Tips for Basic WordPress Theme Customization

In the past we talked about some of the most important HTML and CSS tips for WordPress newbies. Today I’d like to expand on that a bit more generally, talking to new blog owners about the types of things they can do with free (or even premium) blog themes to make them appear more unique. After all, no one wants to use the same old design being used on dozens or hundreds of other WordPress blogs.

Here are ten things you can do with an existing WordPress theme to make it stand out from the crowd:

1. Add your logo and branding elements.

Forget the blank slate - brand that baby

Forget the blank slate -- Brand that baby! (Credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

I’d consider branding to be the most important change you can make. That might mean getting rid of the default logo or replacing a text-based blog title with your company logo. Add other branding elements like company mascots, your slogan, and any relevant product or service brand names associated with your company. This will make the blog seem more integrated with your overall brand, including your main website (if the WordPress blog isn’t also serving that role).

2. Change the header.

Some WordPress themes come with a rather generic header image. Change it. Add a new photo. Consider removing it completely. Don’t overload the space, but don’t take it for granted either. For example, maybe you could add your own navigation to the header area or link to social media profiles.

3. Change basic structural elements.

Sometimes simple structural changes can make a theme look completely new. For example, if the sidebar is floating right, consider floating it to the left instead. Or if the default WordPress theme includes a featured / sticky post section at the top and you want it to remain strictly chronological, consider removing it altogether.

4. Change the information in the sidebar.

Don’t keep the standard sidebar setup. Add your blogroll (although maybe change the name to something more relevant to your audience like “[Insert your niche] Resources”). Move widgets around. Remove some. Add others. Change ad placements. Add a text widget with a short About paragraph, a sales pitch, or a special offer. Make the sidebar your own.

5. Add custom graphics and buttons.

You aren’t stuck with the images included in the theme. One of the best ways to customize the look of an over-used WordPress theme is to swap the default buttons, background images, bullet point images, etc. to create a more unique look that carries through every page of the blog.

A new icon set can make your blog design stand out

A new icon set can make your blog design stand out. (Credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

6. Change the color scheme.

Any color included in a theme can be changed (either directly in the stylesheet or by altering hues in included images). Make it work with your other branding elements, and choose a color scheme that’s going to appeal to your specific target readers.

7. Add a static homepage.

You can create an even more custom look for your blog theme by dropping the main blog page from the homepage. Swap it out for a static page (or if you don’t want to do that, consider playing with full posts versus excerpts to find the look and user experience you want). A static homepage can be a great idea if you plan to use the WordPress theme as a combination business site / blog. It’s easy to do. Just setup a page for your homepage, then go into your WordPress settings and choose to set it as a homepage. (Create another blank page where you can tell WordPress to show your latest blog posts if you do this.)

8. Include nontraditional site / blog elements.

Move beyond blogging. Add a newsletter.

Move beyond blogging. Add a newsletter. (Credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

If most blogs in your niche, or those using the same theme, are pretty standard blogs you can make yours stand out. Use it to also sell an information product, gather email addresses for a newsletter, promote a book you wrote, host an integrated forum or directory, or anything else relevant to your audience that not everyone else is doing.

9. Incorporate plugins.

Look for WordPress plugins that will add functionality to your site that’s appropriate for your readers. For example, that could mean anything from adding your Twitter feed to letting people subscribe to comments via email to including front-end forms that let readers submit their own posts without having to login.

10. Add new template files for further customization.

If you want to customize your WordPress theme even more, expand your template files. For example, you could have a different template file for each category that lets you put different relevant ads on each category page. Or you could create a custom author page if it’s a multi-author blog that would include a photo, profile, link to their website, and a list of their recent posts.

It doesn’t matter if you choose one of the most-used WordPress themes out there. By tweaking it to fit your needs, you can create a theme that no one would mistake for the original, even if you can’t build a custom theme from scratch yet. Think of your theme as your framework to build what you really want, and make your blog stand out as the unique site you know it is.

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