Selling WordPress themes on ThemeForest (and other marketplaces) has given me some insight into what customers really should be looking for when selecting a theme. It can be a daunting task with so many themes fitting so many niches across all of the marketplaces and it is important you make the right choice.

I’ve had a number of customers purchase my themes and assumed that they did something, even if there was no evidential proof of it. This is frustrating on both sides, for me and the customer. Obviously I always want to make the customer happy, but assuming a simple blog theme will have fully styled WooCommerce compatibility is a bit of a stretch.

It is important to find out everything you can about a theme and the theme author before you hit that buy button, not after.

I’ve put together a detailed checklist of what I personally would look for as a buyer and what I would expect to be asked as an author. Hopefully it will curtail any accidental purchases and frustrated customers.

It is important to find out everything you can about a theme and the theme author before you hit that buy button, not after.

Make sure you search for the correct platform/CMS

I know this seems like a ridiculous thing to mention but you need to ensure what you are looking at buying does actually work on the platform or CMS you are using. If you’re using WordPress for example, you’re going to want to select a WordPress theme.

This is the single most important thing to do before you start any searching – make sure you are browsing for the correct platform or CMS. Make sure you use the filters and navigation on the website to ensure you are looking at a version of a theme that will work on your platform.

Many themes on ThemeForest will return multiple results. You may well find a PSD, HTML, WordPress, Drupal, Ghost and Magento version of the same design, but buying anything other than the platform/CMS you need will mean you will be disappointed and possibly not even entitled to a refund.

If you are searching for a WordPress theme and the price is $12 you have probably wandered into the HTML section of the website without realising. All WordPress themes on ThemeForest are at least $39.

Make sure you are not getting confused between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. If you have a self-hosted WordPress website using the WordPress.org version of WordPress you can install a theme from any marketplace other than WordPress.com. If you are using WordPress.com you can only install themes from WordPress.com.

Is the design what you want?

This is paramount when searching for a WordPress theme, the design must represent your vision, your brand and your idea for your new website. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same niche as long as you can do what you want with it (see my functionality points below).

It is unlikely that any theme will fit exactly with what you had in mind, even if they come with a whizzy page builder. Does this matter though? Does the theme look better than what you had pictured?, does it portray you and your brand in a more exciting and engaging way?, has the theme author added extra flair and attention to detail?

If the design isn’t quite what you want, can you change it with built in functionality or via a Child Theme?

Quite often WordPress themes will come with a page-builder, sometimes they are widget based, sometimes the theme author has rolled their own. More often than not though if you are looking at more than a blog, the theme may well support Visual Composer. Like it or not, this is a common element of WordPress themes particularly on ThemeForest.

Check if the WordPress theme includes the plugin or if you have to purchase separately. Preferably, in my opinion, the plugin will require a separate purchase to the theme. Visual Composer has had a history of needing critical security updates, you will receive more quickly if you have purchased the plugin separately from CodeCanyon. Otherwise you are reliant on the Theme Author repackaging the plugin in their next update, some are quick at patching these kind of issues and some are not.

Check which things are on/off-able from theme options, if you don’t like the hero image on the homepage, you may just be able to turn it off.

The other option to go down is using a Child theme it sounds kind of daunting but its actually fairly simple if you are making a few minor changes. A Child Theme uses the parent theme as a base, you can then clone the parents template files and make code edits or use your own stylesheet. Which leads us more into…

Is the functionality what you want?

So you are happy with the design, but you have some questions on functionality. Say for example you run a Youth Centre and you’re on the lookout for a lovely WordPress Theme for Youth Centres.

Don’t just think about what you need today, think about what you may need in the future.

You’re going to want to showcase your services, team, testimonials. You should make sure all of these are possible and try and future-proof your purchase. When I say future-proof, I mean don’t just think about what you need today, think about what you may need in the future. Is there a possibility that you may run events? Do you think you’ll want to sell products in the future? See if the theme has these built-in or ask the author if it’s on the roadmap.

If the functionality isn’t quite what you want, can you change it with built in functionality, plugins or via a Child Theme?

Much like if you want to change the design, you can do some rather in-depth changes to functionality in WordPress. The best idea is to ask the author first about what you have in mind. They may be able to confirm that the functionality you require can be done with the theme as is, it just isn’t on the demo. They may well be able to recommend a compatible WordPress plugin that can provide the functionality you require.

The great thing about WordPress is its plugin ecosystem, there are many free ones on the WordPress Plugins repository of varying levels of quality, but they are free so why not have a play (backup your website first please!). There are also premium WordPress plugins which you’ll need to pay for if you need that exact functionality.

If you absolutely need certain plugins to work on the theme, check this with the theme author before you purchase. They may well be able to confirm compatibility for you.

Using a Child theme to actually change functionality is another option. This does sit more in WordPress developer territory though, you’ll need to know what you are doing if you are trying to extend a theme out beyond it’s functionality. Please be mindful that as the parent theme gets updated over time, you may need to tweak your functionality in the Child theme.

Is pre-purchase support responsive to questions, what kind of testimonials/review/ratings does the author have as well as the individual product?

ThemeForest in particular has a review/rating system. You can see my MeanThemes ratings on my profile page. As it stands I have a rating of 4.68 out of 5, over almost 6,000 sales – which is pretty good!

Even if the WordPress theme you have selected is absolutely perfect, please be wary of the author rating – if they’ve got less than 4 stars start investigating why, look at the item comments, look at the rest of their portfolio. See how responsive they are to their customers, see how professional they are, see how helpful they are, get a feel for what kind of author they are. Are they in it for the long haul?

Many authors sell themes as a side project, like me. This doesn’t mean I’m any less dedicated to creating great products with great support and I am in it for the long haul. I’ll often respond to questions at the weekend and unless I am asleep or on holiday/vacation you’ll get a response within hours, often minutes to a pre-purchase question.

What is the support like after purchase and how long does it last?

ThemeForest ships all WordPress themes by default with 6 months support for bug fixing and CSS tweaks. This can be turned off by the author though. So make sure support is offered with the theme you want to purchase.

If you see a theme without support or a theme which is a few years old, ask the author what their plans are for the theme – they may well be sunsetting a theme if it is out of date or trend.

Please be aware that support is often limited to bug fixes and CSS tweaks and questions. Support, unless otherwise stated will not include installation, setup or customisation services.

Check your WordPress version

Most of the marketplaces display a version panel, make sure the version of WordPress you are running is supported. It is always best to make sure you are running the latest version of WordPress, ensure the author keeps up to date with new releases. Don’t assume the WordPress theme will work with a new release if it isn’t mentioned, but also don’t walk away if the version panel doesn’t include the newest version. Sometimes ThemeForest is behind with releasing up to date WordPress version numbers for the authors to select, sometimes the author has forgotten to update compatibility.

Don’t limit yourself to the big marketplaces

Don’t just head for ThemeForest, CreativeMarket and MOJO Marketplace. Make sure you check out independent theme shops like Elegant Themes, ThemeZilla, Array Themes and ThemeBeans to name but a few.

Don’t fixate on cost

Many WordPress themes are around the $60 mark, some are priced more highly. Just remember hours and hours of work and expertise are poured into these themes. They really are a steal at $60, even at $150 they are still tremendous value. Concentrate on the design, the functionality and the author and you can’t go far wrong.

Check the refund policy

Finally, if it all does go wrong you’re going to want to check out the refund policy in advance of purchasing. Some of the independent marketplaces offer no refunds. ThemeForest don’t tend to offer refunds if a product has been downloaded. Ask all the questions before you purchase and don’t make any assumptions on functionality.

Good luck!


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