Client: “I’m really looking forward to starting this project, we’ve needed an new website for a long time.  By the way, I’ve purchased this incredible theme so we can jumpstart the process”

Web Designer: “Oh! Well…we’ll have to take a look at that” (Drops head to desk)

Web Designer Stymied by a Theme

Let’s look at few of the problems when clients go theme shopping

Feature Match

As web designers, we begin assessing and identifying the key needs of your business from our first conversation.

  • What are your goals?
  • Do you need to highlight products and services?
  • Reach new markets?
  • Generate leads?
  • Build a mailing list?
  • Who are your current and potential future customers?
  • What will create trust and confidence in leading them to do business with you?
  • What is your overall marketing plan?
  • How are we addressing Search Engine Optimization and Social Media?
  • What navigation scheme makes sense for you?
  • How many different page templates do you need?  What unique types of content do you have?

An effective website is going to prioritize the key marketing goals of your business.  When clients are theme shopping they are rarely looking at the the functional and structural approach of a design, how flexible it is, and how it may or may not grow with their business.

Those Visual Aspects

Commercial themes can be incredibly sexy.  That’s a comment we hear often “That’s hot!, very sexy, big wow factor!”.  Now, let’s be honest, is your business sexy?  Do people seek you out for that wow factor?  Unless you are a record label or a rock star, 3D sliders and elaborate designs are probably not what your potential clients are seeking from you.

Logistical Problems

We agree, that slider is amazing!

Now, do you have professionally shot wide angle images (that crop well) that tell the story of your business?

You’re also going to need a dozen or so professional images to fill out all those feature and content boxes.

What are you going to put in all those boxes?  Good question…this theme isn’t really mapping very well to your business, is it?


One of the worst trends that has developed in commercial themes are pages and pages of options settings so this theme can do everything but wash your dishes.  This sounds like a great idea, until you realize it takes 2 days of configuring and watching three videos to make it do what the demo does.

The Nitty Gritty

Code.  Four letters that can be your best friend or your worst nightmare.  The quality of code in commercial themes range from absolutely excellent to stunningly bad.  That little change you want could be a no brainer or it might be hours of sifting through spaghetti code trying to figure out what somebody did.  Then we need to look at whether the theme is following WordPress best practices…is it using the new menu system?  Does it manage Jquery properly, or load it four or five times?  What happens when WordPress has a key update, does the theme get updated as well?  Is there a track record of support by the theme developer?

So Commercial WordPress Themes Are Bad?

No, not at all! Commercial WordPress themes can be a great option for sites when selected for the right reasons, and with the help of your web designer.

In our experience, the best choice for purchasing commercial themes are the established frameworks like StudioPress and WooThemes.

Clients often look at the available themes and don’t see a clear fit, not realizing these themes offer base frameworks that can have literally any design and features added.

Why is this a better choice than shopping for a theme visually?  These themes are put through their paces from a code and feature perspective, both by dedicated teams and their sheer popularity.  They offer clean code, excellent documentation, SEO options, and are always in sync with WordPress’s latest features. There can also some very good themes available on sites like Themeforest, but the trick is knowing which ones they are and how they fit your website goals.

What Should You Do? Theme Markets As Inspiration

Rather than purchasing a theme, make notes about themes you like, site features, color schemes and features that catch your eye.  Keep these handy to discuss with your web designer, they will be thrilled to have reference material for your design ideas!

Do you agree? Disagree? Comments are welcome.