Part 3 of “Start a Side Hustle Blog” coming your way!
In the last post of the series, we talked about how to get your WordPress.org site all set up and ready to go, and how to install a Coming Soon page so you could work behind the scenes on creating your beautiful blog without sharing the “construction phase” with viewers along the way. And now that you have this portion set up, your next step is to choose and install the perfect theme for your blog!
Disclaimer: There really is no perfect theme. Some themes will have bugs, some will be missing functionality you’re looking for, and some just won’t use the exact layout you had in mind; the good news, is that some of these issues are fixable, but you may find that compromising on what’s important in your blog design and functionality will be the key to finding a theme you’re happy with.
When searching for a theme, you will come across both free and (mostly) paid themes. While I’ve used a free theme once or twice before, the selection tends to be much more limited. If you’re truly on a budget and want to browse the free themes (it never hurts!), you can check out the lists below, or simply Google “free wordpress themes” to dive in:
If you’re not seeing quite what you’re looking for, you may want to check out the paid options — and there are TONS. Oftentimes, paid WordPress themes look a little nicer and have more advanced features already built in, which makes your job faster and easier on the back end.
To start browsing paid WordPress themes, I recommend the following:
And again, you can do a Google search, and find websites that sell their own WordPress themes, such as:
New themes are being released every day, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the quantity available at first! One thing to note when theme shopping, especially if you’re looking on sites like Themeforest that carry themes from TONS of developers — look at the reviews, how recently it’s been out and the support section. By checking out these stats, you can get a feel for how responsive the developer is in times of need, how many bugs the theme generally has, etc. You may not want to use a theme that was released last week, for example, because it may have a bunch of kinks yet to be worked out.
It also helped me to go to other websites beforehand and do a little research on what I like; for instance, I knew going into it that I wanted a simple, clean blog format with lots of breathable white space, simple typographic treatments, large areas for imagery and nice, flat look to the design. Finding as much as you can that you love in the theme when you buy it is going to save you a lot of time and headaches on the back end editing, tweaking and perfecting to make it what you want. So spend some time making a top 10 of themes, and then narrow it down one by one until you’re left with a great choice that you LOVE.
Once you find your theme, it’s time to install and activate.
This process can be done in a variety of ways, but it should be relatively painful and no more than a few minutes. However, because this part can look a little different for everyone, don’t freak if one of the steps below doesn’t make sense to you. (Also, feel free to comment below or email me with questions if you get stuck! I’m happy to help where I can.)
Start by downloading the theme files from whichever website you found/purchased them on. It will usually come neatly packaged in a zipped file. When you unzip the file, you will likely see a few folders with titles like “licensing,” “extras,” “plugins,” “theme,” etc. You may also see a txt file called “ReadMe” — this is sometimes a very helpful document provided by the developers that may help with installation and FAQ’s. If not however, keep reading…
What you’re looking for is the “theme” folder. Inside, you should find another folder that contains (ta da!) your new WordPress theme. If it’s not already, zip this folder by right clicking and choosing “compress.”
Log into your WordPress site by going to www.yourdomain.com/wp-login.php (filling in with your actual domain), and in the left-hand menu, navigate to Appearance > Themes. Choose “Add New,” and then choose “Upload Theme.” Click to choose your file located on your computer; you are looking for the zipped file you just compressed containing your WordPress theme. Once chosen, click “Install” and “Activate.”
CONGRATULATIONS! You have just installed your first WordPress theme! Now begins the fun part…
Note: If you followed Part 2’s instructions to install a Coming Soon theme or plugin, this means that only you will see the WordPress theme in action when you go to your blog URL. Anyone not logged into your WordPress account will see the Coming Soon page. You can test this by logging out of WordPress after your theme is activated and viewing your blog.
You may have noticed the list of items in your lefthand menu has grown — this is because your theme may have come automatically installed with all kinds of fun settings that you can control directly from your dashboard! The best way to learn more about your theme and see what all it is capable of is to spend some time clicking around and testing out some of the settings. You may find the bulk of them under the “Appearance” tab.
Onto part 2 of part 3… (too many parts happening here — segment 2 of part 3?)
If you don’t already know what plugins are, think of them as this: if WordPress is the lot of land you purchased and your theme is the house you built, plugins are all of the extras that you add onto the house to make it really unique and functional, like granite countertops, a wraparound porch, or hardwood floors.
You can browse plugins one of several ways: either go to your lefthand menu and choose “Plugins” and “Add New,” go to Google and search for WordPress plugins, or go to wordpress.org/plugins.
I’m pretty sure there are just as many or more plugins in the world to choose from than themes, so again, this can totally be an overwhelming process.
To make things a little easier, I thought I would list some of my favorite basic plugins for just about any WordPress site I’m working on!
- Akismet: Protects your blog from comment spam.
- BackWPup: You want — no, NEED to backup your site on the regular. This plugin will do it automatically for you.
- Contact Form 7: Hands down, the most popular contact form plugin out there. Simple to use, and versatile enough for almost any needs.
- Easy Mailchimp Forms: If you use Mailchimp (also highly recommended!), a free service for newsletters, this is a great plugin to customize a signup form for your blog.
- Google Analytics: You can set up Google Analytics for your blog for free, and then use this plugin to automatically have it start tracking every page on your blog.
- Google XML Sitemaps: Helps all kinds of search engines index your blog. (Important technical stuff — set it up, then let it go.)
- Simple Social Icons: A popular plugin solution for creating social media icons that link out to all of your sites.
- WordPress SEO by Yoast: Get it, get it get it; this will help you set up keywords, titles, meta descriptions, etc that make it easier for search engines to find and list your blog in search results.
You can also search Popular and Recommended plugins on the search page for plugins. Just like themes, read a little about each one, check reviews, and make a decision based on what you find. I use more than what’s listed above, depending on my needs for each particular website/blog.
Searching the perfect theme and plugins is enough to keep anyone busy for days — so I’m going to stop here before we all have an information overload! I’ll be back next time to keep the side hustle blog party rollin’. Ciao for now, lovelies!!