Learn10 Tips for Building and Selling a Premium WordPress Theme


Zac Gordon
writes on December 12, 2012

Selling premium WordPress themes has become a niche in and of itself for developers.  This article suggests some of the important factors to consider when developing and marketing WordPress premium themes.

Graphic with screen shots of Graph Paper Press WordPress themes

Research and Choose a Niche for Your Theme

Often when people search for a premium theme they are looking for a theme tailored to the content and purpose of the site they will use it for.  There a niche themes for personal portfolios, musicians, photographers, non-profits, and just about any other niche of web sites you could think of.

Researching a niche will help you determine what competition you have and the likelihood you could succeed in the market.  When you finally choose a niche for your theme you will have a target audience you can market towards and can determine what keywords and marketing approach will work best for your theme.

A good company that has marketed their premium themes to a specific niche is Graph Paper Press, who makes premium themes for photographers.

A screen capture of an attractive WordPress theme

Make Your Theme Look Amazing

With thousands of premium WordPress themes on the market, you want yours to stand out as soon as someone sees it. This means you have to put extra attention into the design of your theme.

This includes not just the graphic elements, but also what content you include in your demo theme.  Use captivating images and compelling to bring out your theme’s full visual potential.

You may also want to include multiple design options such as color schemes or multiple page layout options.

Screenshot of the Foundations Theme Web Site Header

Go Responsive With Your Design

Making your premium theme responsive has become the standard at this point. If you take this important step, you will want to make that clear in the marketing material for your theme. Some theme shoppers may pass over themes that do not have responsive styling and settings.

If you really want to set your theme apart, don’t just collapse your content into one column for smaller screens.  Take the time and use your creativity to make your theme beautiful at all sizes.

You can either start with a responsive framework for your theme, learn how to design your own responsive themes, or use a responsive WordPress plugin.

Graphic showing WordPress coding standards as well as a theme template file showing code

Follow the Basic Coding Standards

When building themes, especially themes that other developers may use, you want to follow the basic WordPress coding standards.  WordPress publishes two set of standards, one for HTML and PHP and another for CSS. You can also find some comprehensive standard guides on other sites.

You want to follow these standards because it makes it easier for other WordPress developers to follow and edit your code and also because many them marketplaces require you to meet a certain level of standards compliance.

Before you release your theme, you may want to try out a plugin like the Theme-Check plugin that helps you test your code agains the basic WordPress standards.

Graphic showing the template hierarchy for WordPress files as well as code from a functions.php file

Include the Right Theme Templates

WordPress has a very clear template hierarchy of how themes should be named and how they are applied by default to different posts and pages.  With a premium theme you have to assume that over a range of users, they will want to have all of these basic templates present in their theme.

You will also want to include any custom templates that are unique to the design and functionality of your theme.  You should also learn how to use the get_template_part() function along with the naming conventions that come along with it.

Some themes, especially frameworks, go a little too far in slicing up a theme into lots of include files.  Try to balance your theme to be flexible, while not being a maze to find what you’re looking for.

Screenshot of the WooThemes Canvas Theme Options Page

Make Your Theme Easy to Customize

You can tell when you work with a theme how much thought the developer put into making the theme easy for a developer or basic site owner to customize. A balance is required here between offering too many customization options and not including enough.

Overly complex themes and overly simple themes are both frustrating to use.  Two things you can do to help with this is create a good theme options page and include thorough documentation.

Including a range of shortcodes and custom templates to choose from can help make your site easier to customize.

You should also have a few developers of various levels of skill try setting up and customizing your theme before you release it for sale.

Graphic showing the WordPress Option Tree plugin logo along with a screenshot of the plugin in use

Create a Good Theme Options Page

A theme options page allows an admin of a site to edit aspects of the theme, like the design or functionality, without having to use CSS or PHP.  Many premium themes come with quite robust theme options that actually include several pages with dozens of settings.

When creating your themes options page, only include what you think people will really use and do some testing to make sure that you have intuitively labeled and organized the settings.

The OptionTree plugin will help you create a themes options page for your theme without having to code it yourself.

Graphic showing a template for creating WordPress theme documentation

Include Detailed Documentation

Good documentation should include how to setup and configure your theme as well as how to work with some of the custom templates you may have included.  Nothing is more frustrating then purchasing a premium theme and not knowing how to change certain settings.

You can read more in depth about the art of writing good WordPress documentation and even download a documentation template to help you get started.

Most theme marketplaces require you to include quality documentation with your theme.

Logos of the top WordPress theme marketplaces where you can make money selling your themes

Decide How You Will Market Your Theme

With thousands of premium themes available today, you will want to have a clear plan for how you will market your theme so people find and purchase it. You have a few general options here:

  1. Submit your theme to theme marketplace like Mojo Themes or Theme Forest
  2. Build off a framework, like Genesis, that has an examples gallery or store that you can add your theme to
  3. Create your own site and market the theme yourself
  4. Submit a free version of your theme to WordPress.org with an option to upgrade to the premium version
  5. Do all of the above

There are pros and cons to each of these options and you’ll want to look into which option works best for you.  In general, submitting to a marketplace can help increase your audience, but you’re likely to get lost in with the large catalog of themes.  On the other hand, marketing the theme yourself will increase your profit margins but may make it harder to reach a large audience.

Whatever you decide, make sure to leverage your social and professional circles to help promote your theme.

Graphic showing a support forum thread on Theme Forest

Plan How You Will Handle Support

Listing free themes on WordPress.org makes offering support easy because WordPress has a built in support system for your to use.  Some marketplaces, like Theme Forest, also have built in support systems.

If you are building your own web site for your theme then you will likely want to have a support system in place when you release your theme.

You will also have to account for how much time you can dedicate to answering support threads and feature requests if your theme becomes popular. People who pay for themes often have the expectation that they will receive rapid and reliable support.  You do not want to get known as a theme developer who offers poor support for your themes.

Being a WordPress Theme Developer

If you follow the suggestions listed in this article you will be well on your way to being a successful theme developer.  Whether you want to sell a single theme as some passive income or you want to develop themes a majority of what you do, the tips above apply to you.

If you have other tips and suggestions for building and selling premium WordPress themes, please share them in the comments below!


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11 Responses to “10 Tips for Building and Selling a Premium WordPress Theme”

  1. There’s definately a great deal to know about this topic.
    I like all the points you have made.

  2. I’m still learning from you, while I’m improving myself.
    I definitely enjoy reading everything that is posted on your site.Keep the aarticles
    coming. I enjoyed it!

  3. Although i prefer selling themes on my own website because that helps you build a brand for long term, but if you want to kick start your journey as a theme developer then selling through sites like ThemeForest is a better option in my opinion.

  4. 3 years old posting but still relevant until today. Perhaps you could give us link or pointers on how to create a wordpress theme as well. Thanks.

  5. Still a good read although most of the stuff written here was already known to me… Mojo themes is little easier to get approved for than themeforest

  6. How do you create your theme page for selling after you have done the basics? In other words, what’s next after you have designed your page? What do you do in terms of pay pal? How does a person receive your theme page aftere it is paid for? How do you know if your site is being sold to the customers?

  7. Altaf Rahman on August 11, 2013 at 10:47 am said:

    I have developed WordPress themes based on your guidelines.

    Submit my theme to theme marketplace Creativemarket. https://creativemarket.com/Cyberspacebuilder/shop

  8. thachpham92 on May 23, 2013 at 6:32 am said:

    Thanks for nice tips. But I think “Make Your Theme Look Amazing” is not easy to follow and I will training more to improve it.

  9. If you did what Nir wanted, you would need to write a book. Hey, not a bad idea. But seriously, I noticed you didn’t mention videos, showing how the theme works, some of its options, things like that. Don’t you think that videos can play and important part in helping a buyer select a theme as well as avoiding a lot of support calls?

  10. Hey. I am trying to figure out the cost of developing a turnkey premium wordpress theme that i can use for our own purposes and to sell on one of the sites you had mentioned. Obviously this depends on the complexity and specs but could you provide me with a range (design to programming)? Thanks.

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