A Definitive WordPress Theme Buying Guide By A Consumer. No Fluff. No Bull. No Affiliate Links.

Are you thinking of buying a WordPress theme?

Need help before you make that all important purchase? I’ve been there; I’m going to share my actionable tips to avoid getting stuck with a junk WordPress theme.

I’ll be going in-depth in this guide, with some secret tips not mentioned on other blogs.

Also for your reference, there are no affiliate links in this post. It’s purely a guide to help, not to profit. I hope you enjoy it and it serves you well.


How do I choose the best WordPress theme for my needs?

What do you need the theme to do? What functionality is critical, and which would be nice to have?

You need to clarify what exactly you need. Make a qualified list of your specific needs, write them down and tick them off accordingly to ensure the theme measures up.

How confident are you in your abilities? Are you a complete beginner with WordPress?

Are you comfortable with writing code to change the look of a theme or are you in need of a page builder to get everything just right?

Evaluate your needs, write them down.

Stay away from best WordPress theme roundups.

65 Best themes for business 2019

I’m going to give you the heads up here, I’ll be brutally honest, (people might not like this) but stay away from any blogs that list “30 Best themes for photographers” or “50 Awesome Best Ever Responsive Themes”.

They offer no value.

None whatsoever. Fact. 

All they do is generate affiliate revenue for the site owner. I’m a consumer of WordPress products and can say hand on heart; they are useless posts explicitly built to get you to click on an affiliate link.

Anyone who tries to justify them by stating they “add value” is a joke. I don’t care if that statement is unpopular, it’s the truth.

Here are five reasons to stay away from the best WordPress theme style posts:

  • They are designed to get you to click on links to buy themes purely to generate affiliate earnings.
  • No thought goes into these roundups, half the time many of the blogs copy each other’s roundups. The problem being if someone lists crap, they others all follow suit.
  • A percentage of the time they’ve never even tested the WordPress theme in question. How could they? It’s impossible; there are thousands available.
  • Recommendations made (they won’t admit it) are based on a themes documentation, not based on actually testing.
  • The same themes get mentioned, it’s not always to do with the quality, it’s to do with the affiliate margins they can make. The more money they can make, the more you’ll see that particular theme towards the top of the list.

The easiest way to explain this:

Would you recommend a restaurant to one of your friends that you’ve never eaten at let alone visited?

Sure it’s a different subject, the same context though. You wouldn’t would you? No. 

So stay away from best theme ever roundups, you’ll get stuck with a lemon.

I’m going to prove why you should avoid Best WordPress theme blog posts

A little later on I’m going to talk about page speed and the importance of mobile you can always skip to that now if you’d like.

I’m going to PROVE to you why you shouldn’t trust theme roundups from WordPress bloggers.

I’m going to take one post (I’m not going to name names, this isn’t a blaming game) but they created a post that lists over 40 of the Best Business WordPress Themes.

That’s a bold statement right? The best business WordPress themes? Have they tested every single one? How can they be so sure they are indeed the best?

Let’s run them all through Googles Page Speed Testing Tool, see how they fair.

These themes are not listed in the order they are in the post, I’m protecting the identity of the blog in question.

Theme NameGoogle Desktop SpeedGoogle Mobile
Divi Theme8951
Massive Dynamic221
X Theme6026
Unbound7647
Sydney Pro7347
Digital Pro8063
Corporate Theme9485
Pofo8268
Fullpane7451
Moesia Pro7626
Scalia Theme7128
Corpus8162
Consulting WP7022
Stack Theme8117
The7336
Uplift5823
LeadEngine5616
Roxima9541
Navy Theme6624
Unicon7146
Zero Theme6224
Zerif Pro7920
Cesis Theme7424
Jupiter Theme9250
Broker Theme7940
TheFox4914
The Gem6622
Revolution9152
Enfold7959
Businext4511
Company8240
Enzio255
Wall Street7141
Total Theme7738
Executive Theme8361
Brooklyn6719
Vellum7966
Bridge5114
Agency Theme8676
Impreza8051
Centum6931

Well, that was surprising, right?

Please note, WordPress theme demos tend to be fully loaded in terms of features to showcase their abilities etc.

However, you shouldn’t ignore the fact that over half of these themes from the original blog post are slow on the mobile page speed test (anything between 0-40 is deemed slow).

Even if a theme has all the features activated, you should be made aware of the fact they are slow on mobile.

What if you want your site to look exactly like the demo, but with your content?

I’ve removed all the affiliate links from the table above, so feel free to go and take a look at them in more depth. Are they the best business WordPress themes the post title suggests?

Well, the majority are not. Which incidentally highlights the issue of avoiding roundup lists.

Sure they do what they say on the tin, highlight themes, but really, the best?

Not even f*cking close.

I could go on, and on and on. And tear every single best theme roundup down, what’s the point?

You should know by now to avoid them and hope I’ve proved my point.

Next up.

I’ve heard ThemeForest is the best place to buy themes

Lol. This one makes me laugh. I’ve purchased over 30 templates from ThemeForest; you know how many I ended up using for a live site? About three, the others were bloated crap full of they’re own page builders and were slow AF.

Don’t get me wrong there are some gems on Themeforest, and it’s worth checking out.

Tips on buying themes from ThemeForest

I’ve become hardened over the years some might say even a little tired.

However, my experiences of buying templates on TF are a mixed bag. I don’t want you to have the same issues I did with sub-par themes. See my top tips on buying on ThemeForest below:

GLWS on Themeforest
GLWS on Themeforest

Ignore GLWS. Whenever you see this as a comment on a new item on ThemeForest, it’s developers back slapping each other.

It stands for “Good Luck With Sales” and is a cheap way for other developers to get their name and link in other developers listing.

I doubt ThemeForest will ever remove these as it shows a comment count on the theme instead of it being empty, wow such empty.

Perish the thought.

Do you trust theme reviews on ThemeForest? Things to look out for

Themeforest Review feedback
Themeforest Review feedback

Check out the reviews on Themeforest if you’ve found a theme you like. Word to the wise, not all reviews are useful, see above taken from the Reda Theme.

Useful huh?

ThemeForest shouldn’t allow reviews at all without having some context as to why they thought the theme was good.

You’ll see this a lot on TF, so read between the lines, find some genuine feedback.

When you’ve found a theme, you like the look of, scan through all the reviews.

I mean all of them, sort by highest rating and lowest rating. Take stock of what you see here, read the lowest scores first, find out what other issues people have had.

Look for responses to reviews; some are just bloody-minded reviews by total newbies that have no idea what they are doing.

Some could be genuine grievances, try to find a middle ground, somewhere in there is the truth.

Never trust a 5-star review with no text. Never.

It’s pointless to even leave a review without reason, so look for studies that have text, read them keenly.

Found a review that’s useful?

A handy tip, one that I believe many do not do. If you find a review with decent feedback, click on the reviewer’s name.

Sometimes the user will have a contact form to get in touch with them like the below:

Contact the reviewer
Contact the reviewer

Don’t be scared of contacting the reviewer. Send them a message with the following:

“Hi, sorry to bother you, hope you don’t mind me getting in touch. I’ve just read your review of XYZ theme on ThemeForest. I was just wondering XYZ is as good as you say it is, or if you have had any issues.

I only ask as I’m thinking of purchasing it and any help you can give would be appreciated!

If they don’t have a contact form on their user page, look for social profiles and ask them on Twitter, etc.

If they don’t have any contact details, move on to the next until you can find one that does.

You need a real-world example of that theme in use if they’ve left a review and rate it.

Ask questions, don’t be scared, it’s in our DNA to help each when asked.

Read the comments of others

An invaluable resource in buying themes on ThemeForest is the comment section. Have a good search through for some of your criteria when you’ve found a theme matching your needs.

Read up on any issues people have had and if some questions have been unanswered why is that?

Do your research; this is an investment for you and your blog/site.

Always ask questions of sellers

If you went out an bought a car from someone you’d ask questions right?

Buying a WordPress theme is no different if you have a question ask the theme seller. I cannot tell you how important it is that you ask questions.

By asking you’re fact-finding, by fact-finding you’re qualifying. If the theme meets your needs through your questions and subsequently received answers, you’re onto a winner.

If the theme seller takes over a week to get back to you, move on. It’s a sign of things to come, trust me.

The spoken language of the theme seller

What’s your primary language? I know it might seem a little weird to mention the word but remember if you need support and their first language is not your own or indeed vice versa, you’re going to have issues further down the line.

Theme support

Don’t be tight, ThemeForest gives you the option to buy support if the seller offers it, take it.

You never know when you might need it. Sod’s law says you’ll need help one day and without it, you’ll become unstuck.

Check the last updated date of a ThemeForest theme

Last updated date
Last updated time

Another essential tip. Always check to see when the WordPress theme was last updated.

Just because you’ve found an item that fits the bill, there’s no point buying it if it hasn’t had an update for six months!

View the developer’s portfolio, build yourself a history of the developer

Take a look at a developer’s previous works (if they have any). Do they have a habit of ditching themes after a while?

How frequently are the updates (see above) how responsive have they been on previous works? You need to know these things. So check!

Remember my tips for ThemeForest

They will serve you well and hopefully lead you to get a theme that fits your criteria/needs.

I’m here to help you at the end of the day, so heed my tips, and you’ll be OK.

The above doesn’t just apply to ThemeForest, by using the same methodology you can apply it to independent WordPress theme developers as well.

Here are some more things to remember.

Beware of baked in functionality

What’s baked in functionality? Well, this can apply to themes on ThemeForest and independent theme developers.

Baked in features essentially means the developer has created a template and encoded their custom solution to make the end product do what it does.

Great?

Yes and no.

Let’s take page builders for example.

Some WordPress themes come with specific tools for content, in this case, page builders.

Page builders make creating content more accessible for non-developer folk, those who love a WYSIWYG builder (what you see is what you get) and work visually.

Don’t buy a theme from a theme developer who uses their page builder. Just don’t. You’ll thank me in the long run.

Why? What if they cease support for the theme? Sell it on to someone else and make the page builder redundant?

Great for you with a 50+ page website with all the content designed to fit around a baked in page builder, that’s now defunct.

Basically (and in the politest sense of the word) you’re fu*ked.

There’s a wealth of page builder plugins out there. Think Elementor, Visual Composer, Brizzy, Themify Builder, SiteOrigins page builder, Beaver Builder and more.

All designed to work with existing themes, if a developer has built his page builder, what standards have they worked too?

The page builders listed are built by developers with one focus, to help people build pages, it’s what they do.

Many theme developers now make their themes compatible with those mentioned above.

Why? Leave it to the experts, the plugins are supported and continually evolving.

A developer with a baked in page builder has two issues. First making sure the theme is continually evolving, then having to worry about their page builder.

I can tell you for a fact, over time that baked in page builder will be their downfall and of course yours.

They’ll end up using one of the ones I’ve mentioned, you can guarantee it.

Beware of WordPress theme demos

Another important tip when buying a WordPress theme. You need to check out the demo.

Seems an obvious one right? Are you doing it the right way though?

Let me explain, evaluate the demo as a site visitor. 

You know your criteria for your website, once you’ve found something that could fit your needs, take a step back. Imagine your content in the theme.

Ask yourself the following questions from your readers perspective:

  • What do you think of the layout?
  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • Do blog post layouts flow correctly?
  • Could I find what I was looking for in a short amount of time?
  • Would I enjoy using the site?

Can you answer yes to these questions? Great! Got some friends? Even better, send them a link to the demo, ask them what they think of it.

If you’re a member of a forum in your niche, post a link to it, get feedback on it before you make a purchase.

Don’t fall foul of the looks good trap. Just because a WordPress theme looks good, doesn’t necessarily make it so.

Remember a theme demo is just that it’s a demonstration

It’s designed to showcase the WordPress themes capabilities. You’ve got to imagine your content on the theme.

Chances are when you install it; it will look nothing like the demo itself!

Some developers get around this using the one-click demo import plugin, which prefills your website with demo content so you can learn how it works.

Check out the Page Speed of a WordPress theme

There are some fantastic WordPress themes out there from a page load perspective. You should always check out the page speed of the theme demo. Why?

Page speed is critical from an SEO perspective (search engine optimization), Google (and other engines) expect content to load double quick.

If your theme choice is full of bloat, you are going to have issues.

So always check the page speed of a WordPress theme. 

How to check a WordPress themes Page Speed

It’s simple to do, and I’ll show you how. Let’s take the Avada theme from ThemeForest; it’s the number one selling theme of all time and used by countless individuals.

Desktop Page Speed Of Avada SEO template
Desktop Page Speed Of Avada SEO template

Firstly I’m not picking on any one particular theme developer or ThemeForest as a whole.

As it’s the best selling one, it makes sense to take a look at it from a page speed perspective. As you’ll come across it if you use ThemeForest.

What we will need to check page speed:

I’ve picked a demo version at random and going to test the Avada SEO template with Google’s Page Speed tool:

Avada SEO Theme Demo Page Speed
Avada SEO Theme Demo Page Speed

Google Page Speed test on Desktop

Desktop Page Speed Of Avada SEO template
Desktop Page Speed Of Avada SEO template

So an average speed on desktops, not too bad at all. Could be quicker with a proper caching plugin, like WP Rocket or WPCache, etc.

What about the mobile page speed, which is a crucial factor.

Mobile Page Speed test

Mobile page speed of Avada SEO template
Mobile page speed of Avada SEO template

Well f*(k, that’s not good. Not good at all. What have we learned from this?

We’ve learned that Avada is incredibly slow on mobile devices.

Considering that in 2018 over half of the traffic to websites was mobile (actually 52.2% according to Statista), Houston we have a problem. A big one.

Some would argue the demo is highlighting all of the features it can muster.

And to a degree, you’d be right. You more than likely don’t want to have all the bells and whistles activated and probably can deactivate some for mobile.

To bump up the page speed results, or you could use a caching plugin to make a difference.

Two problems with this

First problem:

Mobile page speed for this theme is an issue. We can rectify that by using a caching plugin, there are a few decent free ones on WordPress.org such as W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache to name but a few. So we’re going to have to rely on a plugin to squish this monster down.

Or find a premium solution such as WP Rocket (which is another expense on top of the outlay for the theme).

Second problem:

If you’re selling a WordPress theme, take the time to ensure that these types of issues get addressed. The page speed on mobile is shocking.

Like I said it is a demo to show the capabilities of Avada which is excellent, but come on, the mobile page speed is ridiculous.

Page Speed tips

By using the above tips, you can ensure that you got a quick theme, so in this case, right out of the box Avada isn’t fast enough in terms of mobile speed.

We learned this by testing, which I cannot stress how important it is you do.

Sure we can make it quicker by using a plugin, but the signs don’t look good initially.

Check structured data of a WordPress theme

Another one that gets overlooked and one that you really should be looking out for when buying a WordPress theme.

Again I’m going to take a look at Avada here. Honestly, I’m not picking on it deliberately!

What is structured data?

Structured data/Schema tells search engines such as Google how your site is structured.

It also helps search engines get a clear idea of what a page/post is about and how it’s formatted, which in turn helps with SEO.

How to check structured data of a WordPress theme

Testing structured markup of a WordPress theme
Testing structured markup of a WordPress theme

To do this, head on over to Google’s very own Structured Markup testing tool. 

You can add a URL like in the box above, I have found that this doesn’t always yield the same results.

The best way to check WordPress themes structured data is to look at the source code so right click and view the source.

Cut and paste the code into the code snippet section, then hit run test.

As I’m testing the Avada SEO template let’s take the home page first and see what results we get:

Structured Markup in Avada
Structured Markup in Avada SEO homepage

Ok, how about a blog post, how does that fair?

Blog post entry in Avada SEO Template
Blog post entry in Avada SEO Template

Both of the above are not fantastic. Let me give you a comparison; I’ve just tested the markup of a blog post using the free version of GeneratePress see below for it’s structured data markup:

Structured data test on GeneratePress free version
Structured data test on GeneratePress free version

Notice anything different? Clean, explicit, structured data markup. Let me ask you a question.

Q. Which one of these themes would have a better chance in the SERPS (search engine results pages)?

Yes, you can add an SEO plugin such as the rather excellent Yoast SEO to add more information to the theme.

Out of the gate, the free version of GeneratePress fairs better from an SEO perspective than Avada.

How do we know this? Because we’ve tested it out.

We’ve tested the structured data markup; we now know that a free theme is equipped better for SEO from a data point of view than the best selling theme on ThemeForest. Who knew?

Don’t get me wrong; both would get found on search engines, it’s just one will be favored more so than the other.

With clean markup, we are better armed to get our content indexed by Google and other search engines.

You don’t want to spend $60.00+ and have issues getting found on Google? We all know the answer to that.

Use search engines when buying themes

An excellent way to discover if a WordPress theme is any good (along with my tips above 🙂 ) is to use Google search. See below for an example

  • Theme name + issues
  • Theme name + problems
  • Theme name + review

You’ll be surprised to see what you find by performing the above searches. Developers aren’t going to list specific issues on their own sales pages, why would they? It would lead to a loss of sales. So look out for posts/forum entries relating to any issues people have had.

You might find some fixes for the theme in question and look to use it, then again you might unearth a treasure trove of red flags.

Either way, you’re better equipped to make a purchasing decision.

Reviews of WordPress themes

Be wary of any WordPress reviews that neglect the negatives of a product.

There are always negatives and positives to everything. If a blog is favoring a WordPress theme without even touching upon the negatives, it’s a red flag.

Why?

There are a few reasons why.

Firstly they’ve not even tested the theme in question. More than likely the blogger has merely reviewed the theme documentation, spun it and spat out a favorable review on that basis.

Purely to make some affiliate revenue, this doesn’t help you.

Secondly, they may well have reviewed it, come across a problem, not mentioned it because it might affect their affiliate revenue.

Thirdly, it’s a sponsored or paid review. While there is no law against that, the blogger in question is more than likely going to paint a pretty picture purely because they’ve received payment.

None of the above reasons helps you — none of them. If you find a review and it’s more than in favor of the theme, don’t be scared about leaving a comment with your findings through the research above.

Call them out if you will.

If they can’t answer the issue you’ve come across (because you’ve done your due diligence) then it’s apparent they never tested the theme in the first place.

Run for the hills and don’t look back.

I know this guide is probably going rub some up the wrong way.

It’s not my intention. I didn’t put this together in spite of anyone; it’s designed to help people.

Many blogs gloss over certain things, and I don’t. What’s the point? Honesty is the best policy.

**Also to let you know, there are no affiliate links in this guide, I’m not looking to profit from your visit here. I’ve written this guide based on my experiences; I hope it’s helped you.

A lot of people won’t mention the above when discussing buying WordPress themes.

I want to think LyrWP is different and helps readers.

6 thoughts on “A Definitive WordPress Theme Buying Guide By A Consumer. No Fluff. No Bull. No Affiliate Links.”

  1. Ben, this is bloody brilliant!! This is exactly what the WP community needed. Kudos to you sir!

    Like you, I’m so tired of the affiliate spam posts, which do little more than treat WordPress as a cash cow.

    Yes, I make lists post myself, but I’m trying to change things up by researching specific niches and then trying to see what sort of themes (free and paid) are actually viable for use in that niche.

    My aim is to take those posts one step further and only include themes in my lists that I fully test. This will obviously require more time, and it will make my lists shorter, but like your post here, I think the effort in delivering quality content pays off in the long run.

    My overall feeling with WordPress is that it’s time to take the power back.

    What do I mean by that?

    Since around 2008, back when WooThemes (in amongst others) started an aggressive marketing campaign to push the “premium WordPress theme” category, which was just in its infancy back then, WordPress has steadily been drifting away from its open source, community oriented roots. This is not just an issue to do with WordPress bloggers or theme developers, it goes right to the core of WordPress management (cf the recent debacle over Gutenberg and the lack of community inclusion).

    In terms of the list spammers, unlike you, I think we should start naming and shaming them. Let’s call it what it is: spam. Their only aim is to dominate search engine rankings in order to get as much affiliate revenue as possible. A lot of those sites outsource list making to emerging markets, where labour costs are much cheaper and people are willing to spend the hours it takes to compile a list for little money at all.

    I think part of the problem also lies in the hands of developers who run affiliate programs. I think they need to look at how their schemes impact the platform. There needs to be a way of rewarding quality content and penalizing spam.

    I have a lot more to say, and perhaps I’ll blog about it. But I’ll leave it there for now.

    Your post is very refreshing and a much needed step in the right direction.

    • Thanks for the kind words Will, really appreciate them means a lot! (Blushing a little.)

      I’m sick of the spam affiliate crap as well, in fact, I usually skip the first few entries in Google due to that fact. Problem is, those new to WP, will take those blogs input as verbatim and end up with a crap theme or indeed plugin. Meanwhile the bloggers happy with a few dollars and doesn’t give a monkey’s about the user.

      Got nothing against affiliate links, if you’ve spent hours upon hours creating content and you can justify them, great. But listing a bunch of themes or plugins based on how many sales they have had on ThemeForest etc is not value added.

      Let’s call it what it is, it’s misleading shit.

      I’m with you in naming and shaming them, I can think right now of a minimum of 10 WordPress websites who do this as a norm, and some WordPress theme companies as well. It’s misleading as hell, but it won’t ever stop, that I’m afraid is a fact.

      I’ve purposefully not mentioned the blog I pulled the themes from in this article, as I’m sure they know who they are, not looking to ruffle feathers, just trying to educate users. The more educated they are the more they will avoid these types of posts and you’ll see them dwindle.

      All we can do Will is work hard, publish decent content that helps and build trust. You don’t hold back either I’ve noticed and you’ve made some very valid points.

      Thanks for your comment, it’s nice to hear my voice is not alone in the wilderness and that someone else shares my sentiments.

      Look forward to reading your input in a future post over at WP Living 🙂

  2. Great to see an honest, clear blog post that is not covered with affiliate links.

    Very difficult to take any review seriously if there are affiliate links.

    I would love to see a site which lists the best (only 1):
    – cache plugin
    – seo plugin
    -social plugin
    etc

    I’m so fed up with sites that have ‘the 10 best WP cache or seo plugins’ which just end with; ‘You should really see what works best for you’.

    • Thanks for the comment and appreciate you asking some questions.

      In answer to your questions I smell a blog post coming on!
      – cache plugin
      – seo plugin
      -social plugin

      I’d have to test them and do a post detailing what I’ve found. Are there any, in particular, you’ve seen so far and like the look of?

      Great to have you on board William, I only post warts and all reviews so be warned I can be quite harsh. For the record, I will use affiliate links in a post. However I will add a link at the bottom for a non-affiliate link, that way you can choose to support LyrWP and me (my names Ben, hi!) or not.

      Hope that’s ok with you, I’d rather be clear from the outset!

    • Thanks, Rohit, appreciate your kind words. I think it needs to be said not glossed over. Consumers have a right to know if they are being conned or not.

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