Jan 06, 2015 • Jessica Jones
If you’ve ever looked into building your own WordPress site, you probably know that there are a lot of places out there offering free or low-cost WordPress themes. This may seem like an attractive option - most theme retailers market their wares as being easy-to-manage, inexpensive alternatives to hiring a web developer. If you’re interested in learning more about web development and your site is a personal or hobby project, this might be a good option. Deconstructing a WordPress theme and wrangling it to make it do what you want is a great way to learn.
<figcaption id="caption-attachment-3035" class="wp-caption-text">Would you buy a car if you couldn’t peek under the hood?</figcaption></figure>
If, however, learning to develop WordPress sites isn’t your ambition, be aware that the majority of pre-made WordPress themes aren’t going to be as straightforward to set up as they claim. I’ve worked with quite a few such themes, and more often than not it takes me a bit of studying and digging to figure out how to get them to do what I need - and I work with WordPress on a daily basis. If your sole reason for wanting this to be a DIY project is to save money, you’ll want to weigh the value of your time in that equation, because configuring your site is likely to take longer than you may realize.
Theme retailers will always present attractive screenshots of sites using those themes. Getting some ideas about what the theme looks like in action is important, of course, but what you can’t see is just as important as what you can. How is the backend laid out? Is the theme intuitive to manage or overblown and confusing? If the backend isn’t well laid out and you’re not an experienced developer, those pretty example screenshots start seeming like the pictures accompanying a recipe in a Martha Stewart magazine - the average person is never going to manage to make it look that good.
Unfortunately, as with most digital products, there’s no opportunity to examine or test the product before you commit. Unless you’re familiar with the theme developer and trust them to put together a solid, clean interface, there is no way to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Comments and ratings may be helpful, if there are any available, but make sure that the retailer is one that you trust to post negative reviews as well as positive.
If you buy a WordPress theme and find that you need help setting it up, who will you call? That’s a question you’ll want to know the answer to before you spend the money on a product that you can’t examine before you buy. Learn about the retailer’s support policy - and if their policy is to refer you to the creator of the theme, find out how they handle support issues.
To start with, does the theme come with documentation? Is it possible for you to look over the documentation before purchasing? The availability of well-written documentation would, of course, be a good sign. Beware any theme that claims that it is intuitive enough that documentation is not required.
Keep in mind, as well, that theme support goes beyond simply building and configuring your site. WordPress itself is constantly changing and updating, and sometimes themes include elements that require updates to continue to function with new versions of WordPress. Let’s say you get your theme set up just the way you want it, and you’re perfectly happy with the result. If, after a year, your theme is no longer compatible with WordPress and requires an update, will you know who to call? Is the seller or developer of the theme going to continue to support it?
This is an issue that we’ve seen crop up multiple times - someone has a site based on a third party theme that they’re perfectly happy with until a WordPress update suddenly causes it to stop working, and neither the retailer nor the developer offer a fix. At that point they have no choice but to redo their site, which is probably not an investment of time and/or money that that they’d planned on before the theme unexpectedly broke down. While I of course believe that the investment of hiring a good web developer is a smart one, that’s a choice that you want to be able to make on your own terms, not one that you want to be rushed into by a sudden site failure.
If hiring a web developer absolutely isn’t in your budget and you’ve got the time and inclination to deconstruct a WordPress theme, buying a theme online may be worth a try for you, especially if you’re hoping to upgrade your site once you get your business endeavor off the ground. If, however, developing websites isn’t a strong suit or interest for you, and you want your site to have the longevity and reliability of ongoing support, hiring a developer who will back up their work is an invaluable investment.
I wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it, and I wouldn’t buy a car without a warranty. I don’t know how to fix my car when it has an issue, so I want to know that I’ve got someone to call who has the knowledge and experience to take care of it. If you want your website to be as reliable and well-covered as my happy little Toyota, give us a shout and let us be your website mechanics!