WordPress Theme Purchasing Considerations

By: Fred Morgan

wordpress maintenance

WordPress originally began life as a blogging engine, but over time has matured into not only a great content management system (CMS), but also a full-fledged application development framework.  Consequently, WordPress holds the lion’s share of the CMS market and its widespread use has spurred the development of countless WordPress themes and plugins to extend its feature set.  However, not all WordPress themes and plugins are created equal.

There is so much variation in the way a WordPress theme (and plugin) are developed for WordPress that I am never really sure if I like it or not until I install it and start working with it on the back end. That being said, here are a few things to consider before you buy a WordPress theme to reduce the risk of ending up with a theme you are not satisfied with.

1.  Is the WordPress theme responsive?

responsive wordpress theme screen sizes imageIf not, forget it and move on to the next option.  People will be accessing your site from smartphones, tablets, and computers with various size monitors.  A responsive WordPress theme will automatically adjust to the screen size of the device that is requesting the page and the menus and other resources will reformat accordingly.  In today’s web world, it is absolutely critical that your site is responsive so your audience has a consistent user experience optimized for the device they are using.

Responsive themes are developed using CSS and HTML, and the CSS files can get very complex with all of the rules required to address the myriad devices in use today.  Some developers choose to write their own CSS for this purpose, which is fine so long as it works, however, my favorite themes are built with Bootstrap.  Not only is Bootstrap a complete front end framework containing fully-baked responsive CSS and robust JavaScript elements that are simple to implement, it is also by far the most used framework on the web.  Since virtually all professional web developers are familiar with Bootstrap, choosing a theme that is built around this framework will ensure that your developer will be able to customize your theme with minimal effort, which means time and cost savings for you.

2. Is the theme well documented and supported by the author?

themeforest logoMy favorite themes are generally the ones that are well-documented and well-supported.  In a marketplace like Theme Forest, you can determine the latter by the comments and reviews posted by people who have purchased the theme so you can see what kind of issues they have encountered as they have installed and configured it.  You should also choose a theme that is updated regularly as new versions of WP and required plugins are released.

A theme that is documented and supported well by the author will make the development effort much quicker, and since time = money, it will also be less expensive in the long run.

3.  Is the WordPress theme compatible with the current version of WordPress?

This probably goes without saying, but any time you buy a WordPress theme you should make sure it is compatible with the current version of WordPress. WordPress has changed significantly over the years and the later releases implement features and libraries that may not be compatible with older themes.

4. What assets are included with the WordPress theme?

Many WordPress themes do not include the assets (images) shown in the demo. This often leaves you with a lot of graphic placeholders that need to be replaced with your own images.  This is fine for a general purpose theme, but can be a real pain to rebuild like the demo that the you or your client fell in love with if you purchase a WordPress theme for a particular vertical market (e.g., a hair salon or restaurant)  it looks .

5. Does the WordPress theme come with an XML import file for demo content?

wordpress theme import xml logoIf the WordPress theme includes an XML import file, it will make your life much easier.  An XML import makes it very easy to set up the theme just like the demo.  Importing the XML file will typically create the menus and sample pages as well as download the image assets into the media library.  This allows you to start with the theme set up just like the demo and begin making your modifications from that point, rather than having to build all of the pages, menus, etc. from scratch.  It is always easier to edit pages and menus that have already been created than to build it all from the ground up.

6. What plugins are required by the WordPress theme and are they well supported?

wordpress theme plug ins logoWordPress themes can have required plugins so it is a good idea to take a look at those WordPress plugins to make sure they are also well documented, supported, and regularly updated.  WordPress is frequently updated and can be set to do so automatically.  This is a convenient feature because many of the updates are security-related.  However, it is possible that a WordPress core update could cause one or more of your plugins to not function properly.

There are literally thousands of plugins available for WordPress, so be careful when selecting plugins that will be an integral component of the design or functionality of your site.  Just because it looks pretty now doesn’t mean you won’t have issues with it later when a security vulnerability is discovered and the plugin has to be disabled until it is patched.

7. Is the WordPress theme specifically designed for (or at least compatible with) the plugins you intend to use?

If you intend to use a plugin like WooCommerce (a very popular e-commerce plugin) or BuddyPress to provide core functionality for your site, it is important to choose a theme that is either specifically designed for, or at least compatible with, that plugin.

8. How important is page load speed to you?

wordpress theme speed logoPage load speed is always something to consider with WordPress.  Because your site’s content is housed in a MySQL database, each page load requires the web server to interact with the database server and wait for responses. This can often cause some lag with the page load speed, especially in shared hosting environments.

WordPress themes range from clean and minimalist to heavily designed, and which is best is really a matter of preference.  However, themes and plugins load libraries and resources (e.g., css and javascript files), and some of them can contribute to slow page load speeds.  This can be true for even a minimalist theme.  For instance, BuddyPress is a very popular community building plugin, but it is also a rather large application in and of itself with quite a bit of overhead.  Complex plugins like this (or ecommerce plugins) can cause even a minimalist theme to become bloated and ultimately lag.

Consequently, if page load speed is important to you, doing a page load speed analysis is a good idea. Google provides a free tool for this purpose at: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/.  Running the test on the demo site for the theme may not provide the most accurate results since demos are typically embedded within the marketplace site. This may make page load speeds appear longer than they would if the theme were installed on your site. However, running tests on various themes within the same marketplace should help you see how they compare to each other in terms of speed.

Performance testing should be repeated once the theme is installed in its base configuration within your own hosting configuration, after activating all of the plugins you intend to use. Scrapping a theme and choosing a different one at this point is much less expensive than waiting until significant development effort has been expended and finding out then that the theme or plugins have some inherent issues affecting page load speed.

9. Is the WordPress theme highly rated by other users?

wordpress theme ratings imageAs mentioned in the first point of this article, a WordPress theme can look good on the front end but be a disaster on the back end and there is no way of knowing for sure until you install it and begin working with it.  This is where purchasing your theme from an online marketplace can be advantageous compared to purchasing directly from the developer.  A theme marketplace like Envato Market will typically offer reviews from other users who have purchased the theme in the past.  The review system allows users to rate the theme and post comments regarding what they found challenging/serendipitous to work with, the quality of support offered by the theme developer, etc.  These reviews can help sort out the good from the bad before spending your hard earned cash on a theme purchase.

Of course, there are other things you may want to consider depending on your particular needs, but this list should get you headed in the right direction when judging how to pick a WordPress theme.


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ WordPress consulting & development services.

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