Be original, avoid commercial WordPress themes

Are commercial WordPress themes worth the savings?

These days if you want a WordPress website, there are thousands of WordPress themes for sale on many commercial theme foundry sites. Purchasing one of them may seem the quickest way to the creation of a WordPress based site for your business. In some instances this might be the best option. And in some instances, it might not be the best option for you. Let’s examine the points to evaluate if you’re considering purchasing a theme for your WordPress site.

If you have a very limited budget, you might want to find a simple, easy to use theme. Or if you can be satisfied with the defined functions someone else created for a theme. Or if time is not on your side and you have to get something, anything up and don’t really have time to decide what will work best for your brand.

What should I consider when selecting a theme to purchase?

Things to consider when making the decision to use a commercially produced theme include are you completely happy with all the theme’s functionality? If you’re not satisfied with the way a theme provides staff listings, or ecommerce or projects, you can have a developer create a child theme for you which retains the primary traits of the parent theme and adds your modifications. You might use WordPress plugins to give the site functionality which the theme doesn’t include, but too many plugins can overload a WordPress site, slowing down load times. Having plugins on your site opens it up to issues called “breaking changes” — “A change in one part of a software system that causes other parts to fail; occurs most often in shared libraries of code used by multiple applications.”

Some themes will have hundreds of options, and come with preloaded content, but which of these options will you really use? Why opt for a WordPress theme stuffed with every known functionality under the sun? Trying to figure out how to use your selected options will make you feel like you’re banging your head on a brick wall and complicated software is more difficult to get right.

Documentation is often lacking in commercial WordPress themes. Before purchasing a theme, explore the documentation. If it is written with incomplete sentences, broken English or simply fails to convey the essential instructions of how to use it, you want to avoid it.

You should also explore the responsiveness of the theme’s developer, checking to be sure they respond to questions from purchasers. Do they update the theme regularly to keep it inline with WordPress’s developments? Do you get all those updates for the life of your site? Or do you have to purchase them in an ongoing process?

If you’re not going to do all the setup of your site yourself, ask the developers you consider using how they handle all of these concerns. Reflect on their answers and make your decisions appropriately. Remember that unless your developer is familiar with that “it will do anything” theme, it will take more time (money) for them to help you with it.

Why should I get a custom WordPress theme created for my website?

There are many reasons to have a very experienced, knowledgeable WordPress developer create a custom theme for your business website. Having your website purpose built for your business, to support your brand and provide precisely the required functionality your business needs is the best reason to get a custom theme coded for your WordPress website.

Advantages of a custom theme

A custom theme may be more expensive than a commercial theme set up by a WordPress freelance developer, but you’re not stuck with reverse engineering a theme’s functionality to get it to do what you require, or piling on plugins to make it do what you want. You will not have to worry about lacking instructions on how to to use a bloated, feature heavy theme that will go out of date the minute you install it.

Updating A Website: Making a Website Plan

 

They arrived full of hope

A group of open, smiling faces looked at me as I asked the question, “Has your website passed it’s sell by date?” We were gathered for a workshop sponsored by the Coastal Community Foundation in Charleston. Attendees were staff of non-profit organizations who were there to learn to plan or update their website so that it works well for their constituents and is true to the organization’s purpose.

All wanted better websites

Some in the group had crafted sites using free website builders like Wix and Google Sites. Some had outdated, legacy websites, created years ago by former staff or board members —built on platforms which shouted, “I’m from 1994.” Almost all of the sites had essential communications errors such as trying to cram too much onto a home page, or pages which lacked a purpose, or content that had not been updated in years.

Each one of these eager people were anxious to learn how they could take charge of their website so that the organization’s digital front door was welcoming and appealing. Each of them were working with limited budgets.

Planning time saves money

Over the course of our time together, everyone had “ah ha” moments about how they might improve their site. They all realized if they take the time to plan updates to their site, whether they work with website design / development professional or if they chose to go the DIY route, their planning will yield a lower cost, more user focused site that can support their organization’s goals.

As we worked together, I shared a presentation to help them work through some fundamental strategy questions and comprehend potholes, road blocks and missteps in planning, execution and design of a website.

Updating your website or planning a new site is not rocket science. All it requires is your focused time, comprehension of what your site visitors need and how you want to implement the site’s functionality. Your resulting strategy then yields insights that help you choose a template or theme or help a developer design your site. You just need to organize your thoughts and plan how each of your potential website visitors will use the site.

Start with:

  • Your website users
  • Figure out what each user needs or seeks that will prompt them to visit your site
  • Outline the functionality which will help each user get what they need

And then you plan your website content hierarchy so that every site visitor can navigate to what they need. Critical questions during your page content planning are three questions which address users’ needs:

  1. Where am I?
  2. What can I do here?
  3. Why should I care?

If each page addresses these questions, provides information and content designed to fulfill the specific requirements of that page’s audience and is true to your brand, you’ll have a winning site.

Download our tools to create a website plan:

If you find yourself stuck and not sure what to do to get a good website that works, give us a call.

Do These Things if You Are Moving to a New Host, or Upgrading Your WordPress Theme

Don’t try to move your website or update your theme without packing up the most essential items: Your WordPress database and all your posts and images.

Before you move your site, you must pack

It’s rare that someone chooses to move and leave all their worldly goods behind. But that’s exactly what some people do when they relocate their website to a new host or upgrade their website’s theme, or replace their existing static html site with a dynamic CMS based website.

There are two essential steps to prepare to move your site or change your hosting: back up and the creation of an inventory of all pages by creating a sitemap.

If you are going to undertake a hosting change you or your web developer must do these things in order to have an easy move.

Back up your site

By not backing up or copying your site’s content you risk losing it all in the transfer. Before doing anything, back up both your theme and your MySQL database if you have a content managed website.

You can use Filezilla to make copies of all your website directories and files, saving them to your hard drive. Or if you have a WordPress site, can use WordPress’ export tool to allow you to export all your data neatly.

Create a sitemap

Next, build a sitemap of your existing site capturing all URLs and relationships of pages to each other.

You can use Google’s Webmaster Tools to create a sitemap, or if you have a WordPress self-hosted site you can install the most popular WordPress plugin, Google XML Sitemaps. But what if your site is not a WordPress site? How do you create a sitemap? Either with Google’s Webmaster Tools or with an online tool such as XML Sitemaps.

After you move your site, you should create 301 redirects which will prevent the loss of your SERP (search engine results pages) referrals. When you setup your new site, especially if you are not maintaining an exact copy of your previous site’s structure, need to set up redirects for every page which previously existed and which no longer exists in your new site.

As with preparation for any trip, your digital data needs good planning. And tidy packing. Happy Travels!

Photo By: Drew Coffman