Blogging 101: Choosing a Theme and Essential Plugins for WordPress

Now that you have successfully switched over from Blogger to WordPress, it is time to pick a theme and customize your blog. There are so many great themes out there so it is just a matter of finding one that suits you and your blog best.

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Choosing a Theme

There are a host of questions that you should consider when looking at various themes. Here is just a short list of some important ones:

  1. As silly as it sounds, how does the theme look? You obviously do not want to pick a theme that is not pleasing to your own eye. Consider the type of blog you are trying to develop and what you envision for its look. Do you need a professional look? A fun, casual look? Do you want a header all the way across your page or just half way? Is the footer widget area needed? How many menus would best suit your needs? These are all things you should ponder as you begin your hunt for a theme.
  2. What functionalities are you looking for? Do you want a slider across the top of your main page? Are widgets in your header, footer, sidebars necessary? Is the Magazine style front page more what are looking for? Do you need a gallery page on the front page to display your photos more easily? Again, think about how you are wanting to set up every aspect of your blog and determine what your needs are.
  3. Can you easily customize the theme? Ok now, this is my favorite part of WordPress. The flexibility in being able to customize almost all aspects of your site. You are now self-hosted and you can design the blog exactly how you desire. But, try to find a theme that equals your design and coding levels. Some themes require changes to the PHP code to change things while others require a simple CSS edit. You do not want to be stuck with a theme that you know nothing about. That reminds me, look for what type of support is offered with a theme you may purchase.
  4. That brings me to my next question; what is your budget? There are both free and premium themes available. I actually started with a free theme called Atahualpa which has several great customizable options. I am using the Genesis Framework with BeeCrafty theme now and just switched from the Family Tree theme, both from StudioPress.

Essential Plugins

Now that you have your theme in place, it is time to grab some essential plugins.

  • WordPress SEO by Yoast– This is the best SEO plugin I have tried. It is all-inclusive and is easy to maneuver once you learn how it works.  This plugin incorporates everything you need into one place. It has a snippet preview and page analysis functionality that helps you optimize your pages content, images titles, meta descriptions and more to XML sitemaps, and loads of optimization options in between. Definitely look into this one!
  • CommentLuv – Comments are something we all want on our blogs. Interaction from our readers keeps us informed about what they like and what they think about our posts. What a better way to thank them after leaving a comment than to give them a link back? Whenever another blogger leaves a comment, CommentLuv will capture their last blog post and link to it below their text. There is both a free and paid version of the plugin.
  • ShareThis {or another social sharing plugin} – A social network sharing tool allows your readers to share your posts with their followers. By making it easy to share, you can assure that your readers will be more likely to utilize the tool on your blog and send out your content.
  • W3 Total Cache – By caching your site, you can improve the server performance and increase the load time of your site. W3 Total Cache improves your overall site performance and increases your bandwidth savings. Another must have!
  • JetPack – Not only will JetPack give you a fairly accurate view of your stats, it also includes several other functions. You can allow email subscriptions on your blog posts or comments. It syncs with Gravatar to show a Hovercard when you hover over a user’s avatar in the comments. There is an easy to find and use URL shortener right in your editor. There are several more great features included in this one plugin that utilizes the cloud power of WordPress.com.

There you have it! A few things to consider when looking for a theme and a quick {not exhaustive} look at some essential plugins. Keep in mind though, you do not want to get carried away with plugins because too many will slow your site down!

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