A comprehensive guide to finding the right WordPress theme for your next project on ThemeForest. For the professional to the DIY entrepreneur. Written by a non-Envato affiliated buyer and professional developer.
ThemeForest is an incredible repository of well developed themes. It’s probably my favorite website on the entire internet. There are other companies offering great themes, but I’ll focus on ThemeForest for this guide since it’s the most comprehensive and diverse library of themes.
There are literally tens of thousands of WordPress themes to choose from on ThemeForest. The options are seemingly limitless without having to delve into custom theming. As a professional, I’d make the argument that purchasing a theme and modifying it to suit your clients needs is far more effective than developing a custom theme, if you know how to find the right theme.
There are plenty of jewels in the theme coal mine. Whether you are a professional web developer or a business owner on a shoestring budget looking to get the most out of your relatively small financial investment, this guide will get you moving in the right direction.
Lets get started with some ThemeForest pros and cons:
- Massive library of quality themes that include ratings and total sales for each theme.
- The diversity of themes for sale is unmatched by any other theme marketplace or theme developer site on the planet.
- The themes are relatively cheap and don’t require a commitment or membership.
- There is public feedback for each theme so you can get an idea of how well the theme is received and how the developer interacts with their customers.
- Roughly 5-15 new WordPress themes are added per day.
- Themes are vetted by the Envato team, and while they don’t guarantee the quality, it’s very rare for a bad theme to pass screening.
- Not all themes are created equal. It’s up to you to determine which one is right for you.
- You buy it, you break it, too bad. Most developers offer support (although it’s not required), Envato does not offer direct support for items, but does offer lots of support for buyers and authors.
- Sometimes there are too many options if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Alright – lets jump into how to shop for a theme. There are some important things to take into account other than how the WordPress theme looks. We’ll cover those first as it’s actually more important. In reality, many of the themes are very similar from a design perspective, but not all themes are created equal from a quality and feature perspective.
Theme Pricing and Features
WordPress Themes can range from $38 – $65 based on quality and features. Sometimes it’s hard to tell why a theme is priced a certain way, and I do believe theme pricing is not a perfect science, but there are a couple of very relevant features that play a role in a themes pricing in 2015. They are:
1. Visual Composer (or developer designed equivalent)
In my opinion, by far the most important plugin for the DIYer and the professional. The ability to hand over an easy-to-use site to your client/end-user is really what WordPress is about, isn’t it?
Visual Composer gives you the ability to add elements to the back-end of a page (from icons, text blocks, custom headers, image sliders, contact forms, and so much more) with the click of a button and drag it to where you’d like it. It does require a little finesse, but it allows you to build and maintain a site without ever having to learn a stitch of HTML or use a shortcode.
This plugin is $28, so it does effect the price of the theme, but the $5 or so more you might pay more for the theme is well worth it. Even if you’re a seasoned developer that prefers hand-jamming HTML and/or shortcodes, I recommend getting comfortable with this plugin as it will make your client’s lives easier when you hand them the keys. If you’re an end user, you’ll be blown away with how easy it is to use.
Unnecessary for most applications, BuddyPress is a feature that will affect the price of a theme. BuddyPress is open source and free to use, but it does require that the developer spend some additional time styling the elements of the plugin to match the styling of the theme.
If you’re looking for a membership site, this is a great plugin and you should buy a theme that already has the styling for it. If you find a theme that you absolutely love that has BuddyPress but you don’t need it, buy the theme, but don’t install/activate the plugin. Pay the few extra bucks anyway.
WooCommerce is the pinnacle of WordPress Plugins, in my opinion. It’s well-respected and used by many e-commerce sites. It’s easy to setup and configure if your theme already has the styling for it.
This plugin does not come packaged with the themes from ThemeForest, but if your chosen theme is WooCommerce ready, you’ll be able to download the plugin and activate it and you’ve got an ALMOST ready to go e-commerce platform.
It’s worth noting that payment gateways (Stripe, Authorize.net, PayPal), shipping calculators, etc, are all purchased from WooCommerce and some carry a premium price tag (upwards of $100), but you’ve got to spend money to make money!
From a hosting perspective, you’ll also be required to have an SSL certificate, dedicated IP address, and in some cases, PCI DSS compliance. But these are topics for another time!
4. WPML Certified
If you’re planning on serving content to a global audience and need WPML-ready is going to be very helpful with integrating that functionality., having a theme that is
You’ll need to purchase WPML separately, but if you’re theme is ready for it, it’ll integrate nicely.
5. Unique Plugins (Education, Dating, Marketplace)
These are the plugin integrations that bring the theme price up to $63 (as of December 2014). Education software selling, dating websites, marketplace websites (multi-user marketplaces, much like Envato itself) provide the theme purchaser with a unique turnkey business opportunity. And for all intents and purposes, $63 is an extremely low price considering what you’re getting.
These themes are few and far between, but if you’re looking for something unique and robust, you might just find what you need on ThemeForest.
WordPress Theme Sales Metrics
Some themes are mega-successful and ultra-lucrative for the theme developer. These themes will typically be updated and maintained well, offer outstanding support, and be near bug-free. This is why sales matter…
It’s Good Business to Keep the Theme Relevant
The best selling theme on ThemeForest is Avada, by ThemeFusion. It’s been purchased over 100,000 times and it’s undoubtedly the most popular WordPress theme on the planet. ThemeFusion is an “exclusive author,” (which means they don’t sell their products in any other marketplaces or on their own website) so they receive roughly 70% of the purchase.
This means the author has made over $4,000,000 and counting on this theme alone. That’s FOUR MILLION DOLLARS. Naturally, it’s worth ThemeFusion’s investment of time and money (support staff, marketing) to keep this theme up-to-date, well supported, and relevant with regards to current web trends.
You’re entitled to updates and fixes for the life of the theme, so you can bet purchasing this theme is a great option because it’s highly tested and supported, and based on sales performance, it’s worth the author’s time to continue providing updates and support.
The trade-off: 100,000 other people have this theme. But lets keep in mind that many people buy themes and can’t figure out how to use them, give up, their business goes under, or some are being used in a non-public setting.
Additionally, there are so many options on the theme, 99% of people wouldn’t be able to tell what theme it is. Lets also keep in mind there are countless websites on the world wide web. 100,000 isn’t a large number in the grand scheme of things.
On the flip-side, some themes only sell 5-10 copies in two years. In many cases, the author that made $200 on the theme isn’t going to be providing updates and/or support for that theme.
There are exceptions, especially with theme authors who have great sales records on other themes, but maybe had poor sales with one or two products. They’ll likely have an active support forum and respond to requests for support.
Author Profile, Stats, and Badges
Author profiles provide valuable insight into their activity, sales, and stature in the marketplace community. Envato encompasses a number of marketplaces, tutorials, blogs, forums. Active users are rewarded with badges by Envato, and of course rewarded with good ratings, sales, and followers by community members and customers.
These may or may not tell you much about the author. Ones to keep an eye out for are the Elite Author badge and badges pertaining to sales, longevity, or product features. You can roll your mouse pointer over the badge to learn more about it.
Overall sales will give you a glimpse at the author’s overall success in the marketplace. Some authors are new, so their sales may be a bit lower than less deserving authors, but high sales will give you an idea of their commitment to the forums.
Are they relevant? Are they successful, are they contributing new products to the marketplace. Keep in mind, this author may have sold 7,180 business card templates and three WordPress themes.
This is not the case with freevision, as I’ve had the pleasure of working with their themes, and they are outstanding products and provide quick support via their support forum.
Followers could be customers, but they are usually not one-off DIY customers. They’re typically other authors or web developers who frequent the marketplace and make purchases to support client projects.
A good number of followers indicates that there is interest from the professional development community in this author’s products. That’s a good sign.
4. Author Rating
Nobody has a perfect rating. Something that’s nice about the marketplace is a lot of the people providing ratings are professionals. You’ll always have a couple of angry people. These are generally a DIYer that purchased the theme and thought it came with full development services or didn’t realize they need to host their website somewhere and that it doesn’t magically just work.
High author ratings with a couple a snags here and there should be looked upon favorably when taking into account that some people have failed to do any research on what’s required to actually run a website and wrongfully hold the theme developer accountable for not also providing hosting and full customization services for the price of a theme, rating them poorly without ever actually using the theme.
5. General Profile Appearance
This is not a deal breaker, but the author that took the time to modify his profile is likely the same person who will pay attention to detail when developing a theme.
Lets Find Your WordPress Theme!
Now that we’ve given you a basic overview on why themes are priced as they are, how to tell (in general) if a theme is supported well, and how to determine an author’s reputation, we’ll delve into finding the perfect theme for your next project.
1. Look at All WordPress Themes
Lets just click WordPress > All Items. You might be a photographer or a musician, but lets be careful about viewing themes by category. Many themes come with a number of demos, some that might suit your needs, but if a great theme isn’t categorized under “entertainment” and you’re a musician thinking you can narrow your results by only looking at entertainment themes, you’ll be cutting your options short. Lets see them all!
2. Check out the First 5 Pages, Regardless of Sales or Rating
These themes are new. By default, the themes are organized newest to oldest. The new ones are not going to have a ton of sales, and they don’t get rated until a minimum of three ratings have been given to it by community members.
Tip: You don’t need to click on the theme, roll your mouse over the theme image/icon and you’ll get an idea of what the theme looks like. Also take note of the price.
If you want visual composer and you don’t feel like digging through all of the features, a good rule of thumb is that you’ll pay $48-$63 for that theme. I don’t even look at $43 themes. If you want e-commerce, don’t even bother looking at anything less than $58.
3. Apply Some Filters, New/Relevant + Good Sales Records
Here’s how to view the best themes. Again, make sure you’re looking at all themes. Now lets sort by a. Best Sellers and b. Added in the last year. This will give us the best selling themes developed in the past year, dialing in on what’s still relatively new AND sells well.
Note: This does not mean they are the best rated, but in many cases, high sales are somewhat related to high ratings.
Narrowing Down Your Options
At this point, you’ve got a ton of options! Now you might be overwhelmed with the choices, so how do we narrow it down to which themes are right for you? It depends on what you’re looking for and your website’s purpose.
While many, many, many elements of a theme are highly customizable, here are some things to take into consideration as they aren’t as easy to customize.
1. Main Menu Style
Deciding whether you want a horizontal or vertical menu is important before purchasing a theme. Horizontal menus are more popular, but vertical menus can work well for creative sites or if you want something a bit different. While it’s easy to change fonts, colors, and general style of the menu, it’s not easy to change the menu from vertical or horizontal, or visa-versa. Choose the theme with the menu layout you want and stick to it.
2. Blog Style
The flagship feature of WordPress, this is a major part of your website. While you may not blog, you can use the blog to share latest news or updates about your company. If you’re not blogging, you should consider it. Fresh, relevant content plays a large role in search engine rankings. Either way, it’s worth choosing a website with a general blog layout you like. This is quite customizable too, and many themes come with a number of optional layouts, you should make sure you like the general blog style concept and things like the share features/buttons, author information placement, and comment section, as those can be a little more tedious to change.
3. Galleries and Portfolios
If you’re a creative agency or individual, make sure you’re happy with the layouts and features of the galleries and portfolios. These, in many cases, are highly customized or use a plugin relevant to that theme.
4. Premium Feature Layout (Store, BuddyPress, etc)
Again – easy to change if you’ve got the chops, but if you’re looking to stand up a website for a client quickly, or you’re a first-timer, buy something you like out of the box.
TIP: Take note of the shortcodes, typography and elements. There will always be a page on the site which displays this information. Dig around on the demo site and get a feel for what you’re buying.
Vet the WordPress Theme and it’s Author
Before you make your decision, using the information provided above regarding the authors, make sure your template and author checks out! Do a little investigation.
Take a moment to look at the comments and see what people are asking and if the author is responding. What is the author’s demeanor? Keep in mind, the marketplace has authors from all around the world, so social protocol might be different in the United States from Hungary.
If the developer is using broken English or seems curt, cut him or her a break, it may be unintentional or a misconception due to a cultural difference or language barrier.
Theme Purchase Pre-Flight Checklist:
- Does the theme check out?
- Does the theme have the features you want or need?
- Is the theme popular? Are sales high and is the theme ranked well?
- Does the author interact well with customers?
- Is the theme “high resolution”?
- Is the theme responsive?
- Does the Author check out? Is he/she well respected on Envato?
- Does the author provide support?
- Is the theme well documented?
If you answered no to any of those, you need to determine how important it is to you? Are you an advanced user? No support is probably fine for you. Does the theme have high sales? If not, is it new? You’re taking a chance that support may not continue, but you’ll need to assess the author in general and make the determination if purchasing a new theme from him or her is a safe risk.
Happy theme hunting!
This post was originally published by Craig on his blog here.