I don’t think I can go a day without seeing some sort of blog post, email, or advert about a “multi-purpose” WordPress theme. They’re everywhere. Every theme development company seems to have one they’ve put out, and they’re massively popular.
Why wouldn’t they be? They’re relatively cheap, costing between $50 – $100, often as one-time purchases, and they come full of “features”. Drag and drop page builders, premium slider plugins, shortcodes galore – each of these themes promises a beautiful, dynamic, eye-catching website at a fraction of the cost of a custom design. If you can get everything you want out of a website without having to hire a designer or developer, why wouldn’t you?
One for the Dark Lord on His Dark Throne…
Maybe this is a little bit of a personal bias as a small-town freelancer, but when you purchase one of these massive, all-in-one themes, you’re sacrificing a lot for the sake of convenience. Now I know that, for many, convenience has its appeal; it’s the same reason we’d rather run to PetSmart than our local, downtown pet store. And there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that – it’s often quicker and easier, and they have a much wider selection of goods.
But, as a consumer, you know that if you purchase a Dog Groomer 1000-X from PetSmart, you’re going to have to figure out how to use it on your own. You can’t expect them to offer the same kind of support and help as your local pet store. Ease of use and support is just something you’re used to sacrificing for the convenience.
The same rings true with WordPress websites and themes. When you purchase a huge, commercially available theme, you’re making a purchase from a corporation – the PetSmart of websites – instead of from a local designer, developer, or web business. If you can’t figure out the documentation, you’re often left on your own, with a confusing, half-functional website.
One Theme to Find Them…
These themes are marketed to appeal to the less WordPress-savvy users. The small business owners. The hobby bloggers. The users that aren’t necessarily well-versed in the web. They lure you in with promises of premium features – those aforementioned drag and drop builders and shortcodes. They promise to bundle $X-Hundred Dollars with of PREMIUM plugins for only $50. They try to make you an offer that’s too good to refuse.
When you Google “Best WordPress Themes”, they’re bound to pop up with numerous sponsored blog articles on why they’re the best theme for your business, project, or blog.
Again, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this – it’s marketing. Marketing is everywhere. But it’s something to keep in the back of your mind – these themes are finding you; not necessarily the other way around.
One Theme to Bring Them All…
If there’s anything that is truly heinous about these huge, multi-purpose themes, it’s their “versatility”. Since they’re meant to appeal to the widest audience possible, these themes come with more “features” and options than you can count, promising a multitude of different layouts and massive amounts of customizability. It can be a blog! It can be a shop! It can be a portfolio! It can be a puppy! It can be anything you want it to be!
I know, at face value, this sounds ideal. You want a theme that’s versatile, right? But once you look deeper, this is an issue for two huge reasons:
The Learning Curve
To achieve those eighty different types of layouts within one theme, there are a lot of third-party plugins and theme options involved. This means huge, confusing, third-party control panels and options galore; it can take days of playing around with the theme options to re-create one of the layouts shown in the theme demo.
If you’re not already well-versed in WordPress, adding one of these themes will probably turn you away from the platform for good. Even for those of us who know what we’re looking at, third-party theme options are often confusing and bloated. It takes a lot of trial and error to set one up correctly, and it’s more than frustrating.
If you’re looking into a large, multi-purpose theme, I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with WordPress first. Just play around with an install, get to know all of the default options and features, so you’re not totally lost when you install your theme.
Large, multi-purpose themes are notorious for their bloat. Because they rely on third-party plugins for many of their features, they often have you install these plugins when you install the theme; I’ve seen themes require over 30 different plugins to function as shown in their demo. Having so many active plugins poses security risks, and can slow down your site considerably.
This isn’t the only type of bloat you’ll encounter with these themes. As I mentioned before, these themes are difficult to set up – developers decided the best way around this was to include “demo” content that you can import into your blog. This includes numerous posts and pages, custom post types, and media files. If you install it, everything from the demo, and often a lot of the documentation, gets pulled into your WordPress website.
So just by installing your theme the way the developer recommends it, you’re automatically adding as many as 30 plugins, and as many as 100 posts and pages to your brand-new website.
And since you will most likely not use many of the included plugins and features, you, as the user, are left to sort through all of the bloat to try and get your website back to a usable state.
And In the Darkness Bind Them…
Say you’ve purchased one of these giant, multi-purpose themes. You’ve installed it, you’ve learned how to use it, and you’ve been using it steadily for the last several years. You’re finding, however, that it no longer suits your needs – you want something new, something different.
When you dive into one of these themes, you have a tendency to get stuck. You’ve built your whole website with this theme – using it’s features. If you suddenly change themes, chances are you’re going to lose a lot of content and functionality. It’s called Theme Creep, and it’s when your theme basically takes over your whole website.
While I have seen some effort to correct this issue, such as the Divi Builder Plugin, more often than not when you switch away from one of these all-encompassing themes, you’re going to have to redo 90% of your website. All of the money you saved, and the convenience of the theme, is thrown out the window when you decide you want a revamp. You’re bound to your theme.
TLDR; Our Metaphorical Mt. Doom…
I’m not saying that all commercially-available themes are bad. I’m saying be wary. Especially of “all-in-one miracle themes”. If you want to purchase a theme for your business, try and find one that fits your specific niche – there are some amazing themes out there geared to one specific industry. By choosing one geared towards what you do, you’re less likely to have to deal with unused features and excess bloat.
Also, be prepared to put some lot of time into getting everything set up; getting your site to look like the demo takes time. If it’s within your budget, it may make sense to hire or at least consult with a designer or developer, who can take your content and add it to the theme as you intended. It’ll be cheaper than hiring them outright for a custom design, and you’ll get the look you want without spending days fighting with your website.