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GetPersonality

By the end of this section, you’ll know how to:

A theme is a template for your site — it creates the layout, and when you customize it and start adding posts, you create the personality. You can switch whenever you’d like, so you’re not stuck with whichever theme you chose during registration. We’ll help you evaluate what different themes offer, share our tips for picking the one that’s right for you, and help you make sure your blog looks great whether its viewed on a computer, phone, or tablet.

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Understanding themes

There are over 200 themes to choose from on WordPress.com, from super-sleek and minimal to fun and festive, and you can check them all out and see demo versions either in the Theme Showcase or by going to Appearance >> Themes in your dashboard. Click on a theme to see what it looks like, read a brief description, and browse a list of its features.

In the features listing, you’ll see things like “Two Columns” and “Sticky Post,” and you’ll wonder why you need more than one column and what the post will be sticking to. Some themes will list both “One Column,” “Two Columns,” and “Three Columns” as features — which is it? Understanding how you can use a theme and what options it offers will help you make the best decision, so let’s go through the different theme features.

One, two, three, or four columns

On a normal blog, your posts take up one column, and you can have additional columns to add other features, like a blogroll or a way to let people sign up to follow your blog by email (these bonus columns are called sidebars, and the things you stick in ‘em are called widgets).

We could explain until the cows come home, or we could just show you (we don’t have any cows around here anyway):

  • Manifest is a one-column theme: all posts, all the time.
  • Delicacy has two columns; posts on the left, extras on the right.
  • Ideation and Intent is a three-column theme, giving you room to show off a Flickr stream or your Goodreads list along with basic widgets like a blogroll or your archives.
  • Fjords has four – count ‘em, four! – columns, so you can load up on widgets.

Many themes also give you column options, letting you pick how many you’d like to use.

Right or left sidebar

This lets you know what side of the blog your sidebars will be on. In the Ideation and Intent example, the sidebars are on the right. Other themes put the sidebar(s) on the left, and still others let you choose where you’d like them to be.

There’s no right or wrong here — left isn’t better than right, or vice versa. Which option is right for you depends on what you want to use the sidebars for and what looks good to you. If you want to use a sidebar to highlight key posts and pages and help people navigate around your blog, that’d be cool on the left; if you want to use it for extras like a Flickr stream, putting it on the right will help ensure that it doesn’t distract readers from your posts.

Custom and flexible headers

Your header is the image running across the top of you blog. In the Fjords theme, the default header is a lovely image of the secluded beach where you’d probably like to be right now. A theme that allows custom headers will let you swap in any image you’d like — a favorite photo, a graphic you’ve designed, whatever. We’ll help you crop it to the right size.

Some themes also offer a flexible header, so you can upload an image of any size. Themes without this will tell you what size image will work best.

Custom background

These themes allow you to change their background color or upload your own image to use as a background, which lets you take a fairly simple theme like Runo Lite and inject your personality.

Note that your background will affect how easy it is to read your writing (or focus on your photos), so this might not be the time to bust out the airbrushed mural of a wizard riding a tiger down a rainbow into a tub of gumdrops. (Although if you can make that work, good for you! Also, we’re hiring Theme Wranglers.)

Fixed, Flexible, or Responsive Width

A fixed-width theme is what it sounds like — fixed. The size of the theme doesn’t change, so it you view it on a smaller-than-normal screen, like a phone or iPad, you’ll have to scroll sideways to see the whole thing. By contrast, a flexible blog resizes itself proportionally to the size of the screen; it might be tough to read because it’s smaller, but you won’t have to scroll back and forth.

A responsive theme fully adjusts to the size of the screen, even changing the layout a bit to make the best use of space, so your posts will be easy to read on phones and tablets as well as full-size computers. Many of our themes are already responsive, and all new releases will be.

Custom menu

Runo Lite also has custom menus enabled, which means you can create your own navigation menu; where the Runo Lite demo has “Footnotes,” “A Parent Page,” and “Readability,” you could have “100 Things About Me,” “My Favorite Burt Reynolds Movies,” and “Inspirational Quotes.” Some themes, like Oxygen, have multiple menus to customize, making them especially useful for magazines or sites with lots of sub-sections and pages.

Sticky Posts

Making a post “sticky” gives it a one-way ticket to prominence on your blog. With some themes, this will make your post and image part of the slider of images on your home page (like Oxygen); with others, it’ll just attach the post to the top of the page (like Minimalzine) or to a section designated for sticky posts (like The Morning After).

Featured Images

Lots of themes allow featured images, but use them in slightly different ways, including:

  • To super-customize your header, using different images on each page of your blog (like Twenty Ten).
  • With posts you designate as sticky posts (check out Duet to see this in action).
  • As thumbnail images on your home page or in a “featured posts” widget.

Check out this support document for a complete list of themes that use featured images, how they use them, and how to set them.

Infinite Scroll

Infinite scroll makes is easier for readers to see your older posts by removing the onerous burden of clicking. On a blog with infinite scroll, the next group of posts will automatically load when a reader gets to the end of the page. If you’ve used the Reader (you do use the Reader, right?), you’ve seen infinite scroll in action. Note: If your theme has Infinite Scroll and you decide you’re not a fan, you can disable it; we’re equal-opportunity navigators. To disable Infinite Scroll, go to Settings >> Reading. Next to “Infinity and beyond” uncheck the box next to “Scroll infinitely.” Then, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the blue, “Save Changes” button for the change to take effect.

Post formats

Some themes, including most new themes, support Post Formats. This means they’ll display different kinds of content — like images, videos, quotes, links, audio, and short snippets called “asides” — with different formatting, adding subtle but nice touches like little icons (a chain link for links, quotation marks for quotes — you get the idea). Some themes include all these formats, and some just include a few.

Check out how different formats appear in Elemin. To see what Post Formats your theme supports, go to Posts >> Add New in the dashboard and look for a Format module that looks like this:

postformats

Theme Options

Okay, maybe we could have come up with a better name for this one, since these are all technically theme options. Let’s set that aside. Theme Options are way cooler than they sound.

Theme options can mean a bunch of different things depending on the theme, so take a few minutes to read the theme description. For some, it means you can choose from different layouts; for others, different color schemes or other custom options. (You can also purchase an upgrade that gives you custom colors, fonts, and the ability to edit your CSS, and that works with any theme.)

Editor style

This one is pretty darn nifty — themes with Editor Style let you see how your final, published post will look even while it’s in draft form. There are 70 themes that offer it.

Most themes come with a whole mess of different features, so you can find the one with your preferred mix-and-match combination. And all themes work with the Custom Design upgrade, which gives you custom colors, custom fonts, and the ability to edit your CSS — perfect for all your personal or professional branding needs.

Next up: finding the perfect fit.

Action time! Spend 15 minutes clicking around other blogs featured on Freshly Pressed to see what layout features you like and don’t like. Then, based on that and your own inclination after having read these descriptions, jot down your three must-have features and your three “nice to have” features. Keep this list handy while browsing the Theme Showcase.

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Pick a theme that says “you”

You might not always have a particular vision for your blog as you’re getting started. Should you pick something minimalist like Publish? Lots of photos to show off in a gallery, like Hatch or Gridspace. Maybe you want some old-timey charm, like Vintage Kitchen, something with a bit of whimsy like Balloons, or something ornate like Matala.

So what are some guiding principles that’ll get you into the perfect theme? Here are the big three:

Your style

No matter how popular your blog becomes, no one is going to spend more time on it than you, so it behooves you to make it a place you think is comfortable, good-looking, and reflective of you. You might admire the bold typography of Blog Simple, but if you’re personally drawn to the softer look of Ever After, you’ll be happier with that in the long run.

Pick something that doesn’t speak to you, and you’re looking at lots of tweaks to try and make it feel like “you.” Eventually, you may find yourself blogging less and less, and all because you won’t admit to yourself that what you really love is the moody color scheme and delicate scrollwork of Dusk to Dawn. Set yourself up for blogging success by picking a theme you’ll like looking at every day. (Or, if you’re like most of us, a dozen times a day.)

Your content

If you have an idea of your blog’s focus when you’re starting out, you can further narrow down the world of available themes. If you love photography and know you’ll be posting images with most posts, you’ll want to consider themes that will showcase them, like Simfo and Mixfolio. If you haven’t touched a camera since your Polaroid bit the dust but you love writing poetry, there are themes that make your text the star, like Runo Lite and Manifest. There are also themes for specific purposes, like Soundcheck for your band’s website or Confit for your restaurant.

What if you’re not sure what your site will be, or you envision yourself posting a bit of this and a bit of that? First, welcome to the 99% of bloggers. Second, the theme world is your oyster — there are plenty of themes well-suited for housing different types of posts. ChalkDelicacyEightTwenty Twelve! Take a look, see what kinds of visuals you’re drawn to, and then consider our third pillar: your time and energy.

Your time and energy

All our themes are designed to be easy to work with, but some can handle more customizing and futzing that others. Some, like Cheer, are pretty much going to look how they look. Others, like Twenty Ten, let you upload a custom header image and make other tweaks to the homepage. Still others, like Minimum, have a variety of layout options for your homepage and are highly configurable. If you read through the first section of this page, you know there are lots of different theme features and functions.

How much time and energy do you want to put into your theme, as opposed to the content you’d like to create? Be realistic about what you want to do. The last thing we want is for you to feel frustrated by your site — we want you to stick around and publish. And while we’re confident that we can help anyone work with any theme, we also don’t want you to spend your time on theme options if what you want to be doing is posting about your awesome DIY project. When you’re considering a theme, take a few minutes to take a look at its features and customization options, and let that be a factor in your decision.

Now you know how to decipher theme lingo, and you’ve picked a theme you love. Yay!

Action time! Pull out the list you made of must-have features. Browse the theme showcase, using the filters at the top of the page to sort the available themes by features. Try at least four different themes on for size before making a final decision. Make sure at least one of them is very different from the others — if you like minimalist themes, try something with a little more structure, or vice-versa.

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Change your theme

And now a few weeks or months have gone by, you’ve spent a lot of time looking at other people’s blog’s, and you’re no longer sure you made the right choice with your theme. Never fear! Changing your theme couldn’t be easier.

There are actually lots of reasons it might be time to change. Maybe you want a seasonal theme for The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (AKA the Eurovision contest — what, did you think we meant Christmas?). Maybe you’re changing the focus of your site, or you’ve recently gotten into photography and want to move away from a text-centric blog. Maybe you wanted to see how you felt about this whole “blogging” thing before investing in a premium (paid) theme, and now you’re ready.

Picking a new theme is as easy as heading to the Appearance>> Themes area of your dashboard, picking a new theme, and clicking Activate. If you want to give the new theme a test run first, click Live Preview:

activatetimepiece

I know what you’re saying now: “WordPress.com is the greatest online publishing platform that ever was, or will be.” Thanks! We think so, too.

Okay, fine, you’re actually saying, “Wait a minute; I clicked Live Preview, but now my site doesn’t look anything like the demo site.” It’s true: it might not, because it will have different settings and options that you’ll want to play with. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to activate the new theme without any idea of how your blog will look; the live preview also opens the Customizer.

Customizer

You can play with settings, such as color and font, and view your customized design in a live preview — opening and closing the right-side panel as needed — and wander around your blog to get an idea of how the theme works with your content. If you like what you see, click Activate in the bottom right corner.

There you go! You’re all set, until the next time you change your mind.

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Take your blog mobile

Eventually, you’re going to have a bunch of new readers (we’re pretty sure about that; you seem awesome), and lots of them will not be reading your blog on a computer. They’ll be on phones and tablets of various sizes. Luckily, it’s easy to make sure that your blog looks great no matter the size of the screen.

We assume you want your blog to look good on mobile devices, so we’ve taken the liberty of checking off the “Enable Mobile Theme” box, found in the Appearance >> Mobile section of your dashboard:

mobileoptions

Feel free to turn it off if you’d like, but be aware that it will make your site slower to load on phones and tablets, and it might not look the same. Some people with older phones {cough}your parents{cough} might not be able to see it at all.

If you’ve got mobile themes enabled, people reading your site on a mobile device will see one of two things:

  • A responsive version of your theme, if the theme you’ve chosen is responsive. A responsive theme is one that automatically adjusts to the size of the screen, shaping itself so your blog still looks like your blog but is fast and mobile-friendly. Every new theme we release will be responsive, and a number of existing themes are as well — check out which themes are responsive.
  • Minileven, if your theme is not responsive. Minileven is a version of our Twenty Eleven theme designed to be clean and quick on phones. Your homepage won’t look quite the same as it does on a full-size screen (although if you have a custom header, it will keep that), but it’ll be neat and easy to read. Readers can also click the “Full Site” link to see your regular theme.

new-mobile-theme

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Now you’ve registered, know your way around WordPress.com with your eyes closed, and have picked the perfect look for your blog. Next up, we’ll take that theme and add personal touches so readers know without a doubt that they’re on your blog, and not because you’ve used your head shot as the background image. Move on to Get Configured.

Header image based on “grulla” by Emre Ayaroglu, CC-BY-2.0

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