Why Even The Most Promising WordPress Themes Fail (And So Do Websites)

Sad man holding pillow and the clock

What was Steve Jobs thinking when he hired a chain-smoking Marxist in 1976 for $200 a day? His name was Rod Holt and it was 1976. Yes, you read that right. Just like movies, even the most promising WordPress Themes ride on a risk of failure. And often times they do fail. Let me qualify “failure”. In this context it means two things:

  1. The themes fail as a product (for whoever created them).
  2. The themes fail you as a site owner.

I’ll come back to Rod Holt in a while. But here’s the context. You created the best-ever premium WordPress theme. And you planned a big launch party. And one month later everything was either back to silence or you started getting stinkers in your support forums. It was supposed to work. It had the most awesome, beautiful design and came with 101 settings. It was so easy to drag-and-drop, you even marketed it as a framework. And after a month or two… nothing… zilch… nada.

What’s the buyer’s story? They bought it. They bought a domain and a hosting. They took 6 hours to learn the cpanel and figure out how to install WordPress using Fantastico. And then the story started. Or may be they were tech savvy. But they had to move over from Notepad++ to using drag-and-drop. Or maybe it even worked. But the new site design didn’t click with the site-visitors. Or may be it even did. But you didn’t make the sales like you were expecting.

So in summary, for any website to be successful, you need to cover several aspects, and work brilliantly at that. But the point is, how do you get it done? Do you hire someone? It’s difficult to know who the right person is. And then there’s a premium cost associated with it. What is the guarantee for success?

Price of Success

When Steve Jobs hired Rod Holt to design the power-supply for Apple II, he was not buying his service. He bought success. And the cost of success feels like a “premium” when you are just investing. But it comes out to be low and a wonderful investment when you start seeing success. And the adage “there’s nothing that succeeds like success” holds true all the more for internet businesses. The world is the market and your website is your 24×7 employee with no salary and no allowance-benefits, sick-leaves, flu, serving you day-in and day-out.

Steve-jobs-think-successjpg

Steve wanted a power-supply for his Apple-II computer. Steve had the foresight to see the future success. He knew what he wanted. And what he wanted was a power-supply that would snugly fit into the body of Apple-II (which was more or less the size of a typewriter). PSU (the power-supply unit) had to be cool so it would allow a longer running time and less heat dissipation to the components around and avoid the discomfort to the user of touching and feeling the thing go hot. It also had to be silent because Steve realized how irksome can be the whirring of a small fan running inside the unit.

Steve foresaw the success of his product and that allowed him to invest into the future. Rod Holt charged $200 per day. And Steve knew that success is guaranteed with the right resources (Rod in this case). He agreed to pay a premium and Rod designed him a power-supply that ushered in a new era of PSUs — the SMPS or the Switch Mode Power Supply. It stays cool because the components switched the supply so many times that the load was shared and the components stayed cool. (We can get into a lot more details but let’s stick to the point).

Rod Holt With Steve Woznaik

A point to be noted here is that we can’t face challenges until we openly realize and accept them. That drag-and-drop framework you bought so that you could easily design was a hoax. You certainly tried and even got something working. But how do you connect things? The designs that you liked… how could you figure that it uses the best SEO practices? You don’t have the comfort of you favorite text editor and there’s no undo button.

Choosing a theme for your website is an easy task, making it work for you is where things get difficult.

It may be a great design but how do you ensure that your visitors will actually like it? …and that it will make the site user-friendly and help boost the sales? That’s the primary reason why the theme was a failure. It was all looks and no business — all fluff. That great theme was designed so that you found it easy to design and use… not necessarily to ensure success. It was built to sell higher numbers.

It Was Supposed To Be Easy

On the designer’s side things come out to be pretty interesting. With all the fancy features and marketing, they got a lot of sales. But soon the noise died down. Because users stopped using it after a while. Let’s face it — that famous 2 minutes install starts (mostly) with buying a domain (after trying for an hour or thinking a few days for branding and availability). Then you go for a hosting package. Finally you change the DNS to point to the hosting server. And then you create a mysql database. And you are ready for the install? Nope, you have to create a mysql user and give them permissions over the database. You have to figure out how to configure your ftp client so you can start uploading the files. Then comes the configuration part.

The Theme That Does-It-All Sold To The Wrong Market (…and still doesn’t do-it-all).

Finally you get to a level wherein you are comfortable with pretty permalinks (though you haven’t figured out what the right URL structure and information architecture is for your particular site). That theme/product that was coded for convenience to the new business owners… failed. Because it was intended for an audience that was not tech-savvy. They actually had better things to do like focusing on their business. It was annotated with countless tool-tips on how & what’s the right thing to do nonetheless — smart theme coder. Tools are only as good as people who use them. And in this case the weakest link in the chain is the site owner who was sold on a theme that was supposed to take care of everything. The concept of the do-it-all theme will become more viable when the speech-recognition and handwriting-recognition apps can be used in production environments.

Web-designers-toolkit

The Right Man For The Right Job

Steve had this audacious penchant for punching above his weight. They didn’t have salaries to pay themselves when they were building Apple-II. But they sure did hire an expert at $200 a day. And that helped them not only pay their salaries but even brought in never-ending success for the future.

The same stands true for any website. And that’s the reason why investing in a $500 theme won’t cut it. Investing in a $50 theme just may; provided you know your stuff or find the right person to use it right and build a site out of it.

A developer helps you figure it out and deliver success. They come with a price tag and a guarantee backed by existing clients, testimonials and success stories. And this implies that you do your homework. Take the time to see their existing work, testimonials, visit some of the sites they built and even talk to their clients. And you have to be smart to not bargain or keep hounding them. You turn them off and they rush-n-deliver the job and walk away.

Investing Smart

A developer is a person who architects business success for your website. He connects everything to deliver brilliance. Here’s a graphic that attempts to connect just some of the critical aspects.

Genesis Developer

With the dynamics of the internet the entire scene changes before you know it. The search algorithm changes, a newer, better theme comes out. Your business changes. You have to be pleased with the website as a site owner; at the same time the site must please the search engines, visitors, must establish your business identity, generate conversations and do everything it takes for business success. Hire an expert and leave it to them.

A smart businessperson knows how to invest in success and how to drive the success. A smarter businessperson knows where to invest and the fact that no price is too much for success.

So Why Themes & Webdesigns Fail?

Ever wondered how many WordPress themes are out there? The competition is enormous. The average site owner cannot evaluate a theme against their business requirements. Themes by their very nature are not webdesigns (but often are seen as one). Themes are tools to build a website. That tool or component of a website can boost your revenues when made use of by an expert designer. When you buy a theme, consult a developer. When you build a theme, think of a developer. You bypass the developer and things are doomed for failure. Themes are for generic installs. You have to do a custom implementation for your own specific purpose to make the best use of it.

Also fancy user-interfaces will keep evolving. But web-technologies dominate how the internet behaves. So that new flat UI design doesn’t stand the same in importance when compared with features like HTML5 markup or caching or Schema markup. Invest in a theme that’s flexible, extensible, customizable and ready for the future.

Wordpress Themes

Summary

For the theme builders here’s my take:

  1. There are too many premium WordPress themes out there, forget free ones.
  2. Every site owner wants fancy features. Discover those and build upon it. There are just too many themes based on drag-n-drop, pitching HTML5 and 101 widgetized areas.
  3. Develop for success, not necessarily for being handled by site owners.
  4. Make the task of the developer easy. That makes hiring developers more economical since things will be easy for them (think number of hours).
  5. Develop for the future.

For the site owners looking for business success:

  1. Don’t fall for the looks of a WordPress theme. Appearances can be deceiving.
  2. A website is not a product. Think of it as a service. Invest in its success.
  3. Your website’s success is directly proportional to the caliber and reputation of your site developer.
  4. While there is nothing like quality-to-price ratio in webdesign, you pay for the experience of the developer you hire, their reputation and you buy your success. Don’t take the quality-to-price ratio article on face value. It seems logical and sounds right. Think intelligent — we are talking about success, not quality that you can see on the screen or in how well the code is formatted.
  5. There are tons of designers. If you can tell the best from the mediocre then you can have a site that stands out from the crowd and does a stellar job at what it does.
  6. Be smart. Focus on your business. Hire a developer to focus on your website.

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Hi, I’m Shivanand Sharma. I’m a WordPress Genesis designer and have developed several WordPress plugins and themes. Here are some of my latest contributions:

I’m also a WordPress Consultant and specialize in making WordPress work for your business.

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