Once you have purchased a domain name, set up your hosting and installed WordPress the next step you probably want to take a look at when starting your blog or website is choosing a WordPress theme.
If you are a developer then you likely want to find the best theme framework with the most flexibility and lean code.
This guide will cover the best WordPress themes for bloggers and other site owners but let’s face it most successful websites at least feature a blog even if it isn’t the main way they make their money.
An eCommerce website built on WordPress, for example, will usually have a blog page as their way of using content marketing and promoting top, middle, and bottom of the funnel content.
There are different ways to evaluate themes and there are currently thousands upon thousands to choose from that are available in both the free WordPress theme repository and premium options via private websites and theme marketplaces.
The aim of this article isn’t to review hundreds of themes based on their looks but to offer the best themes based on their speed, functionality, flexibility, and user-friendliness.
I am only going to include the themes I approve of and will happily work with myself.
What is a WordPress Theme?
A WordPress theme is a collection of files that are responsible for the look and presentation of your blog or website. It is, however, more than just a skin as themes usually also include some core functionality that you might need for other aspects of your content and the way things are presented.
A theme is usually made up of WordPress template files (PHP), stylesheets (CSS) and any libraries that are required.
- Template Files – These are responsible for the functionality in PHP and the HTML of the various page types your site contains, like the home page, single blog posts and archive templates that show your category entries.
- Stylesheets – These contain your theme’s styles in CSS code. You usually have a style.css and sometimes other additional CSS files.
What is a WordPress Theme Framework?
A WordPress theme framework is similar to a WordPress theme however it’s built for designers and developers in mind allowing you to create a wider range of website layouts with more possibilities and flexibility all without editing any core code or files.
Different theme frameworks rely on different techniques but usually involve what are called child themes or skins so you can essentially have completely different designs and layouts while using the same engine.
Popular examples of these theme frameworks include the Genesis Framework, GeneratePress, and Thesis. There’s also a new breed of frameworks which use a front end page builder like Beaver Builder and Elementor.
The Best WordPress Themes & Theme Frameworks
Genesis Framework + Child Themes
Genesis has been my favorite theme framework for a number of years because it’s flexible and build for developers but also easy to use with a child theme that’s already designed with lots of done-for-you designs and templates.
StudioPress themes are some of the fastest available for WordPress without sacrificing essential functionality. If your WordPress website is slow, then consider switching to Genesis and a minimal lighting fast child theme.
If you want to rank on page one of Google it’s essential that you optimize the speed of your WordPress website.
To use Genesis child themes you first have to install the Genesis core theme and then by installing child themes, you have access to a wide range of completely different designs you can customize without editing the core theme framework.
You can buy official child themes produced by Studiopress as well as 3rd party child themes from various theme developers out there that decided to build on top of the great foundation of Studiopress instead of building from the ground up or trying to reinvent the wheel.
As you might have guessed Genesis is a premium theme framework but it is well worth the investment if you are looking for a simple blog or website theme and don’t want to get involved with tweaking too much of it yourself or hiring a developer.
If you understand how WordPress hooks, filters and basic PHP works then Genesis is the perfect framework to build and develop with rather than building a theme from scratch.
Genesis is compatible with the vast majority of popular plugins and is regularly updated with great customer support. These Factors are vital when you are choosing a WordPress theme.
Many people have said that Genesis isn’t very user-friendly but I personally have to disagree, sure it’s not easy for a beginner to customize it exactly how they want but if you want a design that’s beautiful and ready out of the box then it’s the best option out there.
Especially now Genesis has added new onboarding features and an easy way to install the demo content so you can get it looking exactly like the demo website in a matter of a few clicks.
Let’s take a look at some of the best Genesis child theme options for bloggers.
Genesis Sample Child Theme
Simple, clean with no distractions, this is the ultimate start point if you want to build from the ground up or you just want to keep it clean and simple.
A clean theme with plenty of white-space, not build specifically for bloggers but with a few changes, it can work beautifully as all WordPress themes include a blog template since that’s what it was originally built for.
A clean page-width design which is refreshing in a world dominated by full-width layouts author pro is a great option if you blog and publish physical books or eBooks.
It doesn’t have to include book covers on the front so you do have the flexibility to use it for blogging alone.
One of my favorite clean and minimal themes that I have used for blogs and websites. This option is also page-width which goes against the grain of most modern WordPress themes.
A full-width theme built for marketers with bold hero areas and parallax effects.
This website might not have a blog style homepage by default but that can be adjusted if you want.
That said I’m a fan of using a hybrid style homepage for blogs which combines both your latest posts with a static area that can permanently contain your introduction message and elevator pitch.
Academy Pro is built for online course creators (hence the name) and while ideal for bloggers who want to sell courses it’s also conducive to any type of blog or website.
Studio Pro is designed for creative agencies with showcases and portfolios but it’s a robust and attractive theme that can work for blogs too. It has the added advantage of WooCommerce support and eCommerce templates if you ever want to launch a store on the back of your site with minimal effort.
A super minimal design that is perfect for creatives and bloggers who want to use big and bold imagery to help tell their story.
Travel bloggers, budding photographers, and artists would benefit from a theme like this the most.
Pretty Creative Child Theme
Another Genesis child theme for creatives the Pretty Creative theme is clean and minimal with a lot of flexibility. Ideal for everything from blogs to portfolios and even eCommerce stores as the theme contains WooCommerce templates for product pages.
Monochrome Pro Child Theme
Monochrome pro is one of the cleanest child themes we have seen on the Studiopress themes list to date and is ideal for those that prefer the understated approach and have minimal branding to boot.
Great use of whitespace and bold typography and it has also been optimized for Gutenberg and WooCommerce.
Maker Pro Child Theme
A theme for the makers, the hackers, the folk that likes to tinker with things, take them apart and rebuild them. This is for the makers.
It’s an attractive minimal theme that on one hand is clean and on the other breaks the grid with a less conventional layout.
Magazine Pro Child Theme
Magazine Pro is a conventional but clean WordPress theme that contains the more typical features of a blog or online publication as the default layout. The homepage supports a featured sticky post and posts displayed by categories.
It’s a great start point if that’s the kind of layout and style you are looking for even if you plan to make some changes because Genesis is very flexible after all.
Digital Pro Child Theme
Digital Pro is a great WordPress theme if you want a site that shows your latest articles but also gives you a chance to demonstrate what you have to offer your readers through static sections you can use to include calls to action like your email newsletter form and any products or services you are offering in addition to your free blog content.
It’s a clean design that has character and great typography.
Daily Dish Child Theme
Daily Dish is a more traditional blog layout with a blog style homepage by default and sidebar. Daily Dish is clean and so easy to work with if you want to make some modifications.
Of course, design is subjective and these are just some of my favorites from an aesthetics point of view.
If you want to see the full list of over 60 different child themes you can do so by going here. You can buy them individually or as a bundle package that includes the full collection.
GeneratePress is one of the longest-running lightweight theme frameworks alongside Genesis and typically works perfectly with page builder plugins too.
Out of the box, the theme is a very minimal and clean framework that can be designed and developed to suit pretty much any requirement.
It has been built to support all of the most popular plugins like WooCommerce and is available as a free theme and a premium upgrade to the pro version which includes more features and add-ons.
GeneratePress is another great option for both users who want to use a theme out of the box and those that intend on using a page builder to set up the layout of their WordPress templates.
Thesis / Focus
Thesis is a theme I first used way back in the early days of WordPress and was responsible for the majority of the websites and blogs I built for the first few years. I still use it from time to time but not as much as I once did.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a good theme though, it’s a very streamlined minimal theme that’s built for flexibility and customization.
In my opinion, the templating system is a little dated now but it’s still pretty efficient.
I am keeping this on the list because it does offer a great solution for the minimalists out there who want to ensure their loading speeds are rapid.
They recently had a resurgence with a new sister product which runs on top of Thesis by the name of Focus.
Focus is a new theme or rather a skin that’s built for creating clean but engaging websites and blogs with no unecessary distractions. Perfect for marketers!
WPAstra is a lightweight yet attractive theme with just enough built-in styling to make it look beautiful that works with a handful of page builder plugins like Beaver Builder and Elementor Plugin.
The theme is easy to use and has its own set of theme options to provide the basic control you need to make edits to global elements if you just want to use a page builder to manage your content layouts and not the entire site design including the headers and footers of the site.
I have helped a handful of people with configuring and customizing their WPAstra powered WordPress websites and have found the workflow to be pretty efficient and user-friendly.
There’s a wide range of starter templates in their library you can choose from to get started that are completely customizable.
If you want to get a website set up quickly without having to touch any code then this is a great option to consider.
I recommend this theme for anyone who wants a simple design they can use as a starting point for a new WordPress website using a page builder.
Beaver Builder is both a Theme and a Plugin. You can use the page builder plugin with any other theme you want (within reason) or you can use the Beaver Builder starter theme which requires the plugin to function properly.
In my opinion, BB is the best page builder plugin for WordPress thanks to its workflow, flexibility and the tireless efforts of Robby and the team at BeaverBuilder HQ.
It works with the majority of themes I have tested it with though those were mostly popular high-quality theme frameworks that tend to work nicely with most plugins by design.
Beaver Builder combined with Beaver Themer and your theme of choice is a very powerful WordPress setup, I personally choose to use it with Genesis or another blank starter theme so I am avoiding any bloated code that’s not needed since I usually build from the ground up with Beaver Builder.
If you want to build your WordPress website so it’s flexible and you have complete control over every aspect, then check out Beaver Builder and give it a try for yourself.
So forget Divi, Visual Composer by WP Bakery and all of the other front end page builders for WordPress, there are only two to consider, Beaver Builder and our next entry.
Elementor is another page builder plugin for WordPress that is very impressive and the only real contender for the page builder throne.
The Elementor plugin comes in two flavors, free and pro and both can be used with any theme you choose however you can use their starter theme to make things easier.
You can design your website using any Theme combined with Elementor but you might get better results by using either the Elementor starter theme or another theme that’s been built specifically for this page builder.
There are a handful of themes that are compatible with Elementor like WPAstra, Genesis and the page builder framework.
I have personally tested Genesis, WPAstra and Elementors own starter theme and found all worked very well though I still prefer BeaverBuilder due to their workflow and how BeaverThemer works.
AtomicBlocks is the new kid on the block, it began as a plugin that allowed you to use more interesting and advanced Gutenberg blocks but has since been purchased by WPEngine the same group that also now own Studiopress.
There’s also an AtomicBlocks starter theme that works in harmony with the AtomicBlocks plugin so you can avoid any bloat and build from the ground up with the new(ish) Gutenberg content editor.
In case you aren’t familiar Gutenberg Blocks are the new modular approach that’s used in the Gutenberg WordPress editor designed to eventually replace the classic editor WYSISYG that you have used since you first used WordPress.
Gutenberg Blocks are also similar to the modules you can use in popular page builder tools like Beaver Builder and Elementor however they aren’t yet quite as advanced and so far more commonly used for the content portion of your website rather than for theming and global elements like the header.
Blocks are an exciting development in the WordPress world and this new approach has the potential to be one of the best innovations we have seen in years.
The beautiful part? Both are available for free though there is a premium version of the plugin if you want more options.
How to evaluate if a WordPress Theme is Good?
It is important to be aware of the different criteria that determine if a Theme you are looking at is going to be worth trying or not.
You want to ensure the theme is:
- Fast loading – Uses lean code and limited bloat so it doesn’t hinder the user experience by resulting in a slow loading site.
- Well maintained – You want to check the theme is regularly updated. Check the changelog.
- Documentation – A theme that provides lots of documentation will make your life a lot easier when it comes to making modifications.
- User-Friendliness – You want to choose a theme that’s easy to learn and has an efficient workflow.
- Flexibility – There are many themes out there that look beautiful but involve having programming skills and editing core files of the Theme which is very dangerous since these changes can be lost when it gets updated. This is why I choose to use “Theme Frameworks”.
- Support – You ideally want a theme that offers great support, free themes may have basic support via the WordPress.org forums but a premium theme will offer a more advanced level of support. This is why it’s often better to invest in a high-quality premium theme.
Free vs Paid WordPress Themes
As we have already covered there are thousands of WordPress themes to choose from but there’s usually a big difference between a free theme and a theme that is premium.
Firstly, with a free theme, you are likely to only have access to limited support and even when it’s good the response time will usually be quite long. Premium themes on the other hand, at least the good ones will usually offer more thorough support and respond within 24-48 hours, at least in my experience.
Premium WordPress themes are also far more likely to be updated and have bugs fixed on a regular basis as WordPress (their core dependency) also gets updated. If you have a free theme that hasn’t been updated for over a year then it’s anyone’s guess if it’s going to run smoothly with the latest version of WordPress.
Premium themes are also far more likely to evolve to the latest changes going on in the WordPress world and take advantage of new features that have become available like Gutenberg.
The same was true back in the day when WordPress introduced the menu feature, which is something WordPressers take for granted these days but was once a feature that a theme had to offer with their own bespoke solution and the best themes of the time like Genesis and Thesis were some of the first to support the newly introduced WordPress menu instead.
The thing about themes is, once you have selected one and made modifications to it, a lot of that work and those changes will be lost when you switch to another theme. So it’s good to find something that is going to last you years rather than something you justify changing once every year while constantly taking 1 step back.
WordPress frameworks allow you to keep more of your modifications when you switch child theme if you are smart about how you store your changes.
The Best WordPress Theme for Bloggers
In all honesty, all of the above options are suitable for bloggers but if you want something simple and done for you so you don’t have to design it yourself I still think picking your favorite looking Genesis child theme is the best starting point.
If in a year you want to expand because you have outgrown it and want more control without coding then fine but as a start point it’s perfect and it prevents you from wasting your time making it look jazzy when your time is better spent getting down to producing content and spreading the word about your new blog.
Best WordPress Theme for Other Websites
If you want to create a website for your business I think the best option is a toss up between Beaver Builder Theme or using Elementor with WPAstra.
Both approaches provide a user-friendly workflow that is easy to pick up so you can design your website however you want.
If you need eCommerce functionality then you will be pleased to know both work perfectly with the popular WooCommerce plugin.
Best WordPress Theme for Developers
If the idea of hooks, functions and custom PHP scares you then you can skip this section.
but if on the other hand you are a developer and have some programming chops then the best choice of theme or framework is likely going to be different to someone who doesn’t have the luxury of such skills.
As a developer myself, I have relied heavily on frameworks over the years to avoid reinventing the wheel, save time and save my customers money.
During the time I have been building WordPress websites and blogs I have used Thesis, Genesis, BeaverBuilder, and Elementor and feel all are great options though my favorite two are Genesis either on its own or Genesis with the Beaver Builder plugin and the Beaver Themer plugin to allow me to use the page builder for creating templates.
With frameworks, you are still able to add your own custom PHP or CSS to extend the functionality when required but you can also save a lot of time and money by reusing existing modules and functions.
Even with BeaverBuilder and Elementor, you can create custom functionality in the form of custom modules and then hook them into the website so you are continuing to use the front end page builder workflow.
How to Find Out What WP Theme a Site is Using
If you have found a website you like the look of or think performs really well and want to see what WordPress theme they are using you can do so in a couple of ways.
Go to the website, right click and go to “view source”.
Hit Ctrl+F or Cmd+F and search for the word themes, this should then show you the folder structure and the name of the active theme they are using.
Of course, you need to first know it’s a WordPress website, which you can do by either adding /wp-admin on the end of their domain or by looking in their source code for wp-content.
You can also use a website like whatwpthemeisthat.com to have it quickly scan the site and try and reveal the name of the theme for you.
I still tend to use option 1 because it’s quick and easy for me to do but most people might be more comfortable with option 2.
Picking a WordPress theme can be an overwhelming process as anything is when you have literally thousands of choices.
Don’t be fooled by shiny objects and the fanciest looking themes out there, always focus on functionality over form and pick a WordPress theme or theme framework that is going to work for years like one of the options mentioned above that I have battle-tested for you.
Themes created by respected theme authors with long track records are always a sound choice whether you want to install a theme that’s done for you and matches your requirements or if you want to have something you can design yourself.
My recommendation for most people is to keep it simple and start off with a Genesis Child theme from Studiopress or consider their premium WordPress theme pack that includes their full library of different child theme designs at a massive discount.
So which WordPress theme are you going to use on your next project? I’d love to hear how you get on. You can chat with me and others in our Digital Creatives & Entrepreneurs community on Discord.
Now you know what my recommended WordPress themes are, why not check out my list of the best WordPress plugins that I recommend to clients and colleagues and if you are just setting up your WordPress website, make sure you read this article on WordPress security to keep your new website in good working order.