WordPress is hugely popular – it now powers 27% of the websites online. Numbers like that attract attention and people seeking to make money go where the demand is, so becoming a premium WordPress developer is an attractive way to make money – with some of the leading developers raking it in.  Of course, there’s going to be quite a bit of variation between how good developers are with their initial coding and their on-going support of the theme. Frustratingly, not all theme developers will deliver on their promises and sadly the support can be severely lacking (or run out after six months if you don’t pay for an ‘extended license’). The risk of-course, is that if you use one of these themes and find out the developer is not one of the ‘good ones’ you’ve not just blown the cost for the theme licensing, but you’ve also wasted a lot of your time and energy trying to make the theme work for you. There’s also the opportunity-cost of what you may have lost in increased revenues by not going down a more expensive route.

So here’s a quick summary of my experiences with premium themes over the years  –  what I’ve learned and what you really need to be aware of before jumping in and buying a theme or themes (yes some people end up buying dozens of themes trying in vain to find the ‘right fit’ for their needs).

Here today, gone tomorrow… sometimes the theme developer just disappears into thin air

You got past all the pain of setting up the site and working through a myriad of display and formatting options, you’re feeling good about how web-savvy you’ve been and all the money you’ve saved. Then one day, you get an email from someone about your website – it looks a bit odd, there are weird display issues or it’s just not working at all. You login into your theme marketplace account and discover to your shock that the theme developer is no longer supporting the theme, it’s no longer in development or even available in the market place, and the developer is long gone (no doubt tired of trying to support the theme). And guess what, no one wants to know about, as it’s not anyone’s responsibility and no one ever wants to fix ‘other people’s code’. You are stuck with a broken website and have to find an emergency solution fast. That solution is probably another theme, and so the cycle and risk starts again.

Premium themes often come bundled with 3rd party plugins that may develop security risks

Themes often come with all the ‘bells and whistles’ and to provide that level of functionality they bundle into the theme other developer’s WordPress plugins (which are software add-ons). You won’t have a license for the plugins (the developer is using their own multi-site license) – so you won’t be registered to get emails about updates or security issues and you’ll have to rely on the theme developer to provide you with updates. I recently read the fine print on one theme like this, and they encouraged people to go and buy their own licenses for the plugins – or just wait until the theme was updated. The problem with this, is that you are at the mercy of the theme developer to release a theme update with the new updated plugins. In the meantime, a security vulnerability with the plugin could be exploited and your site is infected with malware (and then Google shows a warning about your site and anti-virus software will block access to it for their users). Basically you have a ticking time-bomb.

Premium themes often use 3rd party ‘page builders’ to create the layouts

Many themes use their own ‘page builder’ which is a drag and drop editing system (or they bundle in another developer’s page builder). These are becoming quite popular (we use them ourselves), but Page Builders are not all created equal, and quite frankly some of them are just plain awful to work with. Just this year, I turned down a job because I could not face working with the theme’s visual page builder system – I literally saw my life-force ebbing away from me as I frowned and swore at the screen trying to use a horribly designed system while trying to meet high expectations. And it’s not just me, visit any web designer group or forum and it will be full of complaints about some page builders. There are also the purists who would never use any page builder system at all and would provide and expect a client to pay for a very customized solution.

With some page builders, if the plugin is deactivated, you not only lose your layouts (the columns the content is laid out in) but you are left with a bunch of ‘short-codes’ throughout the site (these are short text instructions to format columns or provide formatting that the end user is not supposed to see and are invisible if the theme is active but visible if you switch to another theme).

So many styling options it’s overwhelming and it’s probably never going to look as pretty as the theme demo

Premium WordPress themes are developed to appeal to the widest possible market and so they thrown in the kitchen sink and some. Often there are so many options available that it becomes very complex trying to configure the site to someone’s needs – with a multitude of styling options – and it can be quite simply overwhelming to work through these (even for an experience user like myself).

The theme demos are always presented with content and imagery that is perfectly edited and very suited to the nature of the theme – but clients in my experience always struggle with their content and it can be tough to get the site looking anything like the theme demo. You could always installing the demo content (if provided by the developer) but then you’ve got a bunch of pages and content you need to cull as you work your way through it replacing it with your content. And trust me, dummy content always has a knack of turning up in a live site if ever used.

So what are your options?

  1. If an all in one solution out of the box still appeals to you, go with one of the leading theme developers – ones have been around a long time and this is their core business (too big to fail)
  2. If buying from a theme ‘market place’ buyer beware… do your due diligence on the theme developer (read the support requests – as they can be illuminating and show the attitude of the developer).
  3. Hire a web developer to create a custom theme for you
  4. Hire a developer to create a child theme from a ‘theme framework’. Theme frameworks are boilerplate’s that developers use to create a ‘child theme’ this theme uses functionality and styling from the parent theme, but then has it’s own styling and functions added separately. This means that if the parent theme gets updated, the styles created don’t get overwritten.

Still not sure? If you’d like some personalised advice, get in touch.