How to Choose a WordPress Commercial Theme

By Lisa Sabin-Wilson

As WordPress becomes more and more popular, many different business models keep cropping up around the web that focus on providing WordPress users with commercial services and support, such as custom design, consulting, and development.

Commercial WordPress themes have become a very popular way for talented designers to provide a service they are very passionate about (designing themes) while making a little money for their efforts. Commercial themes are also known as premium themes. There are many schools of thought as to what makes a theme premium as opposed to free.

Actually, the topic of what is considered premium and what is not, with regard to WordPress themes, is guaranteed to spark passionate debate among designers and theme users alike. However, almost everyone agrees there are indicators of premium themes, for example:

  • High quality: Very high-quality graphic design and CSS development.

  • Flexibility and ease of use: A theme structure with functions that make it very easy for users to customize and adjust the theme to suit their own needs. This includes, but is not limited to, altering the header graphic/logo and color scheme and changing images and icons.

  • Comprehensive documentation: Provides the user with extensive instructions on how to use the theme, especially if the theme has multiple features and customization options.

  • Supported: Premium themes are fully supported by the designer who created them. Typically, when you buy a premium theme, you should expect full support on the use of that theme for as long as you’re using it.

  • Expensive: Premium themes are not free. Pricing on premium themes range from $10 to $500.

This is not to say that some free themes don’t have some, or all, of the features listed — it’s just that, for the most part, they don’t. Keep in mind that just because a designer calls a theme premium doesn’t mean that the theme has passed through any kind of official quality review. One designer’s view of what constitutes a premium theme can, and will, differ from the next.

Fully investigate any theme before you put money down on it. Some things to check out before you pay:

  • E-mail the designer who is selling the premium theme and ask about a support policy.

  • Find people who have purchased the theme and contact them to find out their experiences with the theme and the designer.

  • Carefully read any terms that the designer has published on his site to find out any restrictions that exist with licensing.

  • If the premium theme designer has a support forum, ask whether you can browse through the forum to find out how actively the designer answers questions and provides support. Are users waiting weeks to get their questions answered? Or does the designer seem to be on top of support requests?

  • Do a search in Google for the theme and the designer. Often, users of premium themes post about their experiences with the theme and the designer. You can find out a lot of positive and, potentially, negative information about the theme and the designer before you buy it.

Although premium themes are cropping up all over the web, a handful really stand out with quality products and services. The following two commercial theme providers are tried and true, with a very stable and successful following of clients who use them.

  • iThemes: Cory Miller and his team of designers and code wranglers provide a total of 30 premium themes available for purchase, with prices ranging from $79.95 to $199.95 each. You can also purchase an all-in-one package that includes all themes for $197/year. All theme purchases at iThemes include full support on the use of the theme(s) for the lifetime of your membership at iThemes.

  • StudioPress: Created by long-time WordPress user, expert, and veteran Brian Gardner, StudioPress offers a variety of high-quality premium WordPress themes that you can purchase with a starting price of $59.95. You may also purchase an all-inclusive themes package starting at $399.95. Theme purchases at StudioPress include a complete support package with access to a support forum staffed by people who are ready to assist you with any questions.

You can’t find, preview, or install commercial themes using the Add New Themes feature on your WordPress Dashboard. You can find, purchase, and download premium themes only at an official third-party website. After you find a premium theme you like, you need to install it via the FTP method. You can find a very nice selection of premium themes on the WordPress website.