Getting Started In Blogging: Customization

Posted by Sharon Hurley Hall on May 9th, 2009

This post has been submitted by Sharon Hurley Hall from Get Paid To Write Online.com.

Once you have found the theme you like, you have a big decision to make: do you use it as it is or do you customize? The advantage of using the theme as it comes is that all you have to do is upload it to your themes folder (or follow the instructions for using it in Blogger), activate it, and you’re done. The big disadvantage of that is that yours could be one of thousands of blogs that look exactly the same. That’s one reason why it’s useful to customize.

Customization is not for the faint hearted as it means messing around with PHP code and CSS (cascading style sheets). However, even if you know nothing at the start, you can do this. I have successfully customized several sites and I am not a programmer. Here are some of the ways you can change your WordPress theme. Make sure you keep a backup of all the original theme files so you can step back if you need to.

Understanding What’s What

One of the first things you need to know when changing a WordPress theme is which files affect which part of the theme. For style and appearance you have a style.css file in your theme folder, while everything else is handled by a series of PHP files. The basics are header.php, footer.php, sidebar.php, single.php (for single posts) and page.php. Most theme folders also include PHP files for comments, functions, archives and 404 pages but in many cases you won’t need to do anything with those.

Simple Changes

One of the easiest things to change to make your site a bit different is the color scheme. For that you need an HTML color picker or color scheme generator. These will help you to see which colors go well together and to make sure they are formatted so they work correctly in your stylesheet. Open style.css in Notepad or another text editor and find the colors you want to change. These are usually in the format #123456 or #123 (a combination of letters and numbers).

Within the CSS file it’s easy to see which bit of code relates to the header, footer and so on. If you want to change all the color on the page from light blue to dark blue, then use a find and replace to make sure you have changed it everywhere. With many hosts, you can edit this file online, but I prefer to edit offline.

Header And Footer

One of the changes I always make in the header.php file is to replace the default RSS feeds with my Feedburner feed. While some themes enable this from an options page, not all do and it is a simple fix. Just look near the start of the file for the lines that have some PHP code followed by RSS or Atom and replace the part within the quotes with the Feedburner URL.

On the footer, I usually like to add my copyright (© plus my name) if it isn’t there, remove the live link to Wordpress and put my affiliate ID for the theme in place of the default link.

Posts, Pages And Sidebars

Changing posts, pages and sidebars can get complicated, but sometimes you need to do it. It might be a question of adding ad code to a certain spot on the sidebar, changing the text in the comment field or removing comments altogether from pages.

When it comes to complex changes, the WordPress Codex is your best friend, as it explains all the tags you will need to change how your site appears. What you have to change will vary with the theme, which is one of the reasons that good documentation is an important factor in theme choice. Some of the things I have changed on themes include:

  • switching the order of tabbed boxes
  • including a field for my readers’ Twitter ID
  • removing the comment field from pages
  • inserting an ad before the comment box on single posts
  • editing the default text that appears on the sidebar

As long as you keep a backup, playing with your theme can be fun and ultimately rewarding, as you gain a site that stands out from the rest. And if you want to customize but don’t want to do it yourself, then there are plenty of WordPress experts who will be happy to do it for you.

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