WordPress themes and plugins are the components that will make your website sizzle and they are undoubtedly the reason for the over 60 million WordPress websites in existence today. In my post “WordPress – Intro to the Admin Console,” you learned how to find your way around the WordPress back-door, and in my post “WordPress – Creating Website Content,” you learned how to add and organize content for your website using pages, categories, posts, and widgets. Now we will make your website stand out from the crowd using themes and plugins.
Themes provide a graphical overlay that determines the look, layout, and functionality of your website. Most themes are highly customizable, allowing you to adjust the layout of your website to get everything to appear exactly as you like it. The Theme Directory at WordPress.org has over 3,000 free themes that you can try. If nothing there suits your needs, that are thousands of commercially supported themes available for purchase.
The coolest thing about themes is that if you get tired of your theme, you can change it at any time without disturbing the underlying content of your website. Let’s give it a try! Log in to your WordPress administration console to get to your Dashboard. On the main navigation sidebar, click on “Appearance” and select “Themes” to get to the work area where you can add, preview, and activate themes.
Currently, the default theme that comes with WordPress is named Twenty Fifteen (I wonder how they came up with that?).
Since GoDaddy.com hosts my WordPress installation, I also have a few Go Daddy themes pre-loaded as well. Don’t see anything that you like? Not to worry. Just click on “Add New Theme” to be magically transported to the Land of Themes, where you can spend hours (and days and weeks) browsing for the exact look that you want.
When you find your dream theme, click on the “Install” link and it will automatically download and install it to your themes work area. Once downloaded, you have the option to either preview the theme or to activate it. Do not fear activation. If you don’t like your theme, changing it is a simple as activating a different theme.
With over 3,000 free themes available, why would you want to spend your hard earned money on a commercial theme? The costs of commercial themes range from a few bucks to several hundred dollars. Well, you might not want to splurge on commercial themes, depending on what you want to accomplish with your website. For instance, if you are creating a blog to communicate with family and friends, a free theme may work fine. However, there are a number of reasons to consider paying for a theme:
• Millions of websites have been created using free themes, so it increases the risk of your website looking identical to another website. That’s basically like two girls showing up at a party wearing the same dress.
• WordPress is updated on a regular basis with new features. Good commercial themes keep up with these changes so that your theme will always support the latest WordPress features. Often, developers do not bother to add revisions to free themes once they are released.
• You get what you pay for. Some free themes are not very good, that’s why they are free. Paid themes usually have much better functionality and flexibility and they are rigorously tested to ensure that they work as advertised.
• The most important reason to pay for a theme is that the better ones include technical support in the price. When your website is broken and you don’t know how to code, good support is worth its weight in gold.
Personally, for DennisOnthegO.com I chose a theme named Divi 2.0, developed by Elegant Themes. I have no affiliation with Elegant Themes, but for $70 per year, you get access to 87 different professional themes with perpetual updates and 24/7 technical support. The technical support is delivered via forum-based help tickets and the couple of times in which I have contacted them with questions, the response was within minutes. It has been worth it for me, but your needs may be different.
After you purchase a commercial theme, it is usually delivered as a zip file, and you’ll want to be sure to keep it zipped. To install your new theme, click on “Add New” at the top of your Themes work area, click on “Upload Theme” at the top of your Add Themes work area, and then click on “Choose File” to browse to the location of the zip file for your theme. WordPress will upload your theme and it will now be available in your Theme work area.
WordPress is actually a pretty barebones program as far as software programs go, and that is a good thing. Plugins allow you to add additional features to customize the program based on your individual needs. Much like free themes, there are over 37,000 plugins available at the WordPress Plugin Depository and many of them do not keep up with WordPress updates. There are many free plugins, however, that are universally used and have been supported over time. On the main navigation sidebar, click on “Appearance” and select “Plugins” to get to the work area where you can add, preview, and activate your plugins.
Below is a list of plugins currently being used at the DennisOnthegO.com website:
- Akismet – Used by millions, Akismet is quite possibly the best way in the world to protect your blog from comment and trackback spam. It keeps your site protected from spam even while you sleep.
- Disable Comments – Allows administrators to globally disable comments on their site. Comments can be disabled according to post type.
- Elegant Themes Updater – Enables automatic updates for all Elegant Themes products.
- Exclude Pages from Navigation – Provides a checkbox on the editing page that you can check to exclude pages from the primary navigation selection.
- Go Daddy Quick Setup – Gets your site started in ten minutes by simply answering some easy questions. Use the beautiful themes and popular plugin configurations to get your website started quickly.
- Google Analytics – Enables Google Analytics on all pages.
- Jetpack for WordPress.com – Brings the power of the WordPress.com cloud to your self-hosted WordPress. Jetpack enables you to connect your blog to a WordPress.com account to use the powerful features normally only available to WordPress.com users.
- Simple Social Buttons – Inserts social buttons into posts and archives: Facebook “Like it”, Google Plus One “+1”, Twitter share, and Pinterest.
- WordPress SEO – The first true all-in-one SEO solution for WordPress, this includes on-page content analysis, XML sitemaps and much more.
This concludes my series on WordPress and I hope that you have enjoyed the tour. You should now feel comfortably armed with all of the information that you need to create your own beautiful website. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.