What WordPress Theme Should I Use?

Themes-dashboard-snipThere’s a great Facebook group out there that I belong to, Tech Support for Real Estate Agents (if you want an invite, just leave a comment. I *think* we have to be Facebook friends for me to invite you. If we’re not, hit me up on FB with a friend request). In said group, the topic of WordPress themes comes up. Often.

Here’s the short answer to the question, “What WordPress theme should I use?”. . .

It depends.

Isn’t that helpful?

It does depend. It depends on what your goal is for your real estate blog, it depends on your experience level with WordPress, it depends on how much money you have to spend, it depends on your personal taste – it depends on many things.

So I can’t tell you what is the “best” theme you should use. Best means different things to different people and everyone is in a different situation. Me telling you which theme to use is akin to me telling you what kind of car to drive…

Here is what I can tell you about WordPress themes for real estate blogs

All themes are not created equal. A theme does more than just determine the look and feel of your blog. There is a boatload of code that makes up a WordPress theme, and as with any pile of code, how it is written can impact not just how your blog looks, but how it performs – rendering in a browser and in search engines. I’ve experimented with themes that look fabulous in Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Then I view the site in Internet Explorer and all hell has broken loose. Things shift around, columns grow and shrink, all sorts of weirdness going on. While I wish nothing more than for Internet Explorer to be banished from the face of the planet, the simple fact is, a LOT of people use IE. I have people visit my blogs every day using IE6 – which is now THREE major revisions behind the latest offering from Redmond.

Wonky browser rendering is maddening enough, but how about using a theme that search engine spiders choke on? That’s a bad idea.

Another bad thing, potentially very bad is that there are themes out there where the designer is, to put it bluntly, a douchebag and they insert malicious code into the theme. Malicious code can do anything from inject hidden links in your theme to wreck havoc on your computer.

Here is a great article, Why You Should Never Search For Free WordPress Themes in Google or Anywhere Else, that dives deep into many sites offering free WordPress themes, and some of the scary things found. It also offers great advice for how to check your themes for malicious code, and where to find clean free themes.

Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. Believe me, I understand the love for free themes. Free is cheap. And there are some stellar free themes out there. But let’s face it, in most of life the adage “you get what you pay for” rings true. That’s not to say that every premium theme (i.e. theme you pay for) is necessarily a great theme. But designers that charge for a theme do so because they make a living coding WordPress things. You are far more likely to get tightly and appropriately coded themes, free of malicious code, from a premium theme. You will probably also get support of some sort (often in the form of a user forum) and the themes will be updated on a regular basis. Updates are important not just for added functionality, but for keeping up with WordPress updates as well. WordPress seems to update their software at roughly the same frequency that I change underwear, so it’s important to have a theme developer that stays on top of WP updates. I’ve seen theme break completely with a new (usually major) revision of WordPress.

Again, I’m not dissing free themes. This very blog you are reading is running on the Weaver free theme. It offers all the goodness mentioned above – clean code, support, frequent upgrades. It’s just important to be careful with theme selection and remember that generally you get what you pay for.

Ease of use matters to many. I often get asked, “can I (or someone) make my theme do X, Y, or Z?” The answer is yes. Any theme can be modified to do anything that’s possible with CSS and PHP code. And if you have PHP skills, that means in theory just about anything can be done with any theme. Of course most of us don’t have the requisite skill set to modify our themes extensively. Most people reading this blog, primarily real estate agents, will be lucky if we can figure out how to change a header graphic or some color in the theme.

Fortunately, theme designers are starting to understand that most users don’t have their coding skills and they are beginning  to add control panels that make changing many theme properties as simple as pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping. Many themes make it super easy to add a header graphic, support native WordPress menus (including drop downs) and more.

“WYSIWYG” (What You See is What You Get) themes are also coming out. Some make it pretty darn easy to drag “modules” (or “leaves” or “boxes” – whatever the theme calls them) around and create some very “non-bloglike” layouts.

But beware, there are still countless themes out there that offer none of this. I recently helped someone change their header graphic and it required editing core theme PHP files AND the two CSS files to simply change the default header graphic.

Theme choice ultimately is personal. In the end, the theme you chose defines the look (or capability to make the look) that you want for your blog. As such, choosing a theme gets pretty personal pretty quickly. There are literally thousands of options for theme selection. Play around with a few, look for sites running themes you like and see what the owner has done with them. Explore the user forums (some premium themes will lock down certain parts of the user forums for paying customers).

And keep this in mind:

The greatest theme on Earth means nothing if you don’t have consistent, quality content.

That is important folks. I know agents that have dropped thousands of dollars on visually stunning custom themes only to find out within a few months that they hate creating content.

And if you hate creating content, you won’t do it.

And if you don’t do it, you can not have a successful blog no matter what theme you are using.

Here are some themes I like and use. Of course, as mentioned throughout the post above, what I like and what works for you may be completely different.

PlatformPro Framework by Pagelines. (Premium theme. WYSIWYG. My main blog, Phoenix Real Estate Guy is currently running this theme).

Thesis (Premium theme. I ran this on TPREG for a long time. Great theme, not simple to customize, but very powerful. I still use it on many sites.)

Headway (Premium theme. WYSIWYG. I use this on JayThompson.info – a lame example)

 StudioPress / Genesis / AgentPress (Premium theme. AgentPress is a popular real estate “child theme” on the Genesis framework.)

All of these are affiliate links. I get a small pittance if you actually purchase the theme.

 

Do you have a favorite theme? Tell us about it in the comments!

About Jay Thompson

Jay is a Real Estate Broker (Phoenix, AZ area), father, husband, friend to many, enemy to a few. Author of the award winning blog, Phoenix Real Estate Guy, he is also a serial blog commenter and social media fan boy. Jay abhors yard work, but love kittens and driving too fast.
This entry was posted in Philosophical Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to What WordPress Theme Should I Use?

  1. j2tyco says:

    We are using Weaver (Free) which apparently I LUCKED out on when I tried it out because it is a very dynamic free theme and from what I have been told has a lot of features in its free version that are often only included in pay for it premium version

    -which I hear is getting a premium upgrade to make it even more dynamic very shortly.(not paid to promote this just giving my opinion) Coming from using yahoosite builder (WYSIWYG) and switching to the harder to grasp and truly customize world of wordpress (harder but not impossible) has been challenging for me to say the least. I look forward to the ability to drag and drop to ANY SPOT I want but still incorporate blog content

  2. I'm with you Jay. Pay for a premium theme and then work on creating great content.
    My recent post Thehomepagecomau first to add new Google 1 button

  3. Debe Maxwell says:

    I'll have to check out the Weaver free theme. I'm using the ChildPress by Genesis and feel very comfortable with it. There are a few things that I would change if I could–the header height is just TOO much but, for the most part, it's working very well for me. And, I agree, it's like everything in life, it's individual–what one likes is not always best for everyone else.

  4. Scott Schang says:

    Jay, I love WooThemes. They are easy to use and once you know one WooTheme, you pretty much can customize any WooTheme. Huge support community too. That's my .o2
    My recent post What is Cash For Keys

  5. Chris Speicher says:

    Great post, Jay – thank you. The timing of certain posts is funny… I was getting ready to post a similar question about IDX solutions for our website, but, after looking at yours and a few others, I think I have my answer. As always, keep-up the great work!

  6. Brad Officer says:

    I've been using the Thesis theme for a little over 2 years and I do like the internal control over SEO, but the PHP and CSS customization is brutal for a busy agent who doesn't speak fluent geek. I'm sure I've spent way too many hours/days customizing code. PlatformPro looks to be a great alternative.
    My recent post Problems with Listing Prices Too High

  7. And, for the brave, you can make your own theme on Artisteer too. I've done that successfully in the past, just reupped for a 1 year license to use that software and am doing a few templates now. I am not aware of any bad code – since it's a paid situation, there better not be!
    My recent post The Heritage Grove Neighborhood in Los Gatos and the Heintz Open Space Preserve

  8. I'll second Scott's comment on WooThemes, simple to use with a core framework that's professionally developed and regularly updated. The Estate theme in particular is built with RE in mind and optionally integrated with dsIDXPress. For developers Woo makes life easy with loads of theme options and framework export/import that makes switching among any WooTheme fairly painless.

    Content is king and someone just starting out might be better off thinking critically about site structure, keywords, etc. Then, for aesthetics, IDX integration, search friendliness, updates, plugins, etc it begins to make sense to explore premium theme options. You get what you pay for.
    My recent post The Best Real Estate IDX Solution

  9. I started out using free themes but that stopped when I realized free meant developers will eventually abandon them and they'll become incompatible with newer versions of WordPress and plugins. Presently, I'm using themes from Studio Press (agentpress) and WooThemes – both offer great themes and support.

    @Gabe I noticed not all WooThemes themes work well with dsIDXPress…I had an formating issue on my primary site so I stopped using it (dsidxpress). But, to be fair, I'm still using an older version of the theme.

    @Mary thanks for the heads-up on Alisteer…I'll need to check it out.
    My recent post Seattle Condo Project Updates

  10. jeremyblanton says:

    Jay, I am a huge fan of Headway. I use it now to build all the sites for my clients. I've got tons of examples if people want to see some. My site however is still running Thesis. Is it better than Headway? No, not really. The main reason it's still on there is that I haven't had time to change it nor have I had this awesome idea of what I want to change it to. So, I've simply left it the way it was.

    Good recap of themes and like you said, you need to get a premium theme. Not because we make like $4.00 from someone buying it, but because of the features, functions & all around awesomeness of these themes. I've seen already where these free themes embed hidden links in your site that direct to porn sites, and viagra, and all other spammy & Bad things. Not good!

  11. Jay - Phoenix Real Estate Guy says:

    Thanks for all the comments and suggestions folks! I fully intended to include Woo Themes, I like some of their themes a LOT

  12. Jay, maybe you can assist me in understanding what's the difference between a theme and a framework?
    My recent post Why You Do Not Need A WordPress Site

  13. not sure of any theme that wouldn't work with any idx… What am I missing?
    My recent post Our Sincere Apologies for the email…

  14. This is a great article. I wish I had read it a year ago when I began my blogging adventure.

    The only thing I didn't run into that you emtnion above is the malicious code in the theme. I think….

    Unfortunately this is something that takes some time to learn about – time that we would all probably be devoting to writing posts!
    My recent post California Housing – Home Sales Increase in May 2011

  15. Liz Benitez says:

    Well, I am all about the free. I have been happy with my theme; Freshy by Jide. I never though to look at my site with IE but have now checked it out and worked fine there are well.
    My recent post Dinner made Simple

  16. Pingback: 41 Must-Read Tips & Tutorials for Real Estate Bloggers | Diverse Solutions

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  19. Ross says:

    I've used weaver, and lately tried headway which isn't quite as easy as it looks! My goto themes are woo and the ones by studiopress.
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