When it comes time to start searching through the 1,000 plus free themes on offer with WordPress or if you have opted to use a paid theme, trying to select a great theme for your blog can be a real headache. Hopefully this article will help highlight some of the more critical aspects you should consider when comparing the various themes & give you the guidance necessary, in order to help you reach the right decision.
Overall Look Of A Theme
Many of us are inclined to centre our focus on the aesthetics of a theme rather than the functionality, when trying to determine a top theme for our blogs & alas this isn’t always the best thing to do. The trouble is, we as humans are normally drawn to what looks pleasant & attractive, very often we are oblivious to the underlying layout & structure of a theme. The premier and most important attribute to scrutinize should be the fundamental layout of the theme, for the simple reason that this is the most difficult area to work with, should you find it necessary to alter or edit anything. The print, colours & emblems are relatively easy to change in comparison to editing the basic structure of a theme which can be an absolute nightmare to try and alter or edit.
A Costly Change Of Heart
A change of heart is not so much of a problem when choosing a gratis theme; it simply means a little extra work on your part, in altering the theme to something more suitable, but for those of us that have chosen to actually purchase what we see as a top quality theme, a change of heart can signify money down the drain & in the current financial climate, this is something few of us can afford to do!
Benefits Of A Great Design
Lets check out the structure & layout of what I consider to be an outstanding theme, lets see what if any benefits there are to using a theme with the following layout, but please bear in mind that the removal of any element you do not require, is far easier than trying to add it to a theme at a later date.
The Header Area
Header area, this should need little explanation and to be reasonable I would say the only concerns here should be the ability to use your own headline image, the addition of site search & maybe also the RSS & Email subscription buttons. One other consideration that you may wish to take onboard, is the ability to show your weblog title as H1 text as opposed to an image. Obviously for SEO benefits, the H1 title text is preferred. The H1 title tag is one of the most important areas of your page and is granted far more weight by the search engines than any image alt tag.
Note: If your theme lacks the RSS & Email subscription buttons then you can download the necessary code & images, to place a subscription block at the top of your sidebar. RSS & Email Subscription Bar The code can simply be added to a text widget in your sidebar & the images uploaded to your theme’s images folder.
Numerous blog owners appreciate the ability to place a 468 x 60 block in the right hand side of the header, the justification being that if you are not using an actual picture or image, but are only using a pattern or gradient colour, then the right hand area of the header tends to look slightly bare & is a waste of valuable advertising space. By placing a 468 x 60 banner here, you not only relieve the monotony of the header bar, but could also get some additional income to help towards site costs.
The First Object In The Content Area
I am not a great fan of sliders boxes to be honest with you, however I do believe that a featured article box or latest post box can succeed really well & even if it does not utilize the full width of the content area, it can often be realigned to one side leaving a region for advertising, or can be centralized so there is minimum space lost either side of it. Should you prefer to opt for a slider as against a static featured article box, please give thought to the increase that can occur in site load times, as these sliders are invariably written in Java script and are known to be resources guzzlers!
Content boxes can now make up the remainder of the content area of the page, there are numerous layouts to select from here, my personal choice is a magazine style, although the overall layout of this area is not so important as long as the titles are showing correctly & using the right heading / title tags. As far as search engine optimization is concerned, one should always strive to use H1 as the header to your website, H2 as the titles to your posts & H3 or H4 as titles in your sidebars / footer & any additional headings within your articles.
Sidebars should at all times be set on the right hand side for the basic understanding that the search engines scan your page top to bottom & left to right, therefore if you place a sidebar on the left of your page, that entire column will be read before moving onto the content area. Your post content should always be read before any sidebar content, as it is the most important content on the page. This is exactly the same when thinking up a title to an article, as always, set your most useful keywords as far to the left as is achievable whilst maintaining readability, as these words are granted far more weight by the search engines.
Full width top sidebar. This is a region in which I consider a lot of themes fall short, my individual preference here is a sidebar block of 320px wide, this allows for 10px padding either side & you can always use a 300 x 250 Adsense block or indeed you can comfortably accommodate a 4 x 125 advert area without any trouble at all. From my own experience, nothing looks worse than a lack of symmetry on a website, or the fact that certain objects seem compressed into place or are allowed to overlap their boundaries, pages like this give an impression of a lack of professionalism in my humble view.
Note: The inner/left & outer/right sidebars mentioned below are both sited on the right hand side of the page & are sandwiched between the upper & lower sidebars.
Inside sidebar should be useable in a range of sizes ranging from 120px – 180px. Whatever width you set the left hand sidebar at, the right hand side bar should equate to the whole width (300) minus the breadth of the left hand sidebar, so if the left is 140px, the right would equal 160px + the 10px padding either side = 320px.
Outside sidebar should be available in a variety of sizes ranging from 120px – 180px. Whichever width you set the right hand sidebar at, the left hand side bar should equate to the whole breadth (300) less the dimension of the right hand sidebar, so if the right is 140px, the left would equal 160px + the 10px padding either side = 320px.
Note: The above figures would be varied if you opt to have inner padding between the two sidebars! Central padding is not always necessary and depends more on the alignment used in the sidebars & which objects or widgets you place there. For example if align left in the left hand sidebar & align right in the right hand sidebar, then very often you will find there is no requirement for padding between the two sidebars.
Full width bottom sidebar. Again this is where numerous themes lose my vote, for the simple reason that the lower portion of the sidebar area is the ideal place for adding all those latest visitor type widgets from Blogcatalog, MyBlogLog or even Facebook. Having the additional space of 320px at the bottom of your sidebar is an excellent place for these large widgets.
The Footer Box
Footer Boxes 1, 2, 3 These are also very useful areas for your most recent visitor widgets or indeed any RSS feeds you may be posting into your blog. Also anything else that you feel is inappropriate to put in the sidebars can be tucked away in the footer area.
Copyright & Analytics / Stats
Finally the copyright area which often also includes some type of tracking. Is this area editable? e.g. can you add your own details & copyright? You would be surprised at the number of themes that do actually restrict your ability to edit this area.
There we have it that is what I see as a 1st class layout, for the simple reason it covers all eventualities. I have found nothing more frustrating than trying to place a specific element or widget in my sidebar & discovering that my theme will not accept it due to width restrictions in the sidebar. Paying close attention to this area can make life so much easier when building your blog.
Well I hope this article has helped and has shown you several of the more crucial elements we should take into account when trying to choose a quality theme for our bogs. Obviously the amount of importance one places on each different region of design, is going to be dependant upon each individuals ability when it comes to editing the theme code. Having said that, I consider a lot of headaches could be saved by following this broad layout, as it is also highly tuned for search engines optimization.
This article is written by Steve Nickson. He has over 24 years experience working in the computer industry, including operating his own computer repair & custom build business in the UK. If you wish to write for HBB, kindly check this.