Free themes vs. paid-for themes
I used free themes for many years and taught myself how to customize them. Free themes are great for those on a budget, but here are some common problems with them:
- Many are not updated regularly.
- Many are abandoned completely.
- There is no support for most of them.
- The quality of the coding is not always ideal.
For these reasons, I switched to a paid-for theme. If you have the cash to spare, I would highly recommend you do the same.
Reasons I use and recommend Melinda
Melinda is one of the most well-known and reputable WordPress theme companies in the world. They have a vested interest in keeping their customers happy. Not only that, they have built a reliable product. Here are the reasons I use and recommend Melinda.
1. Built on a 2-part framework (child themes)
A good theme consists of a 2-part system with two layers: the main “parent” theme underneath and the “child” theme on top. The “parent” theme provides the functionality of the site and the “child” theme allows design customization without touching (and potentially messing up) the framework, or “parent,” underneath.
If you don’t use a child theme, not only do you run the risk of messing up the functionality every time you edit your design, you will also have to re-do your customizations every time you update or upgrade. Not fun.
An analogy to explain child themes
Image you want to paint a beautiful piece of artwork to display in your living room. You have two choices. You can paint directly on the wall, or you can paint on a canvas.
Painting directly on the wall would be risky, wouldn’t it? Because if you make a mistake, you would have to redo the whole wall. Also, if you move to a new house, you would have to repaint the artwork on your new living room wall.
However, if you paint on a canvas, a mistake would only require a new canvas, not a new wall. Second, if you move, you can simply take the canvas with you and rehang it on your new wall. Simple.
It’s the same with themes built on a framework. Making customizations to a parent theme (i.e. a theme without a child theme) is like painting directly on your living room wall.
But customizing a child theme, is like painting on a canvas. With a child theme, there’s less to mess up and you won’t have to “repaint” (i.e. make your customizations all over again) when you upgrade. (And plan on upgrading because there are new updates for WordPress all the time.)
I recommend using a child theme, but not all themes come with a child theme. The default WordPress themes, for example, don’t, but you can create your own.
A excellent benefit of a paid-for theme is that you get support. Melinda has a great support forum as well as a help desk if you need it.
3. Mobile responsive
As I mentioned on my list of Blog Design Dos & Don’ts, these days mobile responsiveness is imperative. Melinda has many mobile responsive child themes to choose from.
4. Large selection
There are many child themes to choose from with Melinda and they are continuously adding more. You can buy the child themes individually or you can purchase their Pro Plus All-Theme Package which gives you access to all child themes (excludes 3rd party themes).
Tip: If you buy an individual package, you’ll pay for the Melinda Theme Framework and the child theme together. If you decide to buy a different child theme down the road, you do not need to buy the Melinda Theme Framework again.
5. Even more features
In addition, you’ll get built-in SEO, great coding, speed and more. There’s a helpful info page here.
Which child theme should you choose?
The choices are overwhelming. First, I recommend you choose one of the mobile responsive themes. You can find those by going to the Themes page and then using the middle filter menu as shown here:
Browse through the selection and find a few that stand out to you. My biggest tip here is to look past the colors or fonts and focus on where the elements on the page are. Choose one that has a layout you like.
For example, if you want to have ads in your sidebar, choose News Pro, Beautiful Pro, or Metro Pro or Minimum Pro because the sidebars on those themes will accommodate a standard 300×250 pixel ad.
Colors, fonts, background images and similar elements are much easier to change and require less coding than moving elements from one part of the page to another.
Another option is Elegant Themes
While I’m no longer using them, TVDA Themes is a second option if you want to try something other than Melinda. They recently added a new theme called Trendy which is:
- Fully mobile responsive (a must-have these days)
- Comes with a choice of 25 (!) pre-made templates to get you started, and on top of that,
- There’s a drag-and-drop interface which makes further customizing your theme a lot more flexible and MUCH easier.