At WordCamp Raleigh 2011, Andy Stratton covered a very interesting subject “Diet Pills, SEO, and Theme Frameworks: there are no magic bullets”. Here is a short summary of the session along with the presentation.
Many WordPress users have the misconception about pre-made themes. Users often believe that prefabricated themes are easy to use, less risky than freelancers, compatible with plugins, SEO friendly, and cost efficient, but in many cases this is not true.
The customization of any prefabricated theme depends on the theme itself. Themes made by reputable theme developers that utilize common WordPress functions and are made of quality code, are rarely an issue. Unfortunately, many low quality themes are poorly coded and created by small time designers without much skill or patience to include the WordPress core functionalities. If this is the case, then it will take a skilled web designer multiple hours to audit the code of the website for security threats and plugin contraindications, potentially driving the cost of a $30 theme up to $1000 or more.
Similarly, you cannot know that a stock theme is less risk than a freelancer. Many unskilled designers leave gaping security holes in their designs, and the design of many theme market places means that you cannot know the administrative options until after you have already purchased the theme, a risky proposition indeed.
Third, plugin compatibility is a reason many people cite for switching to a prefabricated theme, but just switching to a theme that touts WordPress compatibility does not necessarily mean it will be compatible with your plugins. Some themes have custom codes that they use to bypass some core WordPress functions, so when you try to add a plugin or update your WordPress version, problems can arise that make your premium theme worthless. The fact that many prepackaged themes come with little or no support only increases the possibility for problems down the road.
Many people choose to switch their themes for what Andy calls “SEO Magic,” an intangible measure that is supposed to rocket you into Google stardom overnight. As many of us know, there are no quick SEO fixes, and a pretty theme or superstar framework will not necessarily give you awesome SEO overnight, and customizing your premium theme can impact SEO rankings even further if your code isn’t clear. So when you are considering switching themes for SEO reasons, remember that content is king but backlinks are the SEO emperor, and no theme is going to top that. But what about the themes that have actually shown themselves as SEO friendly? Well, often these guarantees are based on faulty information, especially when the theme provider is only doing this in their spare time. Those that are truly SEO optimized are packaged with meta tag management that can be easily replicated by plugins on any reputable theme.
Andy reminds us that “a sexy sports car with all the features is nothing without an engine and gasoline” so do not try to scrap over subpar content with flashy themes. Andy also asks that consumers of prepackaged themes recognize that on the triangle of fast, cheap, and good, only two features can be used at any one time. A cheap and fast theme is not necessarily good, and many $30 theme purchases can turn into hundreds of dollars of investment in alterations after the fact.
P.S, we would not be able to make this trip if it wasn’t for our amazing sponsor.
Open Source Training teaches people how to use Joomla, Drupal and WordPress.