Choosing a WordPress Theme [StudioPress and Themeforest]

I recently attended the Auckland WordPress Usergroup Meetup here in New Zealand and the talk by Kevin Trye covered More tips on WordPress Themes.

Having purchsed a handful of themes for personal use, I thought I would take 5 minutes to explain my very experience with two theme providers

  • StudioPress
  • Themeforest

Genesis Theme by StudioPress

Screen Shot

Many developers, users and agencies choose to exclusively use the Genesis Framework when starting a build. With hundreds of themes built on the Genesis Framework, you are likely to find a theme which can get you 90% of the way from their showcase.

When you need to customise the remaining 10% of a Genesis Theme, you can do so with an framework that is common amongst all Genesis child themes. Once you use and customise your first theme, all others should follow a very familiar process.

Getting support is a pretty solid process as well – with very good documentation on all themes (including the Genesis Base theme) and blogs for everything new in genesis, Studiopress do an excellent job at keeping their customers up-to-date and informed.

You can get all the StudioPress themes and any future themes for only $499.95 – there are third-party developers who make additional themes which this price doesn’t include – but getting that level of support for $500 is a very tempting offer.

Last words: Personally, if you’re not sure about 100% jumping into the Genesis Framework for all your future builds, you can always purchase 1 or 2 themes and start from there. Because all the themes are built on the same framework, designers and developers I’ve met have found it very easy to use Genesis at the start of a new build and get the Minimum Viable Product up and running quickly.

ThemeForest (Envato)

Screen Shot

ThemeForest offers the biggest selection of themes and authors of all reputable themes shops. With 5,600 themes available for WordPress alone, this is the starting place for most people looking to get up and running with a theme.

With such a large variety of themes to choose from, the number of authors submitting themes is much higher and as there is no common framework to build atop of (unlike Genesis), authors can build their themes however they like. The result of this is a huge variance in usability for the end user.

Often there are many different plugins which come bundled in a theme, multiple custom post types and options for the theme itself. The difference between two theme’s and their customisation could be staggering.

It’s likely that unless you are buying from the same author on Themeforest, you will find that no two themes are created the same. Here’s a few hints to get you guide your purchasing decisions:

  • Buy high: Themes with high sale and rating numbers are more likely to be `battle tested` by other users and the support / documentation will be more thorough than lower numbers (in general)
  • Buy for a niche: If you have a client looking for a dental theme, then start with one built for that niche. No use buying a car theme and struggling to customise it.
  • Show your client before you buy: This could be with screenshots, so they can’t just buy the theme themselves, but get an idea from your client whether they like the direction of the theme before buying it.
  • Buy Extended support: For the additional 20-40% in cost, most themes will allow you to purchase additional support. This will allow you to get fast responses from the Author and save you time exploring through the existing codebase looking for a fix/hack.
  • Trust Elite Authors: Elite Authors are likely using this theme and any others they are selling as their primary source of income. Therefore, its in their best interest to keep you happy and they try exceptionally hard to make a robust product (not saying non-elite author don’t, these authors are just battle-tested)
  • Don’t be too disappointed: On the off-chance you buy a theme that isn’t fit for purpose, don’t worry – there may come a time when you need that theme, so bench it for now and save it for later.

Last Words: If you like choice and options, ThemeForest is a good place to purchase themes. I’ve found support for the top themes exceptionally good and responsive. They definitely offer value for money and I’ve seen many agency websites using lightly modified ThemeForest themes across the web, so you’re likely in good company with a ThemeForest theme.

A quick note on Envato (Themeforest)

I know that the WordPress theme team at Envato constantly work on the review process. New themes especially will be reviewed more thoroughly. Having hired Emil (who does a lot of work on the .org theme review team), they are actively trying to improve the code quality of the themes available.

There’s always a chance you’ll find a badly written theme, but if thats the case – let the team at Envato know, they are always wanting to improve their service.

Closing Remarks

I have left out WordPress.org’s official repository of themes as that likely merits its own post, however the two that I have briefly covered, are exceptional in their service and popularity. Choosing a theme should be simple and easy, getting you to the content part of owning a site as quickly as possible.

While there are definitely cases for custom work (full disclosure, I work for a company that only does custom theme work amongst other bespoke options), themes are a great way to start out any WordPress site.

Happy Theming!

PHPStormin’

Well – officially starting the cutover from Sublime Text 3 to PHPStorm for a few weeks to give it a good go.

The primary reason is making small formatting mistakes and some advances in code completion. So here’s an ongoing list of resources that make the switch a little easier:

  • Open any sidebar files with a single-click:  http://technovangelist.com/2014/05/30/2014530single-clicking-to-open-a-file-in-phpstorm/

  • The official PHPStorm resources for users switching from Text Editors : https://confluence.jetbrains.com/display/PhpStorm/PhpStorm+for+Users+of+Text+Editors#PhpStormforUsersofTextEditors-ConceptsofPhpStormIDE

  • Laracasts minimalism. Makes PHPStorm less overwhelming: https://laracasts.com/series/how-to-be-awesome-in-phpstorm/episodes/2

  • Pretty much all of these videos : https://laracasts.com/series/how-to-be-awesome-in-phpstorm

More to come…

Google Pagespeedin’

Clients often ask about increasing page speed. Normally however, those who are interested in Pagespeed already load tonnes of  analytic, tracking and optimising scripts – which naturally add HTTP requests to each page load.

On my own site though, there is no such shizzle going down – just a handful of plugins, multisite and a single DO Droplet

Let’s do this!

  • W3TC caching plugin

  • Cloudflare CDN

  • Lets handle images ( bah, Cloudflare’s got this )

jYkU6EA-mu

Initial Google Pagespeed

Enabling Object and Memcache via W3TC

Wasn’t expecting too much improvement here on the front-end from page speed.. and got exactly that 🙂 Results were identical. I’ve since removed the W3TC plugin as I’m fairly certain Batcache and Memcache are added by default when using RTCAMP’s env setup.

Adding a CDN

Next step is a CDN – a free one,

Installing Chassis with Mac OS X [ Episode 2 (1 and 3 to come)]

Chassis is a new shiny environment VM especially made for WordPress developers – if you are pretty comfortable with the VM’s, vagrant, terminal blah blah — skip to the repo readme

Introduction

If your typical WP workflow is on MAMP or an (x)AMP equivalent, the immediate benefit of Chassis might escape you and the effort might not seem worthwhile – but I used to do all dev work with MAMP and have completely switched to Chassis.

Benefits

  1. Each site is sandboxed 100% to its own server environment (think Virtual Machine for each site).
  2. Resource usage is typically minimal
  3. Usage is easy… ‘vagrant up’ and go develop
  4. Its faster than the other projects (VVV and VagrantPress)
  5. The environment you develop with more closely matches manage hosting environments ( WP Engine via NGINX )
  6. It’s not MAMP… sometimes this is enough to switch.

What you need; TLDR

  1. Install Git CLI
  2. Install VirtualBox (free) or similar supported VM manager
  3. Install Vagrant
  4. Install Vagrant HostsUpdater (this might change in the future)
  5. Run Vagrant Up
  6. Profit
  7. Time (put aside an hour if all this is new to you)

Number 5 is only important if you are new to terminal.Most of these steps are simple “copy and paste” but if something doesn’t work – you might need to know how to troubleshoot it.

Let’s go pre-requisites

1. Install GIT

Nice and easy, visit: http://git-scm.com/download/mac and download the latest version of GIT. This will allow you to use the GIT command in the Command line

 2. Install VirtualBox

Next up, Virtual Machine manager, VirtualBox: https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads. I currently have version 4.3.10 for OS X hosts 

3. Install Vagrant

Download and install Vagrant for your OS: http://www.vagrantup.com/downloads

vagrant-installer

4. Install Vagrant-hosts-updater (via terminal)

vagrant-hosts-updater

Open terminal (Command + Space -> type “Terminal) or Applications->Terminal; and type the following command

vagrant plugin install vagrant-hostsupdater

Chassis Time

With our environment almost ready to be chassis-fied, we can start getting to the fun part.

1. Clone the Chassis repository into a project folder (via terminal)

Within Terminal I typically make a folder called “repo“ and use the GIT clone command to make project folders. In this example I would use the following (where new-project is the name you want for the project)
cd ~/ && git clone --recursive https://github.com/Chassis/Chassis.git new-project
git chassis

2. Change directory and vagrant up (via terminal. 5 – 20 mins, up to 300mb)

In terminal type the following command (replacing new-project for the project name in the previous step).

cd new-project && vagrant up

This is the magic moment… so much is happening behind the code but I’ll sum it up:

  1. Virtual Box is downloading a new image which it will reference for all future VM’s created
  2. Chassis is configuring the new image and setting up the environment (this is magic, installing NGINX / PHP / Download and configuring WordPress)

Vagrant Hosts Updater makes it so you can access the site at http://vagrant.local when complete.chassis-install

2.1 Enter your password:

This is your user account password (if you haven’t set one – you can hit “enter” and try your luck.

3. Grab a browser and prosper

You should now be able to open a browser and visit http://vagrant.local to view the following awesomeness:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 7.36.11 pm

Next steps

Granted, this tutorial ends with a white screen – but the next episode in the series we’ll discuss how to give your project a head start by using the Chassis content directory repo named “Supercharger