, which were designed to guide the user through the back-end of the theme so that installation and set-up would be simple. These videos really worked and it was watching them that gave me the final push to make the purchase.
To give you an idea of timescales, I purchased this theme on Saturday and spent most of Sunday afternoon and evening getting everything set-up. A big chunk of this time was dedicated to going back through all my posts (109 of them!) and assigning each one a featured image for the home page thumbnails, then checking each page appeared correctly. It’s pretty much sorted now, I just need to scour through the blog and manually resize or replace a few images that don’t quite fit.
So, how do you find the perfect theme?
There are plenty of great themes out there that you can use for free. One of these might work perfectly for your blog, however if you want greater functionality and support then you might need to purchase a premium theme.
You could hire a web developer or designer to create a custom template, but this is probably best left to those who already earn an income from their blog.
Google is a great place to hunt down new themes, as bloggers and tech writers regularly compile lists of their favourites. TIP – if you search for ‘WordPress themes’ try looking for the most recent posts, as new items are released on a regular basis.
Once you’ve got your list, scroll through and watch out for eye-catching themes. You could even set up a board on Pinterest to collate your favourites. If you see one you like, click on it and you will usually be redirected to the developer’s page. Most developers will have a live demo set up so that you can click around and see what the available options are for the theme and any special features. This should give you an idea of how well it will work for you.
Also check out the technical specifications. Your theme should be widget ready and if you want mobile users to have a seamless experience, responsive design is a must.
Before you decide on anything you need to ask yourself a few questions. Be honest with your answers.
- What sort of blog do I run?
- Does the blog promote a business or is it personal?
- Who is my audience?
- Which other blogs do I find aesthetically pleasing? Why?
These answers can help you narrow down the list of potential themes. For example, this blog is personal and the content is word rather than image heavy. This provided me with a problem, as the blog themes that jumped out at me were all very image oriented and would be better suited to a photographer or designer rather than a writer.
I decided on this theme because it was visually striking, clean with a minimalistic feel, but it also had plenty of functionality and potential for customisation.
What to do before you install a new theme
There are a few important steps to take and some are easily forgotten.
- Make a note of any customisations you’ve already made to your blog – note down any code you will want to reuse.
- Make a list of all the plugins you have activated. Before you install your new theme, it’s best to deactivate all your plugins temporarily, as some can prevent the new theme installing correctly. When I installed my theme, I left two plugins running, Akismet, which catches spam comments and Theme Test Drive – more on this in a minute.
- Record your Google Analytics code; you’ll need to add it to your new theme.
- It might be worth updating your blog with a quick post to let readers know the site is undergoing some changes.
- There are two main ways you can test the new theme and make sure it works before you go live:
- Set up a subdomain purely for testing. This article provides a useful how-to guide.
- Install the Theme Test Drive plugin. This allows you to work on your new theme and only you, as the admin, will see the changes. Your previous theme will still be live for any visitors to the website.
- Once everything is installed and set-up, don’t forget to reactivate your plugins. It’s also useful to check every page on the blog to look for anything that has broken or seems out-of-place. Time consuming, but worth it.
- Also try and check the site in different browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome are the main ones. What is compatible on one may not be on another.
- Announce your brand new theme and ask your readers to contact you if they come across anything that doesn’t work.
And voilà – your blog should have a great new look! Of course, this is a fairly basic guide; your steps might change depending on the theme you’ve chosen and your content.
But hopefully this will be a good starting point!