Choosing a Theme

There are many great themes for WordPress. A lot are free but I don’t mind spending a bit (<$50) for a high quality, custom design. Browse ThemeForest for a number of great options. Themes can slow WordPress down considerably – but the whole point of this guide is to optimize the performance using smart caching.

Browse Theme Forest

Browse Theme Forest

WP Engine
I chose MySiteMyWay’s Construct theme ($35) for my personal blog because it’s Responsive. Responsive themes provide an adapted experience for mobile and tablet browsers. I’ve also been extremely impressed with the technical support they offer. In preparing this tutorial, I ran into several problems that I didn’t expect them to be able to resolve – but in each case, they gave me easily applied hot patches within 24 hours.

This site uses the KnowHow knowledge base theme. My consulting site, Lookahead.io, uses the versatile X Theme.

W3 Total Cache also can cache pages distinctly for mobile, tablet and desktop. Look at JeffReifman.com on your phone and then look at it on your desktop – you’ll see the difference.

Once you’ve purchased and downloaded a theme. You need to upload it to your server. Open a Terminal:

scp -P 33322 -r -i ~/.ssh/hal ~/Downloads/construct hal@test.envisionseattle.org:~
mv ~/construct /var/www/wordpress/wp-content/themes

Then, visit your WordPress Administrator Appearance->Themes page e.g. http://yourdomain.com/wp-admin/themes.php and activate it. It should look like this:

Activate Your WordPress Theme

Activate Your WordPress Theme

Suggested Plugins

Here are some of the plugins (aside from W3 Total Cache) I use for my WordPress installation:

These I use occasionally but not all the time:

Whenever you change your theme, you’ll need to go back through the process for exporting your static files to your Amazon CloudFront S3 CDN (described here) and purge your cache. Adding or removing plugins may require similar actions.

Please feel free to post corrections, questions or comments below. You can also follow me on Twitter @reifman or email me directly.

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  • Excellent article – however, I couldn’t find how what to use to upload a new Theme or plugin when the FTP pop up box comes up…you can’t use the .pem file like you do when using FTP or SFTP. I can access the SFTP..but of course there are no files in there so I can’t manually add the theme and/or plugins. How? I’ve done a Google search and have not found anything on how to accomplish this within the WordPress dashboard?