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From the Blog

small photo of a checklistSometimes, when looking for a WordPress template, we tend to focus just on the looks – here are some other considerations you might want to make when deciding whether to use a WordPress template that you have found on the net.

  • Check your source

  • Not all authors who give away free templates provide them without strings attached. I once downloaded a template that was really nice looking and had the features I needed but unfortunately upon code inspection, it was hiding a nasty spam link at the bottom and had BASE64 encoded files which could be used for SQL injections. Using templates with these hidden links or encrypted footers may possibly cause your site to be banned from search engines. My suggestion is to do a quick search to see if the template you chose has any negative feedback or review.

    Below are some well known sites where you can find WordPress templates:

    Free – popular free themes – free themes – 100 free themes for 2010 – 100 free themes for 2011

    Paid – 47 WordPress themes from themeforest

    Free vs Paid
    The most common reason why you will want to buy a template is because the authors will provide support, in case you encounter issues during install or when you have difficulty integrating some plugins and generally you could expect paid themes to guarantee a higher level of quality (i.e. valid markup, browser compatibility etc). Also some authors also provide the PSD files along with the wordpress template to allow you to better customize the design. Also, other paid themes are more expensive than the others because they come with their own theme admin panels that further allow you to customize theme properties (i.e. fonts, colors, background images etc) like what and offer.

  • See how it handles your layout needs

  • Different themes offer different levels of flexibility when it comes to letting you control the layout of your site. Most dont because they have fixed layouts while some are quite sophisticated and allow for drag and drop control an example is the Platform theme – if I’m right its the only one that allows this much column property control without the need to manually editing the CSS file. My suggestion is to determine clearly how your layout should be on your site (i.e. number of columns, should the columns be fluid etc) and choose a template that supports that. Here’s a link to an article from speckyboy featuring themes that have a flexible grid system as their key feature.
  • Does your theme have all the functionality you need

  • Some themes come with additional functionality such as image carousel/slider on the homepage, custom page types or social networking. My suggestion is choose the one that already comes with the features you need by default so you avoid relying on additional plugins after install – so there is less risk of encountering incompatibilities between your chosen template and that plugin you are trying to install later on.
  • How old is the template

  • It may be prudent to determine when the template you are using was released or last updated by its author. Its possible that older templates (two years or more) may may have less or no support to the features and capabilities of later versions of WordPress – which means they may break or leave security vulnerabilities unchecked when used with the latest versions of WordPress.

Consult with a web designer if in doubt

For people with little time in their hands or are not comfortable with getting under the hood of a chosen template, it would be advisable to seek the help of a web designer who can better help you mitigate any issues that you may encounter with your template when customizing it. Also a web designer may be better equipped in testing your template alongsite plugins that you will require to be installed later on. screenshot

September 1, 2011 – My site is reborn!

Today, I have achieved a personal milestone of sorts, after being long overdue for several years, I’m finally launching my redesigned website and marking the start of my full-time freelance work. Had I launched this site a month earlier, it would definitely not have been made on the WordPress platform.

If it weren’t for a project proposal for a client, this WordPress this site would not have been here now. I explored, tinkered, customized, tuned and (broke and resurrected a few times) several WordPress installations but after that, boy did I learn a lot! Let me tell you, this publishing platform is amazing – its mature, has tons of plugins and most importantly from a developers perspective, its highly customizable (if you are already familiar with PHP/Jquery/CSS/HTML 5 that is). Adding functionality and expanding its features are all done through plugins. For security reasons though, I will not be publicly naming what plugins I used.

I explored, tinkered, customized, tuned and (broke and resurrected a few times) several WordPress installations but after that, boy did I learn a lot!

Although not all plugins are guaranteed to work with one another, some managed to play well with the other plugins after a few PHP/CSS/JS and template tweaks along the way.

This journey to WordPress enlightenment wasn’t without its perils of course, I encountered some style issues when I was doing cross browser testing in IE6 & IE7 but managed to get them to work. A plugin was misbehaving by inserting a form field that was way too long for IE to handle causing the layout to break and my sidebar to drop below the content – so after I fixed the plugin to make sure it inserted the form tags correctly, no more layout breaks with the ancient browsers.

Jquery based plugins sometimes do not cooperate well with other Jquery based plugins – in some cases installing one Jquery plugin caused some of my existing effects to break. But I managed to put these issues to rest with proper plugin configuration and a few code fixes with the enqueued styles and scripts: combining some styles with the main style.css and also combining some of the plugin js files with theme’s script.js. One script issue was fixed when I had it ignored by the minification plugin.

With regards to SEO plugins, I chose the one that most people seem to use. Its configuration and setup was a breeze and easy to figure out. The security plugin installation was another smooth process, so now I have a brute force attack deterrent, security scan, and an SQL injection mitigation feature thrown in.

Another work which I thoroughly enjoyed was with reducing the HTTP requests made when fetching site assets

Lastly, one of the most laborious work done here was with performance optimization, I had to test out three javascript minification and consolidation plugins and see which ones worked the best. Some minification plugins kill other plugins. The best one I found successfully minified ALMOST all of my scripts (with the exception of one js file) the styles and the generated html file was minified and compressed without issue. Another work which I thoroughly enjoyed was with reducing the HTTP requests made when fetching site assets, the template I used did not have css sprites built in so I had to go back to code and modify the style and template files to make the buttons use the sprite I made. I also tried to reduce DNS dependency, although I’m not sure if everyone will agree with me but I decided to prevent several enqueued scripts of two or three plugins from making calls to the js libraries stored in external CDNs for fear that in the event of their outage my site will be unusable so I just stored their local copies on my host.

In general, I think I made myself a pretty spiffy, efficient, secure and SEO friendly WordPress site. Moving forward, I am more excited than ever to make more feature rich, robust and much better looking websites for my clients especially now that I have found a working formula of plugin combinations to use with my upcoming projects.