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In Search of Mr. Right Theme

Last updated on February 27th, 2020 at 08:43 pm

My GeneratePress Love Story

Ya’ll! Who doesn’t love a good love story? This here’s a love story of me and … my new theme.

This website would not exist in its present glorious state without the generosity of some creative people. And somebody’s bound to wonder how a technologically-challenged Boomer like me can get a website set up all by myself. So here’s my story.

But first, we’ve gotta get on the same page about some scary words:

  • Framework
  • Theme
  • Plugin

Love story definitions

I know, my other Boomer friends are looking at me like I’m crazy. Like, who even talks like that? I could plugin an air diffuser, choose a theme for my daughter’s birthday party or build a framework for the chicken coop in the back yard. And none of that is what we’re talkin’ ’bout.

A theme is the basic structure of your website, Sweetie.

Some themes come in two parts: a framework and a theme. And whether you have just a theme or a framework and a theme, you’ll need plugins.

What are plugins?

Plugins extend the functionality of themes. They can do cool stuff like:

  • link your Facebook feed to your website
  • import free stock photos from Unsplash
  • connect your website to your email service provider

Good plugins play well with each other and with good themes.

But sometimes, with some themes, you’ll even have a plugin that acts like a theme! Don’t ask. I’ve already told you more than I know.

Just figure they all mean some sort of complicated computer coding packages that solopreneurs and desperate startups have to figure out how to use so we can start building a platform online. I know, you’ve got no clue what a platform is either, but that’s okay. It’s just a word for all the ways people will find you on the web.

Summary of terms

It’s like this: my website name is like a virtual piece of real estate on the world wide web. It’s an empty lot.

The theme is the basic framework or structure for whatever I will build there, whether a blog, or online boutique, or consulting service. The theme is like the skeleton of your house. But it’s also like the decor.

Framework, theme, and plugin can all be thought of as tools for website design. It’s not exactly that they’re interchangeable terms, only that sometimes the differences can only be discerned by the Holy Spirit and coders.

Tweaking the theme is like going into IKEA and checking out their design ideas. You’ve got lots of options, but not unlimited options. A theme keeps you from making a total design faux pas mess of things.

In search of Mr. Right Theme

Every theme has a way of customizing it, sort of like you’d paint the house, or choose the flowers to put out front. These customizations are the design. Until recently, all of my website designs were done by tweaking the themes I used. There have been many.

Finding the right theme is like waiting for Mr. Right. “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet Prince Charming.” Well, I’m glad God kept me from kissing a gazillion frogs, even though I did have to wait a long time for my Mr. Wonderful (the one I married, not the theme). And he was worth the wait, by the way.

But I digress.

So before falling in love with my current theme, I had to first get close to many frogs… leading down a trail of disappointment and even anguish.

Frog #1: Free themes and wasted time

When I began dabbling in blogging, I started like many others do, with free WordPress themes.

I spent hours comparing features, agonizing over color choices, trying to imagine my masterpiece.

Every time I thought I’d found the “perfect” theme, it’d be the same story: I’d add a few posts, change a few colors, then try to figure out how to make some tiny tweak to the layout of the page, only to find it couldn’t be done. So I’d scroll through the rest of the free themes, and try another one.

Same song, second verse. Over and over.

Finally, one day I was smart enough to consult with our friend Jim, a professional marketer and web designer. He helped me face the cold, hard reality:

Every free theme is designed to give you just enough functionality that you will build out your site most of the way, then decide you need to buy the premium version to finish it properly.

I know you don’t want to hear that. I didn’t like hearing it. But I’ve found it to be true. Unfortunately, my reaction to this truth led me to…

Frog #2: Monthly subscription theme

I spent $300 on a theme my first serious year of blogging… $25 a month for the latest and greatest, a suite of products built around a “marketer’s theme.”

“Zero risk,” they said. “You keep the theme even if you decide to stop paying us for all the related products,” said they.

What they didn’t explain is that WordPress themes and plugins must be frequently updated to avoid hackers. And if I stopped paying the $25 monthly subscription for their awesome family of products, I wouldn’t get any more updates.

Then my site was hacked by the new owners of a popular plugin I’d installed.

Remember plugins?

I know you’ve got no clue what a plugin is. I explained it earlier, but it takes repetition to learn new things. Go back and reread about plugins. I’ll wait.

It took months to clean up the mess. By then the theme had been updated, but I wasn’t eligible for the update because I’d paused the subscription. According to their website, it looked like the only way to get an update was to continue my subscription to the entire suite of products and pay another $25.

I checked into getting just the theme updated, and their customer non-service confirmed their heartwrenching policy. The breakup was ugly, my mind replaying for weeks the things I could have said, had I only been courageous enough to call:

This can’t be right. There must be some mistake. How could I have paid $300 for a theme and not be eligible for updates?

Um, okay… I mean, are… are… are you… are you sure?

Sniffle. Gulp.

Um, wow, I just thought we had something special between us… But now I just feel so… so used.

Sigh. Uh, wow, just, um, mmh.

Okay. If that’s the way you feel about it, I guess I’d better go.

See ya ’round.

Frogs are disgusting.

Frog #3: Complicated theme

Next, I spent around $100 on a popular framework plus a premium child theme. After my subscription-model-frog theme, a hundred bucks one-time-payment seemed like a great deal. Many popular sites on the web are built with that theme. I chose it specifically because:

  • the “big boys” used it (Smart Passive Income, Wellness Mama)
  • it has a “lightweight footprint”
  • it can be used with popular drag-and-drop builders
  • it won’t leave a mess behind if the theme is swapped out for something different later.

It’s powerful, but I never did master it. The sad truth is, I am not and never will be a full-fledged website designer. That frog theme was like a fast-flying tree frog that I never could catch. Plus, it required lots of plugins to make it look and do like I wanted. After my plugin-hacking-experience, let’s just say I’m shy around too many plugins.

My Prince Charming theme: GeneratePress

Enter my knight-in-shining-armor-theme, GenesisPress. Oodles of flexibility even on the free version.

And the $49.95 premium version is ah.may.zing.

It includes tons of features that you can toggle on or off depending on the type of site you want to build and what you want it to do.

Plus, the designer of the “WordSmith” template I chose (Mike Oliver) made a lovely video on YouTube to explain how to use it. Glory! (WordSmith is a GP Site Library template available for free with the premium version of GeneratePress. I’ll be tweaking that core design to fit my personal preferences, so if you see something here you don’t like, just figure I’ve made a mistake. Mike Oliver’s work is quite thoughtful.)

So, yeah, I’m in love with a theme. You can check it out here.

(PS To be clear, the theme requires annual renewal for updates. The renewal rate includes a 40% discount. So year one costs $49.95, year two is $30 or 40% less than the current retail purchase price. But I’ll take $50 a year over $300 or even $100 any day of the week!)