Don’t Buy Your Next Website Design from a Theme Marketplace. Here’s Why.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

As WordPress has become more and more popular across the Internet — more than 26% of websites online are powered by it — an entire ecosystem of products and services has popped up to support it.

From WordPress-specific hosts like WP Engine to WordPress-focused creative and digital teams like ours, there are tons of companies dedicated to providing the best WordPress service available.

One of the biggest players in the WordPress ecosystem today is ThemeForest, an online marketplace where theme developers and designers sell their themes. It’s popular. A lot of people use it.

ThemeForest used to be a place we would go to when our client with a smaller budget wanted help building a site. But we stopped offering to setup themes from ThemeForest because of the sheer number of problems.

Here’s why you shouldn’t buy your next website design from ThemeForest or any other theme marketplace.

You Really Don’t Know the Quality of the Product You’re Getting

I’ve looked at the code of dozens of themes from ThemeForest. Each one is different, because the developers of each is different. But there’s one thing that is almost always true: bloated, unnecessary code that adds weight to your website that you don’t need.

Because these themes are designed to appeal to any possible purchaser, the developers have put in almost every possible option you could have. And you don’t need all of them. I’ve seen blogs running themes with e-commerce functionality. It’s totally unnecessary and isn’t optimal.

You can certainly read reviews of themes and ask the developers questions before you purchase them, but you’ll never know if it’s the right theme for you until you actually go through with the purchase.

Bundled Plugins Are Prone to Issues

Nearly all of the popular themes sold by ThemeForest come with bundled plugins that are required to be installed in order for the theme to work. Needing a plugin to function isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but often these themes includes plugins that themselves require licenses and therefore can’t be updated.

In 2014, more than 1,000 themes sold by ThemeForest were affected when a popularly bundled plugin, Slider Revolution, had a critical security vulnerability. If the site owners could simply update the plugin to a secure version, it wouldn’t be an issue, but since it’s a premium (paid-for) plugin that theme owners didn’t have a license for, they couldn’t actually update it.

It was obviously a huge fiasco for Envato, the parent company of ThemeForest, and made them realize that they have to take responsibility for the products sold on their marketplace – even if they didn’t develop them.

Recently, I’ve seen issues with another popular bundled plugin, Visual Composer, where theme developers will modify the core plugin so it works uniquely with their theme. Modifying plugins is a big no-no, especially if there’s a patch or update available and you can’t actually do the update because of the modifications.

Customizations Aren’t That Easy to Do

It sounds appealing to purchase a theme that allows you to make a ton of customizations, as most ThemeForest themes do, right?

Surprise – that’s not really true.

Each theme is different, and may give the ability to select colors, fonts, layouts and more, but at some point, you may need to get into the actual template files to make the changes you want.

Sometimes, the theme developers don’t think about how users should appropriately customize them – with child themes – and code their themes incorrectly. So the customizations you make will either be overwritten when you do a theme update, or you’ll need to search the entire theme to make it child theme-friendly.

We’ve seen sites where the parent theme was edited heavily, making it incompatible with newer versions of WordPress. It’s a disaster to fix and encourages not updating the site — always a bad idea.

It’s Not a Design Created For You

At the end of the day, when you purchase a website design from a theme marketplace, you’re getting a design created for anyone who buys it — and not for you.

There’s likely thousands of other sites using the same theme you are, and even if you make yours look unique, there’s probably another site that looks just like it, too. When you get a custom designed website, you know it’s designed and built for your needs, and not an off-the-shelf theme jerry-rigged for you.

I certainly understand the appeal in spending $49 and getting a website theme that looks great when you demo it online. It sounds awesome — but rarely is.

In all of our work helping clients with WordPress, it’s the themes from marketplaces that have the most issues. It’s just not worth it.

Jason Unger
About Jason Unger

Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink, the creative and digital team that builds brands and helps companies grow. Based outside of Washington, D.C., Jason has done it all, from website strategy, design, development, troubleshooting, maintenance, content and marketing.