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Why Avoid Multi-Purpose WordPress Themes

A Multi-Purpose WordPress Theme is Like a Swiss Army Knife

A Multi-Purpose WordPress Theme is Like a Swiss Army Knife: It can do anything but it is a terrible knife because it is unwieldy.

I was inspired to write this post because in the past two weeks I was asked to review OR solve problems on a few websites (built by someone else) and coincidentally 3 of them were using the same theme. One of the biggest complaints was speed. Page Speed can be affected by many things:

  1. How well designed the theme is
  2. How many plugins are used
  3. Whether the plugins used are designed well
  4. How many “requests” a page makes (requests are mostly images, scripts, and css files)
  5. Whether Image Compression is used or not
  6. Whether Caching is used or not (there are many types of caching)
  7. How many CSS and JS files are used
  8. Whether CSS files and JS files are minified
  9. The quality of the hosting

Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted on Jan 1, 2016 but was updated to reflect that Headway Theme is no longer supported and Blox Theme is our preferred WordPress theme.

Why Multi-Purpose Themes are Slow

This is not an attack on Themeforest, this is a problem common to almost any theme vendor. Two of the most popular WordPress Themes on Themeforest are described as Multi-Purpose because they can do so much from portfolio websites to e-commerce. The reason they are slow is that they are bloated with features and multiple ways of doing things, many of which are not used because most websites don’t need every feature. Most recently I worked on a site that used the Avada theme and I couldn’t help noticing that it included several slider plugins (even though the website didn’t use any sliders!)

This illustrates that part of the problem is the “designer.” Most web designers aren’t thinking, they are just doing which is why they just “grab a theme” that looks good (or worse let the client choose) instead of planning what they want a website to look like and how it will function. A good web developer will take the time to disable things that aren’t needed. Just because a theme comes with 3 slider plugins doesn’t mean you can’t deactivate them.

A good developer will test plugins and compare how lightweight they are so they can build a site that is fast loading which is good for SEO.

A Smarter Approach to Building a Website with WordPress

I’ve been an avid fan of Headway Theme for many years and currently use Blox Theme on almost every website we design.

NOTE: there two Blox Themes, The one referred to in this post is available at BloxTheme.com.

The Blox Theme approach, is to use block elements which have special functions. If a block isn’t used you don’t have the overhead and if you use the block you know that it was designed to integrate well with Blox. The end result is a fast loading website which functions well (assuming all of the other factors have been addressed.)

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

Even though Blox Theme is robust and it has many blocks that perform various functions sometimes it is best to either write some code, use some CSS, or find an alternate plugin to do what you need. One example is a 3rd party block for animations with Blox theme, after buying the plugin and testing it I realized I didn’t need it. Nothing the plugin did couldn’t be done with some simple CSS and a single script. Simple is better so I dropped the plugin.

Another big mistake designers make with layout builders and drag and drop themes is to try to create the entire layout using drag and drop elements. Sometimes you can just use some CSS to accomplish what you want. The biggest joke is when a drag and drop tool doesn’t work as well as the functions already built in to WordPress. I recently tested a gallery created using a module the Divi Plugin by Elegant Themes instead of using the standard WordPress gallery function plus a colorbox or lightbox like Simple Colorbox. The standard gallery function plus colorbox loads faster and uses either thumbnails or medium sized images while the gallery module in Divi uses the full size images instead. This is minor item but it has a huge impact on site speed.

Page Speed Case Study

If you are hiring a web designer make sure they are also a “developer” and like to think and challenge themselves. If you are a designer, strive to learn enough so you can be considered a developer. Learn some CSS, test various tools and challenge yourself to work smarter so you can give your client a higher quality result.

Frank Gomez

Frank Gomez is the owner of Empowered Marketing, LLC: Providing Website Development, Web Design and Graphic Design since 1997. Originally named Frank's Designs in Seattle, the descriptor Empowered Marketing was added in 2008 when he moved to Sarasota. In Sarasota, Frank developed his skills in InDesign, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop as well as incorporating WordPress to build compelling, fast loading websites.

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