Theme Frameworks vs Individual Themes?

Noticed that themes that have an extensible framework actually does much better (in terms of sales and no. of sites installed on) vs individual themes. Why is that so and if building a theme framework makes it much more sellable, why aren’t developers focusing on building frameworks rather than building themes to sell every month or so?

Here is the data from Builtwith.com
http://trends.builtwith.com/framework/wordpress-theme

And you’ll noticed that among the top 10 are

  1. Genesis - 1st place - 500k sites
  2. Avada - 6th place - 130k sites
  3. Divi - 7th place - 124k sites
  4. Enfold - 8th place - 75k sites
  5. Thesis - 9th place - 68k sites
  6. Canvas - 10th place - 62k sites
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Haven’t seen this list before before. Amazing how much Genesis has eclipsed Thesis. It wasn’t that long ago that Thesis was recognized as the far and away the most popular theme framework. Change happens fast in the WordPress theme industry.

I’ve thought about this a lot myself. If you want to have a really massive amount of sales, these numbers prove you really need some sort of framework or super theme with mass appeal, as opposed to small niche themes. However, it’s not as simple as simply choosing to develop one or the other.

I say “framework or super theme” because I wouldn’t consider all the themes in this list to be in the same class of “framework.” Genesis is more of a developer-friendly framework. You need to read a lot of documentation, familiarize yourself with proprietary hooks and filters, to really get rolling with Gensis.

The time required to invest in Genesis development, on top of all the standard WordPress theme dev skills, really hooks people into the platform, and that’s very powerful. I suppose the same can be said for Thesis and Canvas.

Divi and Avada (and Enfold I think, which I’ve never heard of before now) I’d call “super themes” and are more “user-friendly” in the sense that you don’t really have to be a developer to substantially change the look of your site.

Of course, “super themes” are definitely not user-friendly if you value ease of switching themes and expect to keep all your custom layout and other theme-specific settings. They’re notoriously bad when it comes to that.

But similar to Genesis and the time involved investing in that platform within a platform, there’s a clear business value in hooking people in, regardless of how much derision they may get for it in the WordPress community. Making it difficult to switch themes in one way or another encourages that lock-in.

The reason why most authors don’t do it is simply a lack of resources. I can’t imagine how many development hours is required to create something like Avada or Divi, but it’s likely a good-sized team of people developing over several months, at the very least.

Another one that isn’t on this list is the X theme, which has been consistently killing it on ThemeForest since its launch in late 2013. I remember its launch was coupled with a massive advertising campaign.

I saw it everywhere. Google search results, random websites, Facebook, Twitter. There must’ve been some remarketing involved because I felt like it was following me around everywhere I went.

I believe that ad campaign, in conjunction with the Avada-like “super theme” development, really catapulted its sales. I think they probably toned down the ad campaign when it started consistently making top seller lists on ThemeForest, creating a self-reinforcing sales cycle.

So it’s not just development hours, but also a massive stash of cash to be used for an accompanying ad campaign. There are endless “multi purpose” themes on ThemeForest, but most of them you don’t hear about because they hover around a few thousand $ in sales and eventually fade into obscurity.

Tl;dr: Even though numbers show frameworks or super themes are usually the way to go if you’re looking for massive sales numbers, a lack of resources prevent most theme authors from realistically competing. When there’s limited resources, a more nimble theme business operation makes the most sense.

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Indeed. But if going the way of building a super theme will ensure you get hundred over thousand of sales, why wouldn’t theme authors focus on that? As for the marketing resources, I think it is a matter of theme authors reaching out to the numerous Wordpress blogs out there and get them to help review. Also, if they throw in an affiliate program, I’m sure Wordpress blogs will pick them up, no?

I was just on ThemeForest and I’ve noticed a number of authors complaining that multi-purpose themes are killing the market. But isn’t flexibility what people want? For example, Squarespace and Wix does well because anybody can create a site and have it look how they want :slight_smile:

Appreciate your thoughts! :slight_smile:

If you task a child with making a dress from a roll of cloth, and you offer him the option of using a Swiss Army knife or a pair of top-quality scissors, almost always he will choose the Swiss Army knife because it’s shiny and has a bunch of cool things built in. He’s uneducated about these things and isn’t skilled at making dresses, so he makes a poor decision. He’ll spend a few hours playing with all the extras and forget what he set out to do. Finally when he remembers he’s supposed to be making a dress, he’ll whip out the scissors and start trying to cut the cloth. It will take him 10 times longer to cut it because the scissors suck. When he’s 1/3 the way through trying to cut it, if you show him how much better the tool is that’s made specifically and only for cutting, he may understand you and decide to use the proper tool.

We’re doing a poor job of educating customers on the benefits of using the proper tools for building a website. Instead, we’re handing them a Swiss Army knife and watching them oooh and ahhh over all the gadgets in it. The lines aren’t clean, the layout makes no sense, it takes them 10x longer to build it, and worst of all we’re asking them to do things they aren’t skilled at instead of focusing on their businesses and what they’re good at.

There’s very little incentive for the marketplaces (Envato in particular) to start pushing more sensible, targeted solutions. Their site organization favors the Swiss Army knives and as long as they’re pocketing large sums of money, I doubt we’ll see them very interested in promoting sensible tools focused on doing one job well. So we’ll continue luring the children with shiny objects and watching them chase their tails around like puppies that haven’t yet figured out it’s attached to their asses. Basically we’re no better than used car salesmen that talk the whole time on a test drive, so the customer doesn’t notice the engine is pinging and the brakes are grinding. It feels dirty to me and I wish we could all do better.

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I think the key word in this quote is “ensure.” There is no assurance that the marketing will click, or be innovative enough to be picked up in WordPress-centric blogs without a heavy advertising budget. Not to mention WordPress-centric blogs tend to have a pretty negative opinion on super themes.

It’s a much bigger risk. While it could potentially explode, it’s a project that would take months of full time work that could also result sputtering sales.

On the flip side, you could spend time building a few solid, single-purpose themes with modest sales and rinse and repeat on a regular basis once you’ve figured out a formula that works for you. It’s less risk and less reward, but still not a bad route to go.

Thanks John, but I don’t see how themes like Genesis, Canvas, Divi, Enfold and Avada are like swiss army knives. Divi, Canvas (and Avada and Enfold) makes it really easy for my friends and family to setup the site as they like it to be. The alternative would be Wix/Squarespace.

While we say that targeted solutions are good, then why are Genesis, Canvas and Divi among the most installed Wordpress themes out there? Clearly developers like using them to build sites :slight_smile: And end users like them as well.

Indeed. But with more and more functionality moving towards plugins, as best practice, themes are becoming just a template. And with themes like Elegant Themes and Canvas pushing the boundary, building (or in a better word, churning) themes on a monthly/bi-monthly basis isn’t do-able.

After all, I would rather pay for a theme shop with a flagship theme like Elegant Themes and Divi, Woothemes and Canvas/Store Front, Studiopress and Genesis, Theme Foundry and Make Plus, Obox and Layers, compared to a theme author on TF, who churns out themes on a regular basis and then could not support it.

If you noticed the portfolio of some theme authors on TF, they end up with 20 odd to 30 odd themes and then have problems updating it. In comparison, wouldn’t it be wiser to focus on a flagship product or two? Like Pippin and EDD, AffiliateWP and Restrict Content Pro, Woothemes and WooCommerce and the likes :smile:

I mean, if we compare, Studiopress’ Genesis has 500k sites running it, while ET’s Divi has 120k sites. That means shops like Studiopress and Elegant Themes sell plenty of membership and then put in the resource to continue improving their flagship product.

In comparison, the shop that keeps churning out themes, end up with a number of mediocre themes and then don’t really support them after a few months. He’ll most probably have the following figure
Theme A - 250 sales
Theme B - 128 sales
Theme C - 1021 sales
Theme D - 89 sales
Theme E - 240 sales

And so on. Plus, being on TF means that his customers don’t get a replacement theme if he decides to stop supporting the theme due to low sales. So the vicious cycle continues

  1. Average sales for a few weeks
  2. Sales begins to slow down
  3. Launches new theme in order to get more sales
  4. Sales then slows down again
  5. Repeat steps 1-4
  6. Suddenly finds that WooCommerce needs a massive theme update, or some XSS vulnerability, but have too many themes to support
  7. Blame TF for not doing yearly renewals

In comparison, for Elegant Themes

  1. Launches Divi
  2. Sells really well
  3. Continues to pump in the money and resources into Divi
  4. Minor complains about a lack of new themes. Most customers really happy with Divi
  5. Launches updates and more people come on board
  6. Before ET knows it, they power 120k sites and the number is growing. Sales is really healthy.

Appreciate your thoughts :slight_smile:

I get what you’re saying, but this assumes “super themes” and frameworks always sell on an upward trajectory and people never get tired of them. I’d imagine it’s just a bigger curve, we just haven’t seen the downside yet. Except for maybe Thesis. It seems like Thesis usage really tanked over the years.

I’m thinking from a totally bootstrap-y perspective. If I had millions in funding, I’d probably want to develop some sort of flagship product, like you describe, and build extensions around that. How that product ultimately differentiates itself from the rest of the pack is a whole other discussion.

Basically, I sort of agree with you. But at the same time, I’m not about to hop on the “super theme” bandwagon because I disagree with the philosophy behind them, even though sales numbers strongly suggest that people want them anyway.

I’d rather go with a similar model to Array and The Theme Foundry (even though they have Make Plus now) and focus on creating a smaller collection of solidly developed themes.

Thanks Leland, but do consider that in the future, we won’t be calling these as super themes. Rather, due to the threat from services like Wix and Squarespace, theme shops/theme authors would be forced to improve.

I mean aren’t we headed that way with customisable themes like Genesis by Studiopress, Make Plus by Theme Foundry, Canvas by Woothemes, Divi by Elegant Themes, Layers by Obox, Symphony and the Conductor Plugin, Toolset Starter Theme by WP-Types, Headway, Ultimatum and the Beaver Builder Theme?

Anyway, just to add

Divi, Avada, Canvas, Enfold and even Genesis does well with hundreds of thousands of installations (and tens of thousands of sales) because they enable both the developers and the end users

  1. it is easy to launch a site for developers. And most will stick to these themes as they’re versatile but yet cut down on development time

  2. it also helps end users achieve the look they want :slight_smile: good themes like Divi ensures scripts are enqueued and not loaded on every page

The main issue with niche themes on TF is that

  1. most of them lacks certain look that we might need. Some looks good on the product page, but looks bad on the front page and all :frowning: It is frustrating to purchase a theme and then find you can’t make it look like you want to without hacking the theme.

  2. most of them don’t even support Official WooCommerce extensions as they overwrite templates and hooks blatantly. After overwriting WooCommerce hooks, theme authors on TF then turn around and tell end users that they need to pay as they don’t support third party extensions. Excuse me? It is because of bad development practices (overwriting templates and hooks), that these official extensions don’t work.

  3. there’s a high chance of theme abandonment for some of them. Not best sellers like Avada or Enfold, but XYZ theme whose seller has 30 themes on TF and most of them don’t even get 1000+ sales. Thus the below

Divi = 124000 installations, 40000-50000 lifetime accounts (at $247 each)
XYZ = 200 installations, 400 sales (at $58 each)

  1. some of them are much worse at security compared to Divi, Canvas, Genesis and the likes. Plus because most go around bundling things like Slider Revolution, Visual Composer and the likes, users have to wait awhile to get their updates (even though VC might have released it earlier). This causes a chance for zero day exploits

Based on that, wouldn’t it be better to buy an established “super” theme like Canvas, Genesis, Enfold, Divi and Avada? Or stuff like Make Plus? :slight_smile: Or perhaps even work on Underscores to make my latest site? :slight_smile:

I don’t believe it’s a theme’s place to compete against Wix and Squarespace. If you want to do that, you’re probably better of contributing to core and/or creating/contributing to a plugin like Conductor, Beaver Builder, or VelocityPage, to develop layouts you can take with you to any theme. When talking about dragging and dropping, we’re getting into the realm of functionality.

Also, each theme seems to have its own “take” on how layout building should work. Making it very difficult to migrate those settings to a new theme, if desired. I haven’t used SquareSpace before, but I’m guessing they try to cut down on the friction of switching designs as much as possible. When you build those options into themes, it ultimately makes things more difficult for the user.


  1. I don’t think using a super theme really cuts down on development time over a targeted/niche theme that you can get up and running right away without futzing around with a million options. I prefer themes to make decisions for me.

  2. We’ve discussed WooCommerce compatibility issues with ThemeForest themes here: Standards problem : ThemeForest x WooCommerce doesn’t work

But yeah, that’s not good. You may know better than me since I’ve never really used themes like Divi and Avada, but do they have better support for official WooCommerce extensions?

  1. I suppose that’s a good point about abandonment. Who is going to abandon a theme that is making millions? It’s more likely a failed theme shop’s themes would be abandoned.

The good part of the GPL though is you can legally pick up where they left off and continue development on your own. Not something the average user would be capable of doing, but it’s nice to know.

  1. I don’t think its fair to say super themes have better security. In fact, considering super themes are more likely to include multiple slider plugins, wouldn’t they be more likely to be affected by a zero day? And make it much more difficult to update because they baked it into a theme instead of integrating a plugin like best practice would dictate?

Also, I think we’re conflating a lot of different types of themes under the umbrella of “super theme.”

I do not consider Genesis a super theme. It’s a theme framework that utilizes hooks, filters, and template overrides to customize the look of the parent. It’s also been security audited so I’d trust it security-wise over a random ThemeForest theme. There are a few modest layout options (i.e. full width, left sidebar, right sidebar) but otherwise doesn’t have the endless list of options that themes like Avada and X have.

Underscores is more of a starter theme that you’re supposed to use as a base and hack away with. Unlike Genesis where you’re expected to make a child theme. I use Underscores for all my themes, by the way, and love it. :smiley:

Just to be clear, when I complain about super themes, I’m not talking about Genesis or Underscores, which I consider to be in totally different classes of theme.

Hey Leland :smile:

It’s interesting you said about developing new sites and super themes :slight_smile: I was on the Divi Facebook users group (where Nick Roach is in as well) and when I asked the same question, a number of developers say that Genesis, Canvas and Divi makes it easy for them to launch new sites fast.

However, because they are so used to launching sites with these themes, they know how to tweak these themes and launch fast.

As for WooCommerce, I would say Divi is better than most TF themes I’ve used :slight_smile: seems like less templates were overwritten

As for multiple sliders and templates, I would say other than Avada and Enfold, the other themes don’t use third party plugins to add functionality :slight_smile:

also, you could actually purchase the official license and get auto updates for plugins like Visual Composer and those sliders. Thus that solves the zero day exploit that these TF best sellers have :slight_smile: I personally purchase my own VC and slider licenses so that I don’t have to wait for the theme devs to send me the update, especially if there’s a malicious error

About GPL - majority of themes on TF are not on GPL unless stated otherwise. This makes it hard for you to take it and develop it yourself. And becomes a problem when the theme you buy stops getting support as the theme author has churned too many themes out and is out of sales.

After all, according to some TA, there’s always good sales when you first launch the theme. Then it slows down to a trickle after 3 weeks or so

Yea, I shouldn’t classify Genesis under super themes, but how about classifying Divi under a semi framework? After all, some devs use it as that :slight_smile:

Hey gentlemen :tophat:

Really interesting discussion, so I will share my “user” point of view, just experience from last two days (nights).

Several months I use theme Make and Make plus for everything … I just did not find anything with similar quality, capability and flexibility for my needs.
I tried all others themes from Theme Foundry, it was hard, bc. no one is so powerful than Make with Make plus and no one had any huge advantage agains Make.

Gentlemen I can not use one theme for everything, so I searched and searched … It is not possible to count how many free themes I installed, I takes some nights all together … no success.

So yesterday I bought all themes from Array. I was disappointed, for 199$ I expected something more than offer average free themes on .org.
I spend whole night to fight with all themes, but these was so limited. It is ok, bc. these are “focused”. But … what is problem? That this focused small theme with few option, few possibilities has the same or very similar load time - performance than capable theme like Make with many option and setting … So why chose that small piece if there is no advantage ?
Asked for refund, its not possible, no problem, I have still some food on table :wink:
Result is I am not satisfied.

So I continue today, somehow I clicked somewhere and there was blog post about Divi update, so I checked that, saw money back guarantee, so I don’t try demo or read whole night … just bought it, bc. no risk for me. It was just 69$

I installed it, after few minutes I was able to set up site how I needed.
I am still not fan of this monster :slight_smile: but again, funny is, that this “framework” or whatever it is perform the same or similar like for example array’s simple theme.

I m not sure if I can use this monster, bc. don’t feel comfortable with their extra option panel and page builder what is inside my WP dashboard … I know if I don’t use it, it does not eat something, but I really prefer clean way and don’t like to have something what I don’t use or what looks like from 1990.

I am safe, there is money back guarantee so I can ask for refund. Will I ask for refund of 69$ if I decide not to use this theme? Probably not, its just 69$ and maybe during period of license - one year I will use it or at least test and play with it.
So result is I am ok with this even if its not exactly what I want …

This is just my comparison of monster theme vs focused theme from last night and today.

So finally I have more for less money with monster theme without risk on other side lost money with theme shop with focused themes.

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This is actually Envato’s fault.

It’s much easier to focus on a product when the licence is renewable (I believe standard nowadays is one year of support and updates). But on ThemeForest, if your theme is not an immediate success, you will have 0 incentive to update it further as all your revenue is mostly gone. So the only thing you can do is release a new theme just to get some decent sales, and the process repeats.

How did Envato address this? They decided to (soon) introduce the support packs, which resolve nothing and which (based on the forum feedback) pretty much no one wanted.

So yeah, we authors would very much like to focus on our themes and update them with new features, but Envato pretty much stops us from doing that.

I believe it is unfair to blame Envato as they have already set the terms of the marketplace before any author joins. Rather, the need to come up with something that can compete. If you analyse the hundred odd theme shops, you’ll find that the top theme shops like Studiopress, Elegant Themes, Woothemes and the likes, takes in 50% or more of all Wordpress theme sales.

And what stops them from changing that? They have done the same with support (it used to be unlimited in time) but they are still changing it (and that’s even worse as it’s useless and will probably only damage authors).

The only thing that can compete right now on Envato is a monster theme with gazillion of options, well no thanks.

Let’s move this conversation to another topic, as I don’t want this topic to be diverted :slight_smile:

But no, I don’t think Divi, Canvas, Genesis, Headway and the likes are monsters. But they aren’t easy to build and developers do like them :slight_smile: Plus they give end users a number of great options as well.

To get back to the original question, there are developers that create themes for end use by those such as doctors or lawyers. With some of these, it seems like the biggest difference is the photography used in the demos. If a theme developer was using good re-usable code such as a common options panel for things like colours and typography, it would not be that hard to keep more than one theme up to date. There will always be a market for these types of themes as well with people that feel safe buying a theme that exactly matches the end use.

Most developers, most businesses for that matter, don’t set as their immediate goal to make a fortune. Sure, most of us would love that, but many people first focus on making a living. Creating smaller, purpose-built themes is a good way to build your skills and your portfolio while putting food on the table. Having the means to build something bigger is also an issue as has already been discussed.

The small business approach applies in any sector. For example, there is almost alway more money in growing to have a chain of restaurants rather than a single location, but most restaurateurs will never take the step of adding even a second site.

Of course, there is also the issue of some developers disliking the concept of systems that tend to create lock-in which several frameworks and I believe most super-themes tend to do. Those developers will create specialized themes on principle.

.

As to the subsequent discussion on why end users or agencies that build sites would use superthemes, I have a couple of thoughts beyond what has been discussed. I have used framework themes, super-themes and and single purpose themes.

  • Despite the large number of options in a super-theme, I usually find it quicker to go back to a multi-purpose theme I know inside and out than I do to have to choose and then study a new single purpose theme.
  • Lock-in feels like less of an issue if a theme can do anything you want it to and its always being updated with the latest tools or design trend options.
  • Clients can ask for features late in the game that can be an easier add with a multi-purpose theme than either finding a plugin to do the same or custom coding.
  • There are a lot of bad themes out there, and using a theme with lots of sales and good reviews is a ‘better safe, than sorry’ strategy.

There is complexity with these issues. As a couple of others have said here, it can be hard to find the right fit for you. For example, I am a sales and marketing guy with technical skills rather than a developer. I can create just about any look I want in the main content area even with a barebones theme thanks to my knowledge of HTML and CCS together with the use of plugins when needed for things like galleries or portfolios. However, I don’t know PHP. So, I am not as capable of building custom headers or footers and the old banner-style header of Twenty-Ten just doesn’t cut it anymore. Sure, I can do a lot to a header with custom CSS, but it’s not always an easy change when a client suddenly asks for a major header change. Furthermore, there is a lack of plugins for tweaking things like headers and footers compared to all the plugins for adding main content area elements. If there is a good header plugin, I haven’t found it. (Please let me know!)

So, I am hesitant to adopt a barebones theme, and I don’t really know how to use things like hooks to take full advantage of frameworks like Genesis. I know there is a better solution out there somewhere for my specific skill set. (I have used a theme with four slider tools for a site without a slider.) My challenge is finding that right tool rather than not understanding the difference between a Swiss Army knife and fabric shears.

Cheers, Bill.

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Hey Peter,

We appreciate you trying out Array and are bummed that it didn’t work out for you. It sounds like you’re after something where you have more fine-tuned control over everything on the site, but unfortunately we don’t make those kinds of themes. As you implied, we make focused themes that do one thing very well, and requires very little tinkering from the user. Believe it or not, many people don’t want to be bothered with an overwhelming set of options to configure, and that’s who we’re making products for.

While our themes are focused, we disagree with your comparison to the average free theme on WP.org. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with free WP.org themes, but they generally don’t include the attention to detail in typography, design, layout, usability, code quality or support that we’ve dedicated to providing. In fact, show me a set of 15 themes from WP.org better than our collection and you have yourself a refund. :wink:

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Hi Mike,

Nope, I don’t, that is why I bought your Theme pass.

What thing they do very well? Why they don’t perform better (load time) than themes which offer much more options?

You right here, my comparison was not the best, I am sorry for this.

Find 15 usable quality themes there - job what does not worth 199$ the price of Theme pass.