Will a FREE WordPress Theme Work for Your Blog?

Filed in Blogging , Guest Post , Sharisax Is Out There 8 comments

When my WordPress Meetup group discussed the new features of WordPress 3.0, I was gungho to get started. Not only did I download the upgrade, but I also decided to test out a new theme.

Good thing I “tested” it on a training blog . . . because OOOPS my new theme crashed my site.

Good thing Hostgator was able to restore everything.

But where to turn next? Actually, as I’ve written before, LinkedIn Answers are ideal to find an expert for just about everything I want to know.

Here was my question:


My LinkedIn Experts did not fail me. In fact Sallie Goetsch, who runs our WordPress Meetup group wrote such a great response that I asked to publish it as a Guest Post:

Three Checkpoints for New WP Themes

Guest Post by Sallie Goetsch

Themes do have to pass certain tests to get into the theme repository on WordPress.org–they need to be licensed under the GPL and be free from spam links and malware. So even if you find the theme elsewhere, it’s good to check to see whether it’s available from WordPress.org.

Second, check to see how recently the theme has been updated and what kind of support the developer is offering. (You can usually find this on the home page of the theme developer. There should be a link to this in the style.css file, which you can open in Notepad.) Theme updates are often released as blog posts, with comments from users that let you know about problems.

Run the Theme Authenticity Checker (TAC) plugin. This checks your themes for suspicious links.

Themes from developer sites are likely to be more trustworthy than themes from spammy-looking sites with thousands of free themes. Many of those will be out of date and won’t work well with newer versions of WordPress, even if there’s no malicious code in them.

If the theme is a complex one with theme options and built-in functions like slideshows, check to see whether it relies on certain plugins, or might conflict with them. (And check to see whether those plugins work under your version of WordPress.)

There’s always some trial and error involved with themes, especially now with WP 3.0. If the theme passes the other tests, install it and see what happens. If it doesn’t work properly, deactivate and delete it, and try a different one.

If you have a favorite theme that doesn’t take advantage of all the new WP 3.0 features, there are several articles out there for theme developers on how to upgrade your theme.

Links:

If you ‘d like to read the rest of the great answers, please check out the other responses I’m adding to the Comment section.

And please feel free to add your own experiences and tips, as well.

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Posted by Shari Weiss   @   2 July 2010
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Comments
Author Jul 2, 2010
12:32 am

Free wordpress themes can be an amazing and useful tool, though they can also become a headache and much more time consuming than they need to be. Some free wordpress themes have little to no support associated with them and are merely tactics to encourage you to download a paid/premium version of the theme, though some are also real free themes with great design and functionality (these are few and hard to find)

Once you have narrowed down your search and have a couple of themes, you should do some research on the themes, by theme name. i.e.
“how to install a studiopress themes,”
“adding posts to feature content on studiopress themes,“
“support for studiopress themes”

You can also search youtube and see if any of the themes offer instructive support videos for the themes. The best free themes are the ones that have an active developer that is interested in the ease with which people can use their themes and not one that uses is as a sales trap.

There are also many theme sites that offer amazing current themes for a small cost 60-70 dollars, these usually come with access to free support forums and video and the time it saves you is well worth the cost.

If you are looking for a good free wordpress site you can try Wicked WordPress Themes (link is below)
Links:
http://www.wicked-wordpress-themes.com/

Author Jul 2, 2010
12:34 am

Apart from the threat of spam links that others have mentioned above, the quality of the coding in a theme will have a major impact on your site load times and its search engine friendliness.

I’ve linked to two articles below. The first one talks generally about free versus paid themes and some things to look out for, the second is an article on Thesis, but includes more details as to how a poorly coded theme slows down site load times. The relevant bit is in the section entitled ‘The quality and efficiency of the Underlying code’.

Cheers,

Martin.
Links:
http://www.wealthydragon.com/blog/2009/12/10/theme-affect-search-results/
http://www.wealthydragon.com/blog/thesis/

Author Jul 2, 2010
12:36 am

Finding a reliable new WordPress theme is pretty easy. I’ve included some of my favorite posts of high quality free themes. Also be sure to check WordPress.org and you can even search from within your dashboard.

Try and find a theme that is compatible with WordPress 3 menus, headers, background and featured images if necessary. Some themes might have custom ways of accomplishing these tasks but it’s best to find something that uses WordPress features so you can switch things up easier in the future.

As far as the look and feel of the site remember that sometimes its best to just keep it simple. Make sure the site has good typography. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to do a Google search for some comments about themes you might be considering. If it’s free out there on the web, there is a good chance someone is already using it and may have written about it.

Finally always consider the source. Most sites serving spammy WordPress themes will be spammy in nature themselves. Try to only use themes that are at least endorsed by trusted blogs and distributers on the web.
Links:
http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/05/18/100-amazing-free-wordpress-theme
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/11/12/40-free-high-quality-wordpress-t

Author Jul 2, 2010
12:40 am

As an experienced WordPress user and Theme developer, I would recommend getting a local copy of WordPress running on your machine, which would enable you to develop much more rapidly and “trial” the new themes and features you’re interested in before you get cracking online.

In order to do this, the best tool is to get hold of XAMPP (See attached links). It’s really easy to download and install, and enables you run your own webserver and copy of WordPress locally.

I’ve used this method for agile WordPress development and theme design for over 2+ years and it’s really handy.
Links:
http://www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp-windows.html

Jul 3, 2010
4:42 pm

Shari, I started out with a free theme just out there on WordPress, then I moved the free theme to my own domain and had it customized to match the existing website by Kim Woodbridge. In March, Kim and I moved the whole blog and website to Headway. I love Headway. I can customize to my heart’s content and unless someone copies me, it will never look like anyone else’s.

The development by Clay Griffith’s and the continuous marketing outlook by his dad, Grant Griffith’s means it will be cutting edge continuously. Just since I have been using it, there have been new versions, always in beta first so you know it is tested before you upgrade.

The support for Headway is growing daily with videos by Corey Freeman and John Haydon.

I let Kim manage my plug-ins but otherwise I manage not just the blog but the entire website. Since I worked in Dreamweaver with my old site, this is such a relief and easier process. I love having Kim’s support as a WordPress expert who does like-coding because if I want to do anything complex, it can be her job, not mine… no headaches.

Author Jul 3, 2010
6:13 pm

Julie, it definitely sounds like checking out HEADWAY is moving to the top of my list. Are you an affiliate?

Jul 3, 2010
9:20 pm

I am but I was sold on Headway whether or not it had an affiliate program. Watching Jim Connolly and Danny Brown use it as marketing and public relations experts, sold me. If you use the search bar on my site and say Headway you will find several posts, I wrote. The 7 resources for bloggers addresses some of the reasons I do the things I do on my blog.

Great connecting, Shari!

Jul 4, 2010
7:09 am

Hi Shari,

I would like to offer a word of caution, which has been echoed several times from others, and that is to start small and simple. I made the mistake of purchasing a pricey subscription to a premium site, and although they had an impressive assortment of themes, once I downloaded and installed a theme I was in over my head, and unfortunately it was too late.

Below are some inexpensive premium themes for when you are ready to take the next step, but for now I would agree with the majority and stick to one of the many free themes which for the most part are easy to maintain. It is also a great way to experiment and learn your way around a theme before shelling out the money.

I hope this helps!

Kind Regards,
Bryan J Zimmerman

http://www.elegantthemes.com/
http://thethemefoundry.com/
http://themeforest.net/category/wordpress

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