Saturday Night Fever for WordPress Theme Customization: How to Simplify


Dear reader, I assume that you rarely actually visit my blog. You probably read SEO 2.0 in Google Reader, Netvibes or Bloglines but indeed I look at my blog daily. After almost a year now, yes it’s true SEO 2.0 approaches it’s first anniversary.

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

I was looking for a new WordPress theme for a while now and just testing a few themes from time to time. Most of them needed heavy customization though or rather fixing, bug fixing but also removing all the visual flaws only someone who is involved with the web for many years now 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.

Also I’m kind of proud. I have been a front end web developer since 1999 so 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. So I sifted through Smashing Magazine’s WordPress Theme lists to discover Creative Synthesis and it’s Press Box theme.

I had to fix several issues, like

  • Firefox/IE7 inconsistencies
  • unstyled forms (argh!)
  • too large fonts
  • redundant clutter
  • useless information (SEO 2.0 is not a group blog so it does not need the author displayed each time e.g.)

So I reduced it to the max and now my customized Press Box WordPress theme looks already really simple and neat. It still has some issues I want to deal with but it already makes me feel better. The change was overdue.

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 post lijit did not find them.
  • The Feedburner subscribers counter always annoyed me by showing the numbers of “readers”. Anyone new to this must assume that I have currently 775 readers online or something not subscribers. Also the fluctuations on weekends just show that the numbers are inaccurate: People do not unsubscribe over the weekend. People are just offline but Google Reader and other services prefetch RSS feeds while you are browsing, that means they make you subscribe without you knowing about it. When you end up one day in Guantanamo and they ask you why your subscribed to this Al Qaeda blog you know why…
  • 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 too but nobody ever did and the feeds of the other SEO bloggers just weren’t relevant enough or updated frequently enough. Adding others would require me to create a new feed group each time instead of just adding… Linking friends is nice, but only when they are truly relevant with a particular post.

I finally decided to tell Google that SEO 2.0 is a blog, a SEO blog. Google still fails to grasp that unless you write in big letters (h1 heading) and the title tag so I spammed both with the relevant keyphrase and voilà I’m at #35 in for SEO blog viewed from the US.

On the other hand I cleaned up my categories which were partly very specific as I also bowed to Google’s pressure there to rank but didn’t anyway although keyword combinations like financial independence are not that competitive. I simplified my categories too. 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 categories on the right of the single post pages, not on the homepage which focuses on the last 20 articles without displaying them in their entirety. Instead Press Box 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 pageviews

Right now I’m 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 might return to his newly renovated home though, I’m not sure yet where his room will be.

Now is this change or simplification OK with you?
Can you live without the Mexican sombrero wearing guy on top? I already miss him somehow… On the other hand now neither Google nor you will have any problems with understanding that this is a SEO blog.

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 PageRank, but my blog is about SEO 2.0 and not PageRank sculpting among other SEO 1.0 practices.