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.
I think this redesign is great. Although the sombrero instantly told me I was on onreact, I greatly feel this is a huge step forward. You might lose a little bit of branding first, but you’ll do better in the long run, I’m sure. I’ll report back, if I find anything not working properly.
I like the new dsign but i agree with Simon,where’s sombrero? :)
From Italy i see you at #43
The new site = big ball of awesome
When you consider search functionality, remember your site’s very private statistics are a critical component of this decision. P.U.B.’s job is protecting the sanctity of Publishers private statistics. We at P.U.B. consider the safety of the information any app or widget(s) may be gathering, unbeknownst to the unwitting Publisher who installs them.
P.U.B. [Publishers Union of Bloggers] has pending inquires to Widget Providers concerning how they generate their income and what percentage of this income goes to the Blog Publisher making the critical decision to allow a Widget on their site for their readers. In addition we are requesting transparency on the critical issue of how the private statistic from Publishers Blogs are being used, hopefully with the Publisher’s permission!
P.U.B. expects to hear back from Lijit on these financial and private statistics issues from P.U.B.’s inquiry we sent to Lijit in mid April 2008. When we get this response from Lijit Networks we will let great Blog Publishers like you know their deal. Currently we are also working with Blog Publishers to track performance hit evaluations of Widgets too.
Will publish these results to keep the community of Blog Publishers informed on this critical component of Widgets on our Blogs.
Barney Moran for P.U.B.
Hi – this might be something that is actually a wordpress problem, a plugin problem and not a theme problem:
if I want to subscribe to your blog posts the RSS feed button up there shows your feed as http://feeds.feedburner.com/seo20 but then you feed should actually go to feedburner – I had been fighting with that problem a while after getting a feedburner account but never followed it up to the end – any ideas?
One other thing about your styling of forms: bug! ;-))
In firefox, when increasing the font size and typing into a form, the cursor will go beyond the size of the text area but show no text (white on white) and I don’t see what I type. If I reduce the fontsize I get more of my text back but I have to go too small to read on my 1900×1200 display in order to get all the content of the textarea displayed.
Definitely need the sombrero back, there’s loads of room for it even if you just plonk it on top of the big SEO red box. BTW I just noticed there’s a problem in Firefox with this comment box and it’s text wrap around as you get to the end of the line.
Thank you all for the feedback. Sadly I’m immersed in work so that I can’t react as quickly as desired and probably won’t be able to fix everything until next weekend either. Nonetheless, keep it coming. Punch me in the face if you think I need it. One user complained that the site is unreadable now, is this true?
I thought I was on the wrong blog. I was expecting a sombrero. I also have contemplated getting rid of category links as they seem to provide almost no real value. I never click on them, so I assume others don’t either, but I could be way off.
If I understand your question, you can fix that by changing the link to your feed in the header.php file of your theme. Find the link that it is providing for your feed, and replace it with your feedburner URL.
damn I was honestly here solely for the sombrero guy. is he coming back any time soon?
Tad, the new design looks fantastic! Really great work, very sexy design. But I have to agree, please bring back the sombrero!!!
I don’t agree with the readability, I think it’s excellent and gives a good overview. However you might try giving the titles on the home another color. Perhaps that would help people to scan.
I liked the old theme better… I always loved your old theme anyway !! :) Now it looks a bit sad…
Perhaps you could put the sombrero back on each post, in a square just as you did with the “co” box for the comments. Or as Duane said, put it near the “SEO Blog” box. Or (yes, I’m full of ideas today) in the head box, but with a shade over it… it will show your readers that it will soon go away… :-)
It looks nice. You should just render the header more unique.
I have just revamped my site with Pressbox. It does nto look as good as yours yet, but I’m working on it. I’ve not moved all the pages yet as the site was static and abandoned for a year!