One of the questions I get asked quite a lot in relation to my WordPress theme review series is the following:
“Could you recommend a simple and clean WordPress theme for a new blog I’m about to create?”
The first thing I do is ask the person what they want to achieve with their blog and what their blog’s primary focus will be. The response to these questions usually helps narrow down the choice of themes. More and more, however, I find that there’s a strong demand for one-stop-shop blogging solutions: simple and professional themes with little to no set up required.
In a market saturated with daily theme releases from all sorts of developers, offering all types of support and legacy packages, it’s no wonder that functionality and reliability are qualities that are beginning to out-trump originality of design and bling. So what are some of the themes that meet this demand?
One of them is without doubt the Linen theme by ThemeFoundry, and you can read my review of it here. Another option (a review will be coming soon) is the excellent Canvas theme by WooThemes, but in this post I want to take a closer look at a third solution, it’s called the Standard WordPress theme and it was developed by a company called 8bit.
A few months ago, I came across the Standard theme via a very useful and well written blog called TentBlogger.com. If you’re interested in the art of blogging and working your way towards monetization at a pro-blogger level, then I strongly recommend that you subscribe to John Saddington’s blog.
John is the lead developer of the Standard Theme and he uses a default installation of the theme on his site. What immediately struck me with his blog was the power of its content. The material “spoke” to me straight away. Sure that’s the result of good blogging (timely post titles, clear image choices, and pertinent topics), but it’s also the result of a clutter-less and content-focused theme.
In this review, I take a look at the Standard Theme’s key features and discuss who and what this theme is best suited for and what the pros and cons of buying into a one-stop-shop blogging solution are.
WHY WOULD YOU USE THIS THEME?
The Standard Theme is set up to work like a Tumblelog with content divided among core types (text, photos, video, audio, links). But it can just as easily be used as a simple blog theme. The theme’s two main axes – the navigation bar and the content stream – make it a little too simple for someone looking to run a magazine, newspaper or multi-author community site. Standard is far better suited to solo bloggers.
Much in the same vein as Tumblelogs, the Standard Theme allows you to upload a personal portrait image in the sidebar giving your blog a sense of intimacy and persona. It also comes pre-packaged with a twitter and RSS follower count widget. This is a useful device for attracting new subscribers (though it would be good to make the widget clickable with immediate subscription options).
Simplicity is perhaps the strongest string in the Standard Theme’s bow. Simplicity of layout and navigation; simplicity of administration and simplicity of design. Coupled with clean code and two excellent SEO-oriented templates (the must-have sitemap for search engines and the archives template), Standard is a strong solution for content-focused, solo bloggers.
Blogging Essentials: the default installation of the theme comes with everything you need to start blogging, including WordPress 3.0 navigation integration, changeable logo and favicon, an array of social links, essential sidebar widgets and the ability to manipulate elements of layout and style. All of these attributes are accessible via the theme’s admin panel.
Admin Panel: As you can see in the image above, the admin panel is easy to understand with clear labels and contextualised functions and the 8bit introductory video to the theme does a good job of walking user through the key admin tabs.
Layout and design: Design customisation options are fairly minimal as WordPress themes go, you have the ability to change background colour or to add a background image; you can shift the sidebar from left to right; you can also shift the top level navigation bar from above to below the site logo. Each of these manipulations happens in the admin panel, as does the ability to add your own logo image and define your favicon (the tiny 16×16 icon that appears in your browser’s url bar). This limited customisation is not necessarily a bad thing and is very much in keeping with the ‘ethos’ of the theme. The more options you have, the more difficult and time consuming it is to come up with an overall coherent custom design. With the Standard Theme, a few small changes will be enough for most people to differentiate their site from the hundreds of other people using this theme.
Ad Spots: The theme comes with multiple ad spots integrated in the design. These include a top level banner ad, a large square sidebar banner and 4 125×125 badge banners. Each ad spot is configurable in the admin panel. Good ad placement is a staple for any serious blogger and the developers of this theme have taken that into account.
Templates: As mentioned previously, the Standard theme comes with 4 custom templates which include a full width page, archives and redirect pages, and a site map page. Setting these up is as simple as creating a new page in the WordPress admin panel and selecting the relevant template from the composition screen. It’s a shame that 8bit didn’t develop templates for a gallery and a contact form, but that can easily be remedied with a couple of plugins. If anyone needs help with that, give me a shout in the comment section and I’ll be happy to oblige.
PROS AND CONS
So having had a quick look at the intended audience and application of the theme as well as its core attributes, it’s time to sum up with some of the main pros and cons that came from my demo installation test. Let me begin with the positive notes.
- + Very fast to upload and easy to use
- + Main emphasis is on content
- + Good ad solutions
- + Clean code and easy to customise for client work
- + Easy to use admin panel with ability to save and export theme settings
- + Excellent SEO potential with a dedicated sitemap template, archives and semantic coding
- + Well developed and evolving framework
- + Strong support package and active community forum
- + Total package including support and unlimited updates is cheap at $99 compared to a bespoke solution
- - Generic theme used by hundreds of people (although for most people this won’t be an issue)
- - Lacking dedicated gallery and contact templates
- - Would benefit from more bespoke sidebar widgets (perhaps the developers would consider implementing John’s own widgets in a future release?)
The Standard Theme certainly lives up to its name and by no means in a negative way. I found the theme easy to use and quick to master. Compared to other blank canvas type themes such as WooTheme’s Canvas for example, the number of custom options are clearly limited. But those limitations are not a bad thing since it by-passes the problem of lengthy configuration and optmisation time. The Standard Theme does at least two things very well: it works straight out of the box and it makes content presentation quick and attractive. For anyone seriously thinking about full-time blogging, this is a definite contender.
I leave you with a full screenshot of the demo version of the theme. Click on the graphic to go straight to a working demo version of the theme and stay tuned for more WordPress theme reviews.
As with all the theme reviews on this blog, my interest lies in that tiny group of themes that extend WordPress functionality through design innovation. In short, I’m looking for game changers. If you would like to recommend a theme for review, please get in touch via the contact form and I’ll be happy to consider your work.