Advice for changing WordPress Themes

I’ve been asking myself the question about how to explain what a WordPress Theme does in simple terms. The best analogy I can think of is that it’s like a car bodywork that gives style and allows function.

Here’s a bullet list that includes the basics of what a theme can do:

  • Define Page layout
  • Define typography and text sizes
  • Options of page layout variations
  • Style of main menu and other menus
  • Position of sidebar and footer
  • Mobile and tablet views for content

Standard Themes

Each WordPress installation comes with a TwentySomething Theme. At the time of Writing, it’s TwentySeventeen. These are designed for blogging mostly.

Paid-for  WordPress Themes

Is it the design you want?

Purchasing a Theme can save a lot of time compared making a Theme yourself or paying someone else to do it. There’s a few things to keep in mind for using a Purchased Theme. If you want it to look like the the demonstration version, things will be easier. Deviating from the design that the Theme author has made can turn into a very time consuming exercise. The reason why is the further you take it from the original design, it can eventually end up looking scruffy and mismatched. Website design isn’t often as easy as it looks and what seem like subtle changes can make all the difference. My advice is that if you’re buying a theme, try and find something you know you won’t want to to change much.

Dead end Themes

What’s meant by a ‘Dead end Theme’ is a Theme that uses bespoke post types that won’t be accessible from other Themes.  The danger is when a Theme provides options of it’s own type of post or page additionally in the Dashboard menu. Important sections of content accessible only by that Theme can become unavailable when switching to another Theme. It’s also possible that an older Theme can become incompatible with a newer version of WordPress. If some of your content is only accessible through that Theme then it can be a difficult or time consuming job moving that content for use with another Theme.

When choosing a Theme, aim for something simple that displays standard posts and pages. For more other functions you may need, it’s better to find good quality plugins that do the jobs you need. Do-it-all Themes can work well in the short term but if you’re building something to last it’s worth taking the time to choose carefully. Most paid for Themes now include Visual Composer which is a system in itself.

Visual Composer

Visual composer offers a multitude of different options for content presentation. It’s temping to get carried away with all the possibilities on offer but it’s worth considering when and when not to.

On a new page you get the options to use the Visual Composer or not. I think of it simply in that if it’s a type of page that there not many of, go ahead. This could be a homepage, about page or a special presentation. If you’re making blog posts, it’s best to keep it simple and use the standard WordPress options. If people are coming to read words and look at pictures there’s no need for Visual Composer. One of the reasons is that Visual Composer puts a lot of code on your page behind the scenes. This can make your page slower to load and possibly slower to reader on older technology. This isn’t good for SEO as Google will know.

It won’t matter if a you have a few ‘heavy’ pages but if the whole site is weighed down by excessive code then not so good. On my own site I use Visual Composer for a few pages but keep the parts like this where people come to read free and easy.

Building your own Theme

If you know or want to learn HTML & CSS you can build your own Theme. It helps to know PHP but it’s not essential for a basic Theme. Many website developers start with the mobile view first and work up from there.  A halfway step is to start a Child Theme. A Child Theme uses a parent Theme as a base and then allows you to make your own modifications without changing the original. The advantage is that if there are problems you can always disable the problem area and let the parent Theme take over.