A blog is a visual medium before it's a thoughtful medium. People SEE it before they read it. The web was created to be visual. When you decide to create your blog, it's understandable that you want to create something that pleases you. The colors, the way the blog looks, the images you use, all play into designing a look and feel that makes you happy.
Your design is more than a pretty face to the public. It's a representation of the purpose of your blog and the meaning of your writing. If you're writing a travel blog - show some pets in cars or airplanes. If you're writing a nutrition blog, show off some food, and pets slurping it up. If you're just blogging about everything pets, make sure you have pets in your header - and use colors that are upbeat.
Pros & Cons of Premade (Non-unique) Themes
1) They’re free – Is it any surprise to anyone that this is by far the biggest pro for premade themes? They’re free! Free is good. You don’t have to pay for free.
2) There’s a wide selection – There are a ton of themes out there for you to choose from, especially for the more popular platforms such as WordPress. You will almost always be able to find a theme suitable for your blog’s niche.
3) New ones everyday – Designers are constantly releasing new themes everyday whether it’s in an effort to generate backlinks or just to increase their own popularity. There will never be a shortage of new premade themes entering the blogosphere for you to pick from.
1) They’re non-unique – In many cases this point alone supercedes all of the pros of premade themes. If you are able to find a premade theme that you think is just perfect for your site, do you really want to share that image with potentially thousands of other people?
2) The good ones get used by everyone – There might be a ton of themes out there, but there will always be a sort of elite group of the best themes that everyone wants to use. For example with WordPress you see an abundance of people using MistyLook. That is because it is one of the more attractive themes available.
3) Harder to generate a lasting memory – If someone gets to your site and it looks just like every other blog they’ve visited in the last week what are the chances they’ll find their way back? You might not need a good blog design to leave a lasting impression, but you had better be an amazing writer.
Pros & Cons of Custom Themes
1) They’re unique – The big one. When you get a custom theme made for your site, nobody else should have it – unless maybe your designer is less than honest. Nobody will wander into your blog and think “oh another guy using that same old theme”.
2) Helps create a brand – People think the idea of creating a brand is reserved for large corporations, but blogs (even the small ones) need to work on their brands as well. You want to be memorable. You want to stand out. You want people to revisit your blog. Custom themes create a unique image for your blog that add to your brand.
3) They’re usually much prettier – Even the best designers don’t do their best work when releasing free themes. It’s a fact of the industry, and I really do not see it changing anytime soon. The best looking blogs will always be the ones that were custom made.
4) There’s only one con – Price.
1) Price – Custom themes are expensive. You can get a decent theme designed for as low as $300, but many designers now charge upwards of $5,000 for a blog design. I sort of think $5,000 is overdoing it a bit for a blog design, but that’s for another post.
Overall when should you make the jump from a non-unique to a unique theme? In my opinion, I would say as soon as you can afford it. You can create a successful blog without a custom theme, and you may even be able to go your whole online career with a downloaded template. But why would you want to? Sure branding yourself, creating a lasting memory, and standing out from the crowd *can be done* without a good, custom theme by it’s so much easier with one.