The High Cost of Low Cost Themes

One of the reasons why people love WordPress so much is because there are so many resources, such as thousands of themes to chose from. Unfortunately, just like everything else, the quality of all of these themes can’t be guaranteed.

I was recently asked by two clients to help them out with their new websites. Both were almost ready to launch, but weren’t happy with a few things in their WordPress admin.

The first client, hired a developer and was a bit shocked to hear that they wouldn’t be able to update WordPress ever, or any of their plugins. The developer they hired, purchased a theme that was no longer supported and broke if anything was updated. Not only does this open you up to security vulnerability, it’s also just shoddy work. This is the equivalent of me buying my friend a new laptop running a XP them being stuck with using IE8 forever. I’m not sure my friend would appreciate.

In the second instance, the client also hired a developer who purchased a commercial theme but the updates weren’t an issue. However, they had no idea how the admin worked. The entire WordPress admin had been transformed and even I, after a few hours, didn’t know what was what. In addition, the final site loaded 32 javascript files and 17 external stylesheet, so was running super slow.

In both of these cases, I spent a few hours poking around the theme and tried to figure out what was going on. But I gave up very fast. Both contained so many files, it was hard to understand what was needed and what was not. In the end, I simply re-built the themes from scratch. Both were happy with the way the site displayed on and functioned on the front end, they just wanted to have an easier back end to manage.

In my opinion both of these commercial themes displayed what I resent most from them:

They have too many options.
Theme vendors want their theme to satisfy a large pool of clients, thus the more features there are, the better. These options come at a price though. More options, means more complexity with increase in error, and more files to load which makes your site load slowly.

Many love to customize the WordPress admin.
Perhaps this is meant to be helpful, but it’s not. As soon as you modify an interface, you’re asking your audience to relearn how things are set up. People shouldn’t have to re-learn out the WordPress admin works when switching from theme to theme.

So how do you know which theme you should use?
That’s a great question.

You might think to yourself that free themes won’t be as good, but the quality of themes in the WordPress.org repo has improved greatly over the years. In addition many theme foundries release their themes for free on WordPress.org and then offer a pro version for a fee. Before purchasing these, I would encourage anyone to look at a few free versions first.

If a theme from a foundry caught your eye, the first thing I would recommend before buying it, is to look at the theme’s rating and look at how the developer is addressing support issues. Are questions in the support form answered well and in a timely manner? Have many people written great reviews or are all of them one star only?

Make sure that the theme you are purchasing contains 99% of what your looking for. If all you want to do is change one or two colours, that’s easy enough to do with some custom CSS or a child theme, but if you want to make major changes to the layout, then you might as well start from scratch or look at free themes. Keep in mind as well, that purchasing a theme may not save you all that much. Hiring a good developer who builds theme from scratch will  be able to give you a bespoke theme made just right for you.