WordPress themes, less is more
January 12, 2015
If you’ve ever used WordPress, chances are you’ve used a theme you found or bought, even if you’re web developer and know how to create custom one by yourself. And it’s easy to see why - there are a lot tons of WordPress themes available, free and premium. The industry has grown significantly since 2008. Theme shops started becoming real businesses and the theme industry exploded. Some Access to the internet, right set of skills and a computer can turn into very profitable business, even with little or nothing to invest. So it’s not unusual to see some theme authors making over $2 million by selling WordPress themes. Yes, $2 million.
I think that’s the main reason why we see so many theme shops popping-up right now. And when it comes to competition, numbers are just crazy - almost 5,000 themes for sale on ThemeForest, almost 1000 themes on MojoMarketplace and thousands themes for sale directly from theme shops (WooThemes, ElegantThemes, RocketTheme, etc.)
What makes a theme? It can be installed on multiple websites, multipurpose, customizable, well-supported, easy to use. But the most important - it is portable! Meaning, you can use it more than on one website. And that’s the reason theme authors add ALL these features and more. Because features sell, apparently. If you Look at any theme for sale, and you’ll see the list of options highlighted at the top. It goes something like this: unlimited colors, page builders, ecommerce, 100 shortcodes, 25 page templates, google maps, super complicated sliders, and list goes on. Why not to add modal video, 50+ elements, and don’t forget about 70 shortcodes! Really?
These options can be achieved by using custom post types API, metaboxes and third party APIs (like google maps). Guess what, all these extra features add weight to the code base. Most likely you won’t ever use even half of what has been added to a theme. But it will be loaded every single time someone visits your site. Every. Single. Time.
Why is it a problem?
If I buy a theme, I need to spend at least 2-3 hours setting it up, and in most cases I have a very hard time, even though I am a WordPress web developer, and have been developing WordPress websites over 5 years. After reading pages of documentation, it’s very frustrating to not know how to change footer menu, yes, it happens. I can only imagine, what average user goes through.
I get contacted almost every day about theme customization help. Same story - people buy a very nice looking theme, try to follow documentation to customize it, get frustrated and have no other option but decide to pay someone to get it done.
Is there a solution?
I don’t sell any themes, so my point of view may be biased. But one of the possible solutions would be to invest more time and effort in UX, rather than overloading your theme with extra heavy features. User experience of theme options such as admin interface and its settings is far more important than number of features. Make all bells and whistles as a separate plugins.
Need a slider? Activate pre-packaged plugin and you done.
Want to customize a header? Use WordPress native customizer.
If all theme authors use built-in WordPress customizer API, off-load extra features to plugins, and remove all those 20-30 options on every page (aka page builders), all of us - users, site owner, and developers, will avoid frustration and wasted time. The simplicity may be the key to a successful theme. Jason Schuller (Press75) is a great example, he is known for simplicity and even create creating new platform as simpler alternative to WordPress. Go check out Leeflets.com right now. See what I mean? Exactly.
What is your experience working with themes? Love it or Hate it?