Why I don’t work with WordPress Themes

“We’ll just use a theme”

This is the dreaded phrase that I sometimes hear when discussing a WordPress project. The moment I hear it come out of someone’s mouth I have to cut them short right there and tell them I don’t work with WordPress themes. I then explain to them why I have this rule which usually involves a further 10 minute conversation to justify my decision; which is fair enough, but it’s a repetitive process.

Instead then, it would be great to have a handy reference as to why I don’t work with WordPress themes…

Generic in nature

Themes are built generically. They are built generically in order to capture as many sales as possible which, as a business model, is understandable. As they are built generically they aren’t going to be built for your business. During the design and build process there has not been a single thought of what would be best for your business – you wouldn’t take that approach with any traditional marketing would you?

Bloated Code

The generic nature of a WordPress theme also present you with another problem – code bloat. There are usually lots of templates and their variations in a theme that you will not need. One of them might be suitable, but this means there are loads of scripts that aren’t used – including front-end JavaScript and CSS that adds unnecessary ‘weight’ to your site.

If you know anything about performance then you know that it’s best to only load what you need and nothing more. This will help make your website quicker; which has a huge influence on bounce rates, SEO and conversions.

Another problem is that if a code change needs to be made then having these excess files means it’s more complicated for the developer to go in and make the changes – possibly increasing time and costs for changes.

Options over decisions

The philosophy of the WordPress project is decisions, not options. So rather than giving users hundreds of checkboxes in order to change every single option on their site – important decisions are made by developers (for the benefit of end users) and flexibility is given through filters.

The main selling point of some themes are the amount of options and the flexibility of the theme has. This is great for some users but can be confusing and often unnecessary for others. When a user doesn’t care or understand the option this ultimately leads to frustration.

Code Standards

Although theme companies and marketplaces are making a real effort to meet code standards, there are lots of themes out there with awful code. It’s easy to create a theme, but it takes skill and experience to create a well coded theme. Similar to the issue with bloated code, this can create bad performant websites.

Another problem is that bad coding standards may break integration with plugins. A common problem I see is themes using the wrong version of jQuery that is breaking several other Javascript issues on the site. There’s no way a user is going to be able to understand why this is broken and because it’s the theme’s fault and it’s unlikely a plugin author is going to help.

Conclusion

I’m not saying themes don’t have their place in the WordPress ecosystem because they do offer people a quick way to get a website up and running. However if you want the job doing properly then my advice is to learn how to make themes, or hire a professional to do it for you.

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