WordPress Theme recommendations for the serious beginner

theme-recommendations

Themes play a very important part in learning how to use WordPress as they control the appearance and feel of the public-facing side of the website.  Getting to know a theme is critical for new users as it will be where they will likely need to place their logos and select configurations to work towards making each one uniquely theirs.

Themes can also be a major pain point for new users as there isn’t a uniform standard as to how they work and how-to documentation can be somewhat cryptic for a newbie.

Fortunately, you can only use one theme at a time, so I recommend starting with a theme that is simple.  I recommend gravitating towards a theme with more options when you have a better grasp of how WordPress ticks.  The best thing about WordPress is that you can change your theme relatively easily as your content will, for the most part, stay in the same place.

Here are some ideas for selecting your first starter WordPress theme:

Simplicity

Look for a theme that is simplistic and maybe not rich in features.  We, as consumers, love extra features, but whenever we are learning something new, those extras can just become a big burden.  Work toward sharpening your basics WordPress skills, and then building up to a fully-featured theme will become a lot easier and feel much more manageable.   Maybe even stick with the default showcase themes to get started; these are always a sure bet as they use the most current features of WordPress and are updated pretty much every year.

Be Careful of Themes with Page Builders

Page builders are WordPress plugins that allow users to layout pages and posts in ways that rely much less on knowledge of code and more on visual composition.  For some intermediate WordPress users, these can be a very enabling as they allow for more of a custom look and feel without a touch of code.

This growing popularity for content builders, such as Visual Composer, Divi Builder, MotoPress, and SiteOrigin are brilliant, but the problem I have is these content builders traditionally “break” the standard WordPress user experience and can add layers of extra complications that could be discouraging for  new users.  Before a new user begins to think about a page-builder plugin, know that this can require significant time learning nuances, and if you’re not experienced with the standard WordPress terminology, you have doubled the work ahead.

Support

In the world of WordPress themes, there are essentially two categories: free themes, mainly found on WordPress.org/themes, and premium themes that cost money to download and use.  Premium themes, or paid themes, can be found on sites like ThemeForest.net and from companies such as StudioPress and Elegant Themes.

When you purchase a theme, the owner is much more likely to provide support should you need help getting started.  If you’re new to WordPress or a theme framework, this added support from the theme company can be a lifesaver for getting started and is well worth the investment.

Become a theme investigator

Before you buy into any theme, free or paid, be sure to investigate the following:

  • When was the last time it was updated?
  • How many support items have been submitted (and resolved)?
  • How well documented are the help files?
  • Where do I need to go to ask for help?
  • Does it support the standard WordPress appearance customizer or something else?
  • Up to what version of WordPress is it compatible?
  • How does it work on mobile devices and other screens?
  • Does it provide support for popular plugins such as WooCommerce?

Most importantly, be careful of free themes that are not free but upsell to expensive premium features.

Style

I am often asked, what theme should I use for my blog or website?  I typically say I can tell you what I look for in a theme, but it’s ultimately up to your style.  You probably wouldn’t want me to pick out your clothes for you; themes are also a matter of personal taste.

Here are some items I suggest avoiding when looking for a beginner WordPress theme:

  • Huge images on the home page
  • Image Sliders and Post Carousels
  • Lots of content on the homepage, a.k.a. “Magazine” themes
  • Blog vs. Website themes

Just remember, theme developers are looking to do one thing – sell themes – so make sure that the demo theme is similar to what you envision your website might look like as if were to swap out their demo content for yours.

Savvy

Great bloggers and website owners know how to market themselves on the web.  A theme help users do this in a straightforward and savvy way.  Look for eye-catching call-to-action buttons, prominent social media icons, and easy newsletter subscription boxes that integrate with popular programs such MailChimp or Aweber.

Have an experience you want to share?

Post and comment and help others find great starter WordPress themes.

Profile photo of Scott Winterroth
Scott a co-founder of Content Academy and a 10-year working pro of the integrated marketing and communications field, specializing in digital and social media strategy. He is the managing director of Front & Social, a Chicago-based digital marketing & PR consultancy.

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