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Whether you’re a brand-new blogger or blogger veteran, you should know by now that if you want to take your blog to the next level, you need to use a paid theme.
You’ve heard this a million times before, but it’s true.
Paid themes generally have more options for customization, and they look sleeker on all devices.
If you’re not self-hosted yet or intend on using your blog for personal use, then this guide won’t be all that useful.
I want to stress, however, that you can always turn a personal blog into a business, and once you’ve made that decision, a paid theme is a must.
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After you’ve nailed down a general idea of what your brand should look like, you need to find a good theme that can enhance that.
Fortunately for you, there are hundreds of thousands of options to choose from. Your perfect theme is out there somewhere.
The only problem with having so many options is that when money is involved, you want to ensure that you make the best choice.
Don’t worry. I’m going to help you narrow down your options for paid themes significantly with some basic criteria.
1. Check out the demo first
If this is your first paid theme, you’ll need to understand how customizable it is.
Every theme will list out all its features, but since themes are visual, it’s better to see those features in action.
Enter, the demo. Think of demos as a “try before you buy” situation.
A demo will show you every possible way you can customize the theme without needing to touch your current theme. Generally, every feature will be active in the demo. You can see what every feature will look like and understand how they work.
For your first theme, you’ll want to ensure that a demo is provided. Not only is it easier for you to envision your site layout, but it shows that the theme creator has put in a lot of time to make sure that you get your money’s worth.
Best of all, demos are completely free to use. If you don’t like the demo, you don’t need to commit and can move onto checking out another theme.
Of course, your site will not look exactly like the demo because you’ll pick and choose what features you want to use.
If you have no basic knowledge of HTML or CSS, finding a theme with a lot of built-in features will make customization a lot easier.
Generally, what you see in a demo is what you get. You can customize things like the font and colors easily, but the locations and sizes of widgets, titles, images, and menus may be fixed within the theme.
This is extremely important to understand because if you have intentions of customizing outside of the theme limitations, you’ll run into difficulty and frustration if you don’t know how to code.
I made this mistake when I bought my first paid theme. I really liked what the demo offered. The layout was sleek and I had not seen anyone use something like it.
My issues came when I realized that I didn’t like how the images were set up and where certain things were located.
Knowing how to use Google to research your problem will help with some coding customization. You may even find solutions to your specific problems that you can copy and paste directly into the code.
Plugins can also help a lot with customization by adding more features.
I went through a lot of free trials of CSS plugins to try to fix the issues that I was having with my theme. Once my solutions started to break other parts of my blog, I knew that I needed to find something else.
You don’t want to work for a blog theme. A blog theme should work for you. If you find that you need to make a lot of changes, I would just move onto finding a theme that better fits your vision.
2. Make sure the support is active
If you think you’ve found the perfect theme, make sure to check that the support is active and in a language you understand.
Remember my first mistake? Ignoring this step only compounded the issue. Not only did I not know how to customize my theme very well, but the support team was no longer active.
Additionally, the team behind the theme did not know English very well, so a lot of the feature descriptions were in broken English or didn’t have any at all.
I didn’t even check how recent the reviews were. There was no FAQ or help section.
Lastly, despite all the reviews being 5 stars, they were given months and years before I found the theme.
These are obviously major red flags, but they’re not so obvious unless you do a little digging.
A theme may seem like it has it all, but make sure to pay attention to reviews. Check when the last time the theme was updated and check the fluency and timeliness of the support.
This will save you a lot of time and headaches later.
3. Make sure images are optimized for Pinterest
This is HUGE if you plan on using Pinterest to grow your blog.
You need to find a theme that either supports full sized thumbnails or the option to customize the height and width of the thumbnails.
If the images in the demo are square or have fixed dimensions, the text on your shareable images may get cut off in the preview.
I like to use my main shareable image as my featured image because it’s easier. When you visit my homepage or look at the “related posts” widgets, you can clearly see and read the full image.
Themes usually automatically select the featured image as the thumbnail for posts you see when you browse through a blog.
If you don’t want the featured image as your thumbnail, make sure you pick a theme that lets you choose which images you want to use.
Ensuring that your images are optimized for vertical Pinterest sizes makes sharing a breeze. Adding a plugin to set up the option to pin your featured image saves the reader a lot of steps and will make them more likely to share your post.
Another plugin that has helped make sharing directly from my blog immensely easier is Social Warfare.
Tying this back to the previous step, I had to ask my current theme support for help on this.
I emailed them to figure out how to use full-sized images for thumbnails, because the images were being slightly cut off on the top and bottom. This would sometimes cause the text on my images to get cut off as well.
I was as specific as possible about my problem and sent them screenshots. They got back to me the next day and told me exactly how and where to change the code to create my desired look.
This tiny change alone made my blog look sleeker and increased my click-through rate.
4. Make sure the theme is responsive
One huge thing that most free themes don’t have is an ability to be responsive outside of desktop use.
When you’re working with themes, chances are you’re doing it on a computer. You can spend a lot of time making sure your theme looks good without even checking what it looks like on mobile.
Have you ever been to a website on your phone that wasn’t optimized for mobile? You’re basically browsing a full-sized website through a phone screen, which can be difficult.
From my understanding, every paid theme I’ve looked at was responsive. It would not be worth the money if it wasn’t.
If you’re new or haven’t created your blog yet, you may be thinking the majority of your viewers will come from a desktop. This is most likely false.
To my surprise, 50% of my viewership comes from mobile. Even though I live on my computer and make all edits to my blog through my computer, I could not ignore how it looked on mobile.
Responsiveness is something you must have, regardless of mobile. There are so many computer screen resolutions out there.
What your site looks like on one desktop may look drastically different on another.
I check this with my main desktop. It has a huge, wide screen so my blog needs to be able to fill up that space as well as possible. This is why you should only use relative height and width options (middle, top, etc.) instead of absolute (pixels, fixed-sizes). Relative locations and sizes will always adjust properly to different screen resolutions.
Even adjusting the size of the browser window will show the responsiveness of the theme in action. If the resolution becomes narrow enough, you’ll notice that my main menu collapses into an accordion menu.
This makes it easier for mobile browsers to navigate my blog because they don’t need to scroll left and right to see all the options.
One last important note about responsiveness is that you want to make sure that the theme doesn’t impact the loading times.
Themes that boast features like drag and drop or create their own customization portal will tend to slow your site down. Avoid using resource-heavy themes like this for your first theme.
Super easy customization may seem alluring, but these themes tend to be much more expensive. Again, it’s better to select a theme that you’ll need to make minimal changes to than create your own.
5. Make sure to check out “similar themes”
As impressive as a lot of themes are, it shouldn’t be love at first sight.
Browse through similar themes that people have clicked through. This is helpful because if you find a theme that is aesthetically pleasing, you can go down a trail of curated themes that fit that kind of look.
This will speed up your search for your perfect theme.
You can easily look up what other bloggers are using as themes. Enter their site URL into What WP Theme Is That and you’ll not only see their theme, but what plugins they use as well.
This may give you a leg up in your customization efforts because plugins sometimes hold the key to making a theme look a certain way.
Related Page: My Blogging Resources
Don’t completely copy other bloggers! This will make you look like a copycat, especially if you customize your site to look exactly like someone else’s.
A lot of bloggers use the same themes and colors, but still make it look like their own brand. Not only will it help you establish your blog and set yourself apart from others, but you don’t want to run into any legal issues with regards to copying.
6. Don’t extend the license renewal right away
Lastly, it may be tempting, but don’t do an early renewal on your theme lease right away.
If you’re using themes from theme shops like Creative Market or Themeforest then you’ll be looking at subscription-based themes. Instead of a one time purchase, you’re paying a biannual (or annual) subscription fee to use a theme that was created by a designer.
There are plenty of paid themes that are a one time purchase, but they’re usually abandoned by the creator. That means that any WordPress update may break your theme and you’ll most likely not have good support.
Subscriptions encourage creators to keep creating and update their themes. You also tend to get access to an entire library of themes with a subscription service.
Most lengths of a theme license are 6 months. If your theme offers support for 6 months, don’t immediately extend it for longer.
You never know when you’ll get sick of your theme. It could take days, weeks, or even months. It’s healthy to go through different themes as you grow and evolve your site.
This was what my very first blog post looked like on my first paid theme:
Related Post: 6 Reasons Why Lazy People Tend To Be More Successful
Every big blog and site out there started with a humble starter theme. You can always change your mind as you hone your brand and grow later on.
This guide is meant for you to maximize your money and stretch it as far as it needs to go.
Save time and money by really taking the time to shop for your perfect theme. At $30+ a theme, you’ll want to make sure that you spend your money wisely.
Of course, I made this mistake with my very first theme. I bought it and didn’t even use it for more than a couple of weeks as I was still in the development stages of my blog. There were too many issues with it, and now it’s going to sit there for a long, long time before my lease expires.
So, there you have it. Learn from my mistakes!
Make sure that you choose a theme that works for you. Don’t obsess over your theme either. Themes are supposed to be fun and give your site a look that matches your brand.
Of course, the fastest way to ensure that you have something perfect for you is to hire a web designer. If you want the freedom to customize things yourself, you’ll need to learn the basics of HTML and CSS.
Don’t worry, once you get the basics down, you’ll only need to Google more advanced customization or get support from the creators of your theme.