Premium WordPress Theme Responsibilities

Have you ever wanted to create a premium WordPress theme? I’m sure we’ve all noticed an explosion in this market over the past few months due to the income potential, but I’ve also noticed a bad trend that I’d like to talk a little bit about. That trend is the very un-premium quality of many of these new themes being released, as well as a extreme lack of innovation put into creating these themes.

Many of the top designers in this market launched their sites back in late 2007 and quickly established their own niche. Since then, they have continued to release new themes, but they tend to shift their focus to a different type of end-user with each new theme. Newcomers seem to build very similar news/magazine themes that really aren’t all that different than what is already available. I don’t think to many people looking for a news or magazine theme are going to have any trouble filling their needs with what is already available, so place your focus somewhere else, or provide something in your theme that the competition doesn’t have.

In addition to picking out a niche to build your business around, there are also some things you should consider before releasing a premium WordPress theme. Long time readers know that I’ve been following the premium WordPress themes market pretty closely since last November when it really started to pick up steam, and I’ve noticed several (easily fixable) mistakes web designers are making when trying to compete in this very competitive market. Below I’ve collected a few of these things that you should have in place before you launch your theme:

  1. Theme Support – This is by far the most important way to find success. When you charge for your theme, it raises the stakes, and buyers need to know that you will be there for them if they run into problems with your theme. You need to setup Forums for buyers to use and you need to be very active on them.
  2. Offer Theme Updates – As time goes by the internet evolves and WordPress evolves with it. You’ll want to re-evaluate your premium themes every few months and make updates, add features, etc. Then offer a free upgrade to all previous buyers.
  3. Browser Compatibility – A new designer recently tried to enter this market with a theme that did not display properly in Internet Explorer 6. It is fairly unprofessional to release a free theme that doesn’t display properly in all browsers (in my opinion), but its free so you can sometimes get away with it. The second you start charging for your services, you’ll have to provide a fully compatible theem.
  4. Valid Code – Just like browser compatibility, it is unprofessional to release code that isn’t valid and shows a lot about you as a web designer.
  5. Advertising – As I said above, this is a very competitive market now, and the PPC rates have gone up considerably in the last couple months. How much will you pay-per-click? Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.
  6. Affiliate Program – With the cost of PPC advertising being so high, what better way to market your product than to offer an affiliate program? This helps encourage bloggers to promote your product and you only have to make a payment if a sale is made. If you decide to go this route, make sure to create some banners for affiliates to use (125×125, 300×250 at least) and I recommend using E-Junkie to manage your affiliate program for you. It only costs a few dollars a month and they handle all the work, including billing and providing download links to the buyer.
  7. Give Away Theme Copies – Contact some large blogs with a big following and offer a few copies of your theme to give away to readers via a contest, etc, in exchange for a review. You could also offer the author a copy in exchange for a review. If you go this route, think about your target audience and find blogs in that niche. A good place to start is with blogs about blogging or WordPress.
  8. Innovation – Do something different. Target a specific niche. Don’t just add another news/magazine theme to the list that is growing larger each day.

As you can see, there is a lot more to being successful in this market than simply offering a free theme. I think if you look at the three most successful premium theme authors, you’ll see a lot of the above.

So, anything you would add? I know most of the premium theme designers read this blog and I would love to get their input. What about buyers of these themes? What do you look for when purchasing one a premium WordPress theme?

Edit: PJ has provided a bunch of other responsibilities in the comments that were so good that I felt they warranted being added to the original post:

  1. Control Panel Options – Adding the ability to customize your theme from the control panel is a great option. At a minimum, buyers should be able to plug in their Feedburner feed information from the control panel.
  2. Provide Tutorials – Providing tutorials to buyers is a great way to show you support your theme.
  3. Multiple Color Schemes – Offering several different stylesheets to choose from as a great way to widen the appeal of your theme. This helps buyers use their favorite colors and make their sites/blogs look more original.
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  • What is the Future of Premium WordPress Themes?

    The premium WordPress themes market has been around now for well over 6 months now, and the number of people willing to buy their blog’s WordPress theme still continues to amaze me.  In addition to bloggers and small businesses wanting to give their sites a professional and unique look, I’ve also noticed that web developers have really embraced using these premium themes as templates to start with when creating a design for someone, saving them a lot of time creating the general layout and code of the theme.

    With the success of these premium WordPress themes, more and more theme designers are coming out of the woodwork and taking the time to create and release their own premium themes, because they feel that it is now worth their time due to the potential profit.  Why make a theme for a client for a one time fee when you can spend a little extra time and have a consistent flow of income over the coming months/years that far surpasses it?  This also gives theme authors a chance to generate large numbers of backlinks and increase traffic to their site.

    So, how far will premium WordPress themes go? In a recent post at ThemeShaper, this question was asked of several of todays top theme designers. I will warn you that this is a very long post, but definitely worth the read if you have an interest in this sort of stuff.  Now, I know noone asked my opinion, but when have you known me to keep my opinions to myself? 😀

    My take seems to be closer to what Nathan Rice is saying in the post above.  With all of the new themes entering into the premium marketplace, we are beginning to see what I feel are a lot of average quality themes that are now being charged for.  These authors may counter the lower value by asking a lower price ($20.00-$49.99 per copy), but really many of them are just charging for a theme that in the past would have been free to the WordPress community.  I’ve even seen a previously few free themes that now have costs associated with them!

    Many of the leaders in the premium WordPress themes market charge more because they take it a step further than free themes, with most providing a control panel allowing you to enter your personal information directly from your dashboard and custom widgets. I’ve also found these themes to contain multiple versions of the homepage, the single post template, and/or the page templates.  This adds a tremendous value to the buyer because it allows them to separate themselves from others that have purchased the theme and avoid any manual coding.   I personally own copies of a few premium themes and can say without a doubt that their value can in many ways exceed the price associated with them.

    So, what is the future of premium WordPress themes? To be honest, I feel there is a limited number of people that will be willing to purchase a WordPress theme for their site/blog. Many current buyers are small business owners and web developers.  As more bloggers and web developers switch to WordPress, premium WordPress themes will continue to sell, but probably not at the pace that they are right now.  All of the newcomers offering premium themes seem to have missed the rush.

    I’m also waiting for some more good premium templates designed specifically for blogs, which I think is a niche some of these designers could really capitalize on right now. Eventually, the market will become saturated causing many bloggers to frown upon using certain premium themes.  At this point, theme designers will have to look for new ways to generate income, so I think at this point (a year or two down the road) we will coin a new term, “elite WordPress themes.” These will be WordPress themes that raise the bar again and go even further than the premium ones.  Just like the internet and pretty much everything else, the industry will continue to evolve and grow, and the competition will continue to drive authors to release some incredible themes.   We’ve got CSS3 coming out soon, a new version of HTML, plus WordPress enhancements to look forward to, all of which may also influence the direction of these WordPress themes.

    So, where do you think premium WordPress themes will be a year from now?

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