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This is the fifth in a series of posts discussing how to set up and run a WordPress blog from a relatively experienced expert, which will feature many helpful and hopefully relevant tangents.

In the first article I discussed the first few steps involving sign-up, the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, and your social media presence.

Then I looked at writing your first post using the WordPress content management system (CMS), in which I gave some helpful writing advice for first-time bloggers, and later I delved into the WordPress dashboard and its diverse world of widgets.

Last week I took an in-depth look the art of customising your existing WordPress template, either by using the free options available or with the Custom Designs upgrade.

Throughout the article, I used the same template as an example for guidance on customisation. However there are many other templates available to WordPress.com users, all of which can be customised in the same ways as the above link describes.

Here I’ll be recommending the best of those out-of-the-box templates to make your blog stand out from the crowd. The first 10 highlighted are fully responsive, meaning they will adapt to any screen size the site is viewed on.

Firstly you’ll need to head into your dashboard. Then scroll down the left-hand menu, click ‘Appearance’ and then ‘Themes’.

Here you can scroll through hundreds of different customisable themes to graft on top of your blog.

As you can see, some of them are free, but the majority will cost you anywhere between $18 and $79.

So far in this series I’ve been writing this from the point of view of a first-time blogger using WordPress.com, as opposed to WordPress.org, which is more of a financial investment.

Later in the series I’ll talk about buying a domain name, transferring your site to WordPress.org, hosting it on a third-party service and looking at the many options for purchasing a fully customisable template beyond the ones on offer by WordPress.com.

For the time being, whilst we’re ‘testing the water’, I’ll concentrate on the free templates available in your dashboard.

Here is how my blog homepage currently looks in all of its disgusting glory.

This is using the responsive Ryu template, with my own tweaks as described here in customising your template.

I cannot emphasise enough that this example is down to my own desire to make everything look mildly absurd. The Ryu template itself is a great, classically designed template that you can easily customize to look attractive and professional.

Here are some more winners.

Twenty Thirteen

WordPress creates a different ‘house’ theme every year and this is the one from last year. It’s simple, clean, has obvious navigation and is perfectly optimised for rudimentary blogging without fuss.

Previous years’ incarnations are still available on the dashboard as well as Twenty Fourteen. It's also fully responsive.

Coraline

This is a perfect responsive template for those who are writing perhaps more scientific or technical matters. It features a customisable menu, header, background, and layout.

Coraline also supports seven widget areas (three in the sidebar, four in the footer) and featured images (thumbnails for gallery posts and custom header images for posts and pages). It also has an optional full-width page template that removes the sidebar. 

Sunspot

Sunspot offers two arrangements for posts on the front page, both of which are responsive. Additional features include a custom header, custom background and two optional widget areas.

Writr

This one is fantastic if you want to use your blog particularly as a showcase or portfolio for your writing in terms of furthering your career, as it puts the author upfront.

Fanwood Light

A nice chunky responsive template that’s both contemporary and retro.

Sorbet

A neat template with secondary navigation tucked away in the header.

Sing!

A simple template that benefits from customisable background image, header and the ability to stick a post to the top of the homepage.

Hexa

Excellent for anyone with a particular love of geometry(?) There's some nice innovative navigation on this one.

Fontofolio

Perfect for image heavy blog posts that concentrate on photography, graphic design or illustration. There are only three posts on my blog, but eventually the homepage fills up with large feature images from all your posts.

Newsworthy

This is a really attractive, simple theme that’s perfect for slightly more news based or time critical posts.

Five best non-responsive themes

The following themes do not adapt to smaller screen-sizes, but I still like them anyway. Just bear in mind that if you do use one of these templates it will be more difficult for users on smartphones and tablets to read them and therefore you may lose traffic.

Vertigo

It’s hard overcome my own bias towards this template due to my love of Saul Bass and my favourite Hitchcock film, but if you’re a film geek yourself this might just be perfect for you. The template is one column, with a custom header and a custom accent colour.

Chunk

Bold typography makes for a blog with impact. It features multiple post formats, custom backgrounds, custom menu, custom header and an optional footer widget area.

The Morning After

As you can see, it takes some trial and error to find the right template to fit the tome of your blog. I really like the aesthetic of this template, but it’s wrong for the content. The Morning After has featured images available for your latest post and you can have featured posts on the home page. There’s also an optional full-width page template that removes the sidebar.

Retro MacOS

Although this may be one you tire of easily after a year or so, it might be perfect for your video games or tech blog. The heavily pixellated theme supports a custom menu, custom header image, custom background, two footer widget areas, and a full-width page template.

Suburbia

This features five widget areas, custom header, and custom background.

To conclude...

That’s just a list of my personal favourites, but it is by no means exhaustive. There are many more for you to try out yourself. If anything this is an interesting exercise in seeing how the same blog’s content can either look right at home or completely out of context across the various templates.

Don’t forget you can quickly preview how our own content looks by clicking the ‘preview’ button within ‘Themes’ page on your chosen template.

It won’t alter your live site until you click ‘Activate’.

If you're a bit further down the line than as described above, check out our seven useful Google tips for bloggers and 11 excellent responsive templates for those bloggers who already use WordPress.org.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 4 March, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

686 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

Joe Hawkes

Joe Hawkes, Senior Digital Marketing Executive at Charles Russell Speechlys

My favourite is definitely your original, using the Ryu template.

The rest look like every other sterile, neutered wordpress site I spend most of the day looking at. The garish purple and mismatched fonts/alignment are refreshing and gives the blog a bit of character and flare.

almost 3 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACIEnterprise

My blog (www.thesealeys.co.uk) is using Responsive Theme by CyberChimps. With some minor tweaks to the CSS I'm really happy with it. To power some improvements to content, I've also added Shortcodes Ultimate.

Looking forward to seeing the series develop.

David Sealey

almost 3 years ago

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