I see a lot of bloggers asking where to find great themes, and inevitably, there are always 1 or 2 people in the crowd recommending Themeforest (an Envato property). Generally, they’re not designers or developers, and they seem well-intended (although I’m sure many are also affiliates, sooooo). However, there are a lot of reasons not to shop Envato for themes (ESPECIALLY if you’re a blogger), and the short of it is that it will probably end up costing you more in the long run. But first,
Why is Themeforest so popular?
A lot of their themes are very nice looking. I’ll admit it. The design is nice, right out of the box, and the promise of their themes is that you’ll be able to replicate that look yourself without having to know anything about coding.
They also offer a lot of niche, single-purpose themes. Are you a funeral home? Do you need a site that has a built-in obituaries feature? They’ve got it! Or maybe you’re a dog breeder. You’ve come to the right place. I guess.
A lot of people will also tell you that the themes are responsive and SEO-ready. However, most designers & developers are building optimized themes (which now basically HAS to include mobile responsiveness) without any of the problems you’ll find on Envato.
What is wrong with ThemeForest themes?
The themes are bloated.
Support is hit or miss
The fascinating, and to many appealing, thing about ThemeForest is that there are so many functionality options built-in, including numerous custom post types and enhanced user-interfaces that promise to make it easier for the layperson to manage their site. You can even customize colors across the whole site at the touch of a button!
But herein lies the rub: as a coder, I know it that changing a font color takes a single line of code in the stylesheet. I also know that the color change tool (a glorified plugin) built into one of these themes could add thousands more lines of coding to the theme. No joke. Just to change a single line (and maybe in some cases up to a dozen or so lines) of code.
But that’s not the biggest problem.
See, all these built-in extras bog down load times, which kills site traffic (and ultimately a good user experience) in its crib because no one is going to wait 30 seconds for your site to load. This could possibly hurt your search engine rankings as well, not to mention that it’ll go all Ramsay Bolton on your conversions.
Bottom line: no one needs 3 built-in sliders for a single site. You don’t need the WordPress dashboard to be gutted and customized just for you (and if you do, you might want to consider a custom CMS). No one needs an advanced visual editor for blog posts, especially not if they’re serious about blogging. If you’re not comfortable with code, the WordPress visual editor is more than adequate. Pinky promise.
A lot of the themes fail to pass muster for WordPress’s free repository (as in they’re not built well enough to be given away for free), and in many cases it’s because of the crazy advanced functionalities. See, many of these theme developers are in a features nuclear arms race, trying to make themes that are “full site solutions.” Remember those built-in plugins I mentioned? Many of these themes take over functionalities that SHOULD be plugin territory – an express no-no, because this means that the content is attached to the theme and they consequently kill data portability.
Okay, so basically, you put all your carefully written, beautifully curated posts and content and images into your site. Your homepage is great, your posts look great, your more specialized pages look great (like your testimonials, team page, contact forms, a media page featuring some of your hard-earned media features). But after a while (maybe a couple years), design trends are changing, you want to add a new feature, and you just feel like it’s time to upgrade and update the look of your site.
But you can’t. Your content is inextricably connected to the theme. When you put everything into your editor, the theme automatically generated thousands of shortcodes that you never even saw (thanks, enhanced visual editor!) that are connected on the back end of the theme that you don’t even know how to access. Upgrading then becomes a nightmare. You can either lose everything you’ve so carefully built or you can stick with that theme forever, even if it’s outdated, unsupported (which I’ll get to momentarily), and unsecured.
One of the worst Themeforest issues is that a LOT of the themes aren’t updated or adequately supported, if they aren’t straight-up abandoned by their developers. This means that even when you have a problem, the developer may not (probably will not) address it. If you have an urgent problem, this becomes an absolute NIGHTMARE because when you pay a premium for anything, there’s an expectation of reasonable response that you may or may not get here.
More importantly, updating WordPress itself becomes a risk because the features in your theme may become incompatible with WordPress itself. Keep in mind that this is not a WordPress problem: this is a theme problem.
How is it not a WordPress problem if updating breaks my theme?
WordPress gets updated frequently to patch bugs, close up vulnerabilities against hackers, and to ultimately to keep up to modern coding standards. However, this does mean that every now and then, themes will become outdated and incompatible with the platform. Unless you’re on a theme that is updated and consistently supported, this will eventually become a problem.
DON’T LET THIS BECOME YOUR PROBLEM.
Now there are some themes that do have great support and responsive developers, but they seem few and far between (probably 1 out of every 10 themes is adequately supported). If you’re going to spend anything on your theme, you may as well get something that is consistent and virtually guaranteed to be up to date. *cough Genesis cough*
I’m going to let you in on a secret: it takes less time to build a beautiful, clean, custom site than it does to work around ThemeForest bugs. I wish I were kidding. In 2013, Envato imposed submission requirements for new themes, including the requirement to follow theming best-practices, in the hopes that they wouldn’t be buggy and full of errors.
However, it doesn’t seem like these changes have really had much effect – in fact, it seems like nothing seems to have changed at all. Developers were and are still expressing these same concern after these requirements were put into effect. And even if new themes ARE held to more rigorous standards, those same standards were not and won’t be applied to old/existing themes.
Well, it looks good to me, so isn’t that good enough?
Good enough to look good is fine if you’re okay with it breaking later. And you’re not worried about search rankings. And if you don’t care about those things, then by all means. But I think you do care, especially if you care enough to pay for a theme.
Oyyyyy, with the built-in plugins already! When a theme comes with tons of other plugins already, you’re probably going to face compatibility issues. Basically, the plugins you may WANT to use may be incompatible with your theme. And that SUCKS. I’ll admit, this problem isn’t exclusive to Envato products, but there is definitely a trend of Envato themes having more compatibility issues with non-Envato plugins. Convenient.
On top of this, if you want to alter something about the theme, like adding a font that isn’t already included in the theme’s font options, changing a layout a bit, tweaking design elements like widget backgrounds or adding an image heading instead of a text heading, you’re gonna have a bad time. And so is the person you’re inevitably going to hire to do the work for you (assuming that you chose one of the 90% of ThemeForest themes that have been abandoned or aren’t well-supported by their developers).
Don’t get me wrong – mama’s gotta pay the bills, and the extra hours I log working through these kinds of issues put the pepper in my ragout. However,
a. Dealing with bad coding and having to hack around a fragile scaffolding of custom functionalities that you don’t want is scary as hell. I don’t want to break your site, but there’s a distinct possibility of that happening because of the way these themes are created.
b. It’s going to cost you a lot of money and time. It’s already painful for you to have paid for something that isn’t exactly what you want it to be, and me charging you as much as you might have paid for a custom theme JUST to make a few tweaks is undeniably painful.
Is ThemeForest worth it?
I know a lot of people swear by Envato products, but I just can’t bring myself to hint at an endorsement of what they’re serving up. So in short, no. Frankly, I think these themes are a ripoff, considering that many users will either have to buy another theme when they realize the first one just won’t work, OR they’ll have to pay out the butt to get it to look and act the way they want, THEN when they’re ready to move on from that theme, they’ll be stuck. FOREVER.
I’m not alone in thinking this way, either.
Among WordPress professionals, it seems that the common perception of ThemeForest is that the themes look good but are poorly coded, and I don’t disagree.
So what IS worth the investment?
There are tons of beautiful themes and child themes out there, on more reputable marketplaces no less. If you really want an out-of-the-box solution, you might want to look at Elegant Themes. However, keep in mind that you’re likely going to deal with the same theme-lock problems as many Envato themes.
Genesis is my A#1 (I use it for all of my WordPress clients) because:
1. There are TONS of developers and designers who actively contribute to the StudioPress community,
2. It’s easy to use for the end-user (read: it uses the standard WordPress dashboard),
3. It allows INCREDIBLE flexibility. I’ve build sites for small businesses, non-profits, bloggers, and retailers, all using Genesis and Genesis child themes because really: the possibilities are endless.
I know, I seem super biased, and I am. I’ll always be biased toward good code and cost-effective, long-term solutions, which knocks Envato products off of my list. #sorrynotsorry. But I also know that what works for me isn’t what works for everyone else, so if you just adore Themeforest, let me know why in the comments!