Tips from a Web Designer: On Widgets, Themes, and Essential Tools

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Web and marketing designer Matt Sweeny builds websites on WordPress.com for a range of clients, including a landscape and design service, a cheese company at holiday markets, a public relations firm for toy manufacturers and retailers, and an indie folk band.
Here, Matt shares a bit about how — and why — he uses WordPress.com, offering quick tips on building a homepage, finding a theme, and using widgets.
What, to you, are the essential elements of a homepage?
A homepage should have:

a kick-ass design
a title or branding logo to identify the website immediately
text that describes the purpose of the website (which is important so the site shows up in search results)
a place for visitors to search the site’s content
a menu or navigation to other pages on the site (including links to terms and privacy if it’s a commercial website)
a form where visitors can enter their email to subscribe to the site’s newsletter — or, in the case of WordPress.com, a subscription form or follow button so users can get updates by email

The website of Baked Cheese Haus.
A homepage should also have imagery or video content, which provides visitors with context, an area where visitors can find the site’s social profiles, and a way to contact the site owner. Sometimes a “call to action” is appropriate, too.
And I’m always proud to feature a variation of the “Powered by WordPress.com” credit line in the footer, as well as a copyright notice.
The footer of the KidStuff Public Relations website.
You’ve used the Gateway, Nowell, Prosperity, and Singl themes on some of your clients’ websites. What advice do you have for someone who is deciding on the right look?
In the WordPress.com theme showcase, you can browse themes. The best way to preview a theme before committing to and activating it is by “test-driving” it on its live demo site, which you can access as you

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