Theme CMSs Are the Most Popular Way to Build a WordPress Website
WordPress themes used to have specific focuses. You could find themes for restaurants, schools, corporate sites or for even more narrow niches.
However, in recent years we’ve seen a shift towards multipurpose themes, led in particular by authors at Themeforest.net. These multipurpose themes come with 1000’s of features that enable them to cover a wide range of businesses and topics.
Some of the themes have so many features that I refer to them as a “Theme CMS”. It’s almost like installing a second CMS on top of WordPress.
To clearly explain what a “Theme CMS” is, let me introduce you to the best-selling examples.
Avada, the best-selling WordPress theme
In August 2012, Avada was released and its success was immediate.
I am a theme vendor for Themeforest, and in my experience, Avada started this trend towards large, multi-purpose themes. Avada has tons of features and custom integrations. It also comes with many commercial plugins bundled at no extra cost.
Up until today, Avada has sold more than 148,000 licenses. ThemeFusion, the team behind this theme, is focused entirely in supporting and updating this single product.
Avada provides multiple design variations, which makes it possible to use many different layouts. The screenshot below shows the Avada demos page. Note that I said “demos”, not “demo”. Avada has so many possible variations that it needs many different demos. Avada is a success because it’s capable of doing much more than a customer expects, and doing it for a lower price.
Here’s how Avada advertises its benefits:
- “Avada Is More Than A Theme, It’s A Powerful Design Tool”
- “Avada gives you the ability to build virtually any design style.”
X, the second best-selling WordPress theme
The first version of X was released in November 2013. It has sold more than 66,350 licenses.
Similar to Avada, X comes with many commercial plugins at no extra cost. X includes integrations with popular plugins, page builders and shortcodes.
X followed a similar strategy to Avada, offering a huge list of features for a small price, and with free technical support.
Theme CMSs, the good and the bad
From the customer’s perspective, it’s easy to see why these Theme CMSs are so popular. These products provide wonderful value.
These themes can work as a solution for many projects, due to the design variations and built-in features. The price difference between a Theme CMS and a regular theme is so small that it makes sense to pay $10 USD and get ten times the value.
On the other hand, from a developer’s point of view, a theme that comes with many more features than needed is like buying a hotel when only a couple of rooms are needed.
There are some worries in the WordPress community about the negative impact of Theme CMSs:
- Security: It can be be hard to provide security updates for themes that are so large and contain so many plugins.
- Non-standard WordPress coding practices: Amongst designers, it’s commonly known that it’s easier to get a theme approved at Themeforest, compared to WordPress.org. Many Theme CMSs don’t follow WordPress coding standards as closely as they should.
- Bad pricing and less profitable: Theme CMSs are driving down the cost of themes, moving the focus from quality to quantity. It’s increasingly hard for many theme designers to make an income from their work.
Theme CMSs are a classic example of a trend that divides developers and end-users. Developers may complain that Theme CMSs are technically flawed, but customers love them.
Customers love good value and they want to learn only one system, rather than master different tools for each job.
The market has spoken. Theme CMSs are the main way that people build WordPress websites in 2015.
Meh. These two are B-A-D. ThemeForest has produced something better in its partnership with oBox for Layers, a slick, extensible builder theme with a free base product that opens up a market for child themes, stylekits and developer add-ons. It’s impressive and backed by a company with a lot of investor capital.
Theme Foundry’s Make theme (free) and Pro (commercial) add-on plugin is a great builder theme that does things in a more orthodox way for developers.
Elegant Theme’s Divi is probably the overall most used and best-selling commercial WP theme of all time. It was one of the early CMS-ish builder themes and just had a major new release.
I expect to see all of these around for years to come.
Thanks Dan. Yes, we’re big fans of Make here and Divi is loved by some of our customers.
I suspect the Themeforest / Obox partnership is probably aimed at providing a higher-quality baseline for these themes.
I’ve seen the Make theme, but haven’t had the opportunity to use it. I will check it out. Thanks for the headsup.
Sure thing. There are some intro videos here: [url=https://www.ostraining.com/blog/wordpress/make-theme/]https://www.ostraining.com/…[/url]
Theme CMS’s are great for my clients needs. I currently use Divi and X to build client sites, and the feature sets allow me to quickly build out my designs in staging for approval. The market is very competitive now, and Theme CMS’s allow my business to remain competitive and still have a healthy balance sheet.
Thanks fireboycreative. Yes, I hear you – these themes are popular because they work for web designers. They provide real value.
I just used X for a freelance gig where I couldnt use my preferred theme framework and I cannot believe that it is so popular on Themeforest. It is so bad words just dont do justice to the amount hate I had for it after two weeks of working inside it. The most convoluted set up that I have seen. It is rubbish.
I used to use Divi for more than 18 months but I even found that to be cumbersome after a while. With that said, it is in another league compared to X.
I use Upfront by WPMU Dev – it is a full on front end based framework that has incredible flexibility. It is still in beta phase and the team are still ironing out kinks and improving functionality but it is streets ahead of what X can do. Check it out
That’s an interesting point. Because these Theme CMSs are such huge entities, it’s almost certain that people will love some and really disklike others. It’s almost like the difference between WordPress / Expression Engine / Drupal / Joomla etc.
WP is sleek and simple… until you install one of those! Trust me. I know, the frontend site demos are impressive on first sight. In the backend, they tend to be an un-managable mess. Sure, you might find something which fits a certain purpose and design… but all I have seen and tested are not worth to rely an important project on. I think all major and popular “theme CMSs” have passed through my hands. On a second, deeper look I really can’t recommend ANY of them.
Got to say, I agree. They are fast becoming our #1 support headache.
what would you recommend then?