I’m a fan of WordPress – this blog actually started off on blogger a very long time a go – but I go so frustrated with their technical limitations I moved Passive Income over to self-hosted WordPress and never looked back. WordPress is free and of course there are approximately a zillion free WordPress themes around but I have now spent money on three different options for paid wordpress themes – given that I don’t like spending money – you might well ask why?
Two reasons really – support and re-saleability (is that a word ?). I’ll explain. I had this particular blog on a free theme but the down side with WordPress is that it gets updated regularly – way too regularly sometimes. Its settled down recently but at one stage they were realising updates every week or so. These updates are usually to fix security holes so you ignore them at you peril. The problem that arises of course is that the update sometimes breaks the theme, or maybe its the updated plugins you are using are broken – anyway you can spend many unhappy hours trying to fix the support. And with free themes you get the support you deserve – none – no problem with that, I don’t expect the theme developer to work for free. For many of my sites have no support isn’t really a problem – but on sites such as this one it can be.
Why I Bought Thesis Theme
So I looked long and hard to find something that would work for this site. My requirements weren’t outrageous or terribly unusual and went something like this – I wanted a
- SEO friendly theme – or would at leasst work with All-In-One-SEO plugin;
- theme which is supported and updated – it is the new version of Thesis was out the same day as WordPress 2.8 was released – impressive – they have active and helpful support forums;
- theme which I wouldn’t have to re-do my customisations on if I had to upgrade WordPress and/or Thesis – Thesis uses a smart approach to ensure you don’t inadvertantly over-write your customisations;
- customisable theme so it looked like me – but it didn’t actually require any design skills because I don’t have any;
- theme that could display and nest comments in a readable fashion because I have quite a lot of them;
- a theme that let me control the top level navigation
- a 3 column theme with both columns on the right of the content
- theme to plaster the affiliate ads in the usual place – top right, above the fold
- Thesis makes for a pretty good boring niche theme out of the box – but you have to work out whether the cost of a developer’s licence is worth it for you.
Why I Don’t Like Thesis Theme
Thesis allowed me to do all these things. It fulfilled my wish list. But I don’t like it. I know that’s pretty much hearsay because Thesis, is tied up with the A-list crowd and if you Google “thesis theme review” you will find lots and lots of happy people – who are generally running Thesis on their blogs. And a lot of them have pretty nice designs as well all based on Thesis – and all, I strongly suspect customised by a professional designer who is fluent in CSS and knows how to make stuff look good. I am neither – but thanks to Thesis I am now much more conversant in CSS – now that is not a bad thing – but it was not exactly why I paid $87 for a premium paid theme. What I don’t like about Thesis:
- It has not one but two Thesis Options panels – this is confusing – I am always going to the wrong one – even after months.
- I had to use code to add a header image – seriously – I joke not. Now if you don’t want to do anything else most peoole want their own header – and its not a matter of just added the file to the right place in the control panel : instead I have endless options over text styles, fonts, spacing of various elements blah, blah – all I wanted was a pretty header and a background that matched <pout>;
- Using images is painful – I have to import an image and then cut and paste and add the thumbnail image code so that I can have the combination of having a picture anywhere I want in the picture plus having the thumbnail appear on other pages such as categories – its a nuisance.
- Thesis is expensive if you want to deploy it. If you want to run it on more than one site you need that developers editions – that’s another $77 over the initial $87 for a single user. Plus if you want to sell a customised theme to a client that’s another $15 per a client theme.
- Thesis makes a big deal of being SEO friendly – but its SEO settings are no more difficult to use than the free all-in-one-seo plugin – it replaces that plugin – but most people would already be running all-in-one anyways;
- if you are a designer Thesis really is a framework and you can no doubt do beautiful things -but its a bit like giving me a top-quality blank canvas and a paint brush and tell me go create – I am a rather more paint by numbers gal! You maybe able to do beautiful things with Thesis – or afford someone who can – I can’t do either;
- the ability to display ads using the “multimedia” box is fine and the ability to control this down to post level is impressive. What’s not is the place you put the code shows at most 2 lines of a narrow column- you have to use a text editor to actually edit and update the code – this is because most of the screen space has been used on the unecessary design elements;
- their affiliate banners are really. really ugly – yellow is the only option – and this is in the marketplace where people care about design.
I may or may not stay with Thesis – the box below the post content converts well – and I haven’t seen that in another theme – yet. I did however decided that it was just too hard to customise for me to produce unique designs for websites I might sell.
Cost: $87 – one site or $154 unlimited sites
Affiliate progaram: 33% commission 60 day cookie Is now managed by ShareaSale – I haven’t looked into the details
Why I Bought Elegant Themes
So I wanted to start a new flagship site – the site needed to look a bit more professional that this one and I was even going to tone down that language and have a front “landing page”. To deploy Thesis Theme on the new site was going to cost another $77 – I hesitated. I noticed a few people using and recommending elegant themes and I looked harder. In fact I headed over to their site and spent days drooling over the prettiest themes I’d seen for a very, very long time. Now most premium themes appear to cost from $70 up – these themes (and there are 26 of them at the time of writing ) cost $19.95, total, not each. In the end I decided I had wasted more than $20 drooling at the shop window and I bought.
Now short of taking off a week or two just to review themes from elegant themes I am just addressing the one theme from their selection that I have deployed – eBusiness – you can see it running live at Legimate Online Business. By the way the newer themes come with options eBusiness has three completely different looks each in three colour ways- so you actually get more than 26 themes.
Now the guy who creates the themes at Elegant Themes isn’t an expert on SEO – but he’s managed to get most things right with eBusiness – I’ve set the them to use a static front page with the lastest blog posts showing. The front page is acutally of a combination of up to four WordPress pages – each page title becomes a H2 header on the front page. Meanwhile the blog side of things is controlled by making sure each blog post has a category of “blog” – this I thought was a bit clunky – but it actually works quite well – it means that if I link back to http://netmarketingtoday.com/category/blog in say comments, plugins like commentluv can easily parse the latest blog post.
Now Elegant Themes don’t claim to be SEO optimized but eBusiness works just fine with all-in-one-seo, postname permalinks all the rest of the stuff you should be doing anyways. What I particularly liked about Elegant Thems is:
- good support, active forum and, more usefully, very detailed step-by-step videos for the tricky bits: thumbnails and Hostagor (see below);
- there are enough options for me to customise the theme without expecting me to actually make a design decision more complex than enable/disable ;
- eBusiness allowed me to have a static front page but still direct readers to the updating blog;
- only a few content areas are controlled directly from the theme that is the slider at the top of the front page (not sliding at the moment as I only have one slide- can be up to three) and the “about me” photo and box at the top of the blog posts – everthing else is controlled by standard WordPress widgets which include an (optional) sidebar on posts and pages (can differ) and an (optional) footer;
- they have some really interesting specialist themes for those who have art galleries or want to show off videos – I am seriously considering putting up my holiday snaps so I can play around with ePhoto! There are some slick magazine/news themes too but I am a bit over those myself.
What’s not to like about eBusiness:
- out of the box the theme had links in the text only a very subtlly different colour from regular text – I made them blue so people would know to click;
- this is not elegant themes fault but there is slight issue you have to deal with if you are on Hostgator and want the thumbnail images to appear. I had the problem and worked through the documentation and fixed it – but I will have to repeat for other websites I deploy their themes on (the issue is with a common plugin for managing thumbnails so is theme independent);
- you cannot resell or distribute their themes legally – if you sell a site that is using the theme the new owner has to buy a membership too.
Its worth pointing out that the $19.95 is actually an annual subscription – when you pay with paypal the subscription is automatically created. You are not obliged to continue with the subscritpion to use the themes but if you cancel you lose access to the forum and future theme releases – you would want to download all the themes before you cancel and used all the support documentation that you require.
Cost: $19.95 unlimited access to 26 33 themes (and more appear to be released every few months) for use on an unlimited number of YOUR sites
Affiliate program: 50% commission.
For both of the above themes you no one can offer a money-back guarantee – you need to put the cash up and commit before you get access to a premium themes so thing about what you are trying to achieve before you sign-up.
Free Themes for Niche Sites
I should say too that I often use simple, SEO friendly themes for my niche sites – they are pretty boring looking at that is pretty much the point. Free themes I like and use include:
Grizzly Sniper – looks just like an ugly blogger blog but its WordPress!
Adventure Tour – not as ugly as some but you can easily customise the header!
Zombie Sniper – another boring Justin theme
Dateless Mini – Frank’s boringly timeless theme
Boring Memo – and leaving the most boring of all hard to believe a designer developed this LOL
If you want something in between you might also want to check out Frank’s new site: Templates for Websites for some very cheap options (like $7 cheap!)
I have yet another solution for websites I will setup to sell – but that may have to wait for another post – this one got a little loooong !