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10 Tips for Creating Higher Selling Themes

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Read Time: 12 min

Ever wondered what it would be like to sell your own web design templates or WordPress themes? Today we're going to take a look at the "product side" of the web design industry using ThemeForest, our own theme marketplace at Envato, as an example. These tips are specifically for web designers who are trying to sell their designs as products, but these are also ideas that apply to pretty much anyone trying to promote their portfolios or get more exposure!


ThemeForest has a reputation for high quality themes and templates, and this is not just by chance. ThemeForest maintains very stringent quality guidelines during it's review process in order to ensure that the themes retailed there are only of the highest quality. Developing an awesome, high-performance theme is not luck, but the product of some hard work, time and effort.

It's important that your theme comes off as something the buyer can actually use, with as few design errors as possible. In today's article, we're going to run over some tips for creating better quality, and potentially higher selling, themes on ThemeForest. Even if you aren't designing for that specific marketplace - or any marketplace, for that matter - you should still be able to follow these tips.

Tip 01: Make It Into Eye Candy

We can go on and on about utilizing web design principles, but, in the end, your theme just needs to look good.

This tips is going to sound obvious... but you'd be surprised how few theme authors really pay attention to this tip. Sure, we can go on and on about utilizing web design principles, but, in the end, your theme just needs to look good. First impressions count, and you don't want to let your theme or template get thrown out of the buyer's mind because it looks bad.

What does this really mean though? Your theme might have all the bells and whistles under the hood, but in the end, buyers are looking for something that looks good on the outside. I can personally testify to this too. I have no experience with Tumblr, so I went on a hunt for a Tumblog template to buy on ThemeForest. A lot of them just didn't look that good, so they were immediately cast aside.

How do you make your visually appealing? There's various visual practices that you can put to play in your theme, from color to typography. Your layout can also be vitally important, especially if you're trying to sell a theme that's specialized to a particular purpose, like e-commerce or a portfolio theme. The buyer wants to make sure he can use this theme for his particular purpose.

Pay attention to the images! Lots of theme authors use dull or boring stock images in their themes... but what if you treated your theme demo as if it were a advertisement for itself? Small things like including branded images that promote your theme, or even just photographs that relate to your theme's topic can help boost that first impression for eager buyers.

The Reflex Theme does a good job at including informative (and sharp looking) images inside the theme demo.

While I probably can't fit an entire "how to design great websites" article into this paragraph, take some time to explore the library of articles we have here at Webdesigntuts+ to learn about things like the Gestalt principle, colour theory and the Z and the F-layouts. Actually having good aesthetics, well-tailored typography and careful use of colour can result in your theme looking great, being reviewed and catching the eye of potential buyers.

Your theme should actually look good.

Tip 02: Avoid The Common Mistakes

A lot of mistakes can come up that can severely alter the overall aesthetics of your theme. The marketplaces wiki lists line height, visual hierarchy, text alignment and code quality under it's common rejection factors for ThemeForest, so these should be something to watch out for. Here's an interpretation of exactly what those guidelines are.

  • Line Height - Line height can be crucial in determining the user friendliness of a website and good spacing will just generally make a webpage's text easier on the eye. Unless you have a special template that requires more or less line spacing, the leading of the majority of your text should be approximately 1.3-1.6em to pass through review smoothly.
  • Text Alignment - According to the wiki, it's not a common rejection issue, but well suited text alignment can always help. The theory of text alignment's effects on web design is an article of it's own, but it's very much related to other principles. Like line height, bad use of text alignment can contribute to bad readability and a worse user experience.
  • Code Quality - Naturally, this isn't something that's all about web design, but good code quality can mean your theme passes the review with flying colors. Commented or easily editable code can also be a great selling point to buyers who want to later edit and customize their new theme. Your code should generally be validated too.

Agree that the right example is easier to read?

Tip 03: Create A Strong Visual Hierarchy

The theory of visual hierarchy is the idea that the most important element is the most prominent. Creating a strong hierarchy is particularly important since it catches the reader's attention and draws them to specific elements, exactly what a business customer might want when he's buying a template for his product. As a designer, you can tier the content into different levels so users can easily and efficiently scan the content to find points of interest.

Your buyers should be able to recognize your hierarchy easily and identify their potential use of it. Offering them a clear place to place their product, or an easy way to recognize post titles can be a real advantage during the pre-sale experience with your theme.

Tip 04: Make Your Product Solve Problems and Be Useful

Making your template useful and be able to solve problems for the user is always a convenient marketing points. ThemeForest is successful because it solves a problem; it solves the problem of getting a website designed by connecting a market of ready-made themes with buyers who need them. You should generally impose this principle into your designs.

Really, it's just a standard business practice to fill a gap in the market. You should design themes around what potential buyers might want and anticipate any problems they might be having. If your theme is going to be useful to the buyer, they'll probably pull out the card. Likewise, you should follow the current trends of the marketplace by examining what's popular right now. At the time of writing, the most popular themes are portfolio themes with big sliders at the top so, if it's possible, try to create a theme with these features if you want to maximize the opportunity for success. If you can work a slider in there, try, but naturally try to create a unique spin on things to attract attention to your specific theme.

The WordPress University theme addresses a specific problem: schools or educational institutions that need effective websites.

Tip 05: Cover Every Base

As you short try to target as much of ThemeForest's audience as you can, without damaging your theme's purpose, you should try to cover all bases of the website. If there's the likelihood that a contact form will be used on the buyer's site, consider customizing one yourself and throwing it into the mix. Not only will it end up helping the site look better in the long run, thanks to it's coordinated design, you'll have an extra selling point when you come to market your theme.

If you're working on a WordPress theme that has some awesome features, create some custom shortcodes to help tailor the buyer's content to your theme's style or design. Not only will it end up looking better, but, like the contact form, will give you an additional selling point. If you're working with a specific platform, like WordPress, try your best to customize and integrate as many features as possible (but don't go overboard!) to help suit your theme to as many potential customers as possible.

Tip 06: Remember, ThemeForest Isn't A Client

It's important to remember that ThemeForest is not a client. In order to maximize your target market, it's best to make your theme both as customizable and as widely useful as possible. You'll see that a lot of the top selling themes have multiple options - coloring, layout, background images, etc. - and they seem to be what the user wants. If a buyer can easily swap around the color scheme, or the layout of the page, it's a little more inclusive and can make the buyer think they're getting multiple themes in one.

Similarly, targeting a niche market might have it's advantages, but offering a template that has as many potential buyers as possible is mathematically better, right? If you're going to design a magazine theme, consider not having it focused on golf. You're alienating a potential segment of your audience by focusing on specific content instead of offering that as just one of a range of options.

Notice that the highest selling portfolio themes aren't focused on specific content, they can be used by anyone.

Tip 07: Document Your Theme Well

A theme's documentation is really vital when you don't know who your customer is. Providing guidance on how to edit and customize your theme can be a key point in your theme, especially as they become more complex. In fact, the review team rate your documentation and display it in the sidebar on your theme's page at ThemeForest so buyers know exactly what they're getting.

Why is theme documentation so important? The chance is that your buyer is not someone who's a web designer like yourself, so they probably aren't going to understand even the core aspects of setting up and/or modifying the theme. Luckily, a clearly layed out PDF (or some other creative format) explaining the theme in a jargon-free environment can be a lifesaver, and potentially why some people choose to buy your theme. You can stress your support lines too, if you have any, so your buyer will feel safe that there's nothing in the way of their investment.

Visit the Authors Resource Page for more notes on documentation.

Tip 08: Stop Using Lorem Ipsum!

The Redux Theme does a great job at including well thought out text inside the theme demo.

Thousands of people will be browsing through your theme on a monthly basis... so why not include some custom written text for your theme that helps them get a better idea of what your theme has to offer? It's a no brainer, and it shouldn't take you much longer than an hour to write up some actual content for your theme.

Tip 09: Have Someone Else Use Your Theme (Before You Submit It)

When you're designing/developing a theme on your own, it's easy to develop tunnel-vision for your theme. You start to ignore or overlook glaring mistakes... or you simply forget to add in elements that would make your theme better for users. Do yourself a favor: send your theme out to a couple people to try out your theme before you start selling it! Have them report back on what they found difficult (or broken) so that you can patch it up before launching the final product!

Tip 10: Make It Stand Out

You're going to be selling your theme or template alongside thousands of others so the competition is real. Therefore, you need to accentuate your theme above all others and make it stand out. You've got a small canvas to sell your theme, so try to make the best of it.

Think of it as a CV for your template. What goes into a good CV? As a person, you'll want to stress your skills, so it's advisable you stress all the functions and features of your template. Remember how I said to cover all bases? Well, if you did make that custom contact form, or create all those shortcode mention them in your theme description, you'd be offering a more complete product. Think of your theme variations as your languages; the more there is, the better your package is, right? Instead of showing off experience, suggests potential uses for your theme to impart ideas into the buyer's mind. Put on your business cap.

Be sure to, at all costs, include a live preview and screenshots so your buyers get a great look at exactly what the theme is and how it functions. Show off as much as you can in your marketing canvas, and then extend it through your own methods like social media or your own blog.

Bonus Tip: Consider Marketing Your Theme

BuySellAds is a marketplace that allows you to purchase ad spaces for your theme or product. You can even buy ads for here at Webdesigntuts!

This last tip is a "bonus" because it's something that happens after you publish your theme. Lots of authors have started purchasing advertisements for their themes (through or Google Adwords). This is a simple way to drive more traffic to your theme, but consider other more creative marketing strategies as well:

  • Write a tutorial for your theme (or a part of it).
  • Submit your theme to various awards sites or Creattica.
  • Run a contest around your theme.
  • Showcase people who are using your theme creatively.

That's just the tip of the iceberg as well - but the same things that you might consider to promote yourself as a web designer will also work when trying to promote your themes/products.


Creating a high performance theme is about creating an aesthetically pleasing design but also marketing it just right. If you mess up one side, don't expect to be racking in the cash. Being an Envato site, a lot of you guys probably use the ThemeForest marketplace, so share your thoughts in the comments. If you're a buyer, why not explain what makes you buy a theme?

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