The 3 cardinal rules to selling WordPress Themes

Selling WordPress themes has become an artform for the few that have mastered it, despite this, we are seeing more and more people making a full-time living from their theme profits.  Thus far, it seems to be an exclusive club with few reaping the major rewards.  In this article I hope to help you understand the 3 cardinal rules to selling WordPress themes.

It seems that for many designers of WordPress themes, the design often becomes victim to one’s abilities with functionality.  As a huge fan of WordPress, and after reviewing, buying, and selling many themes myself, I have found what I would call the cardinal rules for building a successful theme to sell.

Rule #1: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein

Always seek to keep it simple.  I am sure many of us have seen very extravagant designs that in the end lose focus.  It’s very important to truly understand who your target audience is.  You will notice upon scouring over different marketplaces that the top selling tags are business or portfolio based.  Business themes have proven to be successful by leveraging simple layouts that can be branded very easily.  For example, a great sample of effective simplicity is with inFocus WordPress Theme.

Rule #2: “I think the best way is to forget about racing people and just find territory that’s fresh.” Tom Jenkinson

I almost cringe at the fact that in Rule #1 I talked about a past success.  I personally like to think of past successes like yesterdays, everyone has one.  From my experience, it’s not possible to attend a family reunion or party without hearing at least one person talk about some sort of glory days.  All night you hear some loud mouthed (often drunk guy) saying something of “oh, thats nothing!  Back when I was…” or “We used to be the best at…”.

Since observing the WordPress trends, it is very clear to see literally how many people have tried to imitate the success of past themes.  The key to Rule #2 is to always try to innovate.  Push the envelope when designing your theme.  Worst case scenario is you will take it down and restructure with a different strategy.  Don’t be afraid to be different.

Rule #3:  “It is the ability to choose which makes us human.” Unknown

Offer your customers choices.  This is the element of the game where design often becomes victim to your functionality.  People want choices.  As grand as your design may be, it’s the backend which will keep the customers coming back for more.  For those that are new to the game, and are looking for great examples of functionality, check out the back-end of any Woo-Theme.  Every controllable element is labeled with appropriate titles for easy understanding as you can see below.

In addition, you will notice that most top selling WordPress themes also include the following elements in their live demo:

  • Short Codes
  • Multiple Layouts
  • Multiple Styles
  • Colors (6 in 1)
  • Beautiful Typography
  • 404 pages included
  • Sitemaps
  • Different page width Options
  • And last and definately not least DESCRIPTIVE DOCUMENTATION!

I understand that most designers do not have the development experience of an established shop, yet I truly feel this is where you will retain your customers.  For those of you lacking experience in either category I would highly recommend selling WordPress themes with the system that MOJO-Themes has established with their “Joint Forces” program.  Joint Forces enables designers and developers to partner on projects and split the commissions.

I stand by these rules in every theme I pursue or build.  And for those of you considering developing a theme, just know your success with your customers is ultimately limited to your ability to capitalize in each of these 3 categories.

Please let me know your thoughts…

Co-founder of
  1. June 3, 2010

    What a great break down of 3 very important elements in WordPress Theme selling.

    As a buyer documentation and a great demo go a long ways towards selling me on their product. After a few impressive buys I begin to be very selective about who I buy a theme from.

  2. June 3, 2010

    Such a nice work. Thanks so much

  3. June 3, 2010

    Thank you, this is a very helpful article. I think the inFocus theme is beautiful btw, saw it before on Themeforest.

  4. June 3, 2010

    Thanks alot Seth
    Thumbs up for WooThemes, i admire their work alot.

    Has anyone else used WooThemes before?

  5. June 3, 2010

    The three rules above are very useful for me, but I really like the rule number two…yes “Don’t be afraid to be different.”
    We have the experience of rejection by the “ThemeForest”, but it just motivates us to immediately fix our mistakes and make a better theme.

  6. June 3, 2010

    Nice post Brady. I liked how you introduced each one of your points with a quote. Very insightful stuff and hopefully it motivates theme sellers to continue to be innovative with their themes.

  7. realy a great insight on selling a worpress theme. Will be working on releasing my ow theme sonner

  8. June 11, 2010

    Nice post! Straight to the point! Thanks for sharing!

  9. August 15, 2010

    I liked how you introduced each one of your points with a quote

  10. February 2, 2011

    Agree that backend is really important, even an all out flash will not win something that is easy to customise and read from the back end. Which is why Word Press rocks (or anyone with a different pov?)

  11. February 18, 2011

    Great article, we also try to be innovative with the design of our childthemes and our WordPress Framework Xtreme One is very flexible so it is easy to create a unique website in a matter of minutes.

  12. March 4, 2011

    Simple yet effective coverage!

    I should use these points for our next upcoming WordPress Theme.

  13. March 12, 2011

    Fresh Ideas always win

  14. April 8, 2011

    A good three rules to consider – I really like the quote: ”It is the ability to choose which makes us human.”

  15. April 11, 2011

    Number 2 is the most important one, “Don’t be afraid to be different” very simple, don’t try to imitate other people, be unique.

  16. July 13, 2011

    Most themes on themeforest are:

    1- buggy under different render engines and platforms(fonts and oblivious to css bugs)

    2- not even close to ‘wordpress standards’

    3- impractical in design, except if you like slates of stock photography over-redundant menus..

    It’s mostly people rigging sitegrinder output with wp API and z-index though..go figure.

    I’m one of those crazy people who do it the right way, I’m just not selling them and helping someone gain goodle index and capital..

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