When you’re building your new blog, the world of WordPress Themes can seem infinite – where to start? Here’s a list of 8 Essential Features for your WordPress Theme to help you with your search.
You may have noticed a new look for DIY WordPress Tips recently (would love to hear your thoughts!). One of the main reasons for the change was that my old theme was throwing out Google Webmaster Tools SEO errors because of missing HTML tags.
You’ll see that’s the inspiration for point 8 below!
8 Essential Features for your WordPress Theme
1. Custom Theme Header
Your site header is the first thing your visitors will see when they get to your website. Being able to differentiate your site from others with the same WordPress Theme is invaluable. Not only that, it’s a great place to instantly showcase your brand, your personality and let your readers know what your site is about.
Choose a WordPress Theme with at the least a space for your logo and, even better, the option to add a custom header image.
2. Custom Menus
Your theme’s menus are a great way to help your site visitors navigate your content. The main navigation menu is perfect for highlighting key pages or useful general information – you’ll see About, Inbox, Courses and DIY Help? up above.
As well as the general site navigation menu at the top of each page, it’s useful to be able to include custom menus for specific content.
For example, you’ll see all the DIY WordPress courses in the footer section at the bottom of the page for easy access.
These Custom Menus can then be styled as lists, or to look more like navigation menus.
3. Sidebar (i.e. min 2-column layout)
Some bloggers are big fans of full-width content. The idea is to remove all clutter, get rid of any distractions that draw your readers’ interest away from the content of the current page.
I can see the benefits of this – however, your blog sidebar is a great place to put opt-in forms for mailing lists, links to popular content, information about yourself, social media feeds or “other interesting content”.
Housing all this information in your sidebar means your site visitors don’t need to go hunting around looking for them.
Most themes provide the option to choose between full-width pages or pages with a sidebar as you’re creating individual pages – pick a theme that offers this choice for when you need it.
4. Footer Widgets
How much navigation and suggested content do you need??! You’ll see however, that the information in my blog footer is presented differently from the information in the sidebar.
Quick, simple, small, and in the case of the video playlist, new.
You’ll often see links in footer widgets rather than navigation menus. Or simple opt-in forms with little additional information. This area can give your readers access to pertinent information, quickly and without clutter.
5. Custom Colours
I’m all for editing CSS for tweaks and customisation – but some things don’t need to be over-complicated. Your main site colours should be easily editable to suit your branding from within your Theme Options.
The new theme for this site featured orange links, headings and bullet points as default. Through the Theme Options > Styling menu, I quickly changed this to the DIY WordPress green without the need for code.
It may seem small, but consistent branding is key for recognition – so the more straightforward, the better.
6. Featured Images
Featured images make it easy to:
a. Ensure the right images are shared along with your content on social media
b. Illustrate your content on pages that feature multiple posts e.g. category pages or your blog home page
There are specific plugins you can use to share multiple images that are optimised for your various social networks, but your theme should have an out-the-box solution included as standard. This is particularly important when it comes to multi-post pages.
7. Responsive Design
If you’ve read Set up an E-mail List | Grow Your Blog you’ll already know how important it is for your content to be optimised for reading on mobile phones and tablets.
A responsive WordPress Theme will automatically adjust your site layout based on the screen size of the device your website visitor is using.
Make it as easy as possible for your readers to view your content whenever and wherever they are!
8. SEO Optimisation
Ah! The all important inspiration. It would be very frustrating to go through the effort of finding a new theme that works with your content and brand, customise the style and layout and start posting content, only to realise you’re not getting the traffic you could because the theme you picked isn’t optimised for SEO.
Download your theme from a reputable provider or marketplace, make sure it’s been tested for SEO optimisation, test it with Google Webmaster Tools yourself before you start customising – especially if it’s a paid for-theme with a refund policy.
Whilst most WordPress Themes are SEO-friendly to an extent due to the WordPress platform itself, some have features that will give you that additional juice. Site loading times, navigation, structure / layout, responsiveness and modern HTML code will all have an impact. Look out for themes that are specifically built and tested for SEO optimisation.
All these features should ideally be included in your WordPress Theme of choice straight out the box – any other items and functionality you need you can add or edit using plugins and a bit of CSS / HTML jiggery pokery!
What’s missing form the list – are there other essential features that every WordPress Theme should have?