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How to Choose a Great WordPress Theme

It can be really overwhelming to choose a WordPress theme since there are so many available for free.

Or is it?

How do you know if you’re installing a great WordPress theme when there are so many options available? And should you buy a theme or use a free one?

Read on and you’ll be able to answer all of these questions and more!

A Great WordPress Theme Accommodates Your Blog’s Needs

You can do so many different things with WordPress from building a blog to an e-commerce store. As such, it’s important to understand your blog’s needs before choosing a new theme.

What’s more important to your blog? Displaying lots of imagery in a whimsical manner, or improving legibility? Do you need to have a more complex layout or will something simple be better for your blog? Do you need to do lots of customizations or not?

Your blog’s appearance is the first thing people will judge so if you don’t choose a great theme, your visitors might not come back.

Evaluate the purpose of your blog and pick a visually appealing theme based on your blog’s needs.

A Great WordPress Theme Leverages Plugins and Widgets

Depending on how a theme is coded, you might get locked into using it. Great themes are built to make use of the vast WordPress plugin ecosystem; they allow you to use different plugins and widgets to customize your blog. If a theme isn’t coded to take advantage of plugins or widgets and instead does its own thing, you might be stuck using that theme.

Themes that provide their own functionality and don’t leverage plugins and widgets are difficult to change. This is because that functionality is not universal, and is specific to only that one theme.

Choose a theme that allows for customization with plugins and widgets.

A Great WordPress Theme Loads Quickly

Everyone hates a slow website, but the Internet is full of them. As you evaluate themes for your blog you will come across lots of pretty themes but many won’t load fast. You can determine how fast a theme will load by installing it and asking Google for its opinion.

To do this all you need to do is:

On the next page Google will tell you what they think about the performance of the blog theme you chose. Errors are important and must be fixed. Warnings are less important than errors, but should still be fixed if you can. Do not neglect this because page speed is one of the many factors Google considers when ranking your website!

Note: with a bit of work you can speed up pretty much any theme, and I’ll write a tutorial on how to do that, but for now try to pick a theme that’s fast without needing to be modified. If your theme scores 60 or up, you’ll be in pretty good shape.

Choose a theme that loads quickly without any modifications.

A Great WordPress Theme Works on All Devices

It’s long past 1999 and people browse the Internet on all kinds of devices these days. In fact, it’s common for websites to have more traffic coming from mobile devices than traditional computers. This means that if a theme doesn’t look great on all devices then it shouldn’t be used. Period.

Need more convincing? Usability is yet another factor Google considers when ranking your website. If you want Google’s opinion on how usable a theme is on mobile devices, you can use their “mobile friendly test” tool.

Is your theme legible on all devices? Can you click links and buttons easily without clicking the wrong thing? Try out a theme on as many devices as you have; if it’s difficult for you to read or use, then it will be for others too.

Choose a theme that looks good on a laptop, a tablet, and a phone.

A Great WordPress Theme Works on All Browsers

There are a variety of web browsers out there for people to use including Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. Each of these browsers has their own set of quirks that might make something look broken on a different one.

It’s essential that a WordPress theme works well on all of the different browsers available. Often the theme developer will advertise that their theme works across browsers. This is usually a good sign, but you should also check the theme’s reviews. The best way to find out, though, is to test it yourself on different browsers and devices.

To test various mobile browsers you’ll need to check your phone’s respective app store.

Download all of the desktop browsers here:

Note: If you’re on Windows you won’t be able to download Safari, and if you’re on MacOS you won’t be able to download Microsoft Edge. If you want to test your website out on either of these browsers you could use a paid service like BrowserStack.

Choose a theme that looks great on all browsers.

A Great WordPress Theme Lets You Build Layouts With a Page Builder

Changing your page’s layout isn’t a big deal if you know how to write code, but if you don’t then you’re stuck! Your options are to either have a crummy layout, or to hire someone to build a layout for you. Enter page builders.

A page builder lets you change the layout of a page without having to write any code. A great theme will come bundled with a page builder, or at the very least a recommendation for which one to use.

Choose a theme that comes with a page builder.

A Great WordPress Theme Comes With Support

Something will eventually happen that will require you to get help with your theme. Many themes (free or premium) are updated regularly to address issues that pop up. Additionally, many themes come with some amount of technical support. If you don’t know how to write code then you should definitely try to use a theme that comes with tech support because the people that made the theme know everything about it. In the long run getting support from the theme author will be cheaper than hiring someone that’s unfamiliar with the theme to fix something.

Choose a theme that comes with support

Divi Theme

On this website I’m using the Divi theme built by ElegantThemes.com. It satisfies all of the requirements I listed above and it’s been a real treat to work with.

I paid $250 for lifetime updates and support, which you might think it expensive, but when I considered that my rate as a freelance software engineer is $100/hour I thought it was worth it. Even better, I get support and free updates so for $250 I basically have a staff of engineers working on stuff for me.

The best part about the Divi theme is that it comes with a ton of prebuilt layouts, so if you’re visually challenged or just need a quick starting point Divi’s got you covered.

Note: If you choose the Divi theme for your blog I’ll be able to help you troubleshoot issues.

Choose the Divi theme if you want to buy a high quality theme that will make your life easier.

Closing Thoughts

It can be a daunting task to pick out a theme, but if you follow the guidelines above it should be a bit easier. If you want to choose a high quality theme that’s really customizable, then pull the trigger and buy the Divi theme.

Remember, a great WordPress theme:

  • Accommodates Your Blog’s Needs
  • Leverages Plugins and Widgets
  • Loads Quickly
  • Looks Great on All Devices
  • Lets You Build Layouts With a Page Builder
  • Comes With Support

When you choose a theme, let me know which one you chose!

What’s the Difference Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

Isn’t it confusing when someone tells you to build a blog using WordPress and there are two different websites for the same thing (WordPress.com and WordPress.org)?

Well don’t worry – you’re not alone!

WordPress.com and WordPress.org are two very different websites with different purposes:

WordPress.com is a place where you can host a WordPress blog either for free or for a fee.

WordPress.org is the place you go to download the WordPress software if you want to host your blog on your own.

I’ll save you the suspense:

Hosting a WordPress blog yourself is better than using WordPress.com in almost every single way:

  • It’s cheaper
  • You can monetize your blog from Day 1
  • You can use any theme you want
  • You can install any plugin you want
  • You can customize your blog however you want
  • You get unlimited storage space for $10/month
  • You get unlimited email address for the same $10/month
  • Great customer support is free 24/7/365
  • and the list goes on and on…

Since 2006 I’ve been using Dreamhost.com to host blogs and websites and they’ve been terrific. If you’re looking for more info, check out my article that details what makes a good web host.

If you’re ready to buy web hosting you can click the link below to sign up through my affiliate link. You’ll save $50 your first year (around $7/month) and I’ll earn around $20-$30 to keep this site running. I’ve also included a non-affiliate link below too if you don’t want me to earn money, but you won’t get the discount.

Affiliate Link (Discount):
https://www.dreamhost.com/r.cgi?252388/promo/dreamsavings50

Non-Affiliate Link (No Discount):
https://www.dreamhost.com/

Read on if you’re still interested in the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org!

Fees

WordPress.com has a variety of plans that let you host a blog for the world to see. At the time of writing (2017) WordPress.com has four different plans:

  • Free ($0.00/month)
  • Personal ($2.99/month)
  • Premium ($8.25/month)
  • Business ($24.92/month)

If you want a custom blog that you can monetize then it will always cost you money to host it. However, the fees WordPress.com charges you are bogus because depending on how much you spend they:

  • limit the themes you can choose from
  • limit the customization you can do
  • prevent you from monetizing your blog
  • run their ads on your blog
  • charge you too much
  • and so on…

If you download WordPress from WordPress.org and host it yourself you can do anything you want from Day 1. It’s just as easy to get set up and even better, hosting a blog on Dreamhost only costs you around $10/month.

Winner: Hosting your own blog.

Storage Space

Each tier of WordPress.com hosting limits the amount of stuff you upload to your blog. Only when you buy the “business” plan will you have unlimited storage space.

Hosting your own blog on Dreamhost will get you unlimited storage space for around $10/month.

Winner: Hosting your own blog.

Theme Limitations

When you buy hosting from WordPress.com they limit you to only use free themes until you buy the “business” plan. Also, until you spend $8.95/month on WordPress.com you can only do basic theme customizations.

If you host your own blog you can install any theme (free or paid) and you can customize it however you want from Day 1. If you’re feeling brave you can even change your theme’s code when you host your own blog.

Winner: Hosting your own blog.

Custom URL

To get a custom URL on WordPress.com you need to buy a paid plan. If you don’t your URL will be http://.wordpress.com.

If you host your blog yourself you will still need to buy a custom URL, but with a coupon it will cost you less than $7/year. However, if you create a new account on Dreamhost you can get a custom URL for free!

Winner: Hosting your own blog.

Ads

When you sign up for a free account on WordPress.com they will run ads on your website that they profit from. If you upgrade to a paid plan, they won’t do this.

Until you pay at least $8.25/month, WordPress.com won’t let you run ads your own ads so you can make money off of your own blog. This is pretty slimy since you’re the one doing all the work.

If you host a blog yourself, nobody will run ads on your site unless it’s you. You can monetize your blog any way you want from Day 1 when you host it because you’re in charge. You can run ads, sell a product, start a membership program, or whatever you want.

Winner: Hosting your own blog.

Videos

When you sign up for a WordPress.com account you need to pay at least $8.25/month before you can upload videos to your blog.

If you host your blog yourself you can upload videos and whatever else you want from Day 1.

Winner: Hosting your own blog.

Analytics

Analytics tell you who visits your website and what they look at. Google Analytics is the gold standard when it comes to website analytics.

When you sign up for WordPress.com you have to pay $24.92/month before you can use Google Analytics. Until then you have to use Jetpack, which isn’t as good.

When you host your blog yourself you can use Google Analytics for free from Day 1.

Winner: Hosting your own blog.

Plugins

When you sign up for WordPress.com you can only choose from the plugins they provide. This includes the expensive paid plans!

When you host your blog yourself you can install any plugin you want from Day 1.

Winner: Hosting your own blog.

Email Addresses

When you sign up for WordPress.com you need to jump through hoops to get a custom email address (you@yoursite.com), or pay up to $50/year for Google to do it for you.

If you host your own blog, your web host will probably offer you free custom email addresses that you can set up with one click. Dreamhost offers unlimited email accounts and it’s real easy to set up.

Winner: Host your own blog.

Upgrades

When you sign up for WordPress.com they will upgrade your blog for you automatically.

When you host your own blog you will need to upgrade your own blog, but to do that you need to click one button.

Winner: Tie between WordPress.com and hosting your own blog.

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, hosting a WordPress blog yourself is way better than using WordPress.com.

Once again, if you’re ready to buy web hosting you can click the link below to sign up for Dreamhost with my affiliate link.

My link will save $50 your first year and you’ll be supporting this website. I’ve also included a non-affiliate link below too if you don’t want me to earn a referral bonus to keep this site running, but you won’t get a discount.

Affiliate Link (Discount):
https://www.dreamhost.com/r.cgi?252388/promo/dreamsavings50

Non-Affiliate Link (No Discount):
https://www.dreamhost.com/

What Make a Good Web Host?

When you sign up for paid web hosting there are a handful of things you should look for in a good web host. Let’s take a look at the most important attributes of a good web host.

Price

How much does the web hosting cost? If you’re hosting a blog you should be paying somewhere around $10 per month. If someone is offering web hosting for under $5/month, it’s probably a bad deal unless it’s a good web hosting company offering promotional pricing.

A good web host costs around $10/month.

Databases

A database is a program that stores information and lets you find it very quickly. WordPress needs a database to work because that’s where all your blog posts get saved. When paying for shared hosting you shouldn’t be responsible to install or maintain the database; a good web host should take care of all the hard parts for you.

Good web hosts allow you to create an unlimited number databases.

Storage

Storage is a measure of how much stuff you can put on the server. This includes WordPress, blog images, blog posts, and any other files you might need for your blog. You’re probably going to be writing a lot and storing a ton of files, so you’ll need a lot of storage.

Good web hosts offer unlimited storage.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth measures how much data gets transferred from the web server to a web browser. When you go to a website the web server needs to send your web browser:

  • the code to display the website (HTML)
  • the code to make the website look nice (CSS)
  • the code to make the website interactive (Javascript)
  • the images to make the content more interesting

The more space these files take up the more bandwidth it takes to transfer them to your web browser.

Good web hosts offer unlimited bandwidth.

Domain Hosting

When a web host talks about how many domains you can host with them, they are talking about how many different websites you can store on their servers.

Good web hosts let you host as many websites on their servers as you want.

SSL/TLS Encryption

Have you ever been to a website that starts with https://? (Yes you have – this website is one of them!) If so, that website made use of SSL/TLS encryption. SSL/TLS encryption makes it so only the web server and the web browser know what content is being transferred.

There are a bunch of different types of SSL certificates you can install, but a free SSL certificate from LetsEncrypt is good enough for a blog. (You wouldn’t want your bank using this free version, though!)

And before you get scared because SSL sounds really complicated, you should know that good web hosts make this as easy as clicking a button.

Good web hosts offer SSL/TLS encryption for free with easy installation.

Email

It’s more professional to have a custom email address instead of one from GMail or Hotmail. For example, you can email me at steve@myblogtutor.com.

Good web hosts let you set up unlimited email accounts for free.

Customer Service

This is a really important one. You want to buy web hosting from a company that offers top notch customer service. When something goes wrong (and believe me, it will eventually) you need a team that can help you fix everything.

Good web hosts offer free customer support 24/7/365.

Dreamhost

Dreamhost is one of many companies that provides web hosting. I’ve been using them since 2006 and they’ve been great. Since then I haven’t had many issues, and when I did they were my own doing because I was trying to be too clever. Every time I’ve asked them a silly question they’ve been very thoughtful and helped fix everything quickly. I can’t say enough good things about Dreamhost.

Even better, they’re inexpensive and offer all the great things I wrote about above. Don’t believe me, though, read why PC Mag rated Dreamhost the #1 shared web hosting company:

http://www.pcmag.com/article/345631/business-choice-awards-2016-web-hosting

Dreamhost Shared Hosting Plan

The Dreamhost Shared hosting plan is your best bet. They also offer “WordPress Hosting”, but it’s around the same price with a lot fewer goodies.

If you want to save some money, you can click the link below to sign up through my affiliate link. You’ll save $50 your first year and I’ll earn around $20-$30 to keep this site running. I’ve also included a non-affiliate link below too if you don’t want me to earn money, but you won’t get a discount.

Even though I’m using an affiliate link here I recommend Dreamhost to people all the time. Another added bonus if you decide to use Dreamhost is that it’ll be a lot easier for me to help you if anything on your blog breaks.

Affiliate link
https://www.dreamhost.com/r.cgi?252388/promo/dreamsavings50

Non-Affiliate Link
https://www.dreamhost.com

Closing Thoughts

If you’re on this website then chances are good that you want to start a blog or make your blog more successful. It’s so easy to set up a blog these days that there’s really no downside to it; running a blog costs a little over $100/year and with a little work your blog can easily earn that money back (or you can skip your daily coffee for a couple of weeks).

If you need help setting up your blog on Dreamhost or you want to move your blog over to Dreamhost I’d be happy to help you free of charge as long as you use my affiliate code so I get compensated and you don’t pay me anything out of pocket. If you’re interested let me know!

What is WordPress?

What is WordPress?

If you’re brand new to blogging then I think you’ll agree that it can be really confusing at first glance.

There’s a lot of different ways to do things, but with a little guidance you’ll see that if you use WordPress to run your blog it’s not so bad after all.

In this article I’ll teach you the basics about WordPress, the world’s most popular blogging platform, in a simple Q&A format.

What is a blogging platform?

A lot of times you’ll see people talking about a “blogging platform” in tutorials, so let’s start with a simple definition: a blogging platform is a piece of software that lets you publish blog posts for the world to see.

Some blogging platforms are owned and run by companies (think Ghost, Medium, Tumblr, Weebly, Wix, WordPress.COM, etc.) but they cost money and many features require additional plan upgrades.

If you want to be a professional blogger or own your own website without any restrictions, using WordPress.ORG is really the only choice unless you know how to write code.

Who uses WordPress?

27% of the entire Internet uses WordPress, so lots of different sized organizations use it. People with personal blogs (like me) use WordPress as do big media outlets like The New York Times and corporations like Mercedes Benz.

Check out the WordPress Showcase for a giant list of brands you know and love that use WordPress.

How much does WordPress cost?

The core WordPress software itself is free, but if you want you can chose to pay for themes, plugins, images, or anything else you want.

If you use WordPress you’ll have to pay for web hosting to connect it to the Internet. Web hosting is basically just renting a computer that is configured to display information it on the Internet and it costs about $10/month for a decent host (I’ve been using Dreamhost since 2006).

For more info on web hosting check out this article: “What Make a Good Web Host?”

Additionally, you might choose to pay for themes, plugins, images, or more depending on what you’re trying to do, but for a simple blog you can start for under $20 with no real commitment.

Where do I get WordPress?

There are two different ways to start using WordPress.

1. Download the software and install it yourself

If you want to go this route, you’ll need to go to WordPress.org (notice the .org) to download the software and then follow their instructions to install it in under 10 minutes.

2. Have your web host install it for you

If you don’t want to install WordPress yourself you have a ton of options because almost every web host has a way for you to set up WordPress without any technical knowledge. If you use Dreamhost like I do, you can install it in under 10 minutes with the click of a button.

What features does WordPress have?

There area ton of features to talk about! I’ll list them out here and address each one after:

  • Blog Posts
  • Comments
  • Custom URLs
  • Menu Builders
  • Multi-user Support
  • Pages
  • Plugins
  • Themes
  • Widgets
  • WYSIWYG Editor

Blog posts

A blog post is a piece of content that you publish on a regular basis. There are a bunch of different types of posts, you can create. The only difference between them is the layout they use. The different types of posts are:

  • Standard posts (a mix of text and media, like the post you’re reading now)
  • Asides (looks like a Facebook status update)
  • Image (an image with a description)
  • Video (a video you can watch)
  • Quotes (a styled quotation)
  • Links (a link to a different web page)
  • Gallery (a gallery of images)
  • Audio (a piece of audio you can listen to)

I think the best way to understand each of the different types of blog posts is to experiment!

Comments

When someone visits your blog and reads an article they might have a question or a comment. Unless you disable it, WordPress let’s people leave comments on your blog posts.

We’ve all been to blogs that have a ton of spam comments so it’s important to moderate your comments. I use the Akismet plugin to flag spam (it comes pre-installed with WordPress) and I also changed my blog’s settings so comments don’t get posted until I approve them.

Custom URLs

WordPress lets you decide what your URLs should look like. By default they look like this:

https://example.com/?p=10

That’s pretty ugly so most people change it to look something like this:

https://example.com/2012/12/30/post-name

I usually change mine to look like:

http://example.com/post-name

This makes the URLs a little easier to remember and a simple URL structure is an important factor for improving your blog’s SEO.

Menu Builders

It’s important to have your content organized to make it easier for people to make sense of. WordPress has a “menu builder” feature that lets you create menus for different areas on your blog.

The top navigation and the sidebar for this blog were built using the menu builder. This site’s navigation is pretty simple, and although you can do complicated things with the menu builder, you probably shouldn’t so it’s easier for your readers to navigate your blog.

Multi-user support

Want to let your friend write an article for your blog? You can create a separate account for them so they can do just that. Even better: you can control what they are and are not allowed to do on your blog by setting account permissions. This way you won’t have to worry about them changing things they shouldn’t be.

Having multiple authors on your blog is a great way to increase your content without you writing blog posts every second of the day. A great way to get free publicity for your blog is to have other bloggers write a guest post on your blog. This lets them expose their brand to your readers and in exchange they’ll promote their guest post on your behalf which can result in you getting new readers.

Pages

WordPress pages are static web pages that that do not change often. For example, you might want your blog’s homepage to be a static page that displays:

  • an intro image
  • some text explaining what your blog is about
  • the 5 newest blog posts
  • an email signup form so people can stay up to date

Once that page is built and published, it wouldn’t change until you updated it. Depending on the theme your blog uses, designing a static page can be really easy especially if it comes with a page builder.

Plugins

A plugin is a piece of software you install into your blog to make it do something new. A plugin can enhance existing functionality or it can introduce new functionality. Plugins are what make WordPress so powerful because they can make it do anything.

Earlier in this post I mentioned that I use Akismet to fight spam when people post comments. This functionality is built on top of WordPress and can be added or removed whenever I want. There’s a ton of different plugins available, so if you need to add a piece of functionality to your blog there’s probably a plugin for it that already exists.

Themes

This is WordPress’ most fun aspect. Themes are what make your blog look the way it does; they are basically your blog’s skin.

In slightly more technical terms, a theme is a collection of code that displays the content in your blog using theme files (written in PHP) and stylesheets (written in CSS).

Themes can be free, but the really good ones aren’t. I paid $250 for the Divi theme to use on this blog even though I’ve been writing code for nearly 20 years because it saved me a bunch of time and it’s really powerful.

You don’t have to pay anything if you find a free theme you like, but if you want to really customize your website you probably will eventually. Not all themes are created equally, but we’ll talk about that another time.

Widgets

A widget is an area in a theme that lets you specify the content that should be displayed. Usually widgets are found in a theme’s sidebar, but that can change depending on the theme. Plugins might come with a widget that you can then have your blog display.

WYSIWYG editor

“WYSIWYG” (pronounced whizz-ee-wig) is an acronym for “What You See Is What You Get”. This means a WYSIWYG editor is a visual text editor.

Have you ever used Microsoft Word? When you press the “bold” button your text looks bold, and you didn’t have to write any code to make it do that. Same thing with WordPress’ WYSIWYG editor.

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, WordPress can do almost anything you want it to. It’s used by small “mom and pops” bloggers and it’s also used by huge media companies and corporations. WordPress has a ton of features and a large community. Best of all, WordPress is free!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to go install WordPress and start building your blog. Remember, anybody can have a successful blog that generates income, but most won’t because it takes time and effort. Get started now because with anything success doesn’t happen overnight!