The answer to this question is a resounding…”IT DEPENDS”!
Sometimes, when you start building your website, you just want to get your presence on the internet and worry about the details later. That’s a great mindset to have since the possibilities are pretty much endless and you don’t want to NOT take action. As part of that push to throw something nice together, I’d like to give you a few ideas that I hope will help you make a smooth and easy launching off point. Nowadays, the the push to start an online business is getting so streamlined and competitive that it’s getting easier to achieve a specific look each day.
If you know which look you want for your site, the best thing to do is research and see if it can be achieved more easily by choosing the correct theme and/or template. With these two choices, it’s possible to control the layout and even the functionality of the site in just a few clicks. Even then, within the theme, you are also able to make more style changes.
This is where the research starts. Go out and look around at other websites you like. Whether it fits the field you’re in, your personality or both you may want to start thinking about those things to prepare for the next stage, the designing of it.
If it’s a WordPress theme, there are tools out there that can help you figure out the theme a developer used to make that website. Some of these tools include WPthemedetector.com, whatwpthemeisthat.com and a few chrome or Firefox extensions. This site was a great resource for different tools people use.
So, as an attempt at practicing brevity and without getting too far into a lot of cumbersome details, let’s pull the curtain back on this and introduce you to some of the tools I like to use.
I’ll be basing my recommendations upon my experience using Elementor as my page builder. As of the time of posting this, I am not an affiliate of Elementor Pro, so I do not stand to gain monetarily from this advice; only from my experience using it. Elementor comes with many different modules included in the free version wherein if you get a little creative, you can create many different attractive pages and posts.
Along with Elementor, I would also install and activate one of a couple pretty cool plugins for some nice-looking templates. One template group was called Astra Starter Sites and is now called “Starter Templates 2.0” which I’m not sure if you can use with other themes.
The other is “Envato Elements”, which can be used with multiple themes. They have a multitude of attractive and very utilitarian free and paid full sites. You can also use them for specific pages you find that most represent the look you prefer.
You click a few buttons and it installs and activates all the plugins you need for it to look the way it looks on the page. THEN all you have to do is change the “Ipsum Lorem” text and images to content you want in order to make it your own. Sometimes it’s just easier to find a page or even whole sites to make it easier on yourself.
Elementor also has a lot of free templates and pre-built sections you can use. You can also create a lot of different looks using all their different modules, elements, sections, etc. I use Elementor Pro, which has even more template options (over 200) and more elements that you can access and use (like Sticky Elements, Dynamic Content, Price Table and a lot more).
Templates have made it so easy to build such attractive websites, it’s almost a wonder why a person would use anything other than WordPress to build their own website. Yeah it’s a few more steps, but it gives you more control over your website, hosting and domain name.
There are literally thousands of templates out there. As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of templates just within Starter Templates 2.0 as Envato Elements has thousands. Whichever you choose, I’m sure you’ll have many to choose from. I’ll just say this; sometimes more is great, however you can get caught up spending a lot of time just shopping for the perfect one.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves because information overload is a real thing and when you’re just beginning, it’s important to take small but important steps forward.
(So far, you’ve learned which template groups I tend to shop through for ideas; “Starter Templates 2.0” and “Envato Elements”. Also, you learned which page builder I like to use; Elementor.)
Let’s start with a few important questions and hopefully it’ll shed some light on things to keep in mind whichever way you decide to go. So here we go.
What kind of website are you building?
An online store with a blog?
A news site?
An affiliate website?
Depending on your answer, you could be using a different theme for each type of site or page. Below, I’ll give you a few starting points, where you can go and check out the layouts for yourself. So FIRST decide what type of site you will be making.
What kind of website are you building? Do you have a solid vision of what you want your site to look like?
So next, you want to make a decision through sifting through templates from your favorite template showcase.
You can visit websites you like or you can check out Envato Elements or Starter Templates 2.0 (with the Astra theme; not sure about other themes) for some inspiration. The good thing about this way of researching is that you get to see a lot of templates in one place.
Is there a theme out there with templates that resemble what you want yours to look like?
Is it a free theme or will it cost money?
Are you willing to invest a few extra dollars for the support and extra bells and whistles?
Again, some aesthetics can be achieved by the theme. The deeper you get into the website development process, the more you’ll start to understand what types of things are controlled by the theme and which things you can easily style with a page builder without a lot of coding.
If you have the money to invest in a good theme (and it can be very affordable or as expensive as necessary) it may not be a bad idea if the site is going to be your signature or flagship site. These paid themes typically come with the support you may want later if any issues come up.
Although paid themes are great, you can rest assured that there are great free and reputable themes out there that I use to this day. Moreover, there are some that come highly recommended which I will be using in the future. Later in this article I’ll discuss a few of the themes I’ve worked with or will be working with in future projects.
How good are your page-building and coding skills?
If you have a pretty good grasp of html, css, php, java, etc. or even if you are pretty good at using the blocks and tools available, you can do more than most. I’m just assuming you know about as much as I do. This means you may know enough to achieve certain goals as it pertains to the design you’re going for.
I try to give advice as though you know as much as I do because I firmly believe you can get as good as you want to be since there are a lot of tools, resources and tutorials out there that can help you hone in on specific areas.
There are also long form videos that do a great job of explaining elements; sometimes you just have to be patient enough or have the time to get through it.
The following are a few themes I have experience with and/or may use in the near future.
When I started out, I wanted to just use one theme for everything because I wanted to get to know it and familiarize myself with as many parts of it as I could. The one I chose based on my research and my favorite as of today is OceanWP. The free version offers the flexibility, utility and many of the capabilities that I enjoy using. It has the transparent header, multiple menus, many different options for sidebars and widgets and a lot of customization options. When you use Elementor with this theme you can insert attractive templates of full pages and sections.
When you get into customizers of each of the themes I mention, THAT is where you’ll see some of the main differences between these themes. The customizer is where you control the colors, menus, footers, body, typography, logo and fine-tune elements that will give your site its signature look. Sometimes it can be daunting trying to figure out where certain things are in OceanWPs customizer, but the more you work with it, the more you learn about it. That being the case, I’ve gotten used to doing the things I know how to do and it works for me. Because this template is very popular, pretty well coded and maintained by its developers, different things are added regularly and I learn different things I can do all the time.
OceanWP may not be quite as lightweight as some of the others that are great options, however it’s still pretty light for all of the options it offers. It can also be optimized to load faster based on some of the settings that you can tweak within the theme. Moreover, you can use the built-in page builder, Gutenberg, coupled with Elementor to achieve the different looks you want in different parts of your website.
I then learned about the Astra theme and how streamlined its customizer is. This was great, but it didn’t include certain other elements that I liked. This is what you’ll find as you start experimenting with different themes. You’ll go looking for the “Thingamajigger” that the other theme had and it’s not there, so you’ll either have to do without it or figure out a work-around.
Another extra added benefit is that Astra is known to be pretty fast. Load speed is one of the determining factors when your site is ranked. As with any theme you can optimize it through different means.
If you look up enough videos, you’ll find a few other themes that are mentioned alongside these two. By ALL means, feel free to look into those too. As they may suit your fancy more than the two I have more experience using for most of my sites.
GeneratePress is another one a lot of people seem to like that is known for its speed. Its customizer makes it easy to see the changes you make on the spot. While you’re on a page, you can fairly easily edit most elements by clicking on the on-page edit icon to quickly go to the edit section to make changes. It is well known for its great support if you need it and how well-coded it is for speed. As with any theme, the more plugins you add, the more weight it adds to the site.
Just to give you some sense of how quickly things can move in web development, I learned of this theme while writing this article on themes. Evidently it’s been out for a few months now and the guys I learned how to develop websites from have already done reviews on it.
I know that I’ve said it’s usually a good rule of thumb to go with the more established themes that have been on the ‘market’ longer, yet here I am telling you this could be one of the best out there. Why?
Well, certain voices out there carry a lot of weight and I may have to write another article on some of those guys I listen to the most regarding certain aspects of the web development and marketing process. Within THIS part (the themes, building and functionality aspect) Adam Preiser and Ferdy Korpershoek are two of the guys I watch regarding the old and new reliable themes and plugins. I know there are others whom I am missing right now, but I’ve just watched their reviews on this theme so it’s at the top of my mind now.
They’ve given this theme an excellent review and demonstration. Based on this, I can see myself using this theme in the very near future; probably on some of my websites that I’ve already committed to other themes.
The speed, ease of use, and how responsive developers have been in changing and updating certain things in a short period of time is a great sign. When developers take your advice it sends a message that they plan on being around for a while and gives users confidence that they may be trying to make this theme one of the preferred themes for developers and beginners.
If you’re building an online store, you could also try the Storefront theme. It gives different options based on how you want it set up by category or product listing and has an attractive look and layout.
One of the things to keep in mind is that some of the things developers focus on can get hyper-focused. All the while a person may just want an easy way to go to your page and get what they want. I’ve heard it referred to as “Paralysis of Analysis”. While you DO want to create an attractive, easy and intuitive experience for your customers, you DO NOT want to over-think it.
After seeing how the Storefront theme is set up and uses its resources, it provides a great flow for the customer and that goes a long way in my book.
Keep in mind; this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are a lot of options available to you. The best thing you could do is to jump in and get started so you don’t think about it too long. If you have no idea, start with the few that I listed and look through the templates and make a decision. You can change it if you are not happy with it or if you see one that you like better for whatever reason. It’s not written in stone.
Do a little research and looking around and then just jump in and start tinkering around. Let me know what you decide.