GetPhound started in 2013 and started using what we thought was the best option for theme design — ThemeForest. The Envato marketplace seemed like a gift from heaven, a resource that publishes tons of new creative content every day that can be used for your projects. It featured themes, plugins, and even graphic design assets — there’s no shortage of options to choose from. Everything is unique and creative because you have the minds of thousands of different authors publishing their work on the marketplace.
Despite all of these positive factors, however, when weighted with the consequences and the caveats of using themes from unfamiliar authors, the logical option is to look elsewhere for themes. These are some of the issues we ran into when using ThemeForest:
- Limited Customization
- Learning New Interfaces
- Too Many Features
- Restricted Creativity
- Highly Vulnerable
- Lackluster Support
- Content Is Based On Design
- Poor SEO
Obviously, all of these issues made using ThemeForest less than ideal. Here’s why:
Customizing and Incorporating Your Own Features Is Difficult
Adding new features is complicated when working with unfamiliar systems. Let’s say you show the website to a client for review and everything looks great. The problem is the client now wants testimonials to slide across the homepage. Sounds like an easy feature to implement, right? You check the theme to see if there’s anything built-in, but there isn’t. Scrambling through the files, you try to find the right file to add the necessary code but things start to break because you don’t understand how they were built.
In an industry where clients make the rules, the occurrence of scope creep is dreadful. We all take certain procedures and methods to make sure it doesn’t happen. But at the end of the day we can’t prevent all instances of it. When it does happen, you better be a master of the system you’re working with. If you don’t, you have a long and stressful road ahead.
Learning New Interfaces
Themes have different interfaces. Something as basic as changing the footer text should always be simple and intuitive, right? Not when it’s in an entirely separate place on every website you build. Don’t get me wrong, the guides and documentation that come with most themes are extensive and well-written, but should you really have to read a 40-page guide every time you’re working on a new website? The answer is, “No!” — professionals should know where everything is and not be at the mercy of every individual developer.
Learning a UI you’ll never use again is extremely inefficient. Become a master of a reputable system that you plan to use frequently and you will save a ridiculous amount of time. I dive into the best options for this at the bottom of the post.
Having Too Many Features Leads To A Lot Of Problems
On popular marketplaces like ThemeForest, the themes with the most features are the most successful. Having too many features makes switching themes a nightmare because you lose a lot of your data. When all of your site’s options are set up in the theme itself, you are stuck with this theme, unless you want to start all over by reconfiguring all of that data with a new theme. WordPress themes should be built in a way that makes them easily swappable without any negative effects.
You Eliminate The Creative Process
When you forego the creative process, the website won’t be designed around a brand, but instead a pre-designed template. When building from a blank slate, you are likely going to experiment and find creative design solutions throughout the project. Create a product that is unique to your customer and not an identical twin to hundreds of other sites on the Internet.
You Open Your Site’s Doorway To A Lot Of Malicious Threats
At the time of writing this post, 24% of the websites on the internet are running WordPress. With a community this large, you are looking at a lot of hackers trying to manipulate and take advantage of the platform.
Code needs to be constantly updated and maintained to assess these threats. If your product or theme doesn’t have the support it needs to keep it constantly safeguarded, it will eventually be compromised. Themes on these marketplaces are generally bundled with a lot of dependencies or plugins. These dependencies are required for your site to run. Think of each of these plugins as a doorway, and if one of these doorways is opened because of failure to keep its code safe and maintainable, your entire site is at jeopardy.
What Will You Do When Something Breaks
Consumers today expect product support to be high quality and capable of handling any situation. Why shouldn’t it be? There’s a lot to say about a brand if it does not meet certain standards for customer service. In the case of most of the products, you’re not dealing with large support teams, but rather one person who probably has a lot on his/her plate. You could see response times of anywhere from 24-72 hours. In some instances they may not even be able to fix the issue, which could lead to a dead-end or disaster in the case of some projects.
Content That Is Based On Design Leads To Content With No Value
Not all website designs work for every type of business. Why? Because websites should be strategically designed to showcase and highlight the content that is most relevant to the visitor or target audience. If a website’s design is not based on content, you risk the quality and the value of the content that is produced.
Stay away from elaborate templates that depict what and where things go on your website.
A client should either be giving you all of the content that they want on your site, or you should be having a content specialist create it for them dependent on what is relevant to their business. If a content specialist is creating material dependent on a template, that material will be forced and may have little to no true representation of the business.
Another result could be halts in the product cycle. If you’re constantly requesting content from the client to fill your elaborate design template, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to wrap up the project.
Bad Themes = Bad SEO
The cleaner your theme’s HTML, the friendlier your site will be to search engines. A large portion of themes on ThemeForest have Visual Editors, which throw in all sorts of unnecessary HTML and elements that dilute the markup. Go ahead and run your website through the https://validator.w3.org/. It will give you a good idea of how well your website’s theme was written. Reliable frameworks like Genesis keep HTML markup clean and structure the site in a way that positively impacts your SEO.
Find What Works For You
It’s time to start widening your horizons, unless you want to end up falling victim to any of the factors above. Try out some of the suggestions below and you won’t be disappointed.
Use Reliable Theme Vendors – There’s a huge number of high-quality, reputable theme vendors to choose from. StudioPress, WooThemes, and Themedy are some popular options. Their designs are ideal because they are simple and minimalistic, which gives you the freedom to add your own creative value to the theme and website in general.
Master Your Framework – Master a framework and in turn you will master your time management. Frameworks provide a great starting structure to build a child theme from. They handle a lot of the technical aspects such as SEO, file structure, etc. The power-packed features incorporated in frameworks are geared toward making developers’ jobs a lot easier.
Try Starter Themes – Start from a completely blank design slate with a starter theme. This way, you have the luxury of all of your files being set up in the right place. Underscores.me is by far the most popular option, but look around because starter themes are created for all sorts of different development scenarios. Maybe you’ll find the perfect one for your projects!
Wrapping Things Up
ThemeForest is a great marketplace that works well for a lot of people, but their model does not align with the project goals at GetPhound. Through trial and error we learned to eliminate all of the issues we struggled with, and I think you’ll find good results from going through a similar process yourself.
Experimentation is key, and without it, we will never grow, learn new things, and become better professionals. Don’t settle on a process just because it works. Perfect your process and both you and your clients will be a lot happier.