For better or worse, your blog’s theme is the first thing most people notice about your site when they visit. Even before they’ve read a word they’ve made judgments about your site, its appearance and its professionalism that can not be undone easily.
With that in mind, many bloggers obsess over their themes almost as much, if not more, than their content. Considering how easy themes are to change out in most blogging platforms, many have taken to changing themes the way others change socks.
This is, however, a very bad idea. Changing your theme is an important part of your site from time to time, but doing it too often can greatly hurt your connection with the readers and even your search engine standings. It is important to use caution when creating your theme and try to pick/customize one that will last you quite some time.
The Importance of Consistency
The problem with changing your theme too often is that your theme is part of your site’s branding. It represents your site the same as your name, logo and domain do. The same as you wouldn’t change your site URL lightly, you should change your blog theme either.
My main site, Plagiarism Today, just celebrated it’s fourth anniversary. During the those years it has had only three themes. The first was a starter theme that only lasted a few months, the second a more traditional blog theme and the third, current theme, that use a magazine-style layout.
The first theme was just to get started, the second was used to make the site look more professional plus make the theme more relevant to the content, the third was to provide better organization for the new kinds of content I was creating. Each theme had a purpose and the move from one to the other was planned.
However, with each update came problems. Though technical issues were common, even with thorough testing on a dummy site, the bigger issues were with readers. This is almost certainly true for virtually every other blog out there that has any form of regular readership.
Consider the following issues when debating whether a change in theme.
- You Are Changing Your Brand: People who read your site associate a certain color scheme and layout with it. Changing it forces them to readapt. This not only means learning how to use your site again, but also to connect it with your new theme.
- Change is Polarizing: No matter how overwhelmingly your audience loves the new theme, some will hate it and may stop visiting. Expect to lose at least some readers every time you change your theme.
- Many Readers Likely Use RSS: If your blog has a high number of feed subscribers, they won’t be affected by the theme change until they stop by and it could be a big surprise for them, especially if they haven’t come by in some time.
- SEO Issues: A simple theme change can affect how well search engines are able to see your site, especially if you switch from a a standard blog theme to a magazine layout or vice versa.
- You See Your Theme the Most: You probably visit your site every day. Most of your readers don’t. If your theme is performing well but you feel like its “old” or “tired”, it may just be you.
However, the biggest problem for many is that changing your theme too often looks unprofessional and indecisive. Constantly rotating your theme makes your site look amateurish and like you are not dedicated to it.
It’s much better, in the long run, to take the time and set up a theme that will last you a long time than it is to bounce from theme to theme.
Tips for Changing Themes
If you still feel compelled to change your theme, here are a few basic tips to make sure that the change goes over well and lasts a long time.
- Let Your Readers Help Test: Create a test version of the site if possible and let your readers test and comment on it before taking it live. Not only can they help spot technical issues, but it helps them familiarize themselves with it and be a part of the process.
- Don’t Change Your Everything: Changing your theme doesn’t mean starting over, if you keep your colors, logo or other elements, it makes your site more recognizable despite what is new. You can also change a lot in your theme without actually changing your theme, such as adding new widgets or tweaking the CSS.
- Use a Spider Simulator: Use a search engine spider simulator on your test site to make sure that the search engines can see your content adequately.
- Announce the Change in Your RSS Feed: Let your RSS readers know about the change so they aren’t surprised when they go to leave a comment. Granted, it’s not an on-topic post but every site has at least some “housekeeping” posts.
- Take Feedback Seriously, but Not as Gospel: Once you’ve made the change, no matter how much public testing you do, you’ll still get feedback. Take it seriously and make appropriate changes but don’t feel that you have to or even can win over everyone. Some people will be upset, that’s a fact of life when you change a theme.
In the end, changing a theme isn’t a particularly difficult task, but it is an easy one to mess up.
Content is king on the Web but your theme also makes a big impression. A professional, appropriate theme can put your content in the right context and start the reader off with a good impression that stays with them as they read on. A bad theme can be overcome with great content, but it acts as a weight on your writing in the eyes of your readers.
This highlights the importance of finding a good theme, making it yours and sticking with it until it no longer looks good. A good theme can last you several years with only minor changes, if you are constantly rotating themes more often than that, you need to take a look at what is going on to make you change out so frequently.
Failure to do so can cost your site drastically, both with the search engines and your readers, but with so many good themes out there and so many great tools for manipulation, there is no reason it should be a problem.