If you have been using WordPress you probably know that there are thousands of very nice and freely available themes that you can use to skin your WordPress blog. What you might not realize, though, is that you should take a look under the hood of a theme before you put it into live duty on the blog that you have worked hard to build. Here are some things to take a look at:
- Sidebars – Widgets or Hardcoded
The drag and drop nature of the WordPress Widgets are much easier for the casual blogger to manage but many power users prefer the old fashioned hard coded sidebar system. If the theme you are considering is not widget ready and you would like to use widgets you will need to add the necessary code to activate the widget system. Here are a couple of useful links for making a non-widget theme widget friendly.
- Page Navigation Bar Dynamic or Static
If the Theme you are considering has horizontal navigation links to pages it will be helpful to determine whether the links are coded for specific URLs or if they will be automatically generated based on the pages that you have created for your blog. Changing hard coded links to dynamically created links may require changes to both your CSS Style sheet and your header.php file.
- Page Navigation for sub-pages
If the theme generates the horizontal navigation links for your site automatically you may also want to know how sub pages will be handled. Depending on the way the navigation is coded and how the CSS stylesheet is constructed you may either find your subpages listed on the same level as your top level pages, listed as CSS dropdown menus when hovered over, or completely omitted from the horizontal navigation.
- Adsense or other Advertising built in?
If the theme comes with adsense code already included keep in mind that it’s not going to bring you any income if you don’t change the publisher code to your own information. The way this is handled varies from theme to theme. Some themes will have a file that contains only the publisher code so that the code can be change site-wide easily. Also remember that it is against the Adsense terms of service to display more ads from more than one publisher code on the same page so if you plan to insert your own ads in another way you need to be certain you have either change the code in the hard-coded ads to match or to disable the hard-coded ad spots.
- Built in RSS Feed Links in the meta data
I’ve come across several blogs with problems with the RSS links on their sites. Often, the visible links on the site are correct but the link in the meta data is wrong. Since many people will subscribe to a feed in ways that will utilize this meta data URL instead of the visible feed URL on your site it’s important that this be accurate. The code for this is usually located in the header.php file in your theme. and should look something like this:
<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”<?php bloginfo(‘name’); ?> RSS Feed” href=”<?php bloginfo(‘rss2_url’); ?>” />
This code pulls the information for the feed URL from WordPress rather than having it hard coded. Much better, in my opinion.
- Tag Support
Tags, not to be confused with categories, are a great way to organize your content in a variety of different ways. They are also very SEO friendly. WordPress 2.3 introduced integrated support for attaching tags to posts. Many older WordPress themes do not have this option integrated.
- Gravatar Comment Support
With version 2.5 of WordPress came integrated support for Gravatars, centrally accessed avatars that can be displayed accross all Gravatar enabled blogs. Being a new addition to the core of WordPress most themes do not have support for this feature built in.
- Theme Creators footer links
It’s important to know how the theme creator has licensed thier work and what they will and will not allow you to do in terms of modifications and link removal. Nearly all free themes will require that the footer credit links be left exactly as they are in the original theme release. This sometimes includes sponsored links. There are two possible locations in the theme files that the licensing information and limitations can usually be found, either in a readme.txt file, or in the first parte of the style.css file. Be sure to review this information so that you will not find yourself in copyright violation with the theme author.
- Funny business in the code
Most theme authors are honest people sharing their work either for publicity or simply out of generosity. It is always a good idea, though, to check through the code of each file in the theme to catch any potential spam that might be hidden in the code. It probably won’t display on your site but the code could be lurking in the corners. If such code does exist on your site you could, quickly, find yourself banned from search engine results.