I’ve coached a lot of people looking to get started with blogging, whether to promote a business, a book, or general self-expression, and one thing that happens with depressing regularity is that they get bogged down in the same place: Picking a theme for the site.
Far too often it becomes a complete rathole as they search endlessly for the One True Theme that perfectly expresses their message or personality.
And of course the theme matters. We homo sapiens are fickle, prone to snap judgements, and first impressions influence us more than is rational. How many times have you decided between two novels based on the cover?
So that pit of indecision comes from an understandable fear. But at the same time, people will come visit your site based on your content. If the content is interesting, people will read it and come back. The content is what you should sweat.
That being said, you want your site to look competent and not completely cookie-cutter.
What I usually recommend is (if you use WordPress—more on that later) to use the standard WordPress Twenty Thirteen theme, but customize it enough with your own masthead image and colors that it’s yours.
The Twenty Thirteen theme has several things to recommend it: First off, it’s competently designed—a bit bland, sure, but it’s designed to showcase your content instead of calling attention to itself. Second, it’s responsive, so people can read it on cell phones, which is becoming a huge concern. And third, it has a lot of customization options built right in so you can tweak it without any technical knowledge.
Go with a simple theme, then focus on the reason people are visiting in the first place: Your content.
After your site is a smashing success you can start to worry about hiring somebody to take the look to the next level.
If you spend all your time and energy clicking on theme previews, you won’t have the mental bandwidth to create the actual content the Internet will want to read.
Seriously, don’t get stuck in that rathole.
As an addendum, these days I always recommend non-technical people looking to get started to go with a hosted solution, whether it be WordPress.com, Tumblr, Squarespace or what have you. The days of self-hosting—late nights dealing with corrupted database tables and hack attempts—are over for everybody but enthusiasts and people who need much more customization. When you’re first starting out, that’s not you.
The thing to remember is: Own your domain. If you intend to be halfway serious, buy a domain and use that for your hosted site. It’s a few more dollars, but it means you own the content and can move it wherever you want. You do not want to spend your time building up Google juice only to have it all lost because you switched your hosting.
With this said, go forth and create content.
(And yes, I’m fully cognizant of the irony of a guy who just redesigned his site for the umpteenth time writing to tell you not to sweat the design too much. I do it for fun, not for any practical reason.)
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