One of the first questions you may have when starting your own website is, “Which theme should I choose?” I can’t tell you how many different themes there are because there are so many; at least thousands. The secret is that people build themes that look good and sell them.
If that wasn’t confusing enough, there are numerous content creators out there who have made videos comparing one, two, three and sometimes four different themes at a time.
When you’re first getting started, it may STILL be hard to tell some of the main differences between different themes. One may be faster than the rest. The other may offer more menu options. This one over here may have the best-looking blog archive or portfolio layout. Your theme will determine the style of all those things like your blog archive layout (body style), how many menus, types of headers, footers, title styles, colors, etc.
It can kind of be explained with this analogy; it would be sort of like going to the cereal aisle in the grocery store and trying to decide which cereal to choose, when you’ve never tasted ANY of them. At this point you’d almost be just as effective by choosing based on the picture on the box and that alone is intimidating; it’s like going out on a limb. In this analogy, I’d definitely go with the Cap ‘N Crunch, but that’s just me.
In this imaginary situation, you are then approached by a child, parent, photographer, real estate agent, doctor and a landscaper down the aisle with ALL different opinions over which is the best one. Whatever your decision, you can do this with very little stress as long as you use one plugin in particular; a backup plugin. Some plugins do multiple things including backups and there are a few reputable ones out there. I like UpdraftPlus because I’m familiar with it and it works.
Once you reach a good stopping point, it’s a good idea to make a backup of your website. Once you’ve tested it and backed it up, you now have a working copy and can make changes as you see fit without the threat of losing a lot of work.
As long as you don’t go into building websites thinking everything will always work exactly how you envisioned it without incident, you’ll learn a lot about fixing things and/or what actions tend to give unwanted results. Either way, you’ll have backups.
Reviews and Longevity
Some themes are going to be newer and not as well-proven over time, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not good; just not as time-tested. These things will take some time to see whether the developer of the theme will keep up with the ever-changing landscape of WordPress over time.
Other themes will have been around longer and proven more tested, yet may not display the way you prefer. This adds to the complexity of which tested themes you should choose.
Watch a few “Review” videos on different themes or, better yet, go to the themes section of your WordPress dashboard and look through the different themes and take a look at what the layout looks like. Also, you can look through their pages in the niche or genre you’re going to design your website for.
You’ll see a lot of nice designs, layouts and colors. These guys are really good at making them look good. You just have to do some research. That means you look at the Star reviews, video reviews, disgruntled and happy customers. They will all be out there.
Free or Paid
It makes sense to use a free theme at first to test it out and see if it’s stable to begin with. Most themes have a pro version upgrade with more possibilities. The free version doesn’t cost you anything and you’ll gain experience working your way around it.
Depending on how your free experience goes, you may want or need to invest in a Pro theme. Typically you’ll enjoy a few more bells, whistles and support.
Utility and Variety
In my analogy above, where the different imaginary characters all gave their input, it wasn’t a long a stretch. Whereas you could possibly use the same theme for each of those characters, the likelihood of doing so is probably not likely, although very possible. Depending on the plugins you swap in and out, the images, structure and content, you can have a completely different looking and functioning website made with the same theme.
I’ve seen themes that sell you on how it gives the user a blank slate for a more seasoned web developer to create the look they want (with the use of a preferred page builder). I’ve also seen other themes that come with multiple different templates that come with their own free and paid plugins packages. Then all you have to do is change the content and you’re up and running.
A Few Favorites
There are a few themes out there that are like Swiss Army Knives. You can choose them and know that you’ll have a stable, reputable, light and nice-looking website. Because there are literally thousands of themes out there, it wouldn’t be fair to make an overall “Best” claim. That being said, everyone has their favorites and I definitely have mine; OceanWP. Other good themes in that discussion would be Hestia, Astra, GeneratePress and Kadence, although it’s difficult to even stop there because of all the other good ones I can’t mention.
I’ve used the word plugin a few times already, so it may be a good idea to explain what those are. In order to do this, I’ll have to switch to “The Car Analogy”. Whereas the speed of your website (the engine) may be more attributed to your hosting and caching systems you have in place, WordPress basically comes with all the basic necessities you’ll need to pass inspection. That means you’ll have the basic 4 wheels, a body, manual widow winder-uppers (sorry I don’t know the name of it), all the different types of lights , windshield wipers and a gas tank. I’m not a mechanic so forgive me for leaving out all the inner stuff I’m missing…kinda like WordPress files, folders and code.
I always hear that plugins extend the functionality of the website and as a beginner you may be wondering exactly what that means. It’s almost cryptic, if you ask me, if you haven’t built a website before. Moreover, in some cases, there can be some overlap when it comes to themes and plugins. To keep things simple for now, it’s easier to think in terms of looks and layouts (the theme) vs things the site is capable of doing (the plugins).
Your WordPress website usually comes with a basic theme to which you can add different capabilities. For instance, if you want your visitors to be able to fill out a form, there are plugins for that. If you need extra security, you can add a security plugin. If you want to add a store to your website, there are plugins that will add that capability as well. I could go on, but there are literally hundreds if not thousands of plugins.
Another way to look at it is this; plugins are to websites as Apps are to smart phones. When you get your phone, you can make phone calls. As a matter of fact, today’s smart phones come with so much stuff (out of the box), people even have a hard time figuring out how to make a simple phone call; but now you can text, take pictures and video, search the internet, set an alarm and use the calculator. That’s about how WordPress has progressed, except it’s now easier to build a website with ts built-in tools than it used to be.
Some plugins come with multiple functions. If that’s the case, you may not need other plugins that could interfere with the overall functionality. Some people prefer to use all-in-one plugins, which can be heavier, but easier to manage and some people prefer to add plugins that they are familiar with in more of an a la carte type fashion. This could be because they are more familiar with how they work or they’re lighter and doesn’t slow down your website as much.
Whatever the case, your theme controls the general layout and how certain parts of your website look while the plugins you add to it control what you are able to do with your website.
Every once in a while a plugin developer will update their plugin and make it almost a no-brainer to use it over the competition due to it’s utility and/or ease of use. Keep in mind that things are always changing. Sometimes it may make sense to switch over to a different plugin and sometimes it makes sense to go with what you know and use those if you have no issues.
I have certain plugins I like to use for ALL of my sites. I have certain ones that I use on MOST of my sites and I have ones I only use on SOME sites; all based on what they’ll be used for. Case in point, my affiliate sites plugin “Stack” is a little different from my online store stack, although there is some overlap. Just as it was with Themes, some plugins cost money as well. These tend to be updated and upgraded regularly to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of website developing.
To see which ones I tend to use for what, you can read up on that in my article The 10 Most Essential WordPress Plugins for a HostGator Hosted Blog, where I talk about my main options. If you have certain plugins you prefer that are not on the list, feel free to leave a comment and maybe I’ll check them out or perhaps I currently use some of them already, but didn’t mention them. Like I said, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of plugins out there to choose from for a multitude of functions.
Don’t stress over it, though. The more you learn about them the more comfortable you’ll be with them. A quick review here and some background research over there will give you some indication about which way to go. Don’t spend TOO much time on it though because you’ll wind up doing absolutely nothing.
To make it a little bit easier for you to get started check out my write-up [on my preferred plugins for blogs, e-commerce and landing pages]. So no worries. The initial apprehension will subside as you see things work out and these tools begin to do things.
Moreover, don’t stress over messing up because if nothing ever goes wrong (which would be great) you won’t have the experience of fixing it and learning more while you do it. If this scares you, just know that you can either 1. look up the remedy for it (rest assured that others have probably encountered your same issue and have also asked your question online in a forum somewhere) or 2. restore your website to the original backup version using one of my go-to plugins “UpdraftPlus”. It saves a copy of your website and allows you to restore it with the click of a few buttons.
The message is that there is always a way to get your problem fixed. You shouldn’t stress over making mistakes too much. Ultimately, it will slow down your progress. There’s a learning curve in all different types of website building; even the ones that boast how easy it is.
For a list of some of my favorite plugins, you can click HERE.