Confession time. I am a WordPress theme-a-holic.
What do I mean by that?
Well, in the past six months I’ve experimented with over 15 different WordPress themes. With each one I’ve thought to myself, “This is it! The perfect WordPress theme!“ Only to be disappointed by something that I just cannot stand or cannot easily customize.
Thank goodness for generous return policies.
So, today we’re going to talk about WordPress themes, specifically:
- The different kinds of WordPress themes
- Genesis vs. Divi
- How to decide which WordPress theme is right for you
Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
Some the the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of my links I may make a small commission; this comes at no added cost to you. I only post affiliate links for products that I have personally used and recommend.
WordPress Theme Categories
I like to think of WordPress themes as divided into 3 distinct categories:
- Free themes
- Mid-range themes
- Premium themes
Note that these are not technical terms or official definitions; they’re simply terms that I use to make talking about WordPress themes a little bit easier.
Free WordPress Themes
Free WordPress themes are available through WordPress.org or through your self-hosted WordPress installation. You can browse free WordPress themes by logging into to your WordPress dashboard and navigating to Appearance > Themes. Then, click on the “Add New” button and browse to your heart’s content.
While free themes have one huge benefit (they’re free!), the drawback to using free themes is that their features are often a bit lacking. They just don’t offer the same pizzazz that paid themes tend to have. And, there’s no guarantee that a free theme will serve your purposes well. For example, if you plan to sell products, you’ll have to find a theme that supports product detail pages.
That said, there are some really amazing free themes available. Their design rivals even pricey premium themes, and may be a great solution if your needs are basic.
Here are a few free WordPress themes that I like. These are available at WordPress.org, or you can search for them by name using your WordPress installation dashboard:
Mid-Range WordPress Themes
Mid-range themes are priced anywhere from $20-$50. In my mind, these are one-off themes that are available through aggregators such as Themeforest.
The benefit to using a mid-range theme is that they’re often feature-rich for a relatively inexpensive price. If you’re on a tight budget and need very specific features, I highly recommend checking out Themeforest. You can limit your search to a specific price, and then filter by tag to find a template relevant to your needs.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to using mid-range themes, and my honest opinion is that if you’re considering using a mid-range Themeforest theme, in the long run, you may be better off going with a premium theme instead.
Here’s why: Mid-range themes are often created and maintained by freelance developers (versus established companies). As such, I’ve run into two major complications.
- There’s no guarantee that the theme will work as expected when WordPress rolls out updates. Personally, I’ve had problems with images not displaying properly and widgets that suddenly stop working. Luckily, my S.O. is a developer, and he has been able to fix those problems for me. I imagine that others would have to either hire a developer or switch to a different theme. What a headache!
- They generally have a shelf-life of only a year or two. While some theme authors do continue to update their themes over several years, most simply abandon their themes after some time. For example, over the past 6 years, I have purchased 4 themes from Themeforest. Of those 4 themes, only 1 (the most recent) is still being updated and available for other users to purchase. The other 3 are obsolete. And, my support for the 1 remaining theme is expired. If I need support, I’ll have to purchase a 6-month support license for $50. As a business owner, I’m not exactly thrilled at these kinds of added expenses.
So, I know it sounds like I’m very much anti-Themeforest. But, I actually think that Themeforest WordPress themes can work for those who have very specific needs. Just be aware of the potential caveats before making your purchase.
Premium WordPress Themes
Premium themes include themes that are either produced by an established company or are part of a framework. Premium themes generally cost $50 and up.
The reason why I make a distinction between one-off themes sold on Themeforest and themes sold by a company is that themes sold by companies tend to offer much better ongoing support. For example, Solostream WordPress themes come with tutorials and video support. Templatic WordPress themes come with 1 year of support, plus they have sample content so that you don’t get lost trying to make your content resemble that of the demo site.
Besides companies like Solostream and Templatic, in the “Premium WordPress Theme” category, there are two major subcategories: frameworks and page builders.
What’s a framework?
A framework is a code library that allows developers to separate theme functionality from theme styling. This way, users can customize their blog’s styling, and when software updates are made to the theme or to WordPress, the updates won’t break the user’s customizations.
Don’t worry, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it, too.
This isn’t a perfect analogy but let’s give a try anyway:
- A non-framework theme is sort of like storing all of your makeup directly on your bathroom countertop. When you want to clean your countertop, you’ll have to pick up each of your cosmetic items individually, then clean the countertop, and then try to put everything back where they belong. Chances are, something will be a little out of place.
- Using a framework is like storing all of your makeup in a makeup caddy. When you want to clean the countertop, all you have to do is pick up the whole caddy, clean the countertop, and put the caddy back. All of your makeup stays precisely in place.
Did that make sense?
The point is: frameworks allow you to preserve style customizations despite WordPress and theme updates.
Page builders are themes that let users create custom pages through a drag-and-drop interface. They’re great for formatting pages beyond what the default WordPress editor offers. For example, page builders allow you to set up columns, design custom page sections, and insert customized buttons. Page builders allow non-coders to create highly customized websites that look great and are also responsive and functional.
Popular Premium WordPress Themes
So, let’s get down to it. Now you’ll see why I went over frameworks and page builders first. What are the most popular premium WordPress themes?
In my experience, many serious bloggers seem to gravitate toward:
Genesis, made by StudioPress, is actually a framework. After installing the Genesis framework, you’ll also need to install (or design) a child theme. Child themes are available at StudioPress, Restored 316, and Bloom, among others. Genesis is known for being coded well, future-proof, and customizable.
Divi, made by Elegant Themes, is technically a framework but is actually known for its page builder. Divi is popular among bloggers who want a drag-and-drop visual page building control. I highly recommend trying their visual page builder demo before you buy. Note, however, that if you ever decide to switch themes, you may have to rebuild all of your website’s pages.
So, which is better?
Genesis vs. Divi
Well, there’s no question that Genesis and Divi are both excellent WordPress themes. They are both highly customizable, and you’ll find highly enthusiastic bloggers and developers in both camps. While my personal preference is for Genesis, as a non-coder I feel that the decision mostly comes down to usability. I encourage you to try both so that you can find out which one truly suits your needs best. Both come with a 30-day money back guarantee, so you can rest assured that you won’t be wasting your money.
Here are a couple of other things to consider:
Learning towards Genesis, but wish you had visual page builder features? Know that you do have some page building options with Genesis: Beaver Builder works well with Genesis (although it does come at an added cost), and the Page Builder by SiteOrigin plugin (this one is free) also works well.
Leaning towards Genesis, but don’t want to dive into code for customizations? Consider using Design Palette Pro for simple stylistic things like fonts, colors, and spacing. Also, Genesis Extender by Cobalt Apps will let you customize content areas.
Leaning towards Divi, but unsure of how to make certain customizations? Elegant Themes has you covered with loads of Divi resources.
How to decide which WordPress theme is right for you:
So, let’s get down to brass tacks. How is a blogger supposed to figure out which theme to use?
For beginning bloggers, I would highly recommend starting with a free theme. This way, you can make sure that you’re going to stick with blogging before investing your hard-earned cash in a mid-range or premium theme.
The reason why I say this is because many of my friends have, at some point, decided to start blogs. Only a small percentage of them continued blogging for more than 6 months. If, after a few months, you’ve fallen in love with blogging, you can always upgrade to a nicer theme then.
Are you thinking about monetizing your blog? Hoping to turn your part-time blogging hobby into a full-fledged business? If so, it may be time to invest in a premium theme.
But which premium theme is right for you?
Let’s start by asking a few questions.
Do you need a drag-and-drop page builder? If so, you have a few really great options (and lots more if you do some digging). Here are some popular ones:
Don’t forget that with any drag-and-drop builder, if you change themes in the future, you may have to rebuild all of your pages.
Do you have tangible products to sell? If you’re thinking about selling tangible products, consider Woocommerce Storefront. The Storefront framework is free, and you’ll also need a Storefront child theme ($0-$39). You can also buy extensions to increase functionality ($0-$59).
Do you want an inexpensive all-in-one package that includes themes, landing pages, modal boxes, and more? If so, I highly recommend that you take a look at a Thrive Themes membership. The themes that come with Thrive Themes are not quite as clean and modern as Genesis, but the fact that the membership comes with Thrive Landing Pages and Thrive Leads makes a Thrive Themes membership a bit more enticing. If you were considering getting Leadpages + a premium theme, this may make more sense for you instead.
Do you have coding skills? If so, you’ll probably enjoy using Genesis. Although I am not a developer, I’m told by several that Genesis has clean code, and is very easy for developers to customize. You might also want to consider using Dynamik or Genesis Extender with your Genesis installation.
Is a clean, modern look important to you? If design at the top of your priority list, you’ll definitely want to check out Genesis and Genesis child themes. StudioPress, Restored 316, and Bloom make some of the most gorgeous-looking WordPress themes. Divi is also a good option is you want a built-in drag-and-drop page builder.
Do you have multiple blogs or websites? If you need multiple themes, or if you like to change themes frequently, then I highly recommend the Genesis Pro Plus Package. For a one-time payment, you’ll get access to all of the Genesis themes, plus support and updates. In 2014, I bit the bullet and purchased this package. I’ve tried other themes since, but I keep going back to Genesis and I’m so glad I paid for the bulk package. For me, it has definitely been worth it.
Finally, will you be installing a bunch of plugins? If you’re like a lot of other bloggers, you’ll be using Yoast, SumoMe, Jetpack, Google Analytics Dashboard, ConvertKit, and about 10,001 other plugins. Those plugins will weigh your site down. So, my advice is to go with Genesis because the code is clean and lightweight. A more code-intensive theme such as a drag-and-drop builder, with the addition of 10,001 plugins may slow your site down considerably.