Top THREE things I look for in a WordPress Theme

In Marketing by Christopher Michael FoleyLeave a Comment

 

I’ve got some copy on my Web Services page that is woefully out of date and needs to be fixed up, but the concept remains true.

That concept is simple:

We use high-quality WordPress frameworks to build out our sites. When we pick the right framework we’re able to cut development time by more than half what it would take to write our own custom theme, and that keeps costs down for our customers. This is how we’re able to deliver a $6,000 site that would have cost more than $10,000 just 3 years ago.

Sometimes these frameworks are referred to as “themes” and other times they’re referred to as “templates” but that’s not what we look for. Throughout our Discovery Phase we establish a very clear understanding of our customers’ business goals, and armed with that understanding we pick from a small handful of frameworks that we know and trust. There are a zillion WordPress themes out there, and some of them are quite good. Most of them are terrible and will not serve you well over time.

I can’t tell you how frequently we’re hired to get into somebody’s crappy theme to fix something that’s not working right, or to figure out why their existing theme is not playing nicely with some other new service that our customer wants to add.

What makes a Framework different from a Theme?

Well, look, this is really semantics, but my feelings are: a Framework is a foundational application that allows my team and me to build something very custom and very powerful, including the option to make dramatic changes halfway through the build process, or in the months to come.

With a Theme, you generally pick it because you like the way it looks, especially with regards to the home page. You install that theme, change up its colors and fonts, populate the home page with your data and you’re good… BUT… you’re stuck with that home page’s layout. Stuck with it, like forever. Most themes need to be completely rewritten if you want to stray from the layout provided by the theme’s developers. That’s expensive and requires the hassle of taking your site back into development. With a good Framework template, I can build you out whatever home page layout your like, and we can get it right the first time!

Here are THREE things that I look for when choosing a WordPress Framework for my customers:

First, It’s VITAL that the framework includes, and was developed specifically to work well with an advanced Visual Composer.

Here’s why this is so important: back in the day (like last year) we pitched and priced sites based largely on how many custom landing pages the project required. See, your home page is a custom landing page. And then you might have other custom landing pages serving any number of purposes. You might have a few custom landing pages built out to agree with some Google AdWords or Facebook Pay Per Click ad campaigns that you’re running. Or you may have a custom landing page setup to sell a subscription product, or you might want to build one to sell an upcoming live event. Whatever. If you’re running a promotion, you need an effective landing page to help you convert visitors to buyers.

Again, back in the day, if we chose you a nice Genesis theme, you’d get an attractive and effective home page, but then all of the interior pages would be rather static, in other words, all interior pages (or pages that were not the home page) would sort of look pretty much the same. The text and images would be different, but the functions and layout would be very similar. This is where the Visual Composer system comes into play. With a high-quality Visual Composer, we can build out each and every interior page as a custom landing page. Every interior page can have its own purpose, it’s own functions and calls to action, and its own look and feel! And this is why we no longer work with Genesis or Thesis themes; they’re just too limiting, and the customer needs to come back to us whenever they want an additional custom landing page, and this limitation runs counter to our core mission of leaving the customer empowered to work effectively with every product we build for them.

Our favorite Visual Composers out there right now is WPBakery’s Visual Composer (http://vc.wpbakery.com/), which is already deeply hooked into 2 of our 3 favorite frameworks, and our other favorite is called Cornerstone (http://theme.co/cornerstone/) which is deeply hooked into every “X” theme made by Theme.co.

With the exception of sites designed to function as a blog only, we no longer build on Frameworks that don’t allow for deep customization using a high-quality front-end builder.

WPBakery

Second, it’s of increasing importance that the Frameworks we select are already built to accommodate the later integration of the mind-bogglingly excellent WooCommerce eCommerce system for WordPress.

With almost 1 million downloads, WooCommerce is currently powering 30% of all online stores worldwide. Think about that for a second. There are very few reasons at this point that one would want to build out a Shopify store, or go to Magento, Ultracart, or BigCommerce. Don’t even talk to me about Volusion, and Infusionsoft is really a whole different trip, just in case you were wondering.

Most WordPress Themes make a show of claiming to be WooCommerce friendly, but our experience is that they ARE NOT ready to be used with WooCommerce without a ton of development and design labor. Genesis is a really good example of this. There are some patches and plugins written to make WooCommerce fit into the Genesis framework more easily, but it’s really in a sad state.

The majority of our customers come back to us within a year or less and ask us about integrating an online store into their sites. Some of them only have a few products or services to sell, and would be better served by setting up some Pay Forms to capture online sales than to setup a dedicated eCommerce system, but for those who need a full-on catalog and shopping cart system, close to 95% of our customers would be best served by WooCommerce with a handful of affordable add-ons installed.

Now, wouldn’t it just suck to be that customer with a year-old website that’s doing great, converting traffic into subscribers, and then you find out that the site we’ve just built you isn’t able to be turned into a store? I’ll answer that question for you: Yes. Yes that would suck. So let’s get you into a framework now that’s ready for WooCommerce so we can power that up at a later time without having to start all over again.

Third, we demand that the Framework we select is built and supported by a company who takes the damned thing seriously.

Too frequently I’ve taken a call from a customer whose site is powered by some random WordPress theme they bought on Theme Forest — selected mostly for its aesthetics and flashy, blinky features — and who needs help getting something new to work with it, or needing to fix a break that occurred from running a normal security update. Looking into the case, it invariably comes to light that the developer of said theme is some hotshot hacker kid from Eastern Europe who is either spread too thin pulling double duty working on future development of his product (your theme) and trying to run Customer Support for his company of one, and he’s just too busy to keep your theme up to date and ahead of the security risks present in today’s World Wide Web.

Or, better yet, the hotshot hacker kid from Eastern Europe from whom you’ve bought your theme has decided to stuff all of this freelance nonsense and get a day job working for an up and coming software company where he can enjoy a cool culture, a steady paycheck, and sleep more soundly. But where does that leave you? Not in a pretty place, I’m afraid.

So, when we go looking for a Framework for our customers’ projects we keep these three requirements firmly in mind, among others, which I’ll get into in another post.

Without Further Adieu

Okay, you’ve waited for it. Here it is.

Our three current favorite WordPress Frameworks (you can call them themes if you like, or even templates, but for us they’re so much more than just that) are:

1. Jupiter by Artbees (http://demos.artbees.net/jupiter/)

We can do pretty much anything that can be imagined with this Framework. It’s essentially a license to print money. No joke.
The Jupiter Framework comes with several different “themes” that use the framework, but are all setup to look differently, right out of the box. This Framework uses WPBakery’s Visual Composer and all of the excellent modules that come with it.

2. the7 by Dream Team (http://the7.dream-demo.com/)

Same deal. the7 is like putty in our hands, and it also comes with several “themes” which can be used as a starting place to begin customizing your site. This Framework also uses WPBakery’s Visual Composer and all of the excellent modules that come with it.

3. X by ThemeCo (http://theme.co/x/)

This is where Genesis (StudioPress/Copyblogger) should have been going all along, but instead they’ve been focusing on their content marketing strategies and their Rainmaker membership platform (which IS a very high-quality system that I’m running for several of my customers). In my own humble opinion, Genesis has fallen into a hole and hasn’t been innovating very much for a while now. Sure, new minimal themes have been coming out here and there, but these are definitely not what my customers are looking for and I’m having to bid a slow farewell to the Genesis platform that I used to love for my WordPress sites.

Additionally, I used to work with DIY Themes’ Thesis Framework, but that system was passed up by Genesis a couple of years ago for usability and flexibility and now they’ve both fallen so far behind that I don’t see them every coming back to the table again.

I hope you found some value in this article, and mostly I hope that you stop yourself before buying a pretty theme from Envato or Theme Forest and contact us first. We’ll hop on the phone for free and point you in the right direction. If we end up working together, great. If we don’t, that’s great too, and either way I’d love to help prevent you from throwing good money after bad, building out a site that won’t grow with you over time.

Cheers!
Christopher

 

Do you like what you see here?

Get the newsletter

I write two newsletters each month.
One for brands and and one for freelancers and small business persons.

Do you like what you see here?

Get the newsletter

I write two newsletters each month.
One for brands and and one for freelancers and small business persons.

Thank you for stopping by. You're the best.