Wordpress Themes: Choosing The Right Theme For Your Blog

by Robb Sutton

Choosing the right Wordpress theme for your blog can be one of the most confusing and fun parts about blogging. Unfortunately, most beginning bloggers spend so much time deciding on a theme that they are wasting valuable time that could be spent on content production and promotion.

Choosing and modifying a Wordpress theme can be a HUGE time suck, so I am going to try to help you out here and cut down on your theme choosing period so you can get back to building your blog. Let’s get several questions covered so you can figure out what the right plan of action is for your blog.

Wordpress Theme Options for Bloggers

Before we decide which option is best for you and your blog, let’s take a look at the options available to Wordpress bloggers as everything stands right now. At the end of this article, you will find some great resources to find all of these different categories of themes, but before you dive in head first…we need to address each and figure out which type of Wordpress theme is going to fit your needs as a blogger.

Free Wordpress Themes

There are thousands of free Wordpress theme options on the market. Surprisingly there are some really great ones that will get you up and running today if needed, but – unfortunately – those are also mixed in with a lot of sub-par work. With a free Wordpress theme, you are going to get the core files that will get you up and running today. The administration of the theme (if there is one at all…in most cases…there isn’t) on the back-end is not going to be as user friendly and you might need extra plugins and coding to get the theme to work correctly for your needs.

Benefits of Free Wordpress Themes

  • Gets you up and running right away
  • Its Free!

Drawbacks of Free Wordpress Themes

  • Finding a good one can be difficult among all of the free options out there
  • Tasks like inserting a logo and changing the look can be difficult if you are not familiar with web coding
  • No support
  • Your blog looks just like every other blog using that theme

Premium Wordpress Themes

Premium Wordpress themes provide you with all of the core files to install the theme and get up and running right away just like a free Wordpress theme, but with several key differences that make them worth the price of admission. Premium Wordpress themes typically have a fantastic back-end administration that makes customizing the theme (adding a logo, changing colors, SEO, etc) for your needs very easy for the blogger with limited coding ability.

Premium Wordpress themes also – typically – have a cleaner look and cleaner code so your blog will perform better in the long run. Ranging in the $25 and up range, a premium Wordpress theme is going to provide its blogger with a professional look and some sort of support system (email, forums) that allows the blogger to get help when it comes to issues and custimization. For this reason, I almost always recommend going with a premium theme for beginning bloggers. Yes…it costs a little bit of cash to get going…but the long term benefits of the professional look and a support c0mmunity is crucial for beginning bloggers.

Benefits of Premium Wordpress Themes

  • Up and running on your blog today
  • Support system for tech support and customization
  • Typically a lot better looking theme straight out of the box
  • Administration back-end in Wordpress to make customization tasks easy for non-web coders

Drawbacks of Premium Wordpress Themes

  • They cost money
  • Without adding a logo or changing design features – Your blog can look like every other blog that bought that theme

Wordpress Theme Frameworks

Wordpress theme frameworks are Wordpress themes that are the bare bones coding that you can build off of as a designer. Are you a web designer that wants clean code to work off of to create your custom theme? Then a Wordpress theme framework is probably going to fit the bill perfectly for you. With a Wordpress theme framework, you can get all of the core Wordpress theme files and design your theme around that code. This allows you to forget about setting up pages, posts and other essential files and focus soley on design.

Benefits of Wordpress Theme Frameworks

  • Create your own design around a sound and tested Wordpress theme framework
  • Can use the theme framework as the blog design until you get your design finished (just looks really plain)
  • There are free options

Drawbacks of Wordpress Theme Frameworks

  • You have to create your own design
  • Typically not ready straight out of the box (plain white theme is the base code)

Custom Wordpress Themes

The holy grail of Wordpress themes and the top of the money list goes to custom Wordpress themes. Are you looking for a completely custom look that no one else has? Do you need options that can not be found in a premium theme? Custom Wordpress themes are done by web design companies and independent contractors to provide the blogger with a completely custom option that fits the needs of their readers completely. Custom themes are typically in the $1,000 and up range, but you can be assured that your theme will interact with your readers and look like no other blog on the net.

Benefits of Custom Wordpress Themes

  • Completely customized to fit your needs and the needs of your readers
  • Very professional look
  • Support through an independent contractor or web design company

Drawbacks of Custom Wordpress Themes

  • $$$ – Get the checkbook ready…this isn’t going to be cheap
  • Future customization and changes may be based on a hourly rate

Which Wordpress Theme Is Right For Me?

Now that you know all of the options available to you as a blogger, it is time to decide which option will best fit your needs at this time. Now – keep in mind – your needs are going to change over time as your blog adapts and grows, so continually testing and trying new things are going to be essential in your theme progression. For now…let’s focus on where you stand today and then we will get into the resources where you can find the theme that fits your needs.

Beginning Non-Business (No Profit) Blogger

Are you just looking to share your stories, pictures and miscellaneous thoughts with friends and family? If you are just looking to blog and are not worried about monitizing or performing well in search engines, then you do not need to be spending a load of cash on a Wordpress theme design. All you really need is a design that reflects who you are as a person and forget about fancy logos and features.

Recommendation: Free Wordpress Theme

Beginning Business (Profit) Blogger

Just starting out with the dream of making it big as a blogger – or at least pull in some extra cash on the side? If you are a beginning blogger that is going to try to make money from your blogging and perform well in search engines and other social media outlets, you are going to need your own logo and a design that looks professional enough to convert sales and attract advertising. Since you are just beginning to build your blog, you need to be focused on content rather than design, so you need something quick that you can easily throw a logo into and get to writing.

Recommendation: Premium Wordpress Theme

Established Blogger With A Readership

Have you been blogging for awhile on a free or stock premium theme and you are starting to see larger subscriber counts and revenue? If you are starting to see results from your blogging, it is time to step it up and set yourself away from the pack. You are going to need some custom options that you can test with your readers to see if you can increase conversions and how deep your readers are going into your blog. You also need to attract new subscribers by having a unique look and voice.

Recommendation: Hybrid – Premium Wordpress Theme with Customization by a Designer/Coder

Rockstar Blogger

It happened! All of your hard work paid off and you are now a blogging celebrity in your niche blog topic. Your needs are now much different than other bloggers as you need to cement your stake in the blogging community and continue to increase conversions and subscribers. You are also making loads of cash off your now full time blogging job, so it is time to reinvest that money into a full branding push.

Recommendation: Custom Wordpress Theme or a Hybrid with Serious Mods

Business Blogging

Have a successful business and want to perform better in search engines to create free leads? Blogging can be a great way to increase your scope on the web and bring in more business. For business blogging, you need to keep all of your branding in tact, so you are going to need everything to match your existing site if you want to be successful.

Recommendation: Custom Wordpress Theme

Wordpress Theme Resources and Recommendations

Now that you have decided what kind of theme you need for your Wordpress blog, it is time to dive in and find one that fits your needs. The following list is where you can find the different Wordpress theme options that I have described above. If you know of any other great sources for themes…hit me up and I’ll get them added to the list.

Free Wordpress Themes for Bloggers

Premium Wordpress Themes

  • Thesis Theme – The Thesis Theme (active on this blog) has really blurred the line between theme framework and custom theme. Technically, the Thesis Theme is a theme framework, but through the use of an easy to understand hooks system and an incredible support forum, non-coders are able to transform Thesis into something they can call their own. Thesis also features very fast page load times, great SEO features and a brilliant back-end management system that is easy to use for all Wordpress users.
  • WooThemes – With a collection of free and premium Wordpress themes, WooThemes has really carved out niche for themselves in the premium theme market. With an average price of around $75 dollars, their themes are extremely clean looking and have a great back-end management system. When you purchase one of their premium themes, you also get access to a fantastic support forum that will address any technical issues or customization questions.
  • Theme Wars – A new outlet for premium themes introduced by Unique Blog Designs, Theme Wars provides another premium theme option for Wordpress bloggers. Unique Blog Designs has a portfolio that includes a lot of rockstar bloggers.
  • Theme Forest – Created by the Envato network, Theme Forest features a ton of premium themes that average around the 25 dollar range and up. The Theme Forest themes are submitted by outside designers and approved by the Forest staff. If you are a designer looking to make some cash by selling premium Wordpress themes…this is also a great resource to sell your designs.
  • PremiumThemes.net – Another premium themes site with several options you might not find anywhere else. I have actually used their eBook publishing theme for the Ramped Reviews site.

Wordpress Theme Frameworks

Custom Wordpress Theme Designers

  • Just The Web – The geniuses behind the Mountain Biking by 198 design and the future designers of Bike198.com when it moves to that new location. Just the Web has been behind a lot of great work over the years…head over to their portfolio to check it out.
  • Unique Blog Designs – You have probably seen the work of Unique Blog Designs before through JohnChow.com, Shoemoney.com and others. They have been known in the MMO industry for quite sometime now.
  • Sitepoint.com – Check out the forums and request custom work done. You will get a host of responses from independent contractors. Be sure to always ask for examples of their work so you can decide on which designer is right for your needs.

One Last Word On Wordpress Theme Designs

Try not to sweat too much over your Wordpress theme design as a beginning blogger. There is a lot of time and energy out there that is wasted on losing sleep over your design when – as a beginning blogger – you should be more concentrated on content and promotion. Hopefully, this information has helped clear the air and pointed you in the right direction for your blog. Once you have made a decision…stick with it and get to writing. Time and readers will tell you where the next step is in your blog design.

Now – Get to blogging!

Related Posts


Justin Shattuck September 29, 2009 - 11:30 am


Appreciate the kind words about our company sir. We have many new companies in the queue of themes to be launched this fall. I’ll have to keep you informed so you can check them out! Before too long it will be time to begin the discovery and composition phases for Bike198! Looking forward to it.

Robb Sutton September 29, 2009 - 1:21 pm

I’m looking forward to the process too…it’s going to be sick!

Angie (Losing It and Loving It) September 29, 2009 - 1:18 pm

Great blog post! I always have trouble finding free themes so I’m thankful you listed a few great links. Ultimately for my weight loss/fitness blog I would like to have a custom theme but right now hubs and I are going to add a blog to our personal site so I need a theme for that and he’ll make the header. Just trying to find one I like. Love the tips you shared.

Robb Sutton September 29, 2009 - 1:22 pm

Thanks Angie! Hopefully you’ll be able to find something in there that will fit what you are looking for.

David Rogers September 29, 2009 - 2:23 pm

Great review, just Stumbled. Like you I’ve gone the Thesis route. But surprised you didn’t mention Headway as its caused a fair amount of discussion of late – especially on Twitter – as a few big promoters & supporters of Thesis have jumped ship. I’m committed to Thesis, but if starting from scratch I would have to give Headway serious consideration.

Robb Sutton September 29, 2009 - 2:47 pm

Thanks David!

I need to check Headway out more…haven’t had a chance to really dive into it. Thanks for the reminder.

Pacita September 29, 2009 - 9:18 pm

Thank you,Robb
Your post is so timely for me. My sister-in-law just asked me to help her find a good Wordpress theme for her blog. Your post will help me a lot with her request.

Justin Wright September 30, 2009 - 3:18 am

We always recommend using premium themes. They have a lot more features and are usually well designed. Headway is a great one, since it offers so much customization options that even beginners can use.

Robb Sutton September 30, 2009 - 11:57 am

Got a copy…now it is testing time!

Choosing a Wordpress Theme: Part 2 – Blog, Magazine, or Portfolio Design Pattern? « Solid State UX September 30, 2009 - 11:11 am

[…] From RobbSutton.com Wordpress Themes: Choosing the Right Theme For Your Blog […]

Choosing a Wordpress Theme: Part 1 – Premium, Custom, or Free? « Solid State UX September 30, 2009 - 11:21 am

[…] From RobbSutton.com Wordpress Themes: Choosing the Right Theme For Your Blog […]

Todd Toler September 30, 2009 - 11:28 am

Nice post, Robb
I especially like the recommendations and incredibly useful sets of links you provide. If any of your readers are interested in reading further, a clear next step is to think about what kind of free or pro theme they should look at. I find most themes can be conveniently thought of as being in one of three major Interaction Design patterns – blog, magazine, or portfolio – each of which has it’s merits. http://bit.ly/2yw57i

Robb Sutton September 30, 2009 - 11:56 am

Absolutely Todd. Testing different layout formats is a must do for any blogger.

Robb Sutton September 30, 2009 - 11:56 am

I just got in a copy of the Headway Theme to mess around with. If all goes well…it will be included on this list as well as a recommended premium theme in the upcoming eBook Ramped Blogging.

Thanks for the heads up guys!

Hesham November 3, 2009 - 3:06 pm

Robb, this is an intelligent post with so many good tips and information about choosing the best Wordpress theme, I love it!

Robb Sutton November 3, 2009 - 3:09 pm

Thanks Hesham!

Wordpress SEO - Stupid Simple Blog Search Engine Optimization for Bloggers | robb sutton dot com November 11, 2009 - 7:32 am

[…] better job at this. To find a Wordpress theme that fits these needs…check out this article on choosing a Wordpress theme for your blog.To handle the technical side of SEO for your blog, we are going to install several plugins that […]

Chris November 22, 2009 - 12:26 pm

Great post Robb! May I ask why you switched to the current WooTheme? …seems like you had a lot of time invested in the Thesis layout, and I was just curious to know why you switched.

Robb Sutton November 22, 2009 - 12:36 pm

Thesis is a great framework/premium theme that I still recommend to other bloggers. I just couldn’t get it to “feel” like I wanted it to for the purposes of this site. With the WooTheme (Headlines), I was able to get that look and feel I was after while also incorporating more function into the site. To accomplish what I was looking for with Thesis…it would have taken a lot more hired custom work. Also, when I started using Thesis…it was a little bit more unique that it is today. Now…just about every 6th blog I look at is running Thesis.

Pete December 23, 2009 - 11:53 am

Wow, thanks for this great post! I like to read your articles because of your writing skills.

Frank Dickinson July 25, 2010 - 5:05 pm

Great resource article here Robb!

I’d suggest Headway as a Premium Theme as well. No coding needed, easy to manipulate and set your site apart from others.

Great stuff!

Deep Arora December 1, 2010 - 6:21 am

I’ve been a Thesis user for over 2 years and used it to create over 100+ blogs for my customers. Now when it was time to start my own blog (in my sig), I found Pagelines (recently launched framework), and I am in love with it now. Damn it is so simple with some powerful customization through hooks and wysiwig.

John Saddington January 17, 2011 - 3:36 pm

Have you seen http://standardtheme.com ? Rated as one of the top themes on mashable: http://mashable.com/2010/09/24/best-premium-wordpress-themes/

50% affiliate commissions too!


Leave a Comment