Can a WordPress theme be used as your brand?

WordPress LogoI received an interesting question recently.

I’m using the 2010 theme.  I have not found any other that I like better. Now, I’m advised that I should have the same theme running through ALL of my social media. Is it possible to use the 2010 theme for my LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

The short answer is, “No.” (In some forums, other people might embellish it with more colorful phrases.)

I could leave it at that, walk away and be totally justified. But I think exploring what could be the motivation behind the question adds value.

The second definition at Dictionary.com puts it this way:

Theme, n., a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art.

Let’s contrast that by borrowing a few phrases from WordPress’ use of the word Theme:

Fundamentally, the WordPress Theme system is a way to “skin” your weblog. Yet, it is more than just a “skin.” WordPress Themes… provide much more control over the look and presentation of the material on your website.

A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.

Your social media presence, much like your presence in the greater marketing world, should have a common theme (the dictionary version) running through them. Some might call it a brand. This could include a logo, colors, typeface, tagline, or more. Some social media services allow you to make some customizations (Twitter and Facebook both let you do this to an extent).

Can a WordPress theme become your brand?

If a theme inspires or guides you, I think that’s great. You might borrow some colors from it, or take a hint in typography selection.

However, unless your theme was created specifically for you, it probably won’t work very well as a brand, especially if it is a popular one from the theme repository or one of the major theme companies.

In this case, the Twenty Ten theme is hardly distinctive. It is used on thousands of websites around the globe. Aside from the header image (which many people will change), there is little that would make it stand out. The colors are simply black and white, the fonts are nearly ubiquitous, and, at least out of the box, there is no logo that says “This is my website!”

If your website or blog is new, don’t waste time agonizing over your theme or your brand. Just make sure your theme is clean and the text is readable.

If you want to build  your site, concentrate on adding content. Search engines don’t care whether your words are set in Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. More importantly, people can’t read the words that aren’t there.

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Theme Selection Resource

The people at WP Candy have put together a great tool for helping people find WordPress themes. ThemeFinder lets you do a quick visual search by color, layout, and price (free or paid). You simply select filters from the top of the screen and the tool highlights thumbnails that fit your criteria. Click any link to view a larger version of the them at the author’s site.

It’s not an inclusive list by any stretch, but I think they did a good job focusing on quality. They include work from several theme shops that I didn’t know about. It’s a fun tool, and it’s definitely worth a look.

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Theme Selection Presentation at WordCamp Detroit

I presented about picking a WordPress theme at WordCamp Detroit in October 2010. The videos from this finally started hitting the web. You can get the slides from the presentation (with a few enhancements) to click along as you watch the presentation below.

Thanks to the great people at Coefficient Media for recording this.

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The Two-Dollar-Bill Problem

Do you remember when the $2 bill was reissued? My grandmother thought they were a big deal. In fact, I still have the one she gave me for my birthday, complete with a postage stamp and cancellation code showing it was one of the first run.

A lot of businesses wondered what to do with it. The drawers in the cash register were designed to hold bills in denominations of $1, $5, $10, and $20. Where would the $2 bill go? For whatever reason, the $2 bill did not become ubiquitous so it was never a problem. Now people just hide them under the tray with the coupons and the Benjamins.

Some WordPress users face a variation of this problem. A friend called me to ask, “I created some subpages on my site, but they don’t show up in the menus at the top. How do I turn that on?”

I replied, “You can’t.” The theme he chose was never coded to support subpages. It doesn’t have the “slots” necessary to display that information from the site database.

There are two ways to fix this.

  1. Change your theme. Find and install another one that supports multiple levels of menus. Be careful, some only take one or two levels. If you aren’t sure, test it before you commit.
  2. Modify the existing theme. This requires some coding skills, and few people are equipped to try that. Depending on the theme and what is involved, it could take a couple of hours. If you choose this route, be prepared to pay a pro.

The lesson to be learned: Don’t fall in love with a theme, free or otherwise, before you know whether it will handle a $2 bill.

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Sure it’s pretty, but will it do what you need?

If you own a business, your website’s first task is to leave a positive impression on visitors. A very, very close second is to explain how you can help.

An interior designer friend wanted a theme that matched her bubbly, quirky, colorful personality. She found one adorned with doodles, fabric, needlework, buttons, and color that met those criteria beautifully. One day she asked me for some help with her blog.

I pulled up her site. “That’s cute. I like how you called your landing page ‘Hmoe.'” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“Look. Your first menu item is spelled ‘H-m-o-e.'”

She looked, then cringed. “Where do I go to change that?”

I skipped through the dashboard to find that she had not misspelled something. I started digging into the theme, and I found several problems.

  • Lack of contrast. This had prompted the initial call for help. The page title didn’t stand out, and the byline was lost in the beautiful but busy background.
  • The main navigation menu was hard-coded into the theme, but the user couldn’t edit the links to the landing page. Hello, 404 error! The designer incorporated common page titles into the theme, probably in an effort to make things “easier” for the user. But what if you only have three pages, or name one something different, or blog in Spanish? The theme screamed creativity, then restricted the user blog in a tiny box.
  • The menu elements were also graphics, not text. Without the funky font the original designer used, there was no way I could fix the misspelled word and have it match the other items. As it turned out, I found an updated version of the theme that fixed the typo.
  • The default sidebar widgets had custom graphic headers. Adding user-defined widgets to the sidebar deleted those out. This obviated the need to try to match graphic text, but the new text didn’t fit the rest of the theme.
  • Sharing options were built in to the theme. Again, this was a nice gesture by the designer, but it had limitations. What if your primary market is on a social network not included in the defaults? Without knowing code, the user can’t change this. This is better handled by a plugin.

My friend is now on at least her second replacement theme. Time will tell how long that one lasts.

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