Why You Should Give Premium WordPress Themes a Chance
I’ll admit it right up-front. I’ve only ever used premium themes to build WordPress websites. I started freelancing and teaching myself WordPress in 2010 and I could no more have built a custom theme at that time then I could have built a rocket to the moon (Shoutout to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11).
Nine years later and I now work for a web design agency that specializes in WordPress web design for small- to mid-size businesses. Our clientele ranges from manufacturers to law firms to nonprofits. For each of our very unique clients, we build brand-focused, strategic websites using premium WordPress themes.
Screenshot taken 8/28/2019 of themeforest.net
Once I started attending WordCamps, I learned that this is not the norm in web design. Many agencies and freelancers build custom themes from scratch or using a framework as the foundation for the site. I can see the advantages to this, I really can. And I can see how if you’ve been doing it this way, then using a premium theme would involve a weird learning curve that might make you think “Why should I learn how this theme does it when I can just do it myself?” Everyone has different skillsets, and ultimately, an agency's goal should be to play to its strengths.
However, even now that I know other routes may seem more “prestigious” within the WordPress community, here are six reasons I continue to firmly believe custom themes are best for our clients, and maybe for yours too.
1. Create Truly Unique Sites in Less Time (and at a lower cost)
With a premium theme, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you start a site. Your functions are already built and your styles can easily be changed within the theme panel, or through minimal css additions. This saves us hours and hours of time upfront, which allows us to use our time for more strategy-level and goal-oriented thinking.
2. The Theme Options Panel
I love a robust theme options panel that allows me to set site-wide options (from basics like accent colors and fonts to the entire look and functionality of a portfolio or blog page) with just a few clicks.
Screenshot taken 8/28/2019 - backend of brooksmanley.com
3. Integration of Top Plugins
We love these themes because they’ve taken plugins like WP Bakery Visual Composer, Woocommerce, or Contact Form 7 and integrated them into the style of their theme and made them easy, functional, and beautiful without us having to spend a ton of time building them out.
Demos are getting better and better and at the very least they can help provide inspiration as you design a site. In some cases, you can utilize entire demo pages or sections on your site. Also, more and more premium themes are adding “mini demos” within the visual composer that highlight individual elements. See a Recent Posts demo you like? Click a button and it will be added to the page with options pre-selected to match that style.
5. Easy for Clients
Our clients love these themes and how easy it is for them to change text and images without accidentally changing the style. Visual Composer includes a simple way to save a page as a template and our clients can utilize this to quickly build brand new pages that match the rest of their site. They are empowered and happy.
6. Developer Support
We only use themes that have a proven track record of supporting their clients, and from time to time we do reach out to them for help. Sometimes they tell us what we want to do isn’t possible within the theme options, so we build it out ourselves. But more often than not they find our questions helpful for their overall client base and provide a solution, sometimes integrating that solution into the next theme update.
Our Two Favorite Premium WordPress Themes
We have used this beautiful theme by Themenectar more than any other, including on our own website. They were true pioneers in giving designers lots of options, but not overloading the site to the point of bloat. Their theme options and customizations of Visual Composer are intuitive and allow you to take a design any direction you want to take it.
A few highlights:
- Accent colors are selected in theme options and then are integrated as default options in the color pickers used throughout the site.
- Very robust options at the row and column levels. Something I haven’t seen on any other theme that is quite useful is the ability to link an entire column.
- Beautiful portfolio display options, and the ability to easily link a portfolio an external url.
I fell in love with this theme shortly before it was removed from the Themeforest repository, and continue to use it now that Themerella is selling it on their own. I am not sure what happened with Themeforest, but now you can buy a lifetime license for a very reasonable rate, so it has saved us tons of money.
A few highlights:
- While not as intuitive as Salient, the sheer volume of design options provided by Boo is impressive. Every single element allows you to go with the default options set in the theme settings, or to get really granular in selecting colors, font sizes, etc.
- Page/Post Options. Similarly, each page/post type has tons of options. You can go with the defaults, or you can create a page with a totally different header, footer, page title style, etc. This is really handy.
- Boo Universe. This is the name given to the 306 templates available within the Visual Composer. It is so easy to choose something you like and then adjust it for your needs. Similarly, many of the individual elements offer multiple pre-set styles you can choose from. Again, once you make a selection you can adjust it to best suit your needs, but it’s so nice to have a starting point.
A Final Disclaimer Regarding SEO
One bit of pushback we get regularly is that premium themes are bloated and thus terrible for SEO. We admit premium themes can be bulky and often lead to slow page load times and unnecessarily large crawl budgets.
However, this doesn't mean these aspects can't still be optimized. Unused assets can be removed and unneeded pages can be deleted. Additionally, many premium themes come with out-of-the-box optimizations, like simple schema markup and responsive templates.
Our hope for the web design industry is that no one would box themselves into a process solely due to prestige or the fear of being seen as an imposter. Design in your wheelhouse, prioritize your clients' needs, and let's keep the web beautiful.