3 Quick Yet Practical Tips for Choosing the Right WordPress Theme

I’ve been blogging for over 14 years and it would be pretty difficult to guess the number of themes and designs that I’ve cycled through over the years. At one point in time I might have changed the look and feel of my personal blog once every month (if not twice a month)!

Heck, I even started (and then sold) a WordPress theme business – in other words, I was “in” pretty deep! So, with confidence, I can tell you that choosing the right design for your blog can be just as exciting as it can be daunting but have no fear, as there are a few practical things that can help you get oriented quickly.

pen and paper for wordpress

1: Remember: Your Content is Priority #1
The most important thing is your content. Although this seems pretty obvious, we all can be so easily distracted by the “bells” and “whistles” that often accompany WordPress themes.

Do not be deceived! Remember that your readers are there to read your words and the design, while fascinating at first, can quickly become a non-factor when they subscribe and return to your blog.

Therefore, you must choose the right design that will showcase your content in the best way possible without complications and frills. For instance, if you’re planning on spending most of your time writing long-form content, then you should find a theme that really showcases that type of style especially well.

If you’re a photography junkie with plans on showcasing your photos and images more over the written word, then you should ensure that the theme does your work justice.

Here’s a two-step decision-making process:

– First, answer: What type of content will I primarily be creating?

– Then, answer: Does this WordPress theme showcase my type of content really well without distraction? Is the content area pleasing to the eye, easily read, and will not offend the reader who may return often?

That should get you started out on the right foot. Remember, your blog is built primarily to showcase your content, so that should be your primary focus when making this critical decision. If you need an even greater reminder, then here’s a post that I’ve written that might “get your mind right.”

2: Maximize Your Management and Control
There is a growing number of WordPress themes that are attempting to become the metaphorical Swiss Army Knife – an attempt to be your one-stop-shop solution, handle everything, and a bag of chips to boot.

This may feel “strategic” and wise, at first, but, you have to remember that the person who will be doing most of the management is you! And, if you do not feel comfortable with the complexity of the WordPress theme, then you’re probably looking at the wrong one.

After years of experience and a ton of personal 1-on-1 blog consultations, I can tell you pretty definitively that there is a direct correlation between someone’s blogging success and their interest in understanding WordPress as a piece of software and their ability to manage their site (and their theme).

In other words, the more the blogger can “change their own oil” underneath the hood, the more likely they are to engage with the platform and write more content. That, of course, is a really, really good thing.

What does that mean for you and for your attempts at choosing the right WordPress theme? It means that you should try to find the theme where you feel at home and comfortable managing it. This may mean that choosing a theme that has a limited amount of features and functionalities might be a better place to start.

Even for myself, a software developer  who has created his own themes in the past, I’ve chosen to use the default Twenty Fifteen Theme that comes “in the box” with a standard WordPress installation! I’m not trying to work with anything fancy; I just need something that shows my content well (see point #1) and is easy to manage.

3: Choose Free First
Lastly, the best thing that you can do is to choose a free WordPress theme before you start throwing money at what you believe might be a good solution. The reasons for this are many, but I’ll start with this principle first: Save your pennies!

You see, a demo and theme preview can only go so far. There’s no other way of fully knowing if you like a theme until you’re using it consistently for a bit of time. Consequently, it’s vastly better to try a free one so that you don’t end up buying one that you may not actually end up using.

After you use a free theme for some time, you’ll have a vastly better understanding and appreciation for what works and your own preferences. Experience is a real and honest teacher here, and I’d hate for you to short-circuit that learning process and waste your hard-earned dollars at the same time!

Where should you start? To be honest, there are so many bad websites out there showcasing free themes that I really encourage you to be careful and safe. Never use Google to find “free WordPress themes” as the results can create some serious issues and, most likely, compromised by hacks.

WordPress themes page

Instead, try starting out in these two places:

  1. WordPress.org Theme Directory
  2. WordPress Commercial Directory

The first is a very trusted source of free WordPress themes. The second is a list of the commercial partners, theme companies that do sell premium (aka paid) themes, but the reason I share that with you is that many of them also have free themes listed on their sites that have been vetted with the same level of attention and detail.

That should really get you started on the right track and definitely keep you busy for hours.

I hope you find your next theme that’s right for you and that, if anything, it encourages you to write more the great stories that have yet to be told!

Go for and be bold and courageous with your writing!


  • Daniel

    This is so relevant to where I’m at right now, as I’m just in the process of starting a blog, and I’ve no prior blogging experience. It’s almost reassuring to know that at one point you’ve changed the look and feel of your blog several times!

    Thanks for this John.

    • Daniel,

      Really glad you like this! Good luck with the blog and deciding which theme to use!

  • I have been working on twenty fourteen for over a year now but am constantly bombarded with articles saying I should really be using Genesis and a child theme. Should I be using a child theme? What are the benefits?

    • Hi Jayleen, I’m sure John has some insights, but we may have some other literature coming your way in the next week regarding that very issue! Stay tuned!

  • This is a great post. I am huge MT fan and so this was a fun read for me. I think that focusing on the content more than the design is the best idea for getting started. It seems that people get so caught up in the look and forget to put their hardest work into the content.

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