March 10


Lesley Sim

Co-founder of Newsletter Glue

In this post, I’ll share some of my favourite free WordPress themes for newsletters and blogging.

A lot of people reminisce about the good old days of blogging. And how the trend seems to have moved towards newsletters now. Personally, I’ve always thought of the two as interlinked:

A newsletter is simply a blog post you send to subscribers.

And a blog post is simply a web archive for your email newsletters.

Ultimately, both are ways to share your writing on the internet. So if what you’re looking for is a simple, fuss-free theme that lets you share your writing online, then this list of free WordPress themes is for you.

In addition, if you’d like to easily send these posts to subscribers without leaving WordPress, you can head to our Newsletter Glue homepage to learn more about us.

My criteria for this list of themes

  1. Showcases the writing – Instead of trying to be clever about the design, animations and popups, how focused on the writing is this theme?
  2. Easy to read and navigate – Can my mother easily navigate the resulting website?
  3. Beautiful – How nice is the design?
  4. Intuitive customisation – How easy is it to customise this theme?

I judge each of the themes based on the above criteria. Each criterion is given a maximum of 3 ⭐s. Here’s how you can interpret the rating system:

⭐: Good
⭐⭐: Great
⭐⭐⭐: Excellent

Some quick caveats

There’s no such thing as unlimited upside. In choosing these 4 criteria, I end up giving up one big thing: amount of customisation.

To put this differently, you aren’t going to get sidebar widgets, pop-ups, and other reader-unfriendly things with these themes. So if you’re looking for a powerful theme built to optimise for conversions, you should look elsewhere.

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Also, I’d like to reiterate that I’ve chosen these themes for the purpose of writing newsletters and blogging. So if you’re looking for a theme for a restaurant, eCommerce or freelance portfolio site, you probably won’t find my selected themes suitable either.

Finally, these are free themes. I’m not getting paid to promote them, nor am I affiliated with any of the authors. These simply happen to be themes I like and have tried for myself.

With criteria and caveats in place, let’s dive into the 4 themes!

Theme 1: Seedlet

Seedlet is a free theme built by the folks at Automattic. It’s classy and simple. Best of all, it was built with the Gutenberg block editor in mind and comes with some nice patterns which you can easily add to each new post.

Screenshot of the Seedlet theme demo page home screen
Source: WordPress.com

Here’s how you can find the patterns that Seedlet comes with. In a new post, click on the + sign at the top left hand corner of the admin bar. Then go to the patterns tab.

From there, you’ll see a short list of patterns you can add to your post. Do this simply by dragging and dropping the pattern into your post.

After that you can check out the right hand admin panel for some customisation options.

I thought the patterns and customisation options were lovely and simple to use. They’re also a nice way to make a post stand out. I do have to mention, however, that these patterns aren’t compatible with your email newsletter. The best way to hide it from your email newsletter (assuming you plan on sending this blog post out to subscribers with Newsletter Glue) is to use a show/hide block. Here’s a 2 minute youtube tutorial on how to do this.

Ratings:

All ratings out of 3 stars.

  1. Showcases the writing: ⭐⭐
  2. Easy to read and navigate: ⭐⭐
  3. Beautiful: ⭐⭐⭐
  4. Intuitive customisation: ⭐⭐

Best for

A long form writer who is interested in poetry and art. A beautiful and simple theme is important to you.

Additional considerations

  1. Modern, built with Gutenberg-first approach
  2. Built by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, so you know it works well, is bug free and will be well-maintained with the latest technology in mind.

Demo and download details

See Seedlet demo site | Download on WordPress.com | Download on WordPress.org

Instructions for installing and customising your theme can be found at the end of this post.

Theme 2: Spearhead

Spearhead is a another free theme made available by Automattic. It wasn’t created by them though. Instead, AngelList and Venture Hacks co-founder Babak Nivi donated the theme, which they originally created for their Spearhead fund.

Screenshot of the Spearhead theme demo page home screen
Source: WordPress.com

This theme is crazy minimalist in design. I mean, there’s seriously zero flashy stuff. That’s what makes it great for minimalists, but also not for everybody.

One of the standout features is its built-in dark mode. So if a user’s operating system is in dark mode, the theme will automatically display a dark background with light text. This will happen even if you give your theme custom colors. So take note of this!

Source: WordPress.com

Interestingly, even the block editor corresponds with your operating system’s appearance. Check out how it switches automatically when I switch my MacOS between light and dark modes.

CleanShot-2021-03-10-at-15.06.34-1-optimized

After playing around for 10 minutes, I couldn’t find an option to turn off dark mode. So I assume there isn’t an easy way to do so.

The key thing to note is that if you head to Appearance > Customize > Colors and change the colours, you might not see it reflected in your block editor and published site. This is because the theme might be showing dark mode (instead of your chosen colours) if your operating system is set to dark mode.

Ratings:

All ratings out of 3 stars.

  1. Showcases the writing ⭐⭐⭐
  2. Easy to read and navigate: ⭐⭐⭐
  3. Beautiful:
  4. Intuitive customisation:

Best for

Anyone into tech and startups. This theme has that minimalist, no nonsense, all business vibe. Also great for podcasting.

Additional considerations

  1. Modern, built with Gutenberg-first approach
  2. It’s the only theme on this list with native support for dark mode
  3. Built by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, so you know it works well, is bug free and will be well-maintained with the latest technology in mind.

Demo and download details

See Spearhead demo site | Download for WordPress.com | Download for WordPress.org

Instructions for installing and customising your theme can be found at the end of this post.


Theme 3: Davis

Davis is a free theme by my personal favourite theme developer, Anders Norén. It’s extremely lightweight and simple. To quote Anders, “Excluding the theme screenshot image, Davis weighs in at only 36 kilobytes. Your website will load in no time at all.”

Screenshot of Davis theme by Anders Norén
Source: Anders Norén

Surprise! Davis has close to zero customisation options! I can literally list the number of things you can customise right here:

  1. Site title, tagline and icon
  2. Menu
  3. Homepage points to latest posts or static page

The reason Davis is so lightweight is because it was built as a base theme for beginners to learn theme development. So it’s a great starting point if you’d like to customise a theme.

Having said that, the simplicity of this theme means you can get started in seconds, and there’s no chance of you getting overwhelmed with customisation options. If you’re not interested in themes and just want to write, this is the perfect option for you.

Ratings:

All ratings out of 3 stars.

  1. Showcases the writing: ⭐⭐⭐
  2. Easy to read and navigate: ⭐⭐⭐
  3. Beautiful: ⭐⭐
  4. Intuitive customisation: ⭐⭐⭐ hmm, I can’t decide if this should be 3 or 1 since there aren’t really any customisation options to choose from! 🤔

Best for

Anyone who just wants to start writing ASAP and wants a theme that prevents them from getting distracted. Also great for budding developers to try their hand at customising a blog theme.

Additional considerations

  1. Insanely simple
  2. Modern, responsive and Gutenberg compatible

Demo and download details

See Davis demo site | Download for WordPress.com | Download for WordPress.org

Instructions for installing and customising your theme can be found at the end of this post.


Theme 4: McLuhan

McLuhan is another free theme by Anders Norén. I use it on my personal site and so does newsletter guru, Josh Spector. It also seems to be the base theme that Anders himself uses on his own site.

I like this theme because it’s a nice middle ground between design and simplicity. If you click on the 3 sites I’ve linked above, you can see how we’ve each customised our sites, yet at the same time kept the same underlying simple structure.

Screenshot of McLuhan theme by Anders Norén
Source: Anders Norén

Like Davis, McLuhan is also very simple. But I do like that I can change theme colours, add social buttons and more to this theme. This theme gives me newsletter archive vibes, which is why I chose it for my website. That is, I wanted my site to be a web archive for my newsletter and sought a theme that could give me that look and feel.

Ratings:

All ratings out of 3 stars.

  1. Showcases the writing: ⭐⭐⭐
  2. Easy to read and navigate: ⭐⭐⭐
  3. Beautiful: ⭐⭐⭐
  4. Intuitive customisation: ⭐⭐⭐

I’m obviously biased here (since I use it on my own site), but this is the only theme that gets full marks from me.

Best for

Anyone who wants a Goldilocks theme that strikes the right balance between simple, beautiful and easy to customise.

Additional considerations

  1. This is the only theme with a two-column design.
  2. Modern, responsive and Gutenberg compatible

Demo and download details

See McLuhan demo site | Download for WordPress.com | Download for WordPress.org


How to install a free theme on your self-hosted WordPress website

Finally, before I go, I just wanted to give you a quick tutorial on installing and customising themes.

Here’s how you can install the theme onto your self-hosted WordPress.org website

First, head to Appearance > Themes, then click “Add New” at the top.

In the next page, look for the search bar and type in the theme name. Then click the Install button. Once installed, the button will change to say Activate. Click the button again to activate the theme and make it live on your site.

How to customise your WordPress theme

Once you’ve installed and activated your desired theme, simply head to Appearance > Themes, then click Customize.

From there you’ll be greeted with a range of customisation options. Change as much or as little as you like!

Summary of best free WordPress themes for newsletters and blogging

In this post we covered 4 super simple free themes: Seedlet, Spearhead, Davis and McLuhan.

The criteria to make it on this list is:

  • Free
  • Showcases the writing
  • Easy to read and navigate
  • Beautiful
  • Intuitive customisation

If you’re looking to start a newsletter or blog that puts writing at the forefront, these are the best free themes to start with.


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