Creating Custom WordPress Themes: Part 3: Reader Questions

This past week, we’ve talked about how to setup and brand your themes and how to have custom templates in WordPress.

Unfortunately, WordPress is such a robust system, that it’s impossible to cover everything.

So instead,  I’ve gathered up a bunch of reader questions from Twitter, Facebook and comments on the blog and am answering them as much as possible today.

So get your WordPress Q’s ready and let’s dive right in.

Thomas King: If I were to use WordPress as a solution to create a website for a realtor and I wanted to use posts to list available properties, would I be able to also use posts for news items as well?

Yes. You can sort your site posts via categories. Simply have a category for “properties” and another for “news”. You can use WordPress’s

<?php wp_list_categories(); ?>

function to display the categories in your navigation. This is how my site works with testimonials, portfolio and blog. There are also plugins to integrate your static pages with your category pages as well.

@SpicerMatthews: I struggle when it is a good time to use WP and when WP is not the right tool, Meaning as a CMS instead of just a blog.

There’s very little that I’ve found WordPress unable to handle. If you’re doing a big eCommerce site, I wouldn’t recommended any WordPress plugins, but would instead get a standalone solution. Also, if the site is huge, over 20-30 pages, I also wouldn’t recommend using WordPress. For almost everything else, it’s a great solution CMS-wise.

The important thing is to think about what the client needs. If the client just needs a regular CMS, then WordPress is great; if they need something crazy custom and they don’t have a ready-made plugin for it, you have to determine if it’s easier or more cost efficient to code your own plugin, or to just go with another CMS platform or something from scratch.

@davidledgerwood: What does a designer go through to create a WordPress theme – contrast with designing non-WP site.

Designing for WordPress is similar to designing for any site – but you already know your basic site structure.  You know you’re going to have to design around posts, widgets and other items WordPress comes with, although anything in WordPress can be removed or altered. Coding is the same way, it doesn’t really take any extra time to code a static site versus a WordPress site, but you have to factor in extra time for setting WordPress up, creating the database and time for when you’ll have to move it to the client’s site. (It’s a pain).

@mhandy1: how to set up wordpress on a subdomain? if you could point me to a beginners wordpress blog or forum that would be awesome

Setting up a subdomain works the same as setting up a regular subdomain. You’ll need to do that through your host’s cPanel. Most hosts will then create a folder for you (so would actually point to and you’ll just install WordPress inside that folder. For some great places to learn WordPress, I’d recommend WPBeginner and Digging Into WordPress (they also have a great book).

@j_lyman: Where/how is the best place/way to start learning WP?

Just start playing with it. If you already know HTML/CSS/PHP, it’s super easy to learn WordPress. If you want to check out some blogs specifically for it, check out the blogs above, or also the Digging Into WordPress book. The web is a great place when you need to find a solution, but for comprehensive-learning-from-scratch knowledge, it’s best to just start doing sites with it.

@ScanMonkeys: do you ever adapt an existing theme, or do you usually start from scratch? Also, how many widgets are too many?

I normally start from scratch, with the exception of using the default theme as a framework, so I don’t have to waste time retyping the loop or header info. I have had one or two clients come to me who had purchased a pre-made theme and wanted it installed and customized, but that’s rare.

As for widgets, no one can really tell you how much is too much. It all depends on the widgets you use. Most places I’ve seen say not to have more than 15-20 or it will start slowing your site down. I’ve got 15, bust most are backend stuff that doesn’t affect the site’s performance, like the SEO plugin, XML sitemaps and so forth.

Brett is there only one css file or multiple css files that are to be changed for layout/design related

@tbbbdj916: I noticed some templates have a custom homepage that isn’t set through the admin panel. How is this achieved? Most that I have noticed this on are using WP as a CMS and not just a blog. What are your thoughts on the Thesis Theme?

Right, this is how my homepage is set up. The homepage is controlled by the index.php template, if the user doesn’t set a static page through the admin panel. Originally, this page displays your newest posts and your sidebar and that’s it. You don’t have to have this though. If you only want your newest posts in a small section (like my From the blog section) you can move that over with some coding and CSS. Or you can take out the loop and code the index page like you would any other index page. You just wouldn’t have a page that displayed all your new posts on the site. (Although you can accomplish this by using categories or making a whole other loop)

As for Thesis Theme, stay AWAY and save your money. Despite what they say, the code is not more user-friendly, cleaner or better for SEO than a high quality developer could produce. In fact, they change the whole structure and things are more complicated. Yes, the admin area allows you to control the theme better, but that’s the only advantage to it. I billed a client for a 5 minute change that took over an hour and a half, because Thesis makes it a pain to do any custom dynamic work. Please, stay away!

Brett: is there only one css file or multiple css files that are to be changed for layout/design related?

In WordPress you HAVE to have style.css with the identification on the top (what we talked about in Part 1: Identify Your Theme). You don’t have to use that stylesheet if you don’t want to after that, but you might as well since you have to have it anyways. You can break up the stylesheets and have multiple ones as well, but you’ll have to manually link to them in the header file. Most themes place their main CSS in style.css, and if the theme offers multiple color options, will have a stylesheet for each color.

Any other WordPress Questions?

Leave a comment with your question and I’ll answer them!

All Parts to Creating Custom WordPress Themes

Main photo by 姒儿喵喵