Skip to main content
WordPress made easy with the drag & drop Total WordPress Theme!Learn More

Buying WordPress Themes The Smart Way

Last updated on:

The demand for high quality WordPress themes is INSANE. There are TONS of people searching for both free and commercial themes everyday and people such as myself make a living from selling them. Due to such high demand people are constantly opening new theme stores and/or creating new items to sell on existing market places such as Themeforest or Mojo Themes.

As buyer, promoter and WordPress theme developer I have quite a lot of experience with many of the popular theme stores out there and their work. I also have a keen eye for picking out quality items over not so great ones.

I wanted to share some of my tips to help you make “smarter” more educated purchases when you are out on the hunt for “commercial” WordPress Themes – note, I use the term “commercial” because…

“Not all commercial themes are premium themes and not all premium themes are commercial themes!”

Often times people refer to all commercial themes as being premium, however, the term premium refers to something that is exceptional and superior to others of its kind. But as we all know some commercial themes suck, and can be worse than some of the free themes that are available.

Here are my tips…

Can You Trust The Seller?

Theme Store: One of the first things you should ask yourself is if the seller can be trusted. Not only because you might be giving them your credit card information but also because you want to make sure you will actually receive your product and it will work as described. By doing a simple Google Search on the seller, you should get a good idea if this person/company is legit. Usually, if otherwise, you’ll find a bunch of horrible reviews or blog posts raging about them.

Individual Seller: If you are buying from an individual seller on a Market Place you can often tell by the comments and ratings if people like the seller. For example if you read through some of my commercial theme comments and look at my reviews you’ll find its mostly all positive 😉

If they are not on a market place and are selling straight from their website/blog such as Devin Price is doing over on his blog selling his Options Framework Kit, you can read though some of his posts, check out his github and/or twitter and right away you’ll see his is a cool guy. Same goes for my buddy Pippin Williamson at Pippins Plugins (everyone knows Pippin). If you just look up any of these two people, you’ll see they are highly involved in the WordPress community and well trusted individuals.

Also, if payments are done via PayPal you have an extra layer of security so it’s something worth looking for if you’re still concerned.

Checkout A Free Theme: If the seller offers some sort of free theme, you should consider downloading it and having a look at the code. Obviously don’t worry if you see some bugs because the theme could be old or not as much care was put into it as a commercial theme. What you are looking for is encrypted code and sketchy links. If a seller is giving away free themes with all sorts of spammy links or encrypted code, I personally wouldn’t trust their commercial items.

Theme Last Updated On…

One of the first things I would personally look at is when the theme was released or last updated. WordPress is constantly evolving and you want to make sure not only that you’re theme will make use of some of the newest functions available but also make sure the theme is safe to use. For example any theme using Timthumb that hasn’t been updated in the last couple years is a really bad idea – you all know about the huge Timthumb vulnerability that was discovered and recently patched.

It doesn’t matter if it’s an old theme, if it’s been updated recently it can still be a great choice! If there is a public changelog you might want to have a look through it. Of course you can always ask the seller whether the theme is updated to work with the latest version of WordPress.

I’ve had people ask me in the past if my themes would work with a lower version of WordPress because they didn’t want to update their installation for some reason or another. Honestly, I don’t care what the reason is…you should always keep your WP installation up to date!

Never, EVER, let a theme prevent you from using the latest version of WordPress.

Check The Code With W3C

W3c ValidatorOne thing that only takes a few seconds is to run a W3C check on the homepage of a theme you are thinking of buying. You can test every page, but typically if the homepage is well coded, usually the rest of the site will be as well. The same goes if the homepage comes up with hundreds of errors then you can probably expect the same for the rest of the site.

Note: Some errors that come up on W3C can be related to embedded videos, experimental code…etc. So don’t shut down a theme if you get a few errors, read them and see what they are about, sometimes it’s really nothing.

Check Ratings & Reviews

I often see people complaining on ThemeForest, where I sell my commercial themes (atm), because they purchased a theme had an issue and the author won’t help them out. Just going over an looking at the author I often see they have poor ratings, people commenting about issues with the theme…etc.

Theme’s are quite cheap and if you don’t care about losing a few bucks here and there, go ahead and buy a theme and if it doesn’t work claim it as a loss on your taxes. Otherwise, reading through a few comments and making sure the author has good ratings would can’t hurt. And if you really want to make sure you are making the right choice do a search online for the market place and read up on some reviews (note, most reviews out there are created by affiliates so be-careful, they aren’t all honest) maybe send out some tweets and ask people for their opinions.

Looking At Features & Options

Of course when you are out on the hunt for a new theme there are many things you might be looking for, usually you want specific features or design elements. Below are just a few tips of things I think to be necessary always and things that aren’t so necessary.


  • Well coded HTML, PHP & JS
  • A layout that meets your needs – there are hundreds of thousands of themes out there, stop hacking the crap out of them and get something that works for you or your client (for the most part)
  • Author support – if there are any issues with the theme it’s great if the author will help you out
  • Regular Updates – if you’re intending to use the theme for an extended period of time updates are a must have

Not Necessary:

  • SEO Options – these shouldn’t be built-in, you should use Yoast SEO
  • Color Options for every element – if you don’t know CSS, hire a web developer!
  • Every page template possible – you know you can create new templates in your child theme?
  • Shortcodes – these don’t have to be included in the theme, there are many great plugins out there for this

WordPress FeaturesUnfortunately, it seems the market on stores like Themeforest leans towards themes that are jam-packed and bloated. I don’t know if buyers don’t want to spend the money to buy a theme for each client, they don’t know how to code or are simply lazy…For this reason in some of my themes I have added certain options I normally wouldn’t add, however, there are things that just don’t belong in a theme such as SEO options or 100+ shortcodes (what? yes I’ve seen that on a list of theme features before).

Price & Licensing

These are obviously two very important aspects when it comes to buying a theme. Sometimes you have a client that has given you a budget to go out and buy a theme, or you personally have a budget do to economic hardships, or maybe you have all the money in the world to spend. And when it comes to buying a commercial theme there isn’t a 100% correlation between price and quality. For example there are some high quality themes over at Theme Trust selling at 2 themes for $25 and then you go over to Themeforest and find themes selling for $50 each (that’s double the cost) that are comparable to the ones on Theme Trust.

Higher price does NOT mean higher quality

Personally I wouldn’t even look at the price of the theme. If the WordPress theme has exactly what you need, the seller is well trusted and has positive ratings/reviews, and of course the theme has been well developed, who cares how much it costs? Even at $100 some themes would still be worth it. I’ve seen people end up spending twice that much because they purchased themes that they later found out were not exactly what they were looking for.

Remember, if you were to hire a freelance developer it could cost you thousands for a website. Buying a theme is still an affordable option even if you purchase a high quality niche theme on the higher end of your budget, such as those found at AppThemes.

Licensing? We’ll they should all be GPL, no?

Your Thoughts?

Ultimately I would like to hear from you guys/gals. What’s your process when you are looking for a new theme to buy? What are some of your experiences with different market places and theme stores? I’m sure if you’ve had a good or a bad experience anyone reading this post will find it useful, so please share!

How Do You Buy Themes? Any Good or Bad Experiences? Comment below!

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Get our latest news, tutorials, guides, tips & deals delivered to your inbox.


  1. dave

    great tips. I have bought several ‘premium’ themes that did not have basic functions. For instance one was missing the css to float images in page/post content.

  2. Gregg

    Read through reviews and see how quickly the author gets back to support questions. One of the reasons I love to buy themes from AJ here at wpexplorer is his code is clean and he is very responsive in his support.

    • AJ Clarke

      Thanks for stopping by Gregg! You are a good an loyal customer 😉

  3. Jason Jennings

    I hate when “complete detailed installation instructions” becomes “sketchy half-written not really for this theme instructions”. How do you feel about membership sites for themes?

    • AJ Clarke

      I think membership sites are great. You get good multiple themes for a good price. I personally have been considering if I should open one myself.

  4. Darren Maths

    Perfect points to keep in mind whild purchasing themes.
    For my wordpress loving community,

    Don’t buy templatic themes. all of their theme are full of bugs and contains malicious codes.
    they recently closed most of their bugful theme but didn’t refunded money to those who had bought their lifetime accessibl theme.

    They abuses if aksed any hard question.

    They have copied codes from other theme developers.

    • AJ Clarke

      Hey Darren…I was unaware of these issues with Templatic! Thanks so much for letting me and other know.

  5. Miroslav Glavic

    One thing I don’t like about theme creators…their lack of support if you don’t pay them.

    How do I know you know your stuff if you can’t answer a few simple questions.

    I will get a free theme, ask 1-3 simple questions. Like let’s say has a theme, current theme is the one I downloaded. I would ask…

    How do you do the mouse over change of colour? is it a plugin or hard code? how do I change it to red instead of white when the mouse moves over.

    I would specially do this to theme authors who offer for free a lite version then a paid pro version. I would ask him why xyz feature is only available on the PRO version and not lite version.

    I buy themes from creators who are there for the passion, not just for the money.

    • AJ Clarke

      I think what you don’t realize is for example I had a forum, but I received over 100 questions a day and only a few small donations here and there. This is when I was much smaller as well. For this reason I closed the forum. It’s a full time job to help people out with free themes. And that doesn’t pay for college, food, living…

      Sure if there was only a few questions a day it makes sense. But when people are downloading your theme’s thousands of times daily. It’s impossible to help everyone out and not be homeless at the same time.

      Also, questions like you ask about “color hovers” are basic design questions. You should hire a web designer if you need things changed on your themes.

      Please realize we do spend time and money making free themes, setting up and hosting demos and providing bandwidth for the downloads themselves. Most questions people ask are also basic things you could find on Google with a simple search or by hiring a freelancer.

      Do you work for free?

      And just to let you know, I am very passionate about WordPress and my job. I would agree with you 100%, don’t buy from people who aren’t passionate. But don’t base passion on the fact that someone won’t help you for free, especially someone extremely busy. Would you say Matt Mullenweg isn’t passionate because he doesn’t go around answering every question on the and forum? That’s just silly, he has better things to do and his time is very valuable.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Dave Shellton

      Your questions aren’t support related. You need to hire a web developer.

      Just because their themes might be free or cheap doesn’t mean they’re going to work for you for free.

      You can has questions about how to use the theme. But not questions asking them to give you code to change it to your needs.

      Hire a developer if you don’t know CSS. Sounds like you’re a tight arse.

      • AJ Clarke

        Exactly Dave 😉

        I am glad to answer any theme issues and I do all the time on Twitter. But I can’t provide free web design services.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Learn how your comment data is processed by viewing our privacy policy here.