Big fan of WordPress. I use it for all my sites and for Spinhead’s clients’ sites as well. As a writer you’ll note the correct use of apostrophes in that sentence. (See below for the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org and trust me, you want to know this.)
Choosing a theme seems to be a massive roadblock to beginners.
Let’s blow that up and shovel it into the ditch, eh?
What is a WordPress Theme?
The term is used too loosely, leading to confusion. Originally, WordPress themes were purely a “look and feel” overlay, changing nothing but appearance.
Over time, developers started adding new functions in their themes.
Note well this difference: appearance vs. function. It is the core of good webbiness, grokking that right there.
In the bad old days of the 90s we’d put the data and the appearance and the functionality all in one bucket. Changing one sometimes broke others.
Eventually we got cool stuff like databases that worked on the web and “style sheets” (CSS) that only affected how things looked, not what they did.
And that, dear reader, is what I still believe a WordPress theme should be: appearance, not function.
If a WordPress theme promises to “make things easy” or includes “drag and drop” anything I strongly urge you to reconsider. Even with my 20+ years of web experience (and 30+ years of database experience and 40+ years of computer experience) every new “easy-to-use DIY” interface is one more learning experience. Learning from scratch experience.
That easy-to-use DIY theme will not teach you how to use WordPress, nor will it teach you how to code a website or use a database, in case those were your goals. (Don’t learn those things unless you plan to make a living at it. Learning something you’ll use precisely once is a waste of time.)
Learning to use that DIY theme will only teach you how to use that DIY theme.
Change themes, and you have to start all over from scratch.
These themes shouldn’t be called “themes” they should be called “interfaces.”
And I recommend against them for beginners (vehemently) and anyone who’s not planning on becoming a WordPress developer (strongly.)
Choose a theme which is purely presentational, one which does nothing but change the way your WordPress site looks, the colors, fonts, position of stuff on the page.
Then learn how to use WordPress properly, and should you ever decide to change themes, your learning “curve” flatlines because you’re already up to speed.
Your first stop should be Automattic, the folks who make WordPress. Hey, if you’re buying a mouse for your Mac, who’s most likely to get it perfectly right, Apple, or Bob’s ‘Of Mice and Lawn Mower Repair’?
As of this writing they have over 80 free themes, coded so you know you’re not getting junk. I did not verify that these are all purely presentational, but my guess is that the folks at Automattic, geeks that they are, think like me, so it’s a good bet.
If you can’t find something you like in those 80+ themes may I suggest you’re too particular for a homemade site, and should hire someone?
For the more adventurous, and I don’t mean dabblers I mean closet geeks, you might noodle around with a framework called _s (say “underscores”).
It is a bare naked theme, intended for you to go into the CSS and PHP and make it your own.
Yeah, if that sentence makes you say “What?” don’t do it. If it puts a little glint in your eye to think of all those TLAs at your command, give it a shot. Just not on your live WordPress site. Before you do anything with it _s is ugly.
(This site and my fiction site are both based on _s and are only lightly modified. You can do much more with it if you care to.)
(TLA is the three-letter acronym for three letter acronym)
If this hasn’t answered every single question you have about choosing a WordPress theme, throw all the questions you can muster into that comment form below. I promise to answer every single one.
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WordPress.com is where you can set up a free blog/site hosted by them. You cannot use it for business purposes; that is, you can’t actually sell from there. It has limitations. But it’s wholly free.
WordPress.org is where you can download your own copy and install it on hosting you pay for. As always, I recommend the most personal and caring hosting on the web, Charlottezweb. When you own your own copy of WordPress (free to download, you pay only for your website hosting) you can do whatever you want with it. This is my method.