Why Premium WordPress Themes are a Blessing for Developers

Why Premium WordPress Themes are a Blessing for Developers

Before premium WordPress themes were a thing, we used to code everything from scratch. When I first started my career in web development and web design, every piece of HTML, every line of CSS, every piece of JavaScript, was all done by hand.

Yeah, we had some tools to help us out, but they just automated a few things here and there. (No, I’m not that old, only 36!)

Designing a website meant you had to dream it, design it and then code it from scratch.

But things have changed. There are now plenty of premium WordPress themes that you can edit without having to touch a single line of code. You don’t even have to know that there is code behind whatever you are doing.

Does that make premium WordPress themes a curse for web developers? Or are they a blessing in disguise?

I believe it’s a good thing. And here’s why.

No Code (Insight)

The thing with the latest premium WordPress themes is that configuration is the name of the game. Their configurability, and the bundled visual page builders with every theme, means that literally you don’t have to care about coding anything if you don’t want to (or if you don’t know how to).

It’s all done through configuration setups, drag and drop builders, templates for pages and posts… Everything is done, you just have to connect the dots.

Tweak the configuration and you’re done. You’ve got a site up and running in next to no time.

But if you’re a coder at heart, this may not be such a great thing for you. You want to touch the code. You want to develop. You want to dig into the bottom of things.

Is there some way to be able to get the best of both worlds?

Designing a site with upfront page builder
Designing a site with the Upfront page builder.

What Do Web Designers Think about Drag and Drop Page Builders?

Last week, I asked the subscribers of CollectiveRay this very question.

“Is there still a ‘web designer’ skill or have we all become just extensions of drag and drop pagebuilders?”

Is it true that, if you can use a mouse, you can “create a website?”

Is web design still a skill?

Readers, rightly so, were not amused.

Here are a few of the comments I got:

“…the role that the web designer or developer has these days is not just putting together a few web pages, but rather understanding the whole project scope of the client. Asking the right questions and planning the website for future company growth is critically important to make sure the site  serves the client as a business commerce vehicle in the years to come and is flexible enough to sustain business growth.

Spot on.

…The productivity gain is a huge boon, allowing people to quickly put together prototype designs in order to create one that suits their needs. Of course, that’s no excuse for one to pretend that their dime-a-dozen website is unique when they used a default template, but for those people there exists a base platform to give to a professional web designer in order to realize the product they want.

Couldn’t agree with you more.

I would today think of a web ‘designer’ in the same way as an ad agency, engineering firm, or an architectural firm thinks of a designer. Someone who knows how all this stuff comes together…and makes it happen.

This is the essence of today’s web design. You are a marketing consultant, not just a web designer.

…I’ve seen panels and content blocks placed without any logic. Bad choice of combinations of colors. And of course, the source was full of shortcodes here and there…
I think this is one of the main point against page builders: they give the illusion to customers and average users to be some kind of “designers”. But actually, I never seen a decent site designed by “non-web designer” people using these instruments.
I think page builders could be a good instrument, in particular circumstances, but more for people who is already able to code and/or design. A skilled web designer can always do pretty things using a page builder.”
And there you have it. A visual page builder does not a web designer make. Yet, a premium WordPress theme bundled with a page builder can make you a better web designer.

Web Design Skills Are Still Required for a Good “Web Design”

Premium WordPress themes are instruments in the hands of a web designer.

Only a skilled web designer is able to understand the nuances of responsive grids, color psychology, what typography should be used under which circumstances, designing for a great user experience, SEO implications, and so much more.

You’ve surely seen plenty of examples of horrible web design. Putting blocks together is not web design – it’s the stuff kids do.

You simply cannot create a good web design if you haven’t been trained for it.

Horrible web design
Aaaahhhhh… My eyes!

You Can Turn Around WordPress Website in Record Time

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I can get a website up and running in a matter of hours. Premium WordPress themes just make it so much faster to create a great looking website if you’re happy to go for the tried and tested web designs.

Can you customize as much as you want?

Of course you can. For example, awesome imagery is one of the things that make a website great. By applying great imagery, you can stay create a website which looks awesome but is still based on a premium WordPress theme. Branding, tone of voice, CTAs, integration with social media, they all are stuff where you can leave your mark.

What does this mean for you?

One of two things. You can either get more websites out faster, earning you more money in the process. Or you can actually charge a premium for delivering a website in “urgent” mode.

You Can Help Close the Sale by Promising the End Result

Time spent in pre-sales typically feels like it’s a very non-productive usage of your precious time. It’s of course not time-wasted when you land the project. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll win every project. At that point, of course, it has become mostly a waste of time.

One thing I’ve learned from pre-sales is that people want to see what they’re going to get. Even if you can go on and on about how great a website will look when it’s done and all of the features which will be in place, nothing says it better than a real live demo.

Again, premium WordPress themes to the rescue! Premium theme providers will typically setup a demo which you can use as a selling point of what the site will look like.

Of course, once you’ve promised something, you have to make good on that. So always underpromise and overdeliver. Much better than the other way round.

Issue premium wordpress theme live demo
The WPMU DEV Issue theme live demo can set a good idea of what the end result could look like

Provide Additional Value besides Web Design

As one of commenters above said, a web designer is not just about designing a website. Today, web designs are not just a showcase. With more and more commerce shifting online, a website is a vehicle for business growth.

Your role is no longer just the role of a web designer. You need to put on all of these additional hats:

  1. You should know your WordPress plugins: you must be able to recommend what will work in which circumstances.
  2. You need to make sure the website is fast: if it were up to most clients, you’d be installing plugins left, right and center, run the site on a cheap host and forget completely about optimizing for speed. You need to put a stop to that and make sure the site is lightning fast.
  3. You need to be the security expert: most people are not able to make heads or tails of security, you need to be the goto person for helping out with that.
  4. You need to prepare a site for SEO: search engine traffic can be one of the best sources of traffic you can get. You should know enough of that to make sure you’re setting the site up for SEO growth.
  5. You need to suggest strategies for email list building: with email still remaining one of the best channels for conversion (because it’s what helps you build a relationship with your customer) you need to make sure your website design is implementing email list building as a core goal rather than an afterthought.

There’s plenty more you can do to give your customer additional value. You know your customer. You need to feel what they need and make it happen through their website. You’ll earn more money through additional services in the process.

But I Want to Keep Coding!

At the beginning of this article, I suggested ways of getting the best of both worlds. In all likelihood, when you start developing more and more complexity into websites, chances are core WordPress, plugins or WordPress themes will not be able to do exactly what you need.

And that’s where your code comes into play.

Using such stuff as the WordPress API, WordPress hooks, customizations and extensions of plugins, or full plugin development, that’s where you should focus in terms of development.

Why Not Code Your Own Plugin / Theme?

This might sound funny coming from the blog of a company that supplies both premium WordPress themes and plenty of WordPress plugins. But hey, we want you to succeed with WordPress, not just sell you stuff. We want you to bring out the superhero in you!

Whilst working on client’s websites, you are bound to notice something which could be done better, even if you are using existing plugins. Or you might find that you can’t do things in a specific way you need. Or simply put, you think you are able to do a much better job with a plugin or a theme.

At that point, you should start developing your own theme or plugin. It’s a smart way of earning great passive income, and the potential for growth is great. Weglot (founded by two guys in a small apartment in September 2015) went from an idea t0 €10,000/month in a year.

Who’s to say that can’t be you, too?

Don’t be afraid of competition. It means there’s demand for the solution. Just make sure you’ve got unique selling points and are doing things differently (and better).

Develop WordPress Plugins
Start getting your own WordPress plugins developed

Plenty of (Short)Codes

The discussion about premium WordPress themes and page builders would not be complete if I did not mention shortcodes. Much of the functionality which comes with page builders is enabled through shortcodes.

There has been some talk and discussions about this making it next to impossible to shift away from a specific template.

This is because the shortcodes become part and parcel of the structure of your website. If you try to move away from the template, the old shortcodes are not going to work. That means you will have to redesign many of the pages from scratch.

The other option would be to actually remove the shortcodes from the pages. But again, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. If the shortcode is being used to display let’s say a price box, removing the shortcode means you’ve lost your price box.

Yet, this is not a problem which is intrinsic to premium WordPress theme or page builders. This “feature,” (let’s not call it a problem) exists wherever you are using a shortcode in WordPress. If you decide to stop using a particular shortcode, you’re going to have replace it with something. You’re going to have to find all of the places where that shortcode was used and update the content accordingly.

This is not a problem. This is simply how shortcodes work.

Page builders and premium themes simply make extensive use of this.

What’s All That Other Stuff I See in Themes…?

There’s another thing you need to keep in mind about premium WordPress themes: some of these themes have been around for years and have generated literally millions in revenue for their authors.

Case in point: Avada and X. Avada has been around since August of 2012 whilst X has been around since November of 2013. They’ve each amassed (both individually and separately) hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.

They are marketed as “multipurpose WordPress themes.” A one size fits all if you may.

The idea is that you can use these themes for any industry or any niche. The way that these themes become so popular (and multipurpose) is that they are able to provide a large number of popular features out-of-the-box.

Sliders, contact forms, social media sharing, Facebook integrations, WooCommerce support, bbPress support, WPML support, events – you’re bound to find a plethora of plugins which come bundled with the theme.

Welcome to Avada plugins section
The Welcome to Avada plugins section

This is because for a theme to be popular it needs to cover a very wide range of functionality. However, it does come at a price. All of these plugins have negative side effects too:

  1. They make your site heavy and slower to load
  2. They introduce other components which need to be kept updated to ensure your site is secured
  3. Some plugins are bundled but need to be licensed separately. That is, of course, a hidden additional cost. Keeping these components unlicensed runs the risks associated with plugins not being updated.
avada plugins
Wow – that’s a lot of heavy plugins

Does this mean you shouldn’t use these themes? No, not really.

If they’re so popular, they must be doing something right probably many things right). But you need to be aware of the repercussions. One of the first things I do when I install a multipurpose theme is go right into the plugins and start deactivating as many plugins as I possibly can. I’m sure a lot of you reading this do to (or you just don’t use multipurpose themes at all).

Upfront, on the other hand, does things differently. Rather than being a bundle of plugins, Upwork is light (actually devoid) of third party plugins and dependencies.

Not only that, it actually provides you with the ability to build custom themes for your own clients.

Myself, I’ve always been averse to installing too many plugins on my sites – they bring much too much hassle. So Upfront has been a refreshing change. I can build sites really, really quickly, yet I don’t have to deal with all of the bundled plugins.

Adapt – or Be Left Behind

This debate has been arising time and time again across different places on the interwebs.

If you’re not adopting the latest web design trends and technologies, you will get left behind. You simply have to move with the pace of technology, whether you like it or not. Otherwise, your skills will get rusty, you will get out-priced. Tragically, you’ll probably be out of work in no time.

There is a demand for premium WordPress themes and visual page builders, so as a web designer, you have to get on board.

As WordPress blogger Chris Lema said in a recent post, you either keep up with the pace of technology, or you get left behind.

Using Premium WordPress Themes to Your Advantage

A good web designer should never feel threatened by premium WordPress themes. On the other hand, you should feel empowered. You’ve got a great set of tools, which will help you create better websites, faster. Go and use that to your advantage.

And when you feel like coding, go help out the WordPress core team or write your own plugins and themes!

Premium WordPress themes and their bundled page builders: love them or hate them? What do you think? I'm going to ask you guys the same thing, have we just become extensions of WordPress page builders? Can anybody design a website? Do you know anybody who is not a web designer but has started to "design websites"?
David Attard
David Attard David is an inquisitive web designer who frequently shares his tips and tricks at CollectiveRay. When he's not blogging about web design, something he's been into for the past 12 years, he's usually dreaming about his next big thing.