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I have been writing on WPLift most days since 2010 publishing over 800 posts in that time, I also run my own premium theme company ThemeFurnace, so it has been  my job pretty much for 5 years now to stay on top of the goings on in WordPress. I have noticed trends come and go – at the start, when premium WordPress themes were new, the trend was for magazine style themes as there wasn’t hardly any available for free in the WordPress directory – they were mostly blogging themes.

Magazine themes allowed people to run more sophisticated blogs and news portals with more content than a traditional blog layout would allow. I would say we then moved on to business and portfolio style themes as WordPress developed into more of a CMS than just a blogging tool – people could now use it to power their corporate sites and agencies and freelancers used it for their portfolio websites.

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In the past year we have moved into the realm of “Multi-Purpose” themes, which pack a lot of different options into one theme. Similar to frameworks these types of themes can be configured for many different purposes, you can use the same theme to create a portfolio, eCommerce site, business site or blog by playing with the theme options panel. At the start, these themes just packed all the functionality into the theme itself but then they started to bundle plugins to handle this functionality – favorite bundled plugins include the Visual Composer and Layer slider.

The proliferation of these types of themes is undoubtedly down to ThemeForest. The most popular marketplace for purchasing WordPress themes is a monster in the WordPress theme world, it is the 88th most trafficked website online and they have 31 authors who have sold a million dollars worth or products. At the time of writing they have just under 20,000 themes and templates for sale.

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Some more stats about the site :

  • 50% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest have made at least $1,000 in a month.
  • 25% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest have made at least $2,500 in a month.
  • 15% of WordPress themes have made at least $5,000 in a month.
  • 7% have made at least $7,500 in a month.
  • 5% have made at least $10,000 in a month.

If you take a look at their most popular WordPress themes, you will see the list dominated by these large multi-purpose themes. Their number one seller is Avada, which has sold 151,830 copies, which for a $58 theme brings the revenue to $8,806,140 which is split between the author and Envato. $8 million dollars for a single theme is incredible really and goes to demonstrate just how popular these type of themes are.

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There has been a lot of criticism in the past for ThemeForest over the code quality of their themes, Personally I have looked at a lot of themes from there and also purchased a fair few – some are terrible and some have been great, but that’s what you get with a marketplace where anyone can submit a theme. They did take steps to improve the code a while ago with the introduction of stricter review guidelines and just this week it was announced that Emil Uzelac, a well respected theme reviewer from the WordPress directory and ThemeReview.co had joined the review team there which should really help improve standards from now on.

So Why Does the Market want these types of themes ?

In the past to have your own website you had two options – you learnt how to code HTML and CSS and built yourself a website, or you paid someone to do it for you. As WordPress has gained popularity which can be partly put down to how easy it is to install and use, this has given rise to a lot of people who are building their own websites with no coding knowledge – they can follow instructions to install WordPress and a theme, then use the theme options panel to customize it to their liking without having to touch any code. There is also another type of user, let’s call them “Theme Configurers” and they offer website creation services where they will take a pre-made WordPress theme and develop a website for their customers using the built-in tools. Often this type of user will not have in-depth knowledge of CSS and HTML either but they are quite proficient with WordPress and can provide perfectly serviceable websites using the theme’s tools.

These two types of theme buyers like the multi-purpose style themes as it gives them lots of customization options so they can build different types of websites and tailor them to the website’s requirements. When done properly, you can get a very professional look if the theme is well designed – customizing the colors, uploading logos, building custom pages and so on.

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Another reason why I think these themes are popular is because if you buy a simpler theme with a very specific look, there could be many other sites which look the same with little tweaks here and there – with the larger themes with more options, the amount of different looks you can achieve is greater so you are more likely to build a unique site.

The final thing which I think helps sell these themes is the sales pages themselves. The product listing pages for these themes are all really long and cram so many features and freebies into them that they make themselves seem like such a bargain – Long Sales pages are proven to work. Overwhelming the reader with details, social proof, numerous free bundled plugins, customer testimonials and more all create the desire for the product and combined with the low sales price on ThemeForest ( most large themes are $58 ) they can seem like an amazing deal compared to a smaller focused theme for the same price point. Check out the Avada Sales page, its 4MB in size and will take you a lunch break to read it all!

So what are my thoughts on them ?

So lets just say it, I am not a fan. I can appreciate quite the undertaking it must be to construct a theme like this – the coding that goes into them and the sheer amount of time and skill it must take to create them is incredible and the money that one such successful theme can generate can sustain a whole business or team of developers. I also appreciate that the market dictates what it wants and the vast number of customers that these themes have means that they are hugely in demand.

Personally I prefer the simple approach to theme building – I want my themes to be light, use built-in WordPress features with the odd extra plugin for functionality and I like to do any simple editing through the Customizer or by creating a child theme and tweaking the code. I have been building websites for years though, so delving into code comes naturally for me so I appreciate that these themes do fill a purpose for people not comfortable doing that.

This is the approach I have taken when building my themes for ThemeFurnace and there are many other examples of developers doing the same, one example is Mike McAlister who releases themes at Array, his themes are beautiful and so simple to use, these are the only types of themes that I would ever use.

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Another consideration and why I prefer simple themes is that all the extra functionality must slow your site down – the CSS and Javascript files are huge because they must cater to so many different uses, you could build a site with a Multi-Purpose theme and half the code is ever used, but there it all is still loaded on your site.

Ultimately there is room for both types of WordPress theme and which you choose comes down to personal preference and ability level, I do tend to hope we will see something else emerge soon as the rush of adding more and more features into themes is not sustainable in the long term, nor do I believe it is helpful to the future long term growth of WordPress.

What do you think about Multi-Purpose themes? Where do you see the themes business headed next? Let us know in the comments.

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Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, An Internet Company based in Manchester, UK. I founded WPLift and ThemeFurnace, find out more on my Personal Blog. Thanks!

9 thoughts on “The Rise of Multi-Purpose WordPress Themes and My Thoughts on Them

  1. Oliver Dale did a great job to sharing wordpress thoughts. WordPress is a huge and free open-source content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL. Features include, a plugin architecture, a template system. profile, development, and etc. WordPress was used by more than 23.3% of the top 10 million websites.

  2. I totally agree with you!
    in particular about the fact that despite I don’t like them, they are definitely very helpful for so many people who struggle on customizing code and files.

    I think the real problem here, is that those multipurpose mega themes, are very often used by a number of wannabe web designers, who build sites for clients by using those templates and customizing them.
    this people is very often also using drag and drop page builders (like Visual Composer) which are included within those themes in 99% of the cases.

    this is the biggest reason because I don’t like those themes. they are so flexible that too many people have thought to just use them to build ANY website and make it look like if it was bespokely made by a professional, even if they are not professionals at all.
    sometimes this people also rip off the clients, selling the websites as “custom made”, or otherwise they ask so low budgets that they are destroying the developers business, cause clients doesn’t understand the differences between a professional custom made site, and a cheap set up of a multipurpose template..

  3. Couldn’t agree more about what you think of these mega themes. The only place for these are

    1) For people that want something fast and cheep
    2) For people that don’t want to hire a real developer
    3) For those that are not coders so they can call themselves developers and make money by doing what the client could easily be doing themselves

    The biggest reason that I don’t like them is that they are a nightmare to modify when someone realized they don’t quite work exactly the way they want them to work. I dislike spending hours trying to figure out what should have been an 15 minute change. If you wanna use these things you should use them as they are and not think you’re gonna add in more features they don’t already have.

  4. I agree, these big theme frameworks are popular because they have so many features for such a low price. OSTraining calls them “Theme CMS’s” in a recent blog post. The problem is they don’t follow The WordPress Way.

    A theme is supposed to add functionality with plugins, but these theme frameworks have most of the functionality built-in. It slows the site down a lot because of all the unnecessary code. It also makes it extremely difficult to change themes in the future because nothing will work like it should. The poorly written code also means some plugins like WooCommerce won’t work because the code is not written like it should be, and the people blame WooCommerce instead of the theme.

    They have the worst code I ever see when I view-source. Avada is absolutely terrible. 20 CSS files and 20 JS files loaded with huge blocks of CSS written at the top. They have very slow page load times especially on cheap hosting. It’s terrible for SEO.

    I like building lean and mean WP websites too, like you do. I try to use as few plugins as I can get away with. I get clear on the goal of the website and the content strategy first before I pick the design. Then I only include what is necessary for that website and leave out the rest. Cheers.

    • 20 CSS files and 20 JS ? Wow, that’s horrible!
      Add in any extras added by plugins etc and that will be a really slow site

  5. People get what they deserve. In life as in WordPress.
    Multipurpose themes are a pain in the ass. Yeah, some may rock but in general it is a perversion of the “the right tool for the right work” concept. Creating a theme which includes all possible cases of using it? meeh …

    • Don’t misunderstand me … this is not a rant against theme developer at themeforest or elsewhere, but the rise of the multipurpose themes (with pagebuilders) brought more negative aspects into the world of wordpress design than anything else. Although there are a lot of design options, multipurpose themes tend to make thousands of websites look equal, cause there are so many demo content presets and so many lazy people …
      This has an major impact on the design business. Al lot of people asking for a designed wordpress theme (from scratch, of course) that …. hm, looks like Avada. Aha … let’s see .. costs rundabout 1000 $ What? On themeforest I just pay 58 bucks?!

  6. Hi Oli,

    Interesting thoughts about the rise of Multipurpose themes. We are one of thousands of authors there and joined since January. Well… the competition is really tough and the only way to get noticed there is building Multi concept / multi demo theme. I guess the winner will be the one who can offer the plenty of demos with a great theme performance.

  7. As someone who trains Non-IT people and other Non-IT trainers to build websites for side income or for their companies, I find the multipurpose themes to be a good introduction to WordPress.

    If you choose the right theme that has its own lightweight page builder framework the bloat issue is moot and you’ve helped a Non-IT person design their first website themselves.

    So I am all for multipurpose themes so long as the coding is clean and lightweight and the support is great.

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