Ok, this is a story not finished yet. This is about how I try to make this website beautiful, unique and truly me. I read questions about themes and design so often that I thought I maybe share what I have learned and tried so far so that others may learn from it. Here is how to choose a WordPress theme if you are a brand-new blogger.
I started this blog from absolute scratch. The only experience I had was with the writing. Every little thing else I had to learn from WordPress navigation to web design or social media.
When it comes to design you will have to choose a theme for your website and then customize it. This is why and how I chose my first paid WordPress theme. Fair warning: It’s a long post. 😉
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The Start: A free WordPress theme
Everybody has to start somewhere. When you have purchased a domain and installed WordPress then you will find a default theme which is the latest WordPress released theme named after the year of release. So in my case, this theme was “Twenty Seventeen”. I scrolled around in the free WordPress theme selection (there are MYRIADS of them) and switched the default theme to “Twenty sixteen”. Both are made by WordPress.org. I already knew I wanted to get a paid theme as soon as possible so I didn’t invest much time to choose a free theme. To get started I just wanted something functional until I had made up my mind about which theme to purchase.
I chose “Twenty Sixteen” because of its clean design and the color frame that comes with it. Yes, simple as that. I changed the black frame color to pink, customized the sidebar and title, changed the favicon/site icon and that was about it.
You can easily see that it looked… well, horrible and amateurish! But as I had hardly any page views I didn’t bother much because I knew it was going to change soon.
WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system. Gazillion websites use it and for that reason – unfortunately – it is also under the ongoing attack of hackers. A free WordPress theme is one of the attacking points of hackers. Getting a premium theme is therefore also an investment in web security for your blog.
In addition, many free WordPress themes offer only limited or no support at all. Some get abandoned, have flawed coding or are not updated regularly.
If you, however, want to go with a free WordPress theme anyway, choose one by WordPress.org which are regularly updated and install all updates.
The Model: Draft with pen and paper
Before purchasing anything, I took some time to think about how I want my website to look like and drafted a basic model with paper and pencil. As I really don’t know anything about web design I just drew what I wanted to end up with.
This is how that draft looked like. The original draft is penciled. Then I added what I learned in yellow highlights and blue ink. On the right is the first draft, on the left is a second one that translated my idea into widgets.
I had no idea how to get there. But you need some direction. That way you are less likely to get totally lost with all the options out there. Now, a few months into blogging I might make different decisions. When I started I didn’t have anything but a vision.
The Upgrade: A paid theme
I wanted not only more security but first of all a way to make my website unique and beautiful. Also, I wanted something uncomplicated that is easy to customize because I really don’t have any clue about web design, coding or anything techy. So I wanted to go with a pre-made theme that is created for blogs, comes with ready-to-use pages and templates and is mobile responsive, too.
I spent some time researching options, found out which themes are used by favorite websites (look at the very bottom where the copyright statement is) and which are recommended by big blogs. I then looked further into Foodie Pro by StudioPress (129,95 Dollar, including the Genesis Framework), the Divi theme by Elegant Themes (starting from 89 Dollar yearly or one-time payment of 249 Dollar, no additional framework required) and a choice of themes by Restored316 as they have too many gorgeous themes to choose one right away (75 Dollar for the theme plus 59,95 Dollar for the Genesis Framework).
Hint: Go to the developers’ website and look for showcases to see real websites that run the theme. Watch out for free demos to play around with, too.
You could set up your website’s design using the Genesis Framework only. … if you have time to learn how and are somewhat ambitious. The Genesis Framework lets you build WordPress websites just the way you want them. But you will need time and dedication to do it and I didn’t want to invest that much time and effort. So, I decided to use a Child Theme instead that pushes the buttons of the parent framework for me and uses the basic coding of Genesis to style the website.
Nailing down the one theme to go with
With the Divi theme (which is its own framework), you have a lot of options to customize every little thing on your website. But to be honest the many options and tutorials intimidated me a bit and I got the feeling that it will need some time to figure everything out. So, the Divi theme was the first that I marked off my list. Sorry. But Suzi of Start a Mom Blog is truly in love with the Divi Theme and her review almost makes me regret that decision. Check out her post if you like to look into Divi more.
I basically looked into many, many showcases and I really liked the feminine designs of Lauren of Restored316. So the next decision was to go with one of her themes.
Hint: Sign up for the newsletter of your theme(s) of interest’s vendor and check out additional resources or coupon codes to save on your purchase.
I got myself the Restored316 Guide to choosing the right theme and wrote some emails to their support team with specific questions I had. The guide is also helpful to understand how a website is made up and what elements I needed to translate my draft into a website. I learned to rather look for a layout for my website than fall in love with colors and fonts which are easily changed or images that are not even included in the package.
Choose WordPress Theme, choose Support
As I said, I am completely new to this and I have to ask a lot because I don’t know anything yet! I started this journey from absolute scratch. The support team of Restored316 always gets back to me within 24 hrs and answers my countless questions patiently. The quick responses and solid information made me feel confident about a purchase.
Hint: Start contacting the support before you purchase and fire questions at them. How long does it take for them to get back to you? Do they answer your questions in a way that makes sense to you? Do they treat you like a paying customer though you are not (yet)? If you are anything like me you will need their support setting up everything and it is important how good their support is! Find out before buying anything.
In the end, it was one of the showcases that amazed me so much that I wanted to go with the correspondent theme which was the beautiful Darling theme. You should narrow down your choice to just a few themes and then look into showcases of your selected themes. Otherwise you will have to sift through too many showcases.
My website is still currently running the darling theme, though the website in the showcase, unfortunately, isn’t anymore. So no peeking and copying there! But I do peek at other websites using the Darling theme and have learned a lot!
A rough start with my paid WordPress Theme
I then made the loop and purchased the Genesis Framework (StudioPress) and the Darling theme (Restored316). Then I procrastinated putting them into action. I was so scared I would mess up my whole website!
I took a deep breath someday and followed the tutorials at Restored316 to install the Framework and Child Theme.
And it worked quite well!
Hint: Do not import the sample widgets if your blog is already up and running! I did it and it messed some things up that I needed to correct manually! Huge time sucker! (And of course, you will not import the sample pages and posts either).
This is how my blog looked the first time I visited it after installing the theme files.
Just one hour of work later it looked like that:
Customizing the WordPress theme
You can easily customize some items of the Darling theme using the WordPress customizer which is great.
Some other things like fonts or getting rid of some elements need a change in the theme’s code. This is a bit intimidating. Copy and save the original code before you change anything! If you mess up the code you will break your website! With an extra copy as a backup, you can bring it back to life. And don’t worry, the Genesis Framework cares for your website’s functionality and you will not have to change anything there. In fact, it is highly recommended to not touch this framework code at all:
After installing the Darling theme I first changed the color palette of my website which is easy with the WordPress Customizer. I wrote an in-depth post about how to come up with a beautiful color palette here.
Then I went through every tutorial Restored316 has for the versatile Darling theme. I installed a slider, widgets on the homepage, in the header and sidebar and learned that not every widget works in every space. Also, I learned a lot from the Restored316 blog.
As I’m writing this the blog looks like that:
And as you are reading this the blog looks like … well… what it looks like. 😉
Still, my journey to design is not over and I plan to rename the blog, too. So, this all is preliminary work and I’m right in the middle of designing my blog. Whenever I’m stuck I write an email to the support and then move on another step. That way I learned that I can place HTML codes in widgets to show links or linked images. I got the first of these codes custom made for me by Lani of the support team. (Thank you, Lani!) Then I used that code as a template for other widgets.
For example, the links in the footer area (on the left) are made of these text widgets as well as the clickable About-image on the right, while the other two are the normal social sharing (bottom left) and subscription widgets (middle). You can put more or different stuff there, of course.
It took some time to figure out how and where widgets work and what’s not working. But trust me, if I could work my way through this, you can, too! Only look at my amateurish drafts! This should boost your confidence.
The Genesis Framework with a child theme is a great way for beginners to create a beautiful and unique website without getting a degree in graphic design and without investing hundreds of dollars into a custom design. Also, a great plus is that you have a lot of options to customize things by changing the code or by using the widgets in a clever crafty way. You can change the appearance of almost everything. Even if you want to hire a designer you can still use the child theme and make it truly yours.
I am still right in the middle of designing and branding. I try to make my blog look nice and reflect what I’m all about. And of course, keep it organized and easy to navigate. Not so easy sometimes but I am happy with my progress until now. I still want to make many changes and tweaks and I still need to find out about a lot of things. But I’m determined to keep moving until I truly love my website design.
I hope this post is somewhat helpful. Did you already get a premium theme? What are you struggling with in your ongoing journey to a beautiful design?
Are you on the fence to buying a premium theme but can’t decide? Take the Quiz at Restored316 to find out which of their themes is right for you! Which theme is best for your website? Take the Quiz