Alex Denning has been updating his WordPress blog WPShout semi-regularly since April 2009. It’s a great blog though disappointingly goes through long spells with no activity, which is a shame as the articles are always great.
He recently announced the fourth design of the website (though it could be the 5th as he released version 3.0 in 2009 and then another version 3 a few months later). This got me thinking about the whole subject of changing the main design of your website.
Making small changes to a design can be good for your website, particularly if you are adding additional functionality for reader however I don’t however believe that most WordPress users, bloggers or readers want to see the main design of their favourite website changed too often.
Moving things around too often can frustrate readers who are familiar with your website though many readers may not even notice that you have changed design if the overall structure of your site remains the same. For example, my Taekwondo website was initially designed using the Headway framework. I didn’t like the way the new version worked of Headway so I updated it using the Genesis framework. Despite there being some small changes in how the site looked, the overall structure of the site and colour scheme remained the same, so probably should be considered as a ‘framework change’ rather than a major ‘design change.
How Often Should You Change Your WordPress Theme?
Top blogs such as TechCrunch and Engadget only modify their main design every 2 years or so. They understand that readers don’t like change. You only have to see the outrage that arises every time Facebook makes any small change to their layout to appreciate this.
Small to medium sized blogs change their WordPress theme design more frequently. Over the course of 3 years, I changed the main design of my old website Blogging Tips about 3 or 4 times. With WP Mods I had 3 designs over two years, though the second and third design changes only came during the last few months I owned it.
Change is necessary. A more professional design sets the tone of your website and may convince many readers to click the subscribe button. The main reason for updating your WordPress theme more sooner rather than later is functionality. WordPress has around two major releases every year. In the short term, the new functionality that is introduced every release will not affect how your theme works. Over the longer term, you will find that your theme gets outdated if you don’t update it at least every two years.
This was the reason I changed the design of WP Mods around 20 months after launched. I had launched with a custom design for the site but since that launch, a lot of functionality such as featured images had been added to WordPress. With each new release of WordPress I had added some of the new functionality to my theme manually. This was akin to putting new equipment in an old car. Sooner or later, you reach a point where it is better to change your WordPress theme completely rather than update and old out of date theme.
Your New WordPress Theme Should Have More Functionality Than Your Old One
Style shouldn’t be added before substance. Whilst I do appreciate the importance of a good looking WordPress theme, functionality should be your main priority. I believe that every time you change your WordPress theme, you should be improving the functionality of your website.
Take Alex Denning’s redesign of WP Shout for example. Visually, the new design is a marked improvement over the previous one. It has a great looking featured post slider on the home page, a cool CSS based navigation menu and a clean easy to read design with beautiful typography that makes reading articles a joy.
I much prefer Alex’s new clean design of WPShout over the previous one, which had a huge sidebar in order to accommodate advertisers. Whilst typography has been improved, functionality hasn’t. The new design makes browsing through older content a headache.
For starters, there is no search bar. Visitors who want to find something specific would have to leave the site and do a search via Google or Bing to find what they want. There is an articles page that lists older articles however posts aren’t placed into categories or assigned with tags. There is also a screen casts page with nothing on it but a notice saying that the page is coming soon.
I point out these issues not to criticize Alex or his new design but to illustrate that functionality should always be made a priority when changing your WordPress theme. New WordPress features should be included in your design where possible though essential navigation tools for the visitor such as the search bar and category links should not be forgotten. Many bloggers who use WordPress have their design in a perpetual state of ‘Work In Progress’ due to them learning WordPress through tweaking their website, though for a major design change, key functionality should not be discarded.
How Often Do You Change Your WordPress Theme?
I’d love WP Hub reader’s view on this subject. Is your website always evolving due to the tweaks you are applying or do you prefer to do a major theme update every 6, 12 or 24 months? Please also confirm whether you are a WordPress beginner and whether budget has been a factor when deciding whether to change your website’s WordPress theme. :)