Select a WordPress.com theme Part 3

The most common reason to set goals for ongoing blog improvement is the desire to make content more valuable and appealing to an increasing readership.  Choosing well designed theme is important because your image is important and a well designed, easy to navigate,  professional looking theme will create an immediate impact on  first-time visitors.  If you cannot have a made to order theme, then personalizing the blog design helps readers instantly associate with you and your blog’s brand visually.

If you believe the theme you use now is the right one for your readers then why change themes?

I have been a WordPress.com blogger since 2006 and have been trying on new themes almost every time a new one has been introduced.  It seemed to me that I could never find one that was the right fit.

I believe that way back then only Regulus had a custom image header but today nearly half of the 80 -90 themes we can choose from also have custom headers. More to the point is that the newer themes that are being introduced have features that I have long desired.

If you don’t then why are you considering changing themes? What is your goal?

At WordPress.com you can choose from a wide collection of  designs and change themes at the click of a button since they have already been optimized for use on your blog by the Theme Team.

I love the idea of meeting the ‘expectations and hopes’ of everyone here by delivering to you the best in WordPress themes. Pretty, painless, perfect-fit ones that just plain work. — Ian Stewart

However, before clicking the Activate button and surprising readers with a new look I recommend setting up a mirror or testing blog to explore various theme features and functions in.

Which theme is best suited to display the content? Which one  is the most aesthetically appealing, and easily navigated blog layout to showcase the content in?

Attractiveness and readability are important factors  because if your readers people find the color scheme renders your site difficult to read they won’t bother reading.

In regards to aesthetics, we must make sure that we know what our target audience wants to look at. The design schemes, colors, font types, and even the stock photos must make our users feel at home while they are browsing. Aaron Griffiths

How do we understand what our audience wants, what it desires? What can we do to determine desire lines on our site?

In Desire Lines: Let Your Audience Shape Your Design Web Designer Steven Bradley explains that desire lines are the path people choose to take as opposed to the path designers want or expect them to take.  He suggests using In-Site Search, Heat Maps, Click Paths, Analytics, Tagging (how your users tag your content on bookmarking sites) , and Ratings.

Take some time to consider who your audience is and what they want from you. Use the following questions to help you identify your audience and what you can do to address its wants and needs.  – Audience

When I first began blogging I didn’t think much about what my readers impressions of my theme choices would be in advance of making them.  I wasn’t very clear about who my audience was.  Since then I have been able to determine the demographics for my blog and that knowledge has influenced the theme choices I have made.  When I was considering changing themes I first answered these questions:

  1. What is the purpose for the blog?
  2. What do you want your audience to think, learn, or assume about you?
  3. What impression do you want your writing or your research to convey?
  4. What are you optimizing for? Reconsider and list what your key words, categories and tags are and rewrite your blog description.
  5. Who is your target audience?
  6. What is most important to them?
  7. What are they least likely to care about?
  8. What actions do you want readers to take?

Beyond understanding the motivations or goals of your audience, you must also understand the basic mechanics of how your users will interact with your site:

  • How will the site render on a user’s client?
  • How will the user view the site? Visually? With graphics enabled? With a Braille reader? With a screen reader?
  • Will the user’s client be able to support all of your site’s functionality? — Getting to Know Your Audience

This article is Part 3 of a three-part series of articles for helping WordPress.com bloggers take a step by step approach to changing themes. Parts 1 and 2 are focused on creating a mirror blog and testing features and functions on possible theme choices.  This article is focused on determining reader preferences prior to making a theme switch.

I have made the switch from Vigilance to Inuit Types and I hope my readers think I made a good choice. Now it’s time for your feedback and for sharing your own theme change stories.

Discussion question

Do you have a theme change story to tell? if so then please don’t hesitate to share it in the comments.

Related posts found in this blog:
Personalizing Your WordPress.com Blog
Personalizing Your WordPress.com Blog: Part 2 – Custom Image Headers
Changing Your Blog? Start With the Colors
Blog Design: Which colors do you use and why?
Swing into Summer: New Themes and Headers
Why having a well designed blog is important
Widgets: Less is More

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36 thoughts on “Select a WordPress.com theme Part 3

  1. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. Hopefully you’re ok with that because I’m copying you again. My leadership blog is staying with Inuit Types but I’m changing my organizational performance blog to Fusion. Once again inspired by you. (the colour of your tags grabbed me when I stopped by your site today). You can see it at http://highmarks.wordpress.com.

    • Hi Susan,
      The site looks good in black and white but I’m thinking you could inject a little of the same color as the tags by creating a gradient background header. I created a blue fasing to white gradient square and tiled it to make a header. See here fo a free tool you can use if you are into it > http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/gradient/

  2. Hi Timethief — Well, it’s the end of 2 weeks’ vacation and I’m finally happy with my blog changes. Your posts got me thinking about changing mine. In the end I decided to keep blog #1 the way it was. After a year of posting I was pretty happy with the topics and appearance. I did decide to add blog #2 as there is a different topic I want to dive into. Your posts about setting up a mirror blog saved my life near midnight one evening.

    If anyone else is thinking of making big changes, listen to TT, she knows what she’s talking about!

    • @Susan
      Thanks so much for your compliment. The first blogging tips blog I had had this tagline: “learning wordpress blogging one error at a time”. Following some nasty surprises I learned the value of having a test blog and having learned the hard way I have tried to pass what I learn along to my readers.

      Best wishes with your new blog. It’s looking great.

  3. Thank you for that very valuable information. I am new to blogging but I guess I changed my theme for 3 times already for the original one was done by somebody else, my mentor.

  4. Thanks for all the tips. I’m new to blogging, so I’ve been able to learn a lot from your site (I wish I had found out about things like setting up a mirror blog a little earlier!). I’ve just changed to Inuit from Blix (quickly got tired of the orange and green). I think Inuit’s page design offers good readability and flexibility, though I am still not sold on the big, boxy rectangles in the navigation column. I also like Misty Look (Jean’s sites look good, with the leafy cycling photos matching the theme well) and am using that one and Twenty-Ten for sites featuring student work. One thing I noticed after changing themes was that there were slightly more visits to the more remote corners of the blog. That made me wonder: are some themes more search-engine-friendly than others? Similarly, are some themes better than others at encouraging visitors to stay and have a look around?

    • Some themes do have better SEO than others but generally speaking all wordpress.com themes are very good. More to the point only an SEO expert and/or expert web developer could say how good it is on any single theme or rate one above the other. More visits to the corners of the blog is usually the result of the blogger providing better accessibility, navigation and/or organization and display of the data.

  5. Great point about ‘themes first impressions are important’ timethief. (and other comments/ers as well!) While browsing WP blogs I still come across themes that remind of certain bloggers I was interested in years ago! Strange how that happens, but it does go to prove their importance. Kontent is King as always, but we’re visual animals first and our theme choice does reflect much of who we are.

    I’ve been debating the Inuit theme since it first came out but have been wary because of the time invested on my current one. I think I will switch though …my old age has me appreciating better screen usage ;)

    • Hi Troy,
      Inuit Types is an interesting theme. I’m enjoying it.

      This is the default color choice for the sidebar and white background but there are 5 other very dark sidebar colors (red, green blue, purple, and black) with a black background choice as well.

      The Inuit Types theme displays the first paragraph(s) of your latest posts or custom excerpts of your choice. The most recent posts can be highlighted as “Featured Posts” or normal posts displayed in one or two columns. It also has featured images options.

      oops! dinner’s ready …

      • Hey timethief,
        I recently applied the CSS upgrade to my blog and throughout my travels in search of CSS ‘skillz’, I’ve come across many of your comments and just want to say THANKS! for all you do with wordpress. Really, it just makes life easier when people care enough to take the time and articulate things properly. It’s a big help …and if you don’t already have one, you should get an award :)

        Also, I fell back on my old Freshy theme – but with your help have been able to tweak things enough to my liking.

    • Paid softwares or services are not necessarily good, for example MS Windows is paid, and punch a hole i your bank vault, but is not that good, at least for me. And by using wordpress.com you are in a very good community than to get isolated. The main thing is no that if one is using self hosting or free service, the main thing is that what a person uses matches his/her needs.

    • I don’t believe that using wordpress.com is necessarily an indication of lacking money. I have seen bloggers who are not financially distressed and who run a whole string of blogs on this platform move off it to paid hosting and then move all their blogs back again.

  6. theme shows the characteristics of you and your thought. if you keep changing the theme, then your readers will lose your poin of views. but I agree with Jerry that it’s up to the blogger to decide what he/she is going to do.

    • Hello youdie,
      Thanks for the visit, read and comment. If your thoughts cause the focus of your blog to change as your brand evolves then it’s natural for you to want to reflect that in your theme or change to a new one. Also as I observed above demographics come into play and a younger reader group may be more inclined to welcome theme changes than an older one. Even within any demographic group there are variations. As Sandra Lee said: “Some people are just more changeable than others and it’s our differences that make the world go round.”

  7. Two theme changes for me, and no confusion. First i used Journalistv1.9, then after using it a long time, recently i saw that Twenty Ten was an excellent theme, with soft colours, and a big header image, and wide enough for my requirements. And i don’t think i will be changing the theme any more, unless i get complains of headache from the readers.

    I try to keep the theme as simple and easy on eyes as possible. I have made themes offline, made a lot of experiments, and came to a conclusion, it is not my job, and let it be done by proper persons, who work with web development, and started to concentrate more on the content. I think two columns with one body and one widgets is enough. Provided the body column is wide enough for me, so that the codes i post does not get wrapped and become unreadable.

    • @Phoxis
      Hello there. I like the change you made to Twenty Ten. Your header image is very unique and the colors blend so well with the site. Your blog is so very clean looking and the blogging space at 640 pixels wide will hopefully accommodate the code you write. :)

    • Greetings Jerry,
      In the final analysis that’s the case but Ron is also correct, we do blog for our readers. If we didn’t we’d all have “private” journals and our content wouldn’t be available.

      Bloggers are communicators and their blog’s brand evolves through reader feedback. When it comes to themes first impressions are important. There’s much to be said for sticking with a theme that helps readers instantly associate with you and your blog’s brand visually. Beyond understanding the motivations or goals of your audience, you must also understand the impact of design, structure, color, and basic mechanics of how your users will interact with your site if you aim to build a growing community. So when a theme with better features comes along it’s natural to consider changing to it. By using a mirror blog for testing you know in advance how the change will frame your content.

  8. Time Thief, This has been a great series. Thinking theme choice through via your valuable suggestions and guidelines can save quite a bit of wasted time.

    I’ve changed themes so many times in the last 4 months that it’s become a drama rather than just a single story. I even purchased the CSS upgrade to try to attain my “ideal” theme. What I learned through this is 1) I am not a designer and I want to focus on content, not on design for the most part; 2) This is my tendency to perfectionism rearing it’s annoying head once again. No matter what I do, I don’t seem to be satisfied. I’m just human so it’s OK, but I don’t want to be dominated by this tendency. As such, it’s been valuable a learning experience as both a blogger and a person, but as Ron underlines, I sometimes can’t help but wonder what my readers might be thinking. However, I got extra traffic by writing about all these changes and some of those people have stayed as readers. So all was not lost. I confess, I just switched back to Inuit Types from Bueno because in the end, I couldn’t quite shape Bueno the way that I wanted and I prefer so many of the elements of Inuit Types. Through these changes, I am much clearer on what I want and need in a blog, so not every new theme is so compelling to me anymore, which is a big point in this article and can save you a lot of hassle. I hope to stay put for awhile, but I won’t make any promises. Some people are just more changeable than others and it’s our differences that make the world go round.

    P. S. I like the way you are using the featured posts options on your blog the last few times.

    • Hi Sandra Lee,
      Thanks for the kind words about this series. I’m happy I was in tune enough to select a topic that readers wanted to pursue and I have learned a lot from the discussions we have had. :)

      I did notice the change you made back and until you feel totally at home with another theme Inuit Types looks very nice with your content in it. Also you have a test blog so maybe a better theme will come along.

      As you point out there’s so much to be learned by simply trying new themes out. I have blogged for a long time but those who haven’t may not be clear about what they need or what readers will or won’t appreciate. You now have a clear sense of what the right theme for you will be like and you are developing CSS skills. That’s so cool.

      I also learn a lot and enjoy so much working with you in the unofficial backroom beta theme testers group. :)

      • Just to let you know, I’m SO much happier back on Inuit Types theme.:) I love the post space/style and as you say the clean look. With the CSS, I can make little changes without trying to take on the full designer deal. I realize now sometimes you need to change to realize what really works for you.

  9. @Ron
    I believe there are may be bloggers who aren’t happy with the themes they have and their dissatisfaction may incline them to changing themes each time a new one is introduced.

    I also believe some bloggers are more visually orientated than others. They may be the creative and artistic types who change frequently simply because they quickly become tired of viewing the same old – same old.

    Without doubt, youth are far more inclined to try new things of all kinds and are far more likely to accept change without feeling any discomfort. In the case of an older demographic we find the opposite is usually the case.

    As for me I’m a creative and artistic person. I have test blogs and have tested all the themes and am always eager to give the new themes a tryout. When it comes to change I am very resilient. However, it wasn’t until I went through the testing and assessment process that I decided on this theme. It has excellent features and a clean appearance.

    I do agree with you that what my readers’ preferences are is important to me. But this is my blog and even if every one of my readers wanted me to use the old Kubrick default theme or Misty Look or whatever … I would not do it. :)

  10. Hey Ron, I also use MistyLook for http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com (personal blog) & http://www.thirdwavecyclingblog.wordpress.com (company blog).

    Would love to know what you would expect in terms of ‘feel’ for either/both of our blogs, given the subject focus for each. Which is abit different for each blog. I’d love to know other people’s opinions of what they want/expect out from a cycling/substainability focused blog.

    You/anyone doesn’t have to be a cyclist to give me an opinion. By the way, these blogs are NOT about competitive cycling. Which is why I want to steer away from a hard edge black-white theme.

    Meanwhile this blog, http://insidevancouver.ca/ which I stress, I am not its owner /manager/designer. I merely am one of the contributing writers on the team for Tourism Vancouver, the organization that owns and manages this blog. This blog uses MistyLook as its basis. I joined the writing team 12 months after the blog was created.

    • @Jean
      IMO both cycle blogs look excellent. On one hand I wouldn’t change a thing about them. On the other hand your content is so well researched, well written and so very well enhanced by images that it would look great in any theme. :)

  11. Every time WP release a new theme, there’s a rash of people, going, Hey, fantastic – I’m changing right now! Often it’s the same people with every new theme. Do they really change so often? Do their readers get sick of it and drift away?

    I’ve changed once, from Ocean Mist to Mistylook, for the sake of clearer text (many of my readers have visual problems associated with ME/CFS as, indeed, do I). For now, at least, I see no other reason to change again.

    I think regularly changing themes, just becau8se you can, and not for any benefit, is a discourtesy to one’s readers. You only have to look at the online uproar whenever newspapers, for example, change their formats – change, unless it brings improvements, is not appreciated by the readers. It’s probably the the same with blogs.

    If your theme is in some way defective, or the service you provide can be improved by changing to another theme, then by all means do so. Change simply for its own sake, though, is rarely a good idea – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    The argument – It’s my blog, I’ll do what I like with it – is fallacious. The needs of your readers have to be a primary consideration. After all, aren’t they the reason you’re writing?

    Ron.

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