Optimize Your WordPress Theme For Human Users

You have just installed a WordPress blog, now what?

There are many free WordPress themes around. A common mistake is to just pick a random theme from the first page of available themes, so that you can quickly move on to developing your products or textual content.

Your blog theme is the most salient part of your website. The theme is what your visitors see first, and what they will continue to see in every post, page, online comment, and indeed every word in your WordPress blog.

Choosing the right theme will enhance your blog content and make visiting your blog an enjoyable experience for your human readers. Choosing the wrong theme will diminish all of your blog content, and may cause readers to leave because of a poor user experience.

We often focus so much of our attention on search engine optimization that we forget about optimizing our blogs for our human readers.

Search engines do not click on our ads or buy our products – it is our human readers who do that. SEO will help to get more visitors to your blog, but if your blog is dilapidated, difficult to navigate, or just boring, your visitors will quickly move on to something else.

If you make a terrible first impression, it does not matter what your content is, because everyone will be gone before reading even one of your carefully crafted words.

Here are some things to look for when choosing a WordPress theme –
1. Easy to read

Font size –

A common mistake is to use a theme with fonts that are too small. Try reading really small text and you will find that your eyes tire more easily. Make things simple and comfortable for your readers. Use a large enough font size so that regular mortals can process your blog content without developing eye-strain and a headache.

Colors –

Do not pick a WordPress theme that has too many colors, or too many clashing colors. This distracts your readers, and makes your content difficult to read.

Pick a background theme that suits the content of your blog. A dark background is good for blogs that contain a lot of videos or pictures. The dark background will bring out the colors in your pictures and make them look more compelling.

However, it is easier to read text on a light background. If you are publishing mostly textual content, it may be best to pick a light WordPress theme, and just put a dark border around your blog images.

Fixed width

There are two general classes of WordPress blog themes – fixed width or variable width.

A variable width theme will expand or contract your blog based on your reader’s browser window. A fixed width theme has a predefined width that will always remain the same size irrespective of the web browser window.

Initially, it may seem that a variable width theme is superior because it can flexibly adapt itself to your reader’s environment. However, a variable theme has two big weaknesses.

a) It is difficult for human readers to process long lines of text.

You can try this yourself. Set your browser window to full screen, then activate the Classic WordPress theme which is variable width. After reading through some content in your blog, switch to the Default theme which is fixed width.

Which provided a better reading experience?

b) It is difficult to properly layout a page with variable width.

Variable width designs do not generally allow for fixed-position elements. A more complex variable width layout may run into deep design issues later on because it must be able to accommodate any browser window size.

On last check, the most popular themes on WordPress.org are all fixed-width.

2. Widget ready

Widgets are a very powerful part of your WordPress blog. Adding widgets will allow you to integrate common functions into your blog without having to write them yourself, from scratch.

For example, on my dog WordPress blog, I have a variety of widgets at the top, right, and bottom of my page. You can even add Google AdSense blocks easily into your blog using the Text widgets that come with your WordPress blog installation.

You really want to pick a WordPress theme that is widget ready, i.e. it contains one or more areas for you to add in the widgets of your choice. WordPress themes that offer a larger number of widget areas (e.g. the Thematic theme) are easier to customize and give your blog a unique look.

Remember not to visually overload your blog design with too many widgets. You do not need to fill all the available theme areas with widgets. However, a more widget-open theme will give you the flexibility to place your chosen widgets in a large number of locations.

WordPress themes that are not widget ready will be a lot more limiting unless you are comfortable creating and adding widget areas into the theme by editing the CSS and PHP template files.

3. Customizable

You want to pick a WordPress theme that will allow you to do some visual customization. At the very least, you want the ability to change the header image to something appropriate for your blog content. If a WordPress theme does not allow for any visual customization, then chances are –

a) You won’t have a very unique blog.
b) Your blog design will not really reflect your blog content.

A bland, non-unique blog, suggests bland non-unique content, and many readers may leave based on that alone.

The bad news is that most free WordPress themes only have very limited custom capabilities. Any true customization, will usually require editing of the theme CSS, HTML, and PHP code.

Other options are to purchase a custom designed theme, purchase a premium theme, or use a theme generator. These options can get expensive and do not provide a cheap and easy way to do incremental and ongoing blog customizations.

Last Word on WordPress Themes

WordPress is a great platform to use for your blogs because it is open source and you can pretty much do whatever you want with it. For example, I was able to integrate my WordPress blog with my static web-pages so that I can use WordPress to handle and filter comments for my static website. However, for a serious business with sme startup capital, I would recommend HubSpot’s CMS, as it has many purpose built tools which will give you a great head start over your competitors.

You can also edit an existing WordPress theme and make it look and do whatever you want. I have found that there is great flexibility in the WordPress system and an extremely useful API set.

If you want to start doing some WordPress theme editing, start with learning about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). With that alone, you can achieve much in personalizing your WordPress blog. Start with a flexible WordPress theme (in addition to Shiba, consider Sandbox, Hybrid, or Thematic), and create a simple child theme with just a style.css file.

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