Building a theme from “scratch”- start with a starter theme

Our worst nightmare is when we hear “I’ve got a custom WordPress theme built from scratch.” A lot depends on how well your developer really knows WordPress- and how well they document your theme. With so many advanced themes and frameworks available- where you can easily make a child theme- and let a theme developer deal with all the changes in WordPress- going the custom theme route seems kind of silly.

But- if you are in a groundbreaking industry, and have a specialized use, and a large support staff, you may want to go the custom theme route. The New York Times can do this, the Podunk Picayune probably can not.

Using starter theme in your development is a great way to create a WordPress theme with all the up-to-date WordPress best practices.
Underscores: A starter theme maintained by WordPress parent company Automattic.
Sage: A starter theme based on HTML5 Boilerplate, gulp, Bower, and Bootstrap.
Bones: An HTML5, mobile-first starter theme for rapid WordPress development.
Quark: A simple starter theme built on HTML5 and CSS3.
JointsWP: A starter theme built with Foundation 5.
Naked WordPress: For designers who don’t know WordPress.
HTML5 Blank WordPress Theme: A WordPress HTML5 boilerplate starter theme.

Source: 15 Free Resources To Help You Become a Smarter WordPress Developer

Not a complete list- but, a good place to start

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What WordPress theme is that?

You see a site you like. You’re pretty sure it’s in WordPress (typing /wp-admin at the end of the url is a good way to check) but- you don’t like reading source code to try to figure things out. Enter:

The What WordPress Theme is That search tool allows you to quickly input a URL and find out what WordPress theme a site is currently using. It can also tell you what parent/child themes are being used along with what plugins are installed.

Source: 30+ Free Pro Resources for Building Killer WordPress Websites in Way Less Time

Hopefully, some developer didn’t rename someones theme as there own- for the clients sake. Child themes are critical to keeping sites up to date and working correctly. If there is one thing we’ve learned from over 10 years of developing on the platform is that it changes.


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There is money in open source software- specifically, WordPress

WordPress makes you moneyConsidering WordPress is OpenSource- ie “Free Code” that powers 25% of the web, there is big money to be made in knowing it inside out.

Just check out this out:

30 of the 31 sellers who make up the Power Elite wall of fame (selling $1 million+ worth of items) are WordPress product authors.

Source: Envato Targeted by DDoS Attack, WordPress Theme Authors Report Major Decline in Sales

Theme developers have created an ecosystem that’s been putting food on their plates over the last 5 years. Chris Pearson was an early entry into the fray with his “Thesis” theme framework. At one point, he got in a major fight with Matt Mullenweg, the top guy at Automattic, the guardians of everything WordPress- and came out on the south side of the deal.

Since then- all kinds of theme frameworks have come and gone. And now we have “all in one themes” like Divi, or the X-theme that are supposed to solve all of your problems… except, one thing- sales are actually down at ThemeForest- a marketplace run by Envato- that has a “Theme for anyone.”

But- lately, because of a DDOS attack, sales are down- and there are various ideas on why:

Themeforest’s recent drop in Google search rankings…

FinalDestiny of TeoThemes, another author whose sales are declining, blames the one-size-fits-all theme products for gobbling up a greater slice of the market share.

“Everybody is tired of these huge, monster multipurpose themes having the same price as normal themes, and that’s pretty much killing the marketplaces. But Envato couldn’t care less, as long as they get their share,” he said.


The reality is, even if you plop down money on any of these amazing tools, the knowledge to use them properly still isn’t something you can just pick up. That’s why we’ve been teaching our seminar since 2005.

There is no doubt that the new Google requirements of mobile friendly/responsive and HTTPS are having ripple effects throughout the marketplace, but, the reality is, because these super themes are getting more complex- and don’t switch from theme to theme as easily as WordPress default themes- we think we’re seeing a slowdown thanks to theme lock in. The costs of switching themes has risen, and so we’re seeing less need for new themes.

Of course, considering thousands of WordPress websites launch everyday, it’s hard to think that this is the only factor.

If you need help selecting a theme, or implementing a good website strategy using WordPress, think about taking our seminar, or giving us a call. We’d be happy to help.

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