How to Choose Your Blog Theme?

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I have been using the same blog theme on DragonBlogger.com for nearly two years and realistically I made one critical mistake as a blogger when choosing my theme is that I never put together a list of requirements and think about the end user experience when choosing a blog theme.

In this respect, I chose the Black Abstract 2.0 theme because I always had an affinity and liked black backgrounds with white text vs. white background and black text and I wanted the site to stand out more than the generic white on white sites you see online a dime a dozen.

I honestly feel this backfired however, and as a result my site is perceived as less professional in appearance and more amateurish as a result of my radical theme appearance.  I have also had some users complain about the white on dark grey being hard on the eyes.

In light of all this I will be spending the next few weeks looking at a drastic redesign of my technology blog in an effort to bring it more mainstream and professional in appearance.  I did however find it much harder to decide on what I want in a theme and what I am looking for.  This prompted me to create a bullet list of features I wanted, functionality and other preferences and I started thinking that if all bloggers went into picking their theme this way they might end up a lot happier later on.

When designing or choosing a blog theme you should consider the following points:

Width of post area

Some themes have narrow post areas less than 500 pixels which aren’t as ideal for embedding video as the video’s will be small and harder to watch details.  Others are so wide like 650+ pixels that if you type small posts of only 100-200 words your post will only be three or four lines long which makes it look absurdly tiny.

Content area is a huge factor and you should weigh in heavily whether you want to make room for large images and video embeds, or keep text short and brief to the point with a smaller content read area.

Sidebars

One or Two, how wide should each one be?  You will find that in many cases a 125 or 150 width is just not wide enough for some widgets, yet be stuck with a 2 column model.  One column gives you flexibility at the expense of appearance, when you have various width sizes it can really cut down on the professionalism of your site.  Some sites have an ideal mix of 1 big sidebar box and 2 columns under that.  This is what DragonBlogger.com has now and I like a variant of this for my own personal preference.

Colors

Ideally you want to use a blog that is immediately easy to read and appears professional.  This means if you are an information only blog or a blog that functions as a news source you don’t have much option with color schemes or patterns.  If you are a photo, art, creative blog then you have a lot more flexibility and leeway for choosing creative colors/patterns for your site in my opinion.

Who Is This Site Designed For

Too many bloggers and myself included create or pick their blog themes because “They like it” without putting much thought into another user experience.  Get polling, samples with experimental themes and opinions.  Also look at what’s popular in your niche and has a low Alexa rating (lower is better) and Alexa is a good indicator of traffic and popularity.  There is a reason why so many blogs use the same WordPress frameworks like Thesis for WordPress or Genesis for WordPress which both offer flexibility but have default template looks for quick and professional installations and appearances.

How Should Posts Be Displayed

Do you want full posts at home page or summaries with read more plastered on them?  Do you always want the latest 5 or 10 articles on your homepage or do you want to have a mix of certain featured articles and categories plus most recent articles?  This is very important when you choose a theme because this is one of the items that requires PHP function as well as major theme design changes if you don’t find something you are happy with.  You can tweak CSS easily to change colors of fonts/backgrounds…etc but if you don’t like what is presented and in what format, this means your theme will not likely work for you unless you are really good at creating/modifying WordPress themes.

In Summary

I am going to be spending a fair amount of time in the coming weeks trying to find and determine what theme will be the next look and feel for DragonBlogger.com and what will work to present my readers with quicker and easier access to the information while giving my site a more impressive and professional look and even expand my potential to earn from selling advertising space.

Right now I would prefer to use some sort of framework like Genesis which is used by Chris Brogan or Thesis which is used by FamousBloggers.net I have to figure out which one is right and will offer the functionality I am looking for which is a bit different than both of those site designs.

BTW, the same rules when choosing a blog theme should apply whether you use a Blogspot blog, WordPress blog or other CMS platform.  Always consider the end user experience and readability.

-Justin Germino

Updated: September 17, 2010 — 9:46 am