I am sometimes asked for advice on choosing a Genesis child theme. It happened again today and this is my response.
What’s A WordPress Theme For?
WordPress themes are in charge of the styling of your site as well as its layout potential.
If you require specific functions like for example,
- shopping carts
- recipe markup
- membership facilities
- programmatic control of sidebar content
then these functional types of things are the job of plugins.
Themes are just about look, feel and layout, not about function. Why? Because you should be able to change your theme without killing your site.
Some Themes Are Built For Specific Niches
Some themes, out of the box, create a look and feel specific to a certain niche.
Sometimes this means there’s a lot of styling which is so difficult for the average person to apply to their content, that extra admin panel functions are added to the WordPress dashboard to make the process easier.
Although themes like this will look amazing, often on closer inspection, they are heavier and slower than less stylised designs and with greater lock-in.
When I realised this, I made a decision to only ever use the Genesis child themes provided by StudioPress. If I wanted my site to appeal to vegetarians, I’d add photos of vegetables.
If the site had to appeal to people interested in cosmetics, I’d use photos of beautiful people wearing make-up.
I’d also add CSS to style elements of the site myself rather than rely on a designer to think this through for me or mess up my dashboard with functions that didn’t belong in a theme.
Disadvantages Of Over-Styled Themes
However on mobile devices they either
- don’t look as decorative or,
- use too much bandwidth
- don’t work
Further, in order to achieve the amazing niche look, some themes may have overloaded the theme with admin panels and shortcodes to allow for the addition of content within the complex layout.
This would make the child theme inflexible and difficult to modify.
Later, if you were to try to change your theme the output might be compromised as so much of the page content entered would have been theme dependent.
This is in stark contrast to using a minimally styled Genesis child theme.
Get Excited By Minimally-Styled Themes
Some Genesis child themes are simply styled and when they do cater for a specific niche, they do so with the lightest touch. But in general, non-niche specific child themes are intended to be used for any niche.
Maybe you look at StudioPress child themes and groan – oh they are so boring! Don’t fall into that trap. Most of the StudioPress themes are suitable for most niches.
For example you could use Parallax Pro to create sites for
- food bloggers
Or anyone else!
Bear in mind that you don’t need the theme itself to suggest a niche. A site can be made to look pertinent to a niche solely based on the content you add.
In addition to your specific content, you can do a lot to “nichify” a theme simply by changing colours of titles, buttons, background colors and by choosing images with the right mood. This is all easy to do with CSS.
Sticking with less complex theme designs means you’ll be more focussed on the content. The chances are you’ll build a better site that is faster and more flexible.
What Do Your Visitors Want?
Visitors will be repeatedly drawn to your site for its content. In general your visitors are looking for:
- an answer to a question
- more information on a topic
- a site that can be searched
- easy viewing on their chosen device
You are most likely to achieve all of those with high quality hosting and an uncomplicated child theme.
Successful Inefficient Sites
Sites are less likely to do well in the search engines if overflowing with code or graphics that burdens mobile devices. Extra code and extra decorative items make pages heavier. I don’t know of many inefficient, over-designed sites that do really well in Google’s ranking. Do you?
The most famous site in this space is Lings Cars where the site owner, Ling, deliberately makes her site as bad as possible! This strategy has worked well for her as everyone talks about it. It is a viral site because it’s so bad.
But unlike Ling’s site, most popular sites are simple, to the point, easy to use and content-rich.
This is why I use Genesis child themes from StudioPress and their associates. I want to give my sites the best chance to do well. So how do I chose a Genesis child theme?
What Does Genesis Child Theme Choice Involve?
When considering a Genesis child theme from StudioPress also think about:
- how much information you have to display on your home page,
- how much of a story you want to tell on your home page and
- how many blog posts or articles you have on the day you launch the site.
The rest is down to your requirements regarding layout.
For example, you might want a theme with:
- two sidebars
- a logo in the middle rather than at the left,
- something with a storyboard layout, and
- a fixed header
If you choose a child theme that only has the capability for one sidebar, you immediately have a problem.
Go to my Genesis Child Theme chooser you’ll see that I’ve set up the chooser to allow you to select themes based on important, theme-defining criteria.
The main task is to decide which of the six types of Genesis child theme you are going work with. The classifications are based largely on each theme’s home page capabilities, out of the box.
I say out of the box as any child theme can be made to do anything if you can manipulate its code.
As many of us are in the business of building navigable, well SEO’d sites quickly to provide income, (not trying to win the most beautiful site in the universe award), we always want to choose the child theme whose design most suits our content layout requirements and no more.
It’s important to ensure your chosen theme satisfies your layout requirements. This means you won’t end up trying to change some fundamental structural aspect of a child theme (i.e re-code it) simply to give it the characteristics of another theme that you could have chosen instead.
In the Genesis Club, our WordPress site-building methods provide the fastest way to create a new WordPress site that I know. But it does mean you need to choose your child theme carefully.
Making The Wrong Theme Choice
I once started a new site using a theme that I just liked the look of.
It took me a long time to choose it. But after I’d bought it and had been working on it for 20 minutes I realised the theme itself had no sidebars.
I’d chosen one of those bare-bones themes that purport to focus on the content. Yes, but I wanted sidebars where I could place links to other articles. I’d spent ages making the wrong theme choice.
I’d only looked at the theme’s colour and general demeanour rather than checking to see it had all the right fundamental parts. Look and feel can easily be changed with CSS. Fundamental structure, not so much.
That said, once you are off the home page and on an internal page, ALL Genesis child themes are very similar functionally, bar things like numbers of sidebars, logo positioning, numbers of menus, etc.
It’s the home page that makes the most difference to the amount of work you’ll have to do. The message you want to communicate to your visitor will affect your choice of home page.
Anyway – as I never wanted that to happen to me again, I built the Genesis Theme Chooser.
Types Of Genesis Child Theme
In addition to listing some obvious theme characteristics like color choices, fixed or scrolling headers and so on, I split the StudioPress child themes into six basic types of home page.
Some are easier/faster to work with than others depending on where you are with your content and how good you are with colour harmonies and graphics.
The six types I defined are as follows.
- With storyboard themes, you have several horizontal widget areas in which to place elements of your home page. You can use the space to tell a story about your offer.
As people read down the page of a Storyboard theme, aim to keep them interested and provide enough info above the fold to encourage further scrolling, a click on a call to action, a site search of a click through to an internal page.
Some Storyboard themes have blog posts built into the home page automatically, usually at the bottom. But if not you can decide to include these via a posts widget anyway.
It’s generally a lot of work to put this type of home page together because you have so many widget areas to potentially fill. Of course you do not have to fill them all, but your story has to be complete.
As the homepage does not always rely on blog posts for content, for many Storyboard themes you don’t need to launch with lots of posts. In fact some Storyboard themes are great for one page sales sites, right out of the box.
Any posts you do have are largely behind the scenes on internal pages and can be added gradually after launch.
In general, a large amount of effort is required to set up the home page and to get the messaging right.
- For a Journalist theme you’ll need a LOT of content on day one. This is because the entire home page consists of post extracts from a large number of posts spread across several categories.
If you don’t have enough posts a journalist theme won’t have a convincing home page as it’s intended to be entirely based on extracted post content.
Although the home page itself needs no actual design work, you will have to consider which categories of post to allow onto the home page, and in what quality. Also to add colour and interest, each will require a featured image. You’ll be able to affect the look and feel of the home page by changing the size of the featured image used.
A little planning is required to set up the home page and you’ll require a lot of posts to make it work well.
- Portfolio themes simply allow you to display a number of visual items easily on the home page. I only broke these out as a separate type because they placed an emphasis on the visual, out of the box. So either they contain portfolio templates or StudioPress have provided instructions telling you how to set up a form of portfolio using post widgets.
While this is possible with any child theme, these themes focus on a portfolio aspect.
A moderate amount of effort is required to set up the home page.
- Bloggy themes rely on posts to form their home page albeit fewer than Journalist themes require. Also the category of the posts is unimportant.
Your latest posts appear on the home page replacing the previous ones as you add more content. There is no home page design to do. You can launch a site like this with just a few blog posts. Your home page will self-build from your content. As you add more blog posts, the latest ones will appear on the home page.
However, please note. In stark contrast to the storyboard themes, it is possible for a visitor to have no clue what your site is about, as there isn’t any obvious introductory statement.
For example, your last few posts may be so tangential to your niche as to not give the visitor a good idea of what your site is really about. They are left relying on your logo and domain name to figure it out. The beauty of these themes is their ease of set up which allows you to focus on content.
It’s a great idea to start out with a theme like this if you are new to blogging and later when you have plenty of content and a good idea of what your offer is, maybe change your theme to one from the Company, Storyboard or Journalist categories.
No effort is required to set up the home page (apart from writing posts).
- Bloggy Plus
- Bloggy Plus themes cure this issue to some extent as although they are exactly like Bloggy themes, they do have a small section at the top that allows you to introduce the site and explain what it is about, rather than leave your visitors guessing.
But the rest of the home page is made up of just the posts, passing through.
No effort is required to set up the home page (apart from writing posts and some short introductory text to explain why your website exists).
- Company themes are good for businesses that have three or for main ways into their business. I.e their main offers.
They typically give you a chance to announce your business, display three or four typical ways the business can help and then at the bottom show your contact, credentials and testimonials.
The layout is good for businesses, products and consultancies that want to present a simple view of their services on the home page, with the potential to fill this out in more detail on internal pages.
The layout also works quite well when the client doesn’t want to write lot of content, but just wants to describe his main services.
Obviously if they decide to do content marketing at a later date that will be good, but if they don’t this layout works pretty well for brochure sites.
You can achieve a good layout while communicating all the right information, without having to do a huge about of design work. This is especially relevant if your client is just starting out and needs a low cost option. You’ll have this one done in a jiffy!
A moderate amount of effort is required to set up the home page.
How To use The Genesis Child Theme Chooser
Once you know that the basic type of theme you want, from the six listed above, the rest is down to other criteria. For example – is it mobile-first, does it have a color picker, is the logo in the middle, does it have a landing page template, and so on.
Use the Genesis child theme chooser to discover which thmes are mostly likely to suit your purposes.