Your Website Sucks, Part 2: WordPress Themes FTW!

Who's got two thumbs and loves WordPress themes? This guy...Well, installment one of this series (Three Reasons Your Website Sucks and One Simple Way to Fix It) garnered 16 comments and over 200 retweets. Damn. I guess you folks want me to write installment two. Let me get right on that!

We’re going to talk about WordPress themes, and not all are created equal. A theme is essentially a templated design that you can upload into your self-hosted WordPress installation (read more about those at Stop Being a WordPress Whore). It defines all your fonts, color schemes and the overall look and feel of your WordPress-powered website or blog.

But all themes are NOT created equal.

Most often, themes are built by designers interested in creating “pretty things.” They’re not SEO-savvy and bogged-down with code that keeps the search engines from finding what they need most (your info and keywords). However, we’re going to talk today about three themes that I’ve personally used (two of which I currently run) that are the hizzy of da schizzy when it comes to design, functionality and SEO. I’m confident that there are many more themes that web developers and site builders enjoy – so PLEASE: add them to the comments section below so readers can have a solid collection of themes from which to choose when looking to use the smartest themes on the market.

A note about WordPress hosting:

Think that installing a WordPress-powered website or blog is hard? Think again. There are several hosting providers that offer one-click WordPress installations:

Things to Look for in a WordPress Theme

  • Widget-Ready: is the theme ready to accept additional sidebar widgets and plugins? Ask before you buy (all themes mentioned below are widget-ready).
  • Clean Code: send an email to the sales team if you’re unsure or do a Google search for feedback on a theme. A theme bogged-down with poorly written code that’s designed to make a pretty theme versus a search engine/user-friendly one isn’t a wise use of your money.

Woo Themes – Mainstream Theme

The blog you’re reading right now is powered by Woo Themes Mainstream Theme (and…it’s FREE. Dang.). Why did I select it? Because it has some very powerful built-in features that are essential to RedheadWriting.com and my presence in the social media realm:

  • Social Media Integration: just key in your info for Twitter and Facebook and it has slick home page icons that link directly to your profiles on those sites.
  • Built-in Woo Themes Twitter Widget: Yeah, lots of the Twitter widgets kinda suck for WordPress. I think the one that you see over in the right hand side bar is clean and easy to read. It also includes a hot link to follow me on Twitter.
  • Navigation: Built-in ability to have header or footer Category navigation (if you wish – great for blogs)
  • Widget-Ready: Many WordPress themes are NOT widget-ready. This theme is 100% widget-ready and able to accept any plugin I throw its way. (Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the upcoming post in this series about WordPress plugins!)
  • Dynamic Image Resizer: On my home page, you’ll see every post is accompanied by a graphic. Mainstream allows you to upload a custom graphic to display and automatically resizes the image to work on the home page, eliminating your need (and mine) to be a freakin’ image resizing wiz. Oh yeah.
  • Integrated Banner Ad Management: If you’re monetizing your blog with ads, a big WOO WOO for this Woo Theme.

While the Mainstream theme IS free, I’d recommend becoming a Woo Themes member so you can enjoy support from their forums and more. All of their themes are ALWAYS buy one, get one free. If you’re a developer, you can buy a package that includes a PSD file for additional tweaking.

iThemes’ FLEXX Theme

Quite possibly the most versatile WordPress theme on the market aside from Thesis (saving it for last), there are over 1,056 possible layouts with FLEXX. Perhaps the most simple plug-and-play, customizable theme out there, RedheadedFury.com runs on the FLEXX theme (in sassy Candy Apple). Available is 15 different color schemes (any of which are easily tweaked by a guy who knows CSS), FLEXX is web design-ready with all of its built-in functionality. For only $79.99 (or $199.99 for ALL 15 versions), I have no qualms that FLEXX is money well-spent.

I personally love the fact that iThemes offers video tutorials on how to make the most of your FLEXX theme. The ability for a complete newbie to go in and customize a complete website using this cleanly-coded theme is astounding. Their help forums are especially useful and provide hints for tweaks as well as instant answers directly from other users of the theme.

Want to find out more about the plethora of features that FLEXX offers (and I enjoy oh-so-much)? Visit the FLEXX theme online and see for yourself!

DIY Themes THESIS Theme

Yes, I own THESIS. While it’s not up and running on any of my currently live sites, I can assure you that it will be at some point in the future. I was turned on to THESIS by both Brian Clark (@copyblogger) and Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan), both of whose sites are powered by THESIS. If you’ve reviewed their sites, they really couldn’t be more different – but they’re both clean, easy to navigate and the built-in SEO functionality is unparalleled in any other theme on the market without installing a widget. Don’t believe me? Google’s Matt Cutts runs his site on THESIS (no shit).

If you’re not opposed to working with someone who is savvy with CSS of if you’re a web designer looking for the bomb diggity of WordPress themes to wrap your own CSS code around, take a video tour of what THESIS has to offer.

Key selling points for me:

  • Unparalleled built-in SEO functionality, virtually eliminates many of the plugins most themes require!
  • Likely the most developer-friendly theme on the market
  • Lifetime updates, no matter if you purchase the Personal or Developer Theme
  • Personal Theme is only $87 (one installation), Developer Theme is only $164 (unlimited installs for your clients)
  • View the Developer’s Showcase to see all of customizations available with THESIS

If you have favorite WordPress themes, leave a comment below. Next Wednesday’s installment of this series is by guest blogger Jason Nelson of Visual Adventures. He’ll be discussing CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and how they’re used with WordPress themes. Whether you’re a developer or not, the blog is in plain English so everyone can benefit!

Subscribe to RedheadWriting today via either RSS feed or email at the top right hand side of this screen – don’t miss this ongoing series about WordPress and web design or the new series on web content (next installment: Tuesday, September 1!).

13 comments
Web Design Lexington
Web Design Lexington

I enhance themes to suit my needs and my clients: making sure to deliver the best and the "friendliest" feature.

Kilted_alex
Kilted_alex

I see a lot of Thesis and Atahualpa mentions, and having built in both - i'd say that each of them wins in different ways! (From an SEO standpoint I will give Thesis the win for ease of use!) (From a customization point of view - I give Atahualpa the edge, its seems easier to follow and mod) At Kilted Chaos, I prefer Atahualpa and have done several sites with it, 2 of them pretty far off the original theme, while @kilted_andrew favors Thesis. His other venture music2work2.com is powered by Thesis, with a very slickly hacked slider for featured posts that highlight his MP3's too. Maybe its just our bad luck - but content sliders and suchlike just don't play as well with Atahualpa as in Thesis, but then "Atta" is still relatively new, and is free so you do gets what you payz for there too ;) And can i just sing the praises of Themeforest for a moment - we've used some of their themes (Working with one just now actually- really slick), and even though he's English ;) - @danharper7 and his "creative industry" theme on Wordpress - second to none! his support for the theme rocks somewhat too.

Kris
Kris

Two questions about Thesis - Hopefully someone can answer them or point me in the right direction. Maybe this isn't the right forum, but I don't own Thesis (yet) so I can't access the support forum to find my own answer... Anyway - we generate content multiple niche news websites. Some of them host paid content with no ads and some host ad-supported content. Can you password protect certain content with Thesis? Also, sometimes the same content is relevant to the audience of two or more of our websites. Our current writer-interface publishing tool (developed in-house) allows us to post the same story to several sites at once. Can Thesis be customized to do this?

Cynthia LaLuna
Cynthia LaLuna

Found you via Twitter. These are two awesome articles! I loved the sentence about the metadata. "go ahead and blink..." The Headway theme launched a few weeks ago and offers drag and drop layout editing, and unique page layouts for each page. It's got a bit of a groundswell going. Could be worth checking out. I wrote a detailed comparison of Headway and Thesis from my point of view as a designer, as the two products currently stand, here: http://www.rowboatmedia.com/399/headway-10-vs-thesis-151-a-designers-review/ Heading off to find The Redhead's RSS button...

Larry Herrin
Larry Herrin

BTW, Redhead, I think you must have meant to discuss the Woo Themes' MAINSTREAM Theme, not Mainstreet Theme. I couldn't find a reference to a Mainstreet theme anywhere on Woothemes' site, nor on Google. Could you clarify?

FutureExpat
FutureExpat

I run Atahualpa on several sites, including FutureExpats.com, and I really, really like it. It's free(!), quite easy for a non-programmer to customize in many ways and on many levels, and looks very clean and professional. I love reading about other WordPress themes, and look forward to trying Thesis at some point, but I heartily recommend Atahualpa.

Larry Herrin
Larry Herrin

I feel compelled to mention the Atahualpa theme, which is also a free one. This theme has a huge amount of flexibility and design options that are adjustable down to the page level. Any design option that involves more than ticking a checkbox is illustrated with the current default setting and examples of alternative settings to enter. It's available from the Wordpress admin area. Click on the "Appearance/Add New Themes" menu option and do a search for "Atahualpa". I'm using it now for the site that I linked my name to above, if you want to take a look and compare the look of this site with the default settings visible for the theme in the aforementioned WP admin area.

Kathie Thomas, A Claytons Secretary
Kathie Thomas, A Claytons Secretary

I'm a theme junkie and have been known to start a blog simply so I could use a theme I found and fell in love with. Wordpress is the best!

Jennifer Breazeale
Jennifer Breazeale

Can't wait to see the next article! I recently moved my wordpress.com site over to a hosted wordpress.org site (with Thesis!). I've managed to do a little customization, but I'm hesitant to tackle the CSS mountain just yet. Hopefully, you and Jason can help me over that hurdle (or at least I'll know who to hire...)

Wumpie
Wumpie

This is great! I have 2 blogs and 1 website using Wordpress through godaddy, but don't know what the heck I'm doing(SEO-wise). Thanks!! Looking forward to part 3.

tcabeen
tcabeen

GOBS of information, distilled into one awesome-tastic post. Thank you! (Yes, I will soon be reviewing my current wordpress installations for tweaks...)

Kim Smith
Kim Smith

Great article. I just moved my blog from Blogger to Wordpress (using Fazyvo theme) a couple of months ago. I love Wordpress. Also, Media Temple offers a 1-click install as well. They are great and so easy to use. I have been researching using Wordpress as a CMS lately. It seems it's an excellent way to set up blogs as well as full sites. I will definitely check out the themes you recommend.

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