How to customize WordPress

WordPress comes feature-rich and smooth right out of the box, but have you ever wondered how to customize WordPress?  As in, really making it your own?  Want a blog? Done.  Want a static website? Done.  But are are lots of other ways you can use WordPress to meet your web needs.  Here is a list of helpful tools and tips for how to customize WordPress.

If you’re interested in how to customize WordPress, consider reading our past article on making your blog stand out, as well as this one about WordPress tutorials.

How to customize WordPress

wordpress-theme-from-scratch

If you’re skilled, you can create a theme from scratch.  This is by far the hardest way, even premium theme creators often use some of their previous themes as frameworks.  To start creating a custom WordPress theme, check out some of these resources.

Artisteer

artisteer

Artisteer is a finicky option.  It will not create a premium quality theme in terms of design.  But it will be valid XHTML and clean CSS.  The good news is you can use Artisteer to create lots of different kinds of themes.  I use it to create a framework for custom themes, then go back and customize them further.  Check out Artisteer here, or read this full review we wrote back .

Hybrid custom theme

themeforest

Search for a theme with a strong foundation, valid XHTML and clean CSS.  It should have many of the features you want but not all.  You can then take that theme and completely hack it up to meet your needs.  Think about adding new widget positions, changing the column structure or adding a new menu.

When choosing a foundation theme, go premium.  You’ll be glad you did.  They’re just better made, cleaner, with a solid code foundation.  Here are three of the best providers:

How to Customize WordPress’ Look and Feel

Custom Default Gravatars

gravatar customization

The Gravatar is an often underlooked (not a real word) feature of WordPress.  The Gravater was incidentally created by Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress.  WordPress comes with a default Gravatar when commenters do not have one.  This is a nice, simple way to give your website a customized feel.

Custom Comment Styling

comment styling

Comments are the second easy way to add a custom feel to your design.  Nesting comments is a great way to encourage discussion on your blog.  Quality comments and good discussion are great ways to explode traffic.

Creating an effective “about” page

about

Your “about” page is the first step when a reader really likes what they see.  When you make the effort to write superb content, a reader will find it and seek more info about your site.  Next stop… conversion!  If they like what they read on your about page, they will sign up for updates and you’ve nailed it.

Revamping your footer space

how to customize wordpress footer

Footer spaces are now being used to show lots of information or tools.  It’s no longer just a silly copyright section.  The link below has some great examples of usable footers.  Customizing this section of your site really gives that extra customized feel.

Customize your WordPress 404 page

how to customize wordpress 404

Hopefully users aren’t encountering your 404 page often because your links are all current.  However, it does happen, sometimes out of your control because outside sites will link to your site incorrectly.  Customizing your 404 page says to your readers: “we went the extra mile to offer you a unique experience.”

Customizing the login page

how to customize wordpress login

If your site employs the user function of WordPress, creating a customized login page can be a nice touch.  Somehow branding the login to match your site but also be creative is a great touch.

Revolutionary thinking (put content before ads)

The instinct to make a few bucks for all the time you’ve spent on the content is sometimes overwhelming.  But if you listen to one piece of advice on this page, prioritize content over revenue.  You will reap the benefits.

Think of this as a design choice as well as a chronological choice.  When starting a new website, forego the advertising until you feel it is absolutely necessary and you have the traffic to make it worth it.  You choose which is better: little traffic with many ads to make a few dollars or few ads, making lots of money with lots of traffic.

Custom content archives

how to customize wordpress archives

Users need to be able to access your content.  If they come back to find some older content, the search form may not work.  Also, complete archives will help search engines know about all of your content.  You spend time writing it, should people be able to find it?

Custom Admin theme

how to customize wordpress dashboard

The admin theme will only be for your benefit or that of your writers and editors.  However, it can be nice to change things up, and some custom themes can add a whole new experience for the admin.  It can also save you time if you spend a lot of time in the dashboard.

Additional Resources

Check out these other resources and articles on customizing WordPress.

If you have your own tip for how to customize WordPress please share it below.

Hand coding

If you’re skilled, you can create a theme from scratch.  This is by far the hardest way, even premium theme creators often use some of their previous themes as frameworks.  To start creating a custom WordPress theme, check out some of these resources.

Dusty Anderson is an avid WordPress user and the editor of Pingable.org. Read more