There was a time when any website I ran, I had designed from scratch, ground up, wrote the code, etc. Today, though I’m ‘lazy’ and I use themes and WordPress (and ZenPress and bbPress…) and rely on someone else to do the hard work and heavy lifting, so I can just play with tweaking and layouts. I used to be all about the hard way, and it’s not to discount my own talents, but I know what I’m good at, and it’s still HTML and CSS. These days, there’s so much more that goes into ‘Web 2.0’ with AJAX and PHP and everything that happens behind the scenes. I’m good, but frankly others are better.
For a while now, I’ve been running JFO on Justin Tadlock’s Hybrid News Theme. My site is green instead of blue, and I’ve hacked around a lot to make it flow like I wanted, but the basic work wasn’t mine. Just the customization. This site uses Vladimir Prelovac’s Blue Grace theme, only slightly hacked about to show ads where I want them. The real hack is the ‘Baking Grace’ theme I made for my friend’s new site. Instead of two sidebars on the right, I gave her the Holy Grail and made it center column. She was one of the easiest ‘clients’ I’ve ever had, since she used to work in layout and design. Unlike a lot of people, she knew what she wanted, and just had to be coached through terminology that had changed since she last coded websites. But then again, she had me.
Actually, Blue Grace and Hybrid News are both what you call ‘Child Themes’. That is, they ONLY customize the parts of a parent theme that I want them to. This means that Justin and Vladimir really did do the totally hard stuff, sorting out functions and code and what not, and I was free to do what I do best: HTML and CSS.
The trick to finding a theme is narrowing down what you need and what you want. When you get started, you see everything and think that you want to be everything right away, all at once and have it all. It’s not a modern problem, nor is it a product of the me-generation. Everyone’s always wanted success, and having a successful website, like the next YouTube or what have you, is the dream a lot of us have. So you look at those sites and think ‘What would Amazon do?’ (as one of my fav web gurus used to say). Of course, if you play on Twitter these days, you’ve heard about Amazon’s recent failure (removing gay books from searches for being ‘adult’ books, when clearly not all were). Some people moved on to ‘What would Google do?’ and, for the most part, both those questions are valid.
Here’s the secret. Keep it simple, stupid!
All you need to get started it to decide your basic layout. Header, content, sidebar(s) and footer are a requirement, so figure out what layout you like. Three columns with content in the center (Amazon), content left (Webmonkey) or content right (like WikiPedia) are the basic mainstays these days, and I suggest them if only because they’re easy to tweak later. I consider a header and footer requirements. Have your site logo/name in the header and contact links and credits in the footer. Pick a color scheme you like that, preferably, ‘goes with’ your content. Blogging about bread? Go for brown. Blogging about the environment? Spring colors. I happen to just like blue alot.
After that, it’s all up to your favorites. Post layout, if you’re blogging, is something you have to judge on a case by case basis. Some people like to have big images, others thumbnails. Some people like to have the front page show full posts, others excepts. Details like that come with growth. Often it’s four or ten posts in that you realize, you know, THAT didn’t work. But all of that is commentary. The basics of site layout, the master layout, and colors are what you need to get started.
As for getting people to your site? Just keep blogging. Hook up your blog to Twitter and FaceBook and LiveJournal. Tell your friends. Don’t be discouraged at 100ish visitors at first. Heck 100 individual visitors is fantastic! 17 is pretty cool too. Don’t bother with those ‘we advertise your blog!’ sites, and instead jump right into the ones about what you’re about! Fansites talk to fansites, etc. Put links in your sigs on forums and just spread the word. It’ll take a while, maybe a year, but the cascade from ‘a site’ to ‘a site that is noticed’ is mind boggling sometimes.
Keep plugging away!