Note: this post on how to pick a WordPress theme is part of my wider How to get started blogging series. Check out all the posts HERE

I see posts on Facebook Groups all the time asking ‘which WordPress theme should I use?’ 

The fact is, there are so many new bloggers who procrastinate on this decision for weeks and weeks. That’s just crazy!

Choosing a WordPress theme is one of those blogging decisions that is NOT going to make or break your success in the long run – after all, a theme can easily be changed.

That said, I do like to think of a WordPress theme as the face of your blog. (I mean, hopefully, it will be a happy welcoming face, as opposed to an angry one!)

The problem is, your new blog will come with a very uninspiring default theme preloaded, which is really NOT how you want your new blog-baby to look. But I get it, the range of WordPress theme options is overwhelming and you can’t make up your mind, right?

When you have limited blogging time around your 9-5 or kids, the last thing you want is to spin your wheels trying to find the perfect theme.

I want to help! I’ve broken down how to pick a WordPress theme into 4 very simple stress-free steps (including suggestions for themes which might work for your budget and technical skill level!)

Don’t have time to read this now? Pin it for later! >>

This post contains affiliate links for products that I use and recommend. This means that if you click through my link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support in this way. 

PSST! Still stuck on how to start your side hustle blog? I’ve got your back! I’ve written a super detailed but easy-to-follow tutorial on How to Start a Blog. This includes choosing a domain, hosting, installing WordPress, setting up email and securing your site with an SSL certificate. You can check it out here and then come back to work out how to pick a WordPress theme for your shiny new blog!

HOW TO PICK A WORDPRESS THEME IN 4 SIMPLE STEPS

So, I’m a serial blog starter. This is the 4th blog I’ve built myself from scratch.

I also have to hold my hands up to being a serious WordPress theme hoarder. I think I’ve used about 10 different themes across those 4 blogs.

I’ve learned the hard way what to look out for when choosing a theme, and I’ve gained hands-on experience of working with the main theme frameworks out there.

Taking that experience I’ve come up with a stress-free method to guide you on how to pick a WordPress theme.

I’m going to ask you to think about your theme budget, what you want your blog to look like and how comfortable you are with having to customize a theme yourself. Then you’ll put all that together and take a look at the theme options I’m suggesting for each budget and skill level.

Ready to get started? Let’s go…

HOW TO PICK A WORDPRESS THEME STEP 1: Decide on your budget

The first place to start (as with any blogging decision really) is to figure out how much you can afford to spend.

Unlike buying a domain and hosting, the WordPress theme is one place where you have real flexibility on how much you spend when starting a blog.

You can pay zilch and opt for a free theme, or you can go premium and pay anything from about $30 upwards. I talk about both options in more detail below.

Related reading: 4 ideas to fund your blog when it’s not making any money yet.

HOW TO PICK A WORDPRESS THEME STEP 2: Brainstorm the features you want

I’m NOT just talking about colors and fonts here.

No, I’m talking about things like looking great on all screens and displaying pages, categories and blog posts how you want them.

In other words, when choosing a WordPress theme you should think about substance over style!

Some key points to think about:

Mobile responsiveness

This is the ability for your site to be viewed and easily navigated on different screen sizes and it is CRUCIAL. Google is actively penalizing sites that aren’t mobile-friendly so you’d be crazy to consider a WordPress theme that doesn’t have this feature.

A mobile responsive WordPress theme is a MUST HAVE, not a nice to have. 

Already have a WordPress site set up and want to check if you’re mobile responsive? Head to the Google Mobile-Friendly Test to find out.

Does your website need to support eCommerce?

That is, are you going to be selling stuff directly from your website? If so, you need to consider a few more points than your straight-forward blog owner.

This post on Choosing an eCommerce WordPress Theme provides some handy tips.

How do you envision your blog looking?

Now is a good time to write down a list of features you’d like your blog to have. You’re going to use this info when choosing your theme.

Some points to ponder…

> Do you want a traditional blog?

That is, where the homepage is a list of chronological blog posts? Or would you like a static homepage that showcases a little more about your brand?  

Traditional blog homepage with a list of your recent posts…

vs.

A static homepage with more information about you and your offering (and a link to blog posts)

> Do you feature a lot of photography on your site?

Do you need a lightbox function or a kickass portfolio page? How would you like these to look?

> Which blogs do you admire?

What is it about their design that you like? You don’t want to copy them, but figure out what kind of features you might want on your own site (the location of the logo, sidebar, footers, sliders, layout of blog portfolio pages, email opt-in forms etc).

> What’s the aesthetic you’re after?

Now you can start thinking about what kind of fonts, colors, and general design features you like. But bear in mind that these are quite easily customizable in many themes (although some may require a little coding).

> What’s your blog niche?

There are tons of themes for different niches – e.g. photography, recipes, travel, fashion etc. This can be helpful to narrow down some of your options BUT I wouldn’t get too caught up in it. For example, I used a food theme for my wedding stationery blog as I loved how the blog posts were displayed portfolio style for each category. Keep an open mind!

HOW TO PICK A WORDPRESS THEME STEP 3 – Consider how ‘tech-savvy’ you are

The good news is that you don’t need to be able to build websites from scratch to blog these days. WordPress has really leveled the playing field and choosing the right theme should mean that even the most technically-illiterate bloggers can do just fine.

However, some themes may require more customization than others – especially when it comes to things like fonts and colors. You can manage this by customizing CSS or digging into PHP.

But, this can be a little daunting for new bloggers…

via GIPHY

If even mentioning the word ‘coding’ brings you out in a cold sweat then you need to bear that in mind when choosing your theme.

HOW TO PICK A WORDPRESS THEME STEP 4: Put it all together to narrow your search

Ok, now you know how much you have to spend. And you have a broad idea of what you’re looking for in a theme. So, let’s put it all together and work out which themes might be a good fit for you.

Read on for some suggestions of themes to check out for each budget and tech-skill level…

But First… A Quick Note on Themes vs. Frameworks

We’re going to get a little technical for a moment – please stay awake!

Put simply, you can buy a ‘standalone’ WordPress theme or you can opt for a theme which is part of a wider ‘framework’ installed on WordPress.

In the latter case, you download the framework and can then install a ‘child theme’ which runs on it.

You can think of the framework as the engine of a car – it runs everything in the background and determines the speed and ‘drivability’ of the car.

The child theme is more like the body of the car. You can paint it any color you want or change out the doors, but the car’s ability to drive will be unchanged.

So in website terms, you can change anything in the child theme and it won’t affect the framework of the WordPress theme – allowing you to easily change up how your blog looks, without impacting underlying functionality.

The two most popular WordPress theme frameworks are Genesis by Studiopress and Divi by Elegant Themes

My view is that if you’re going to invest in a premium theme, you should strongly consider investing in a framework like Genesis or Divi, as both offer you more optionality in the long-run than a standalone theme.

There are so many debates on whether Divi or Genesis is a better option. Bloggers can be VERY wedded to their choice.

However, I’ve used both – my wedding stationery blog is built on Genesis (the Tasteful child theme by Restored 316 in case you’re interested!) and this blog is built on Divi. 

I can happily recommend both, for different reasons – see my suggestions on which may suit you below.

It would be awesome if you could choose a theme off the bat that does everything you need it to, and can grow with your blog over the coming years.

BUT, you need to bear in mind that you’re not stuck with your choice forever more – you can easily change your theme over time.

Related reading: How to install a new WordPress theme in 5 easy clicks.

Long story short, I DON’T want you to panic if all you can afford is a free theme right now. Or, perhaps you have a budget but you’re paralyzed with indecision, too afraid to choose a theme in case it’s the wrong decision?

As with anything in blogging, I say do your research (spend no more than a day on it though) and then just make a decision and press ‘go’! You’ll be far better off spending your limited blogging time creating killer content than mulling over different themes.

IMPORTANT!

My suggestions are only a guide to direct your search. Please thoroughly check out all the features of a theme BEFORE you purchase to ensure it suits your needs. This includes carefully reviewing the theme demo, features and, if necessary, seeking clarification from the theme designer.

For all the options below I’ve either used a theme myself or tested it. The options I’m suggesting are weighted more towards feminine designed themes as that’s what I like (and my readers are mostly female!)

HOW TO PICK A WORDPRESS THEME BASED ON YOUR BUDGET/ TECHNICAL SKILL LEVEL

YOUR THEME BUDGET IS $0

If you have no budget, then your only choice is to look at Free WordPress Themes

Don’t fear! You can definitely find a free theme that will work for you until you can afford to take the plunge on a premium one.

Customization required with free WordPress themes: MEDIUM – HIGH

I will say that you’ll find it difficult to find a free theme that requires NO customization. However, so far I’ve tested two free themes which came up as popular options in a Facebook Group poll I conducted.

They are:

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good they look and how easy they are to use. There are some pretty layout choices and it’s pretty easy to have a very functional sidebar/ footer etc.

If you’re wary about editing your theme files yourself, then you will likely need to use a plugin for things like inserting code into the header/ body/ footer of the theme (e.g. to verify your site for Google Analytics and Pinterest).

When it comes to changing the font/ hyperlink colors you will need to do a little CSS customization, which isn’t too scary when you know how.

To get you started I recommend you take a look at the beginner HTML and CSS tutorials over on Design Your Own Blog.  

If neither of these free themes floats your boat then check out more free themes…

  • Athemes range of free themes;
  • Every month you can download a few premium themes for free by signing up to Themeforest; and
  • Be sure to sign up for the free weekly goodies email from Creative Market. Every week you can download 6 gorgeous freebies like premium fonts, stock photos, graphics, social media templates and, from time to time, premium WordPress themes! This email is the highlight of my week (#nerd).

Crucially, no matter where you look for a free theme make sure:

  • It has plenty of excellent user ratings;
  • It’s been updated recently; and
  • You have the option to look at the theme demo site to see how it looks for each page type.

YOUR THEME BUDGET IS LESS THAN $100

At this budget level, you have 2 main options…

1. A standalone WordPress theme (anything from c. $30 – $99)

There are a ton of places to purchase standalone WordPress themes. These run alone, without a WordPress framework behind them so you simply install and go.

My favorite source of standalone themes for female bloggers is Bluchic. They have a lovely range of feminine themes priced at $79.

I’ve personally used the Lynette theme, which I chose at the time for the easy portfolio style of the blog category and home pages.

Customization required with a standalone WordPress theme: MEDIUM

Unlike free themes, standalone WordPress themes from Bluchic come with easily customizable color options and lots of layout options for a static or blog homepage.

However, you may still need to consider using a plugin to allow you to change the fonts or to insert code into the theme’s header and footer if you’re not confident amending the theme files yourself.

2. Divi by Elegant Themes (1-year membership, $89)

With a budget of up to $100, you could afford a 1-year membership to Elegant Themes in order to use the Divi theme. Full disclosure – for lifetime access the costs would be $249 (or cheaper if you can grab it on sale).

Customization required with Divi: LOW

See below for a full overview of Divi (and why I think it’s a great option for bloggers who don’t want to have to mess about with code too much).

YOUR THEME BUDGET IS MORE THAN $100

I wouldn’t consider a standalone theme if you have a larger budget.

If you’re investing this much cash, then I recommend that you invest in either one of Genesis or Divi, so that you’re locking in a more powerful theme framework that can grow with your blog…

1. THE LOW TECH SKILL OPTION – DIVI BY ELEGANT THEMES

Divi is a super powerful drag and drop page builder that allows you to create a blog that looks exactly how you want it, with no coding.

How to pick a WordPress theme - Divi premium WordPress theme homepage

You can work on your blog design ‘live’ with the visual page builder – no need to keep previewing your work and then going back into the editor to make amendments.

Every element of your blog is easily customized in settings – including font type, size and colors, so no need to dig into code.

You can preview how the Divi builder works on the Elegant Themes site.

Divi may be a good choice for you if…

You’re a new blogger that has no idea how to work with HTML, CSS or amend your theme’s files (and you don’t really want to spend a lot of time learning how)

I’ve built this blog with Divi. Even as a seasoned blogger it was so refreshing to not spend a ton of time Googling ‘how do I change [XYZ]’ like I’ve done with previous blogs. In a word, Divi, is very EASY to use, once you get past the short learning curve on using the builder.

You want lots of optionality in how your blog will be laid out

Unlike other WordPress themes, with Divi you’re not stuck with the layouts written into the theme you’re using. You can very simply create any type of page or post from scratch, for example, landing pages for capturing email addresses. Or use one of the predefined layouts to get you started quickly.

I created my homepage in less than half an hour. I didn’t have to code in any sections or columns, I was just able to drag and drop content modules.

Drawbacks to Divi…

Some bloggers worry that Divi is a more ‘bloated’ theme which may impact SEO

Given the page builder works with ‘shortcode’ there is a risk that it could slow down your site.

I personally haven’t seen a huge issue with this, but I do ensure that any images I upload are optimized. I also only use the page builder for certain posts and pages – I use the plain default editor for other posts where possible to cut down on shortcode.

Finally, I’m hosted with Siteground, who do a pretty good job on speed for shared hosted bloggers.

If you ever want to move away from Divi, it’s more difficult due to the ‘shortcodes’ built into your site, meaning your site will need to be cleaned up to operate on a non-Divi theme.

This is definitely something to consider.

It’s not something however that overly worries me. I feel that Divi gives me such a huge opportunity to create what I want that I should be able to change up the design enough, rather than moving to another framework.

Should you out-grow your blog to a point where you want a custom site built, there are designers who will create a site based on Divi for you.

Where to purchase Divi…

Divi theme is available as part of membership to Elegant Themes.

This is currently $89 for one year, or $249 for lifetime access. However, it is possible to grab it cheaper during seasonal sales (I nabbed lifetime access for $144 in the Black Friday 2017 sale).

Membership also includes 86 other themes (including Extra, which many bloggers use – such as Carly Campbell over at Mommy on Purpose), as well as 3 plugins. These plugins include the Divi page builder for use with any WordPress theme, Bloom for growing your email list and Monarch for social sharing.

You have a 30 day money back guarantee with Elegant Themes, as well as access to a support service for any queries you may have.

2. THE HIGHER TECH SKILL OPTION – GENESIS BY STUDIOPRESS

Genesis is a more traditional but super powerful WordPress framework.

How to pick a WordPress Theme - Genesis premium WordPress theme homepage

Once installed along with a child theme, it provides far more features to bloggers than a standalone WordPress theme – including inbuilt SEO, easy options to insert header and footer code and customize your site.

Genesis may be a good choice for you if…

You’d like a very predefined ‘look’ to your site and don’t want to have to build it yourself

With a Genesis child theme, you will be getting a pre-designed layout and style for your blog, which might suit you if you have a particular look in mind.

You’re confident that you can tackle some light coding and would like to learn how

I’ve yet to use a WordPress child theme that I didn’t modify in some way – be it coding a colored background to text in my sidebar, amending the theme fonts and colors or coding in a 2 column layout in a blog post.

If the idea of learning this kind of stuff excites you then Genesis might be a good option for you.

You value site speed above anything else

Genesis is likely to be a more nimble choice if speed is your no. 1 priority.

Drawbacks to Genesis…

Complete newbie bloggers may struggle somewhat to customize their child themes

As stated above, it’s likely that you’ll want to make some amendments to your theme over time. If your tech knowledge is low, you may spend a bit of time Googling and experimenting with your theme files.

Where to purchase Genesis…

You can purchase lifetime access to the Genesis framework for $59.95 from Studiopress. This also comes with a 30-day refund policy as well as a support service.

You also need to purchase a separate child theme to install with the framework (install Genesis first). These will set you back an additional $50-$100, depending on the theme you choose.

My favorite places to buy Genesis child themes with a feminine edge are:

1. Pretty Darn Cute Designs (themes priced from $49.99)

I used the Swank theme on my first wedding blog. I liked the thorough instructions on how to set it up.

2. Restored 316 Designs (themes priced at $79)

I have personally used the Tasteful theme. You can try out their quiz to see which theme would suit your blog best.

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There you have it – that’s how to pick a WordPress theme in 4 simple steps.

You really don’t need to be overwhelmed when it comes to choosing a WordPress theme. I’d recommend spending no more than a day looking at the options that are suitable for your budget.

Then just do it. Install the theme and get blogging.

You’re now one step closer to creating your dream side hustle blog – go you!