WordPress Theme Customization: How to Simplify like a Web Dev


Dear reader, I assume that you rarely actually visit my blog. You probably read SEO 2.0 in your feed reader or visit it only occasionally but indeed I look at my blog frequently.

I grew increasingly wary of my old WordPress theme. It was great, it was simple and complex at once but it had its flaws and they annoyed me more and more each day.

I was looking for a new WordPress theme for a while and just testing a few themes from time to time. None of them were perfect or even close.


There is no perfect WordPress theme

Most WP themes need heavy customization or rather fixing. It’s bug fixing but also removing all the visual flaws only someone who is involved with Web development for many years can see I guess.

I was always a weird kind of perfectionist: I never truly mastered Adobe Photoshop and graphic design so I could rarely match my own expectations. Sadly most others weren’t either.

Sometimes I can be a little proud. I have been a front end web developer between 1999 and 2004.

Thus just hiring someone else to make my website or to design my blog theme makes me feel bad. As a compromise I like to customize.

In case there aren’t to many shortcomings I will customize a theme so that it does not make as much effort as a new one from scratch but also matches my style.


Choose a minimalist theme

I followed Smashing Magazine’s WordPress theme advice to discover Creative Synthesis and their Press Box theme. It was a clean black and white albeit minimalist theme.

It looked already great out of the box. Sadly I had to fix several issues right away. What did I change?

  • Firefox/IE inconsistencies
  • unstyled forms (argh!)
  • inadequate font sizes
  • redundant clutter
  • useless information

SEO 2.0 is not a group blog so it does not need the “author” displayed each time e.g. Some themes even say “admin” is the author. Awful!

I reduced clutter to the minimum and then my customized WordPress theme looked really neat and simple for sure.

It still has some issues I want to deal with but it already makes me feel better. The change was overdue.


Get rid of the third party widgets

I really feel better. Also I decided to unclutter my own redundant stuff. I removed almost everything. All the widgets and boxes I used had some additional annoyances:

  • The lijit search widget didn’t find many of my older posts due to using Google customized search. As Google deindexed my older articles lijit did not find them.
  • The Feedburner subscribers counter always annoyed me by showing inconsistent numbers of “readers”. This misleading number was rather a negative social proof despite lots of subscribers.
  • The Feedjumbler dynamic blogroll was nice but I had the impression that it didn’t work as intended. It was meant to encourage others to link to my feed as well but nobody ever did and the feeds of the other bloggers just weren’t relevant enough.

I finally decided to tell Google that SEO 2.0 is a blog, a SEO blog. Google still failed to grasp that a regularly updated site running on WordPress is a blog.

You needed to write in big letters (h1 heading) and the title tag so I spammed both with the relevant keyphrase and voilà I entered #35 in Google.com for [seo blog] as viewed from the US.


Keep the categories at bay

On the other hand I cleaned up my categories which were partly very specific. I initially also bowed to Google’s pressure there to rank but didn’t anyway.

Although keyword combinations like “financial independence” are not that competitive I wasn’t able to compete. Thus I simplified my categories. I added findability and I changed:

  • Financial Independence to just Independence
  • Freelancing Tips to solely Freelancing
  • Improving Productivity is Productivity now
  • Reputation Building changed to just Reputation
  • Self Empowerment is “only” Empowerment now

You can see the below each post now, not on the homepage which focuses on the latest articles without displaying them in their entirety.

Instead my theme will display a thumbnail image and a teaser. I like that, less scrolling… but more clicking, let’s see if this increases the number of my page views…

I was also wondering where I can add the about me etc. menu or section.

Also you have probably noticed that the cool Mexican with the white hat is gone for a vacation. He did return to his newly renovated home though. He’s on the “about” page ever since.

Now is this change or simplification OK with you? Can you live without the Mexican sombrero wearing guy on top? Do you still visit this blog at all?

P.S.: I was also tempted to hide categories and archives altogether. They look so 2001!!! What do you think? Do you ever click them?

They are only good for spreading Google juice, but my blog is about SEO 2.0 and not pleasing Google among other PIG practices.

Last updated: October 25th, 2017.  I made the post more general so that it applies to all themes not just mine. I also added white space, subheadings and made the sentences shorter.