Excluding StudioPress Themes and the Genesis framework, and obviously not counting skeleton/blank/starter themes either, I’ve outlined several reasons why our firm does not create or maintain websites from pre-made WordPress themes from large marketplaces or independent stores. There are some exceptions to this since I’ve come across really great frameworks, but for the vast majority of themes out there, I have some gripes with you. Here’s six failures of premium WordPress themes:
1. The complete ignorance of SEO practices
I can’t begin to tell you the number of themes I have encountered that either attempt to build their own “SEO Settings” in them, or just completely disregard everything about SEO. In once instance, I had a theme where you’re able to configure the home page “sections” by selecting a page of content to display. It displayed the page content, followed by a button to “learn more” which linked to the page with the same exact content. On a business standpoint, I would say this is of most importance.
2. The lack of decent styles for a multitude of scenarios
This is probably my biggest gripe. Who in their right mind thought letter-spacing:-1 was a good idea on body copy? No one, that’s who. Unless you’re a theme shop cranking out poorly planned and designed themes. With all of these themes I find myself using their “Custom CSS” text box and throwing all sorts of selectors in there to either counteract their bad design and improve legibility, or add in styles they completely forgot about to begin with! I thought I was buying a pre-made theme to avoid writing code. Guess not.
3. The inability to easily remove the footer link-back to the theme store
When I say easily, I mean it for the lay person, not for a developer. If the theme store was any decent I might consider leaving the link there, but alas, I definitely wouldn’t want any other poor person to go to their theme store, see the pretty demos, impulse buy a theme, and later realize what a poor choice they’ve made. Granted, this is a trivial thing, and not a make-it-or break it feature (more of an Alison pet peeve).
4. Pre-made themes are truly custom work with a ridiculous amount of bloated options
I laugh internally when I tell potential clients we build “custom” themes and they look shocked or terrified at first. Pre-made themes from stores are more custom than any custom theme we have ever built. This is mostly due to the crazy option and bloat they have developed in the WordPress dashboard for the abundance of users they try to cater to. With custom code comes flaws and downright security issues. The only reason a theme needs massive support from a dev team is because of the bloated code that was built in to do a lot of different things and functions— most of which you won’t even use. A good theme would use the native WordPress customizer, and overall have a native experience with little to no bloated options. You can see examples of this on WordPress.org.
No theme is perfect, not even ones we build. There’s a false perception among a lot of our clients that the majority of these pre-made themes have great standards, and the options are somehow an added benefit. They are not, they just present a huge obstacle if you are having someone else develop a website for you. In addition, every theme developer has their own sets of theme options that are all coded differently with different coding standards. To even begin to learn and understand them all is impossible (especially from marketplaces with hundreds and thousands of developers).
5. The perceived “cost savings”
Many times clients are looking to save a buck by going with a pre-made theme, and they usually think that just changing a few things here and there won’t be a lot of overhead. In some cases, you really can save development time and money by going with these themes, if you are looking to only change colors and fonts, and other minor cosmetic customizations. Many of the premium themes, if not most, were built with the lay person in mind, to make it easy for them to spring up their own websites. These themes are not friendly to big customizations. If you’re project needs structural changes, more often than not, the cost savings you thought would be beneficial, actually back-fired to the second degree. Suddenly, you may be paying more than what you would have paid if you simply commissioned a theme that was tailored and designed specifically for your business and your customers. Website planning is a big deal, and you don’t want to box yourself into a theme that just doesn’t do it for you.
6. The highway robbery by theme marketplaces
I don’t mean cost per theme that the end user is paying. I mean what the developer gets as a result of a sale. This is a matter of principle to do business with these marketplaces and theme stores. At one point in time I thought I would make a few themes for a popular marketplace and make a lot of passive income. When I was looking into the process, I was shocked to see that these marketplaces take upwards of 70% of the profit. Others are around 50%. That’s worse than taxes in the United States, but of course if you set aside part of what you make from that sale for income taxes, what are you actually getting back here? Why would I want to support a store that is screwing over their best customers: the developers. Those figures just aren’t reasonable. I can’t do business with a company that so blatantly takes so much from the producers.
Pre-made themes remind me of pre-fabricated housing units. You can talk to your “builder” and get various options but you can spot a prefab home practically a mile away.