Getting your blog ready for Social Selling (Part 2 of 3); selecting a theme

This is the second in our three part series on getting your blog ready for social selling. Read Part 1 if you missed it.

All of the large CMS-type systems support some sort of theme, or “skin”. Our examples for this series are all centered on WordPress, but most of what we say here will apply in some way to the others.

Why are we starting here? Shouldn’t we develop content first? Well yes, but we want the blog to showcase our content effectively when we start posting our new content, and theme selection can be a long lead item in our blog makeover project.

When people review themes, they usually concentrate on the quality of the artwork supplied with the theme. This is a mistake; for the most part that artwork gets replaced during development of the blog site. So [inlinetweet prefix=”Get your blog ready” tweeter=”@oinkodomeo” suffix=””]what do you look for in a theme? Here is our list[/inlinetweet] (some of these may surprise you):

  • Premium Themes—Premium, or paid themes, usually cost between 50-200 dollars (US). We have used many free themes over the years, but these days we generally recommend that our Clients look at Premium themes. In general, the quality of the work is better. We’re not saying that all free themes are badly coded (they aren’t) and all premium themes are excellent (they aren’t either). But your chances are better when the theme author is getting paid to spend his/her time in development. Also, in our experience technical support for paid themes is better.
  • Technical Support—If you are using a free theme, you should find a support thread on the wordpress.org forums. Go to wordpress.org, and type your theme name into the search box, then click on the support thread. You should see that the themes authors are highly engaged in their forum, and many of the threads are resolved. Also, wordpress.org support theme reviews, take a look at those, but remember people can have a bad experience and need to vent, don’t let one bad review put you off. If you are using a paid theme, then support is usually offered on a forum on the theme’s website. Again, look for a high-level of engagement from the theme’s authors, going back several months. It’s no guarantee of future commitment, but it’s a good indicator.
  • Lots of users—If the theme is sold through an aggregator like Themeforest, you will see how many times it has been downloaded. Look for at least 1,000 downloads. This tells you the theme is not brand new. There’s nothing wrong with really new themes, but if you don’t need something bleeding edge, stick with proven product.
  • Responsive design—The theme is generally responsible for seeing that the blog works on smart devices and tablets. Test the theme samples on several devices and see how they look.
  • Highly capable development tools—If the bulk of your pages are going to be created by people with average technical skills, look for a very strong proprietary page builder. Take the time to test out the demo yourself.
  • Extras—If you know that you need a carousel slider, or built-in social media, or custom sidebars on every page, look for a theme that supports your most important requirements natively.
  • Suitability—[inlinetweet prefix=”WordPress themes” tweeter=”” suffix=””]We love Parallax-type themes,[/inlinetweet] with fade ins and fade outs and collapsing boxes (see our social site for an example of a site developed with Parallax theme from Themify). But we think this theme is really best for promoting one idea; as a corporate site it might be confusing. Similarly, we like the Avada theme, which is rich with custom features, but can be a little bloaty. Best advice, don’t get enamored of any one design, ask how your Visitors will see it and if they will have the experience they need.

Last, a word about custom themes. Custom themes can be expensive, and in most cases they are unnecessary. If your page design is set in stone, and simply cannot be met by any existing theme you can find, then you might consider one.

Now, if you decide on a theme and conclude during development that it isn’t right for you, you can get another one. It’s not quite a easy as loading the new theme and activating it in the Admin panel, you will need to do some work to adapt to the new theme, but usually it’s not the end of the world. That’s one of the real strengths of a powerful CMS tool like WordPress.

In our last installment, we won’t cover development of the new site. Instead, we’ll finally get to how you can prepare it for the new Social Selling!

Getting your blog ready for Social Selling (Part 3 of 3); tuning the blog for Social Selling