When I started my career as premium WordPress theme
developer, making a theme competitive was not such a challenge. In those days you could create a
premium WordPress theme with a predefined simple slider, no page builder at all, having hundreds of demos was unnecessary, WooCommerce compatibility wasn’t particularly important, neither was bbPress or any other major plugin, and you could still look forward to decent sales numbers without any promotion just
because your theme was visually appealing and qualitatively good enough among its peers. I once witnessed how a single theme gave an author elite status in just three months, without any complex marketing or promotion.
But, as always happens, times have changed. Today, creating a competitive premium WordPress theme is a genuine challenge. Competition is tough, customers demand more, and technology continues to race forward unabated. The market has grown though; more and more customers prefer WordPress as their CMS platform. According to W3Techs, WordPress powers 30% of all websites on the Internet, even taking into account those without a content management system (CMS) or with a custom-coded CMS. And if you limit the data set to only websites with a known CMS, WordPress’ market share becomes even more dominant.
So how can we succeed nowadays in the WordPress premium theme market? Here are my main thoughts, which I’ll go into in more detail shortly:
- Creating WordPress themes for sell is not always fun, it is real business. If you want to sell WordPress themes on a regular basis, you should treat it seriously, rather than it being a hobby. Creating premium WordPress themes from time to time, when you are in a good mood, is unlikely to be a succesful business strategy. So the first component of developing competitive premium WordPress theme is having a clear business strategy.
- The second important component is quality. Without adhering to quality standards your theme will not even pass the review stage.
- Marketing, marketing, and (one more time) marketing! Without marketing of any kind you will find it difficult to generate solid sales. A high quality theme which isn’t promoted in any way won’t generate as many sales as an inferior theme which is marketed well.
Let’s look at these in more detail.
1. Have a Clear Business Strategy
Your business strategy begins with determining at what stage in your theme development career you are. Perhaps you’ve just registered a new account with Themeforest, or maybe you’re already selling themes, but you want to take your sales to the next level. If you are selling on Themeforest and are perfectly happy with your results, this article is not for you! GLWS (good luck with sales) as you’ll hear them say in the Themeforest community!
You may have to hone your craft before selling anything. Don’t be afraid to spend six months educating yourself before creating something to sell.
Find a Niche
Research which niche you’ll build your theme around. Many categories in the WordPress arena (such as Corporate, Creative, Blog Magazine, and eCommerce) are heavily saturated, which will make success in these areas more challenging.
Reduce Theme Creation Time
Ideally, from planning, design, development, testing, submitting, and approval it should not take more than 30 days. You won’t have any control over the review process, but at the time of writing the review process and resubmission process take 24 hours.
You can track the
review process time for any product on the Envato marketplaces. Bookmark
this link and check it each day. If the review process is delayed don’t panic, do not waste your time in Themeforest forums; instead switch to your next project and be patient.
Split the Work
If you don’t have a team and plan to do both design and development by yourself, make sure that you are competent enough in both areas, otherwise I highly recommend you find a good designer, or a suitable approved design. If you browse the PSD category on Themeforest you will see thousands of approved files. There’s no reason you can’t cooperate with these designers. Take time to examine designs you like, and if you find something you’re interested in, you have a couple of courses of action for collaboration:
- Development and theme support from you (60-70% of revenue, if your skills are suitably good) and approved design from designer (30-40%).
- 50%/50% if your WordPress skills are intermediate.
- Single payment for conversion rights (the price depends on the item, but you might find you’re looking at about $800-$1500). Contact the Envato team to make them aware of your cooperation.
This is common practice in theme development, so don’t
be surprised if a designer you reach out to already has an arrangement with someone else. Make sure you have value to offer, otherwise concentrate on 100% completely independent
Know Your Competitors
A good business strategy starts with good research. Take time to examine the strongest of your competitors. Start with the creators behind the top-selling themes in your chosen category. Importantly though, whilst these themes are the top-sellers, do not fall into the trap of emulating their product logic, their aesthetic, their demo presentations. Try to understand what factors (excluding advertisement) make these themes top-sellers. Usually, you will see older themes in the top list of your category; these will be the trailblazers, so understanding how they are created and organized is one of your main tasks.
Do not measure the category potential purely by the top-selling themes. Instead, look at sales from newly added themes in your preferred category. If you see thousands of sales from the top-selling theme each week, but single-digit sales from the newly added themes, you should expect your initial sales to match the lower numbers.
Another thing which is worth taking into account: if you examine the changelog of the older top-selling themes, you will see that they were likely much simpler packages when they were launched. The multitude of what have become standard features, like page builders, Revolution sliders, demos, WooCommerce computability etc., will have been added over the course of time. This steady improvement, unfortunately, isn’t an approach you can afford to take nowadays!
2. Aim For High Quality
I’m all too familiar with the standard “Hard Reject” message from Themeforest’s review team–it hurts! The only way not to experience this pain again and again is to focus on quality. There are several components to consider:
Focus on Design Quality
Everything starts from design; be creative and unique. When you start your research process, examine your competitors, but do not copy them, do not copy elements, colors, or structure. With each of these the risk of hard rejection increases.
If you doubt your design, consider submitting a PSD version to Themeforest. In about five days you will get an answer. If your design is good enough, you’re on the right track to avoid a hard reject.
Test Technical Quality
Technical quality can be achieved by examining the WordPress theme submitting requirements. Carefully examine all the content–your theme must conform 100%. New requirements state that theme authors must pass the Envato Theme Check without any issues, along with the basic WordPress Theme Unit Test. So before submission make sure you run these tests.
Weigh up Added Features
Nowadays including premium plugins in theme–making theme “3rd party plugin compatible”–is a rule, rather than an exception. I highly recommend you include WPBakery Page Builder ($250 extended license) or King Composer (free) as your page builder. Revolution Slider ($125 extended license) or Layer Slider ($125 extended license) are ideal for your theme slider. All these plugins can be packaged with your theme for free. For each theme you develop you need to buy a separate extended license.
Also consider adding extra more features to your themes, making them compatible with popular plugins like WPML, BBpress, Buddypress, WooCommerce and so on. Which of these you cater for highly depends on the category of your item.
Optimize Theme Demos
Remember the important rule: if the customer does not see your theme’s feature, those features may as well not exist. Do your potential buyers know that:
- the theme has multiple header versions,
- it has unlimited colors,
- it has a boxed or framed version,
- it has multiple sliders,
- it has different footer variations,
- it has a RTL version?
Even if your design is brilliantly unique, your code is all-powerful, but your demo is poor, your theme still won’t reach its potential. Do make sure test your demos on as many screen sizes as possible, because different users will have different experiences when viewing your demos with different devices.
Invest in Hosting Performance
If you plan to make WordPress theme development your business, you need business server solutions. Hosts like HostGator, GoDaddy are almost certainly not the best option for your business. I recommend you buy a VPS (Virtual Private Server), or Cloud solution from specialized companies like Kinsta, or MediaTemple (check out the Themeforest hosting page for discount codes).
However, if you are competent at server configuration and SSH, I highly recommend you buy a clean server/cloud solution and install or configure your own server. This is a cheaper option. If you’re interested in learning how this all works, let me know in the comments section; if there’s demand I will write a separate tutorial with step by step instructions.
Before creating a theme production demo, make sure your hosting server meets the WordPress minimum requirnments. The most important being:
- PHP version at least 7, ideally 7.2+
- HTTPS certificate
If you want to speed up your theme demo performance, I highly recommend you use a CDN, especially given the global distribution of Envato’s customer base. From my experience a CDN can reduce WordPress demo sites’ loading times by 50%.
3. Market Your Themes
This is an important one. Without marketing you will reach perhaps 10-20% of your product’s potential sales. Marketing requires good research and investment. There are no hidden secrets that only 1% of top theme sellers know. Facebook advertisement, Google Adsense, Colorlib reviews, Buysellads; all these instruments work well.
You should absolutely be cautious when creating your marketing campaigns, you should experiment, you should measure and analyze your marketing, but you do need money for all of that. If budget is your weakest link, don’t expect 100+ sales in five days. You’d be better concentrating on product improvement, and slowly, but regularly saving money for marketing.
Get Pricing Right
What is the recommended price for a WordPress theme? I have no concrete answer to that. It depends on various factors such as theme quality, marketing, season, theme category. But if your item is niche-based and is intended for specific tasks, you should consider a theme price of $59 or higher. If your item is in a saturated category, you might think about experimenting with prices around $39-$60.
Beyond the discounted themes, you will see some themes listed at $29, though in my opinion this is only used as a way to undercut competitors. Underpricing your themes won’t do you, or the market as a whole, any favours.
In conclusion I want to say the following: theme development is really hard work, selling themes even more so. But it’s extremely satisfying. Always remember that once you’ve entered the WordPress theme marketplace you will need to improve day by day if you want to continue your business.
Please also be thankful to all the people who have invested time, money, and coffee in this business. Respect your competitors, learn from them, cooperate with other users, and help the Envato team as an author by delivering excellent products.