How to Select the Right WordPress Commercial Theme?

August 15, 2015


This post was triggered by a recent article written by Matt Medeiros of the Matt Report and one of his most recent podcasts where he talks about how to select the right WordPress commercial theme for your project, and also by another great piece written by Carrie Dils in March 2014.

I’ve been meaning to write up a quick article on this particular subject for quite a long time but I never got around to it. However, I just think it’s a great subject for this month’s WP-Tonic newsletter article. We also plan on using this subject for a couple of WP-Tonic’s audio shows this month.

I want to develop some of the areas that Matt touched on and give some more detailed advice to individuals who are looking at WordPress to provide a great starting platform to their existing or a possible new business.

One of the reasons why I liked Matt‘s recent article/podcast so much, was that he decided not only to deal with some of the benefits but also the problems a lot of new or less experienced users of WordPress have connected to selecting the right WordPress theme for their project.

This is probably linked to that I call the “unicorn syndrome” which a lot of WordPress theme marketplaces and theme shops have developed over the past 4 to 5 years– that a $49.99 WordPress theme is going to solve all your online marketing problems. Unfortunately, the reality is this commercial WordPress theme zone has really become the wild west of web-design and development.

I see so many small business owners, nonprofits, and even larger businesses and organizations get semi-burnt by either having slightly unrealistic expectation connected to what can be achieved by a $49.99 WordPress theme or are slightly misled by some theme developers semi-wild marketing statements. It’s a bit like politics.

See, deep in our hearts we all know that America and Western Europe are facing some major problems. However, we still vote for politicians that will give us what seem to be easy solutions or sound bites. The same can apply to the WordPress commercial theme marketplace.

To demonstrate this I’m going to talk about a situation which I had about a year and half ago. See, I had a small client recommended to me who was in the restaurant business and who was opening a small new local restaurant and they wanted something up and running quite quickly. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t know about Happy Tables and I would have probably recommended this as a solution.

So I went online to a well-known WordPress theme shop in the WordPress community that has a generally good reputation. I selected a theme that was targeted at the restaurant market. It looked great with a nice modern design and it was fully responsive. I was confident that it would be ideal for the client and I would have it up and running in a couple of weeks or less.

Unfortunately, there was one major problem… see, the theme was a total mess of short-codes.

However, I’m not totally against short-codes because in the right place and for the right sort of reasons they can provide great additional functionality; however, this was a bridge too far.

See, the whole home page and also some of the other key pages of this theme were totally based on short-codes. I personally had never seen anything like this before and I was shocked and disappointed that a respected WordPress theme shop would publish a set-up like this to the general user public. My attitude would have been different if this had been a private custom theme.

I am telling you this story because I have seven years professional experience as a front-end developer and WordPress consultant and even with this experience I got myself into a semi-messy situation with this particular WordPress theme.

So what I would like to do in this article and in the next couple of WP-Tonic podcasts is try and give you some real guidance on what new WordPress users should look for and think about connected to buying a WordPress commercial theme.

Step One

Don’t just go to a load of different WordPress commercial theme shops and just buy a theme. That sounds like simple advice but it is really hard to stop yourself from doing this. See, we have all been tempted to buy that great looking theme only to find that it wasn’t all that great.

No, it’s best to spend some time by looking at other businesses’ websites in your industry that are of similar size.

I’m saying this because it’s really important to be realistic here connected to what level of customization or developed functionality you going to be able to afford.

A WordPress commercial theme is great value but it can’t replace a whole design and development team that works for a large franchise restaurant chain. Also, keep in mind that their marketing needs are going to be very different to what you need and want as a small business owner

Here are Some Tips and Tricks Connected to Finding the Right Commercial Them

What key functionality is really important?

First, write down what you like about their particular websites connected to the layout and features set which you would most like on your new website.

This is really important because there’s nothing worse than trying to adapt a theme that really hasn’t been designed or built for your business area.

See, a theme is either built as a generic wide use solution or to serve a specific niche vertical. I personally feel it’s best for a business owner to go for a theme that is designed for your particular niche vertical then a generic wide theme. You are going to get more value and it will be a much better fit for the key functionality you are really looking from a WordPress commercial theme.

However, it’s a strange fact that some of the most popular themes on Themeforest or Elegant Themes are the generic wide use-case solution themes. I would strongly advise you to look at a specific niche theme.

See, changing the entire layout of your theme that you have purchased is no easy task, so choose wisely. Or rather go for a WordPress theme “…that meets 80% of your visual, layout and content needs connected to your website”

However, quite a lot of WordPress consultants disagree with this position and say that themes like X The Theme,as an example, offer great value and flexibility. I was listening to this week’s episode of the A to Z WordPress Plugins podcast by John Overall and he remarked that he had recently been working with the X theme and he really liked it and that he also got excellent support from the Theme support team.

How to choose the right theme on most theme marketplaces or a theme shop?

I probably will do a video on how to choose a theme for your project from WordPress theme shops or marketplaces in the near future.

1 – Have a really good look at all the suitable themes, then choose three that in design and functionality terms meet your needs the best. This will probably take up to a whole morning so be pre-warned.

2 – If some of your choices are coming from a WordPress commercial theme market place, the marketplace will normally give you some basic info on the theme developer, like how long has the developer been selling on the marketplace, how many themes have they developed and also how many themes have they sold?

3 – Most marketplaces have comment sections and you really need to read these comments connected to the theme you are thinking of buying.

Does the theme shop have an open to the public forum or do you have to buy the theme before you can read what is being said on this forum about your particular theme?

I really don’t like this; however, in some way it’s understandable, but others are more open. Almost all theme or marketplaces won’t allow you to post support questions on their forums unless you have bought the theme beforehand.

4 – Send the developer or theme shop some pre-sale questions. If they can’t be bothered to answer your questions quickly or professionally– how good do you think their ongoing theme support is going to be?

Option Panels: are they a good idea?

A lot of people say you should choose a theme that comes with an easy-to-use options panel which allows you to brand the theme without losing the design or aesthetic value.

I’m of two minds about this particular argument because I have had the displeasure and frustration of trying to work on themes that have had loads of inbuilt interface options, which control almost every element of the theme.

I can tell you that in my experience all this achieves is normally an option panel semi- nightmare coding mess which makes a theme extremely difficult to semi- customize outside the option parameters that the theme developers have inbuilt into the theme.

However, there is a balance here, see option panels are useful for key elements that any normal end user would like to change or customize connected to their theme purchase. However, some theme developers take this balance much too far and end up with what I call option panel hell.

Is your theme responsive?

Is your commercial theme a fully responsive theme and do you get some inbuilt multiple layouts and designs to suit a variety of needs? Also, you would be amazed the amount of cheap commercial themes that don’t have inbuilt CSS styles for forms.

Test the online support out as soon as you buy the theme

A lot of theme shop owners are not going to be too pleased with me saying this. However, some theme shops do offer a period of time where you can return the theme and get your money back or a credit note.

If this is the case, it might be a good idea to see what is the real level of support you are going to really get from the theme developer or team.


Hopefully, I have given you some useful tips plus some great insights connected to choosing the right WordPress commercial theme for your project?

However, like what I said at the beginning of this article the WordPress commercial theme market is very open and is a really wild marketplace. Also, you have to be realistic on what you can expect to receive in “value terms” connected to the average $49.99 commercial WordPress theme. However, most commercial themes are still amazing value, but you have to understand that any customization you might need or want is going to cost you a lot more than the initial purchase price connected to the theme.

This one of the biggest reasons why I say it’s best to write down what key functionality you must have, connected to your new theme. This is why it’s important to try and find a theme that meets your design-branding and key functionally needs at the start before you look at getting the theme customized in either design or functionality terms.

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