Before diving into why I decided to switch from a standalone theme to a theme framework it’s probably a good idea to begin by explaining the difference between the two.
A standalone theme is just that: an individual theme that houses your WordPress site’s design as well as some basic functionality. When you get a WordPress theme framework though you’re getting one of two things: 1) A “drop-in” code library that is used to facilitate development of a Theme; or 2) A stand-alone base/starter Theme that is intended either to be forked into another Theme, or else to be used as a Parent Theme template.
Until recently, as the title of this post would suggest, I had a standalone theme that I had purchased through the Themeforest marketplace. And I thought I was really happy with it.
So why did I decide to make the switch?
It All Started with a Comment
A comment beat-down actually. Delivered right here on the ManageWP Blog; in the comments section of my first post no less.
I had just delivered a gushing review of the Website theme which I’d recently purchased and installed for my own site and titled the post: How-to Install & Configure What May Be 2013’s Best Premium WordPress Theme.
And I meant it!
But then a reader jumped into the discussion and rather bluntly corrected me.
This theme is fairly awful to deal with. I picked up a client who is using it, and I highly disrecommend it. They got hacked because of it, but that’s not even the main reason I dislike it. Here’s the main reason why “Website” is a bad theme:
It violates the officially recommended and proper practices for theme development by adding extensive functionality and custom content types to the theme’s functions.php file rather than separate plugins. You’ll lose all your custom content and those plugins if you ever switch to another theme. You’d have to extensively modify the new theme to work the same wrong way, or else do what the developer should have done and move all the custom content and functionality to plugins. Most people who buy these themes can’t do this themselves or even understand the issue.
This is not an isolated story. It’s well known that many Themeforest developers ruin the flexibility of WordPress by refusing to separate functionality and content from presentation. You may not even need or want all the bells and whistles they pack into their themes, but like it or not, you get it with no way to cut it off.
Expect support to suck as well. Upgrades may never be offered, and when they are then tend to be patches emailed on demand (if your emails aren’t ignored) or zip packages to download and install over the old version.
To which I replied:
Hi Dan, thanks for sharing your story. Obviously you’ve had your own experiences with this theme and you didn’t enjoy it. However my own experience (and many others) has been vastly different. Since I’ve owned a license to the “Website” theme I’ve had consistent updates as well as reliable and quick support response. Which is why I feel your accusations at the end of your comment a bit unfair as they do not seem to reflect the reality experienced by this theme’s actual customers.
On the other hand, I understand your critique about added functionality in certain themeforest themes. Obviously this is a hotly contested issue and there are multiple viewpoints on it. I have found that some (if not most) users find the extra functionality now helps them get where they need to be in the future – regardless of the possible challenges as a result. I’m not saying that is always the case, but it stands to reason that someone – like you said above – without the ability to add functionality themselves might lean on a robust theme to help their site get traction for a year or two. After that they can make changes, hire help if need be, and “do things right.”
And then I was smacked down again by Dan with:
Nathan — It’s not a matter of “not enjoying” the theme or some kind of “controversy” about which people can reasonably disagee. Themes like “Website” violates the consensus standards of the best WP theme developers, the WP codex, and common sense. They do it to lure and lock in amateur users and to simplify work for themselves. Period.
I have access to updates for this theme through the license holder. They never applied any of the updates because they had someone customize it directly, and the updates would overwrite the modifications. A child theme should have been created to prevent this, but unlike BETTER theme developers, Website does not come with a blank child theme and is built in a way that makes it especially challenging to work with through a child theme, which is also the officially recommended way to customize themes.
Your argument makes no sense — buy a badly written theme, load it with content, and a year or two later spend a lot of time and money porting it to another theme? If you get a properly contructed theme in the first place, all your content and functional customizations are instantly portable to any other theme — anyone could do it. Huge difference. Themeforest junk like “Website” just adds a huge hidden cost that will come due on the unwitting user in short order if they have any significant content that is not something they consider disposable.
After which I meekly limped away from the conversation with a placating response:
Dan – You’ve brought up some excellent points. I can only say that I will have to look into these issues more thoroughly – possibly resulting in a follow-up post. I wrote this post because I have used this theme a lot and found it (and the theme developer) to perform excellently.
Obviously, I had some research to do. Beyond the incident being a bit embarrassing, I ultimately have a responsibility to be aware of these types of issues and how they affect users. Especially if I’m reviewing and recommending a product.
Thankfully all I had to do was google “problems with themeforest themes” and begin reading. Dan was also kind enough to drop a few helpful links in another comment. The most helpful being a Themeforest thread about forward compatibility in which everything that really needs to be said on the subject is thoroughly covered by several reputable developers.
He Was Right and I Was Wrong
While at the moment I was extremely happy with my beautiful looking theme that was chock full of useful features, it was definitely going to come back to haunt me if I didn’t make a change fast. My pages and posts were riddled with shortcodes and custom post types unique to my theme. Making a change to another theme a year or two down the road would be near impossible.
But that reality didn’t change what I was looking for in a theme. As a non-developer (which is why I wasn’t as familiar as I should have been with this issue in the first place) I still needed a theme that provided as much control as possible over theme functionality, design customizations, and content formatting – without getting into any code.
The answer (at least for me) was switching to a quality theme framework that provides those features while remaining in-line with WordPress theme development standards and best practices.
After asking around a bit as well as doing some independent research and comparison, the following theme frameworks topped my list of potential choices (in no particular order):
Why I Went with the Genesis Framework
When it came time to make a purchase I was deadlocked between two choices: WooThemes and Genesis. All of the theme frameworks had some impressive pros and very few cons. But in my opinion these two options provided the best value at the intersection of design customizability, easy to implement features, page/post formatting and affordable pricing.
Prose, the Genesis child theme of my choice, was a lot like “Website” in that out of all the Genesis child themes available it had the most customization options available from the admin. And everything else I wanted came in the form of pre-written code snippets as well as an extensive array of plugins for me to pick and choose from.
On the other hand I was also really impressed with the Canvas theme from WooThemes. If anything Canvas was more robust, more customizable, easier to use and more feature rich – with an equally if not more impressive array of powerful plugins.
The only problem was that when I looked at the pricing options the developer package for Canvas was $150 plus an additional $30 for lifetime support/updates. Where as Prose running on Genesis (which uses one framework pricing package for all) only cost $84.95 and included support and updates at no extra cost.
So I went with Genesis.
Benefits of the Switch
After going through the predictably annoying process of putting my website on maintenance mode, deactivating “Website” and installing Genesis with Prose – I was pleased to take stock of the many benefits to this choice:
- A theme design that’s easy to customize
- Multiple layout options for each page
- An instant increase in site speed (especially when combined with a caching plugin)
- Industry leading security
- Industry leading search engine optimization
- A thriving community of fellow genesis users and developers
- Rock solid code that follows WordPress theme development standards and best practices
- Amazing support, free resources, and tutorials
- And of course a WordPress website that is essentially “future-proof” as I will be able to make any future design changes, including a new child theme, without putting my content or site functionality at risk.
When it’s all said and done I’m really happy I made the switch. I feel much more confident about the future of my website after having “built it” on a solid foundation. Do I wish I could have been clued in to this need in a less embarrassing more polite way? Sure. But that was my fault. I should have known about those issues before promoting a theme that is ultimately misleading and potentially disastrous to someones blog or business.
What about you? Have you had issues with forward theme compatibility? Do you now use a framework like me? Tell me your theme stories and post responses in the comments below!
I think Frameworks are better than Themes as it gives better customisation options. I have used Gantry on my website wroffle.com and now it looks much better than ever!
Some of the comments here are inducing more questions then answering problems. Though I am not having expertise on WordPress development, I believe for high volume traffic websites going with any theme frameworks might not be a best option. It might be good to start with to go live quickly but overtime you will feel to write your own custom theme.
On my site stacktips.com, I have tried many different frameworks. Currently I am stuck at Redux Framework. It just serve the purpose but it comes with the cost. It makes too many DB queries, and lot many useless code blocks it has to go through before rendering a page.
Hence, I am writing my own theme from scratch. Design the layouts you need, and place the templates required. I believe thats the way to go! Having said that, if your client is stuck at low budget, you have no choice but to use some frameworks.
What are your thoughts on Headway and even the new Divi Builder plugin? I currently use headway and currently considering adding the Divi plugin. Thanks!
We are currently using Genesis framework with Metro Theme. The theme is excellent and I need some editing to be done. I have never tried to get into Genesis support? Any view on that?
Look at this post:
just passing through. This thread was very useful to me. I am just coming from the dinosaur world (typepad), and in the process of migrating onto wordpress. I was getting around all the technical issues, discovering the subtleties of frameworks and child themes – I am certainly not a pure techie. And I found really interesting advices in the article and all your comments. I think I will choose genesis/prose theme. Looks like it can meet my needs. Thanks much for the sharing !
Nearly a year later, I still use your blog post (and Dan’s comments) to illustrate to our clients as to what constitutes a good theme, and the importance of sticking with codex rules.
I admire you very much for 1) understanding that we, as WP developers, have a responsibility to deliver the best we can to our clients – as their livelihoods are often in our hands 2) being brave enough for stating you were embarrassed and wrong, as this happens to all of us 3) being super gracious!
I like to think that you and Dan are now buddies – sharing the occasional theme story over a brewski!
Kelly from Pongos Interactive
The Premium vs Framework comparison is becoming a classic.
To be honest, is such a comparison worthwhile?
If you are a blogger/business owner who likes the DYI approach, a framework is your best choice indeed. You get a very clean toolbox for a great price.
If on the other hand you are selling websites to people who will never lift the hood themselves the Premium theme approach wins: the customer’s budget is best invested in content and services. Ask your customers.
And who cares if the need for a new theme means reorganizing the content from scratch ?
a. businesses usually don’t publish that much content.
b. a new website usually comes with revamped/fresh content.
c. the whole process means more business for web professionals, making the whole food chain happy. What’s wrong with that?
The framework approach is valid if you’re a blogger who likes to change his website’s theme (almost) as often as his socks, or a publisher. This is not typical of companies. The consensus standards of the best WP theme developers, the WP codex, and “common sense”, are not economically sound when dealing with small businesses on a tight budget.
This is why a large portion of premium theme buyers on ThemeForest are pros. It’s a great way to keep technical costs low. (And let’s be fair: there are now some very good themes on ThemeForest. If you’re not picking the right one, you’re the only one to blame). A client’s site can be up and running the very day the contract is signed. Nothing wrong with that. And you don’t have to be a developer to sell websites (I shall provocatively add that being one often does not help as far as sales are concerned: clients don’t care about technology, they want options. Jobs understood this quite well: although revered by the tech community, he was a marketing guy.)
I’d like to push the reasoning even further: consider the rise of the Saas market (WP based happytables.com is a great example).
Most small businesses (95% of the market) can’t afford a custom website and would rather have their money invested into services. Historically, happytables’ founders sold premium themes. They soon found out that these were too complex for business owners to handle. Content publishing is a chore for most people, even with WP. Besides, their operations could not scale (you can’t realistically handle thousands of end customers with an offer based on premium themes). With this in mind they opted for the Saas business model instead : greatly simplified themes and admin meant more happy clients. The latter may be stuck with a very limited choice of themes, exporting to another provider may not be an option but all this is not an issue. Customers still get a WP website.
In short: custom websites are not the future when you are talking about sales, except for the higher end of the market.
The current premium themes market will probably evolve too. Quite a few pros who used to sell websites based on premium WP themes now sell set up, design and content services on SquareSpace. It is easy to understand why. WordPress.com is moving in that direction as well. That is what democratizing web publishing is all about, in Matt Mullenweg’s own words.
If you’re a DYI fan this whole reasoning doesn’t really matter of course: there will be plenty of great tools such as frameworks in the future to keep on toying with.
But, unless you’re an elite developer, don’t expect to make a decent living out of it. Code may be poetry, but selling websites is a business.
Even though my comments are coming to you late in the year, November 2013 late, your entire article is absolutely Brilliant!
Plus there was no way I could feel okay clicking on another article without giving you a BIG SHOUT OUT of KUDOS with how well you outlined your points. In fact what was quite exceptional was your introduction to your article. —-> I was clearly under the impression you would just be quite clear with pros and cons approach regarding Website vs Frameworks. Obviously I was wrong in my assessment after reading your entire piece.
I need all the help I can get with choosing the best WP plan and so far I have been quite shocked with Themeforest. Plus I couldn’t put my finger on it until I stumbled upon a theory of mine with why hasn’t any developer created just a straight forward Blank Child theme that could be customized and it’s parent would have all the necessary features that it would need to offer users a foundation to grow without starting from scratch.
I too went with Genesis but in my opinion there’s not too many options to customize just a simple template nor do they have template options that are just ‘new’. Don’t get me wrong it is by far great but your review on Pagelines is making the case I need to move forward. And in the end your articles made the best sense for me to understand what in the ham sam is going on with WordPress and it doesn’t need to be so damn complicated.
Thank you so much for this great great piece! This is what you call head line news worthy of just basic investigation helping people like myself see the light of day…..again!
Now if only we can find a visual WordPress Editor that can tweak any existing WordPress theme while offering a Framework so that best practice standards of WordPress are regularly updated. Am I asking too much for 2014? (Headway does not do this — I found this out the hardway last weekend after my measly purchase)
Have you looked at http://cobaltapps.com Dynamik website builder and Genesis Extender plugin. These offer an easy way to create a child theme in Genesis, or edit an existing child theme (with the plugin). Yesterday I used the plugin to change my theme’s home page from the standard content / sidebar layout to a widgetized layout with one wide column, with 3 narrow columns below. The options are limitless! And the price is reasonable.
I agree with Fran comment – Dynamik website builder and Genesis Extender plugin is the best setup. You need the Genesis Extender plugin if you use any Genesis Themes but if you’re just using only the Genesis theme then choice Dynamik. You can have both but not switch on together. One great feature of Dynamik or Extender is they have a CSS and PHP builder so you can easily learn CSS and PHP as you watch what the code does.
I’d like to hear your opinion on Elegant theme in the context of this subject
Can you tell me please?
Does this Genesis framework depend on the developer? What I mean is if the owner of the framework decides to shut down their own server and business, does the framework still work?
Does the framework “talk” to their server for specific functions, that would no longer work assuming the company was no longer around.
Thank you for the excellent post.
thnks for the info i ll be soon switching to genesis theme!!! ummm not perfect though will give it a try!!!
I use gantry-framework…. the best theme or framework I have ever used.
I have used Thesis for 5 years and love the simplicity of customising the theme
I tried Genesis but realised I needed to know more coding and the theme customisation was more techie
I also tried Woothemes but just did not get on with the interface
So I stay with Thesis Theme as I beleive it has the best core coding by Chris Pearson
Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this! I haven’t read a post this helpful (both information-wise and in making me feel less alone) in a long time.
When I first started out with WP I used Pagelines and I didn’t have a clue of what I was doing! Sites created with Pagelines are beautiful but, for me at least, it is incredibly difficult to customize. Of course I had no idea what the differences where between themes, child themes and frameworks were then!
When I got frustrated with the whole thing and decided to just go with a theme (or three or four) I liked from Theme Forest, I just made things worse and my entire site became a disaster. There were constant failures, plugins would stop working or didn’t mesh with the theme, mucking through code every time I wanted to change the height of something… It was enough to make me want to throw in my hat, and I did in a way.
Partly due to the insanity and partly to create a friendlier, more playful brand I decided to start from scratch with a whole new blog. This time around I started with WooTheme’s Canvas on a recommendation from a developer friend. It has a lighter touch than Pagelines and is so much easier to work with. I looked at Genesis several times but it just didn’t catch my fancy the way Canvas did, that and my friend has offered to help with anything I have trouble with.
In short (which isn’t my strong suit) There are a lot of pretty things on Theme Forest, but just like a Venus Flytrap, some pretty things aren’t worth the trouble they can get you into!
This is a great article, but I’m still confused as to how to tell whether a particular stand alone theme is an absolute no go. In one of your other articles you said you liked a theme which I’ve been looking at too which is: http://themeforest.net/item/avada-responsive-multipurpose-theme/full_screen_preview/2833226
Would you consider this an absolute no go?
Learning the hard way…
I wish I didn’t have to 🙂 – but that’s life I guess. It would have been great to have read and understood these arguments 12 months or so ago – as I took my first tentative steps as with WP.
As a relative WP newby I wish these issues were flagged up much more clearly on the WP codex. Maybe I missed them? It’s difficult to research the issues when you don’t know what the issues are.
I’m a freelance designer and digital illustrator. I need a web site – but I’m not a developer. In years past I’d designed and built a couple of very basic static sites for myself using Dreamweaver. While basic in coding – the DIY approach meant that they could be styled exactly to my liking. They never got updated of course ;). As time moved on and I needed a dynamic site, WP seemed the best option. However – it was only the ‘Themeforest’ type of theme that seemed to offer the degree of customisation I craved.
A year down the line I find I’ve spent money on more than one premium Themeforest themes. To be fair to the authors, they’ve both given good support. However, I now realise that I’m 80% through the construction of a site that uses custom post types and lots of other stuff that has me totally locked in…
Mike, I feel your pain. That is exactly what happened to me. It’s really frustrating but once you get to the other side and have your website “future-proofed” against some of these issues it really does feel like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. Or at least it did for me. I hope we can be a source of helpful info on topics like this in the future BEFORE you have to learn things the hard way.
@Sarah – Not sure what you mean about theme frameworks being “limiting”? We have used the Thematic Theme Framework — http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/thematic — for years, and there is nothing it prevents us from doing when building out custom WordPress sites. Unfortunately, I have seen many designers and even developers who look at the basic framework at the link just given and fail to see how it can easily be used to build out anything needed. For example of what I mean, see the gallery of sites built on Thematic, here: http://thematicmondo.com/directory/site-showcase/
Why Theme Frameworks? Once you learn them your development goes much faster and the basic functionality at the top level is left to the theme framework programmers to keep current.
@Nathan — I too have noticed the back pedaling by WooThemes and others who had packed too many functions and features (bloated in my opinion) into what was supposed to be a framework ideal for child theme development (like Canvas). Smart move to take out all the SEO functionality and instead recommend the Yoast plugin for same.
My love of pure frameworks is that you can then just concentrate mostly on CSS for design with some hooks into desired functions as needed.
Has anyone done a comprehensive review of the leading WP “frameworks” or a short list picked for specific reasons? Differentiating them would be really helpful. So would some clarity about the radically different definitions of “framework” that have come into use.
The original and technically correct definition of a “theme framework” or “theme development framework” (with no extras) is a PHP-based functional extension of the WordPress core. It allows you to code themes using the features you want from the framework.
Most popular “frameworks” now are actually highly parameterized parent themes controlled by a big administrative interface. The parent theme relies on a *presentation framework* (typically a responsive grid system) and a *theme development framework.*
While it’s quite possible to build or install a pre-built theme for a true theme framework that adds a presentation framework and an admin interface and shortcodes to simplify use of their features, usually more of this work is left to you to do. With the most popular “frameworks” now, they’re advertised as making it possible to build sites without touching or understanding a thing about HTML, CSS, or PHP.
Whether that’s really true is another question. The impact of “frameworks for dummies” could be a lot of generic, bloated sites cranked out quickly by website mills that compete on price in a race to the bottom, but I suppose that is ultimately a self-correcting situation.
I agree with you on your definition, but in reality this is the theory. In real life the developers make practical and economical choices. Which I can understand.
Her some links (part 1 and 2) of quite a framework comparison with al kind of discussion around it:
Thanks for the links.
I don’t think I said anything of a theoretical or (what you really mean) “impractical” nature.
What is practical for the developer (or site builder with limited to no technical knowledge) is not always practical for their customer. It matters how and why a certain tool is practical, and to whom.
Didn’t mean it like that actually. I see that, starting from the idea there should be a strict separation between functionality of the framework vs. the theme, the framework/theme developers all make different choices in this. Like shortcodes, widgets etc. being part of framework, theme or separate plugins. And in years their ideas change in this: Woothemes is now stripping functionality from their framework/themes and put it in plugin-packs (Woodojo). Same as the Jetpack and the YOOtheme widgetpack.
@Nathan: enough for some articles and spending some time with.
OK, I see what you’re saying. Very good point. Everything is really a choice about freedom/independence that costs you time and expertise versus dependencies that cost you freedom/independence.
I think this will be the topic of yet another future post for me. Others in the comments here have requested it and I think an in-depth look at what exactly a framework is, which frameworks are best for who and so on is something worth exploring more thoroughly. Thanks for you further interest Dan. You’ll be one of the first people I reach out to when that post is finished.
I tin finestemplates dot com are giving good themes for us to select and download and Hosting services details and eBooks download … it’s an good site for to select good themes for all kind of business….
I think I would definitely prefer a framework over something you could purchase pre-made from Themeforest, but using a framework is still too limiting in my opinion.
I feel like with WordPress, most of the time (as a developer) we are trying to stretch the bounds of what WordPress can do, and putting it into the “shell” of a framework confines it more than it already is…
For rapid development though (of less complex installations), and for those clients who have smaller budgets, frameworks can save a lot of time…
I agree that a framework is technically a limitation but as you said it can save a lot of time (and I would also argue money) for the right type of project. As I just mentioned in another response on this same thread I plan on writing a follow-up post (or possibly series of posts) in which I take a deeper look at frameworks in general, talk about the different kinds, the various “brand names” in frameworks and hopefully guide WordPress users who are considering a framework to the right purchasing choice…which depending on the project may be no framework at all…but rather a talented WordPress developer. I hope you’ll come back and read that post too so you can chime in on the continuation of this discussion 🙂
I love the honesty of this post and how you’ve taken a mistake (although with the best of intentions, of course) and turned it into a positive.
I use the Genesis framework on one of my smaller websites but am still in the process of deciding what to use for my main website (ridiculously it’s still on a free wordpress theme – but I expect this will change in the next month). I’m currently deciding between Genesis’ Prose and Metro theme. Prose is great in that it’s so customisable but Metro looks very similar to what I want anyway, so I may go for that one for its ease of use and almost ‘out of the box’ ‘plug and play’, as it were.
Great post, Nathan!
Thanks Michael! Drop me a link via twitter once you get Metro in place. I’d love to see how you implement it.
Hi Colleagues –
Great discussion thread, and Nathan… I look forward to a post comparing a number of frameworks.
One interesting assumption that seems to be in play is that any and all clients will want to change to a different theme. Our business clients don’t think about changing “themes”, but rather “designs” to be built out as a “skin” when their business objectives change. They don’t even know or care about being “stuck” with a framework… which they are not. Child themes, built mostly via image files and CSS, can be moved to different frameworks. And, they are more efficient to build. Thoughts?
You bring up a good point worthy of discussion. You’re right that the debate of framework vs standalone theme is probably not something your average client is going to have their head wrapped around. Let alone what sparked this post in the first place which is certain standalone themes attempting to be an “imitation framework” resulting in very poor forward compatibility.
Clients want what they need in the moment and expect that we will be able to deliver again when the time comes (and in the loosest sense I’m including myself in the WordPress developer community since I’m essentially a WordPress evangelist). It is at this point that we need to own up to a certain level of responsibility towards not only our clients’ immediate needs and the future updates they might want to make but also to any other designers and developers who might end up working on projects we started or took part in in the past. Hence, the importance of WordPress development standards and best practices.
In theory, strict compliance could breed a framework environment where you can jump from framework to framework without any ill effects…but that does not seem to be the case. Every article I read while researching this post that touched on the idea of jumping from one framework to another cautioned against it. Not that it couldn’t be done but that it sort of defeats the purpose many choose frameworks for in the first place – saving you development time and hassle.
So to conclude my thoughts on this: I feel like picking the right framework in the beginning is really important for everyone involved. It should be something you’re confident you can grow and build upon as time goes by and not something that should be abandoned lightly. Child themes can go a really long way in keeping a site design fresh but I wouldn’t recommend sticking with one child theme while switching frameworks (if I understood you correctly). Instead I’d focus on finding and/or creating the right plugins/child themes to help you get the most out of the framework you’ve chosen.
Great post and topic.
I am curious about Mario’s unique content tool and my firm has used a wide variety of themes but most recently has moved to genesis and woo themes for some of these same concerns.
Great article Nathan. I love that you took time to explain your decision process and its totally awesome to have such a strong WP community and people as Dan, who are willing to contribute and help. The biggest timesaver is not doing the wrong thing. In WP world not using the wrong theme or plugin.
My issue with lot of WP themes (and I got a few from Themeforest too) is SEO. Or rather the lack of SEO experience by theme developers. You see they get into idea that you want theme because it’s pretty. Oh, its so cool, shiny and have all those jquery or html5 blinks. But wait – is the point of having the theme and website just to look cool? Well for me, as with many other is to drive traffic too. Not ONLY to look cool. So each time I get theme on my hands, I have to do lot of SEO changes to it. What loads first, how h tags are used, how are images treated, how page design effect what will be focus for search engines. And yes, of course I use WordPress SEO plugin, but there is much to theme too.
Do you have similar experience, or you find that Genesis is a perfect fit from SEO point too? I never used Genesis, but heard a lot about it.
Thanks for the kind words. I couldn’t agree more, there’s a great community here built around a passion for WordPress and a desire to do things the smart way. Speaking of the smart way: Genesis is amazing for SEO. You’ll be hard pressed to find a framework better setup in those regards. But that doesn’t mean others aren’t close or even equally as good.
As I said in the post, I made my framework decision after considering several criteria. The main one of course being, does this theme framework follow WordPress development standards and best practices? If the answer to that question was yes, then everything after that was personal preference.
However, it does seem that quite a few people in this thread might be interested in a post comparing some of the most commonly used and promoted frameworks. Sounds like a future post to me!
We have used the wooframe work and while happy with the results, prefer to work with core WordPress instead.
Frameworks are nice and I have heard good things about the others you mention, however once you choose a framework you are basically tied into it as well.
As long as you are ok with those limitations you should be fine.
However you sitll have to learn the Framework you are using to make the most of it.
Why not just spend that time learning core WordPress functionality and leaving your options completely open.
The beauty of WordPress is the functionality and the plugins which when put together properly are completely limitless.
You’re certainly right that once you choose a framework you are basically stuck with it as well. The difference between a well developed framework and poorly developed standalone theme though (as described in my post) is that ultimately most people are looking to build one type of site with specific functionality and the freedom to update and tweak it’s design as time goes by. Sure they might want to add or subtract certain functionality as they go too, but again any good theme framework is going to make that possible too.
I think the reason many choose to go with a framework as opposed to working directly with WordPress core is because there’s a sweet-spot a framework fills for non-developers or for developers who don’t want to duplicate their efforts excessively from project to project. This would be particularly true for someone who specializes in a certain type of website where 90% of what their clients want is almost always the same.
Then again, I could be wrong. I’ve never worked with the WordPress core before and it’s possible that like others that sounds a bit intimidating and I really could grasp it as easily as a new framework. I don’t know. You’ve given me something to look into!
Well the issue that I have with learning the Framework is best described with an example:
WooThemes Canvas, which as you even pointed out, is a great base theme to build from, has many options to customize the look of your theme from within the WooThemes Framework dashboard admin.
The Fonts alone can be overwhelming with over 20+ different options to change font styles throughout different areas of the site. While it is great to try and change these, on the fly, through the admin, this goes against proper design process (you should design first and build after). Now I do understand that clients will not necessarily use a proper design process and they may just want to click around and “play” with the settings to see what they get.
However, trying to understand where each of these styles is applied within the site is very confusing and then with all of the options of size, color, style and font face available it can become overwhelming. At this point, it becomes easier to just find the element you would like to style using firebug (or other web dev tools) and edit the CSS directly.
It will probably take just as long and then you will have gained knowledge that can be applied in any web development and is not just restricted to a single Framework.
This is just a single example but I hope it illustrates my thought process.
We decided to go with the Catalyst framework http://catalysttheme.com/ and have been happy so far. I’m in the midst of designing all four of our sites with it, one of which was previously on a custom theme which we can’t update because I no longer want to subscribe to the theme seller. I also had to go the child theme route with it in order to tweak it beyond its own customization. Catalyst provides a custom CSS area and custom hooks and widgets which have proved invaluable. Looking forward to having everything under “one roof” (and updated and backed up by ManageWP.)
+1 for Catalyst framework. I know other developers who have used some of the frameworks mentioned above, but switch to Catalyst when they run into limitations of their previous framework. I have used Catalyst since it’s inception and love it. As another reply stated, clients don’t care about themes, they care about designs and as developers we need to be able to evolve the theme as their designs evolve. Being locked into any particular “theme” will only hinder this at some point.
Nice write up! I have dealt with many of the same issues with theme forest themes. I was looking at genesis for a while also but have been hesitant. I tried the catalyst framework before but it did not work well with my workflow. I have been building a lot of sites with the Striking theme from theme forest though. The support is incredible and it almost acts like a framework. Super fast to slice a psd and make a custom site with. I’m not a paid affiliate or anything just a super fan. It’s kind of like canvas from woo I guess. Hit me up @satori_design and let me know how genesis is going!
Unfortunately it looks lik the Striking theme at themeforest has the same problem as the Website theme from Themeforest that I reviewed and which sparked this article in the first place. It appears the theme author has packed quite a lot of extensive functionality into the theme itself including widgets, shortcodes, etc. Unless those items are contained in separate plugins that can be transfered to another theme…you’re basically stuck with it forever. Or in for a very long and tedious process come time to update it.
I could be wrong but all of the same tell-tale signs are there.
For most of the last year now, I have been using my own customised version of the Reverie Framework (https://github.com/milohuang/reverie) to build WP sites. It uses Zurb’s Foundation (http://foundation.zurb.com/) as the front-end layout framework, which I really love as well.
Using these tools has dramatically decreased my development time. However, it’s not an end-user theme framework, instead it’s more like a starter framework targeted at WP developers. If other people are interested in my customised version of Reverie, i would be happy to fork it on github …
DAVEMAC I am interested in your customized version of Reverie.
Hi Davemac, a bit late (!) but I’m also interested if you ever had a fork of Reverie
Hi Nathan — good article. We like Genesis and just started using it. Prior to that we used (and still do) the Thematic framework which is open source and recently updated. Found a lot written about it in books on WordPress development, and there’s a site with a lot of resources and tutorials here: http://thematicmondo.com/directory/resources-tutorials/
It reminds me a lot of Genesis, and I think the two influenced each other. There is a robust support community for Thematic, here: http://thematictheme.com/forums/
Thanks for the helpful links and kind words.
This article was really insightful…thanks! I have been pondering the idea of frameworks for a while. More so recently as the junky SEO built into a Themeforest theme I purchased for my Mum has been causing me no end of problems with Yoast SEO.
1: Probably most of the “I love my x-y-z framework” internet chatter goes to Genesis, so I am definitely looking into them. However, I have heard that it can get pretty deep and scary for the less technically inclined. Have you found it fairly user friendly?
2: A really important consideration for me…how do frameworks fare with being updated/managed from inside ManageWP? Is the process the same or any more involved if a new release of a framework is pushed out? I’ve never dealt with any frameworks so wonder what the difference would be if I were managing a bunch of framework’ed sites…?
So far I’ve found Genesis to be incredibly easy to use and configure. However, I’m using a pre-designed child theme whose purpose is making customization easy for non-developers. So I haven’t even begun to wade into the “deep and scary” side as you put it of what’s possible with Genesis.
I’d like to though, which is yet another reason I decided to go with it. I have a passable knowledge of html and I plan on taking classes this year in CSS and PHP – so getting involved with a framework that has a lot of active developers was a huge bonus for me as I plan to take full advantage of their help and knowledge. And give back of course too 🙂
So to answer your first question: while I haven’t found Genesis to be confusing or scary in any way (yet) I think there are other options that might better suit someone less technically inclined. WooThemes would be my personal recommendation but all of the options listed in the post (and more besides) are really great and I’d encourage you to spend some time reviewing/comparing your options.
As for your second question: No, it is not any harder or more complicated to manage websites running on frameworks with ManageWP.
I’m going to have a good dig into Genesis (and the rest). Frameworks seem to be the way many folks are going…think I’ll jump on the boat too! 🙂
IMO, the “I Love Genesis” crowd is primarily made up of those who want a framework but still love to theme shop. It requires you to start with a child theme and customize it from there. Although this is far better than just buying a stand-alone theme, shouldn’t a framework also be a tool for building a theme from scratch? However, there is a plugin, Dynamik for Genesis, that provides these tools.
Hi Nathan, I recognize a lot of experiences and arguments and am a framework fan for some years. I must honestly admit I did not know of some of the discussed points, but have a certain tendency to stucture and staying kind of independent from a single theme and updates. I have some TF themes that I like, but also tried and use quite some of the major frameworks mentioned (Headway, Catalyst, Woo). Talking about indepency and frameworks: there are quite dramatic cases of Thesis 1.x and Headway 2.x users now completely stuck with their sites based on the old versions, since stepping to 2.x and 3.x means a complete redo. There’s no migration path offered. I myself have used Thesis 1.x and can still have a good laugh about it ;-).
Reading your own steps in coming to Genesis, I honestly think you missed Catalyst in your shortlist (I have zero connection to them, but I like the framework and developer). Genesis I never considered earlier, cause everything I read about changing things ended up with editing PHP and CSS files. However, recently I bought Genesis with the Minimum theme (good name!), but I came to this because I learned about the Genesis Extender Plugin via this article (http://www.wilwebs.com/2012/10/catalyst-vs-dynamik-website-builder-for-genesis/), well articles in fact. It opened my eyes: I can re-use knowledge of Catalyst and Dynamik with Genesis and all the Genesis Themes. I still think you’ll do yourself a favor with indeed looking at the Extender Plugin as some people suggest here.
Thanks for the article, I like stories like these to see my own decisions kind of confirmed.
Oh jeez, I feel like such a mean guy now. Sorry, I make points sharply and am hardly infallible. I learned this stuff the hard way too.
You know what though Dan, if you hadn’t been so insistent I probably wouldn’t have been as compelled to see what all the fuss was about. As one of my comments under the original post indicates, I had heard this argument before but I hadn’t heard your side argued so hard and in such certain terms.
Believe it or not there is still a decently sized community of developers on Themeforest who are willing to argue with the likes of Carl Hancock, Justin Tadlock, Pippin Williams and others who really know what they’re talking about. As a non-developer it is sometimes difficult to sift through the various perspectives in an argument about proper development and come out confident that you’re on the right side.
But in this case, as you pointed out, it did not come down to a simple difference of opinion. One way is actually the right way to do things and the other is actually the wrong way to do things. And doing things (or recommending) the wrong way is asking for trouble…
Thanks for the good words. My irritation on the issue comes from going “hey, this sucks…” and then finding Jason, Carl, and others who, as you say, really know what they’re talking about. But they’re crowded out by a market like Themeforest, and this is bad for everyone.
In my first comment that you quoted, I should point out a correction to save some confusion: I wrote “You’ll lose all your custom content and those plugins if you ever switch to another theme.” I meant something like this: themes with Custom Post Types and their own *Widgets* or other extended functionality should put the code into separate plugins bundled with the theme or else you’ll lose the functionality and custom content if you ever change the theme. (The content will till be in your database, but your new theme won’t allow you to use it.)
Long term support for themes and plugins is not encouraged and perhaps passively discouraged by the way Themeforest works. It depends a lot on the developer, so my advice to theme buyers is to buy the developer, not the theme. The best ones sell from their own sites where all the proceeds go to them, which means your money is supporting the people who create and support the product you want to buy.
Re. frameworks, I’d be curious to hear (maybe in another post) what you and others think the pros and cons are of using the more elaborate theme frameworks that significantly add to the WP backend interface. It’s a way to lower the barriers and costs of creating a semi-custom design with parameterized layouts, color schemes, and typography anyone can change, but what are the costs in performance? And why not just use WordPress.com?
I prefer good base themes and/or frameworks as different as Bootstrap and Jason’s “Hybrid” that come with little or no additions to WP’s backend config screens. In some cases I might use Bootstrap and no CMS. (Low cost, low maintenance, and high-performance for rather static sites.) Or I might use a hosted service like WordPress.com for low cost, low maintenance, and high-performance content-focused sites — if don’t need to be fully independent, functionally modified beyond a normal content focus, or integrated with other sites and applications in the same webspace.
“My advice to theme buyers is to buy the developer, not the theme.”
Absolutely agree. While I hadn’t yet put it in quite those words, that is basically my new theme purchasing motto.
“Re. frameworks, I’d be curious to hear (maybe in another post) what you and others think the pros and cons are of using the more elaborate theme frameworks that significantly add to the WP backend interface. It’s a way to lower the barriers and costs of creating a semi-custom design with parameterized layouts, color schemes, and typography anyone can change, but what are the costs in performance? And why not just use WordPress.com?”
Sounds like another really interesting post 🙂
Hi Dan, I was also so time ago looking for a more ‘under-the-hood’ comparison of frameworks and found this very nice article.
Yes that’s a good one! — coincidentally I found it yesterday.
Oh, if I had a dollar for every time I felt the same way! 🙂
Interesting that I recently bought a Genesis child theme on ThemeForest from someone who couldn’t be bothered w/ support. I went through the code and everything is logically laid out which made it relatively easy to adjust things myself. But I am put off by the lack of tutorials for Genesis as well as their support, who will not help if you’ve customized your theme (they pass you off to their community-led forum, where you may or may not get an answer). I’ve had a much better support experience w/ the iThemes Builder framework.
I personally cannot speak to the support offered by Studiopress to users who buy child themes through a third party. I bought my child theme through the Studiopress website and I’ve been blown away by their customer support.
ThemeForest related issues were the reason for me to build http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/dx-shortcode-freezer/ in order to be able to port massive amount of shortcode-driven content to a new theme with less hassle. I know that customers cant deal with extra plugins setup (or anything after the install, they dont follow theme instructions and report non-existing issues) but it makes it impossible to just switch a theme and move on.
Nathan, I switched to Genesis for all my clients about a year ago after reading some of the same arguments your’ve presented.
Another framework I think really deserves mentioning is Justin Tadlock’s ThemeHybrid (http://themehybrid.com/). You can download it free. Support and premium content is a very low annual fee. Much more cost effective than some of the other premium themes.
I saw this while doing my research. I also read a great blog post by him on the topic (http://justintadlock.com/archives/2012/09/17/themeforest-an-experiment). I’d like to explore more frameworks in general, but at the time I wanted to make a decision I knew was going to be a good one and something I could be extremely confident about. Thanks for reminding me though!
Matthew Stibbe (@TurbineHQ)
Good article. I’ve been badly burned by cheaply-developed WordPress custom themes and off-the-shelf themes that ended up requiring a ton of work to maintain and support. I’m going through the same process as you, although I’m making the switch to Canvas and I’m just going through some initial testing on one of my sites. I also have Thesis on a number of sites but I’m a little anxious about the migration to version 2.0 of that theme and so I’m considering switching all my Thesis sites to WooPress themes too so that there is at least some consistency across all the sites I run. It’s going to be a long journey but your point about the hidden costs is absolutely true in my experience and I’m sure the end result will be worth it in the long run.
Since re-launching my personal blog with the Genesis framework I’ve undertaken the task of helping a few of my friends in fashion setup their portfolio sites/stores. After reviewing the options with them we decided to use WooThemes Canvas. Neither of the sites have launched yet, but after getting a chance to tinker with the WooThemes framework running Canvas I must say I’m extremely impressed and I’m really glad I own it now too. With both the Genesis and WooThemes frameworks at my disposal I feel prepared for anything 🙂
I recently created a website with genesis/metro and after using 20 other themes for the last year, I get it!
I know the feeling. I was like, oh, this is how easy/awesome this process is supposed to be.
I’ve been using Genesis now ever since it came out and love it. I have always been a fan of anything Brian Gardner/Studiopress creates so it was a “no brainer” for me to switch over to the Genesis Framework when it came along. You won’t find better, and the price is so reasonable.
Hi Linda, StudioPress is awesome. I was also so time ago looking for a more ‘in-dept’ comparison of frameworks and found this very nice article.
I’ve been though this battle many times and have fallen in love with PageLines (http://iammike.co/pagelines). IMO PageLines is much more module and gives you more control on what you load and how you extend it. It’s very developer friendly for child themes and you can still control a lot of the options via the admin panel. Granted, PageLines doesn’t have the quantity of child themes that Genesis has, it’s still has a great growing selection.
I’m curious why you eliminated PageLines early on when selecting a framework?
Pagelines was actually my strong favorite at the beginning and I still want to own it and learn its ins-and-outs, but when it came time to begin narrowing things down three things jumped out right away: its price point, lack of ready to go child themes, and significantly smaller user/developer community.
I’m a big fan of all of the theme frameworks mentioned in the post, but at the time Genesis just made the most sense for me.
We should talk more. I love talking frameworks. Hit me up on twitter @mikezielonka.
I too was in the mix of that original post, and actually purchased that theme following your review for a little one-off site for a friend. And, like Dan, in just a few minutes after installation, I was in the ‘regret-zone’.
But with that being said, I can appreciate and enjoyed your tasty cooking, and consumption, of crow.
Well done, Bravo.
Glad you were able to get some enjoyment out of my unfortunate feast. And I’m sorry you made a purchase you regret off of a recommendation I made. I wanted this post to be my immediate follow-up after writing that first one, but the timing just didn’t work out. In hindsight thought I was probably able to communicate better after letting the whole scenario sink in a bit.
My thought is that minor discrepancies can be cleared up with a post update or simply debated/corrected in the comments. But this was a pretty big retraction and it needed to be said in a full post.
Thanks for reading!
Just saw your post on FaceBook related to theme frameworks. Wasn’t even sure what a theme framework was. I have been using Weaver II Pro for a couple of years now and it seems to me that Weaver is a theme framework environment.
Weaver II Pro allows me to do just about anything I can dream up. Every time I think I have found something Weaver can’t do after a bit of effort on my part I find the solution within Weaver’s environment.
I don’t like custom coding for a couple of reasons. First off I don’t have much if any experience and secondly custom coding can if not managed carefully lead to issues when the underlying code changes. I am also a stickler for staying current with WordPress and plugin versions.
My goal with all my client’s sites is to provide them with something that can be easily picked up by someone else in the future. I have inherited a couple of WP sites that contained custom coding and they gave me fits till I migrated to a Weaver environment.
I was wondering if you considered Weaver when you wrote this piece. Please don’t judge Weaver’s abilities by my implementations. My client’s sites are only limited by my limitations and not that of Weaver. 😉
I only gave serious consideration to premium theme frameworks because having some professional support and an active developer community was a must for me.
Just for enlightenment purposes, Weaver II Pro is a premium theme framework with support and an active community. They may not be as big in the affiliate space as all the well known ones, but it’s a great framework at a very low cost.