Don’t Hit That Buy Button: 6 Red Flags in WordPress Themes

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Don’t Hit That Buy Button: 6 Red Flags in WordPress Themes

When you activate a plugin that’s not compatible with your WordPress setup, it’s likely to be immediately apparent. If something’s not right, odds are your site will be broken in some way, right away.

Themes are a bit more complex.

If you install a theme and instantly discover it’s bad, consider yourself lucky. Because what a non standard-compliant theme can do to your site over time can be much more damaging than just a few minutes of downtime.

But with so many themes available online, how can you ensure the one you’re about to purchase is safe and secure?

Here’s a short checklist of things to avoid. If you see any of them in the theme you’re looking to buy, I urge you to look elsewhere.

1. Theme Lock-in Effect

Let’s get this one out of the way first.

  • Themes are for presenting your content.
  • Plugins are for adding features.

If a theme adds features and you use them, one of two things will happen:

  • You’ll either never be able to stop using the theme, or
  • You’ll have to find a way to transfer those features to your next theme or plugin before being able to move on to another theme

Whichever it is, it will cost you, either indirectly because you will not be able to make improvements to your website, or directly through time or money moving to another theme.

2. SEO Optimization

Another huge no-no. There’s one correct way to handle SEO for your WordPress website and it involves using a plugin. Why would anyone want to set up all the titles, metas, OpenGraph tags, Twitter cards and what not, then lose them because you wanted to move your sidebar to the left?

Just say no.

3. Shady Sources

There’s only one really legitimate place to get free WordPress themes – the official theme repository. Go anywhere else and you’re installing it at your own risk. shady characterEvery single theme you can find on goes through an extremely thorough review process and gets checked manually by a Theme Review Team member and admin before going live.

Commercial themes don’t go through this review process, so it’s best to buy from well-known vendors. This commercially supported GPL themes list is a great place to start.

4. Doing Too Many Things

Yes, this can actually be a bad thing. If the WordPress theme appears to be a jack of all trades, it’s likely to be a master of none. You’re probably only going to use a fraction of the features offered. You are better off looking for themes that do just the things you need, as it’s more likely to do them well.

5. Support for Old Versions of WordPress

WordPress evolves constantly. Supporting obsolescence can result in slower performance and could mean your theme is not taking advantage of the latest updates.

As an example, the official rule for free themes is that themes must not offer backward compatibility for more than two prior major WordPress versions.

That does not mean the theme is supposed to not work with older versions, but that it should not jump through any extra hoops to make sure it will work with a WordPress version released years ago.

6. Incorrectly Capitalize WordpPress

It is verboten to get capitalization wrong when it comes to the name WordPress—specifically, the P needs to be uppercase. There’s even a WordPress function that filters post content and title and converts Wordpress to WordPress, I actually had to make “p” bold here just to bypass it.

This may seem pedantic, but think of it as a secret sign of the developers who are in the know and connected to the WordPress community.

No big deal for an average user or layperson, but if a theme vendor doesn’t get this one thing right in their description, landing page etc., it’s a bad omen that they may not be keeping up with WordPress standards and/or they are careless with details.

Final Words of Advice

If you keep an eye out for these six things to be wary of in WordPress themes, then you should be fine. If you want extra credit, check out the Theme Guidelines to further evaluate whether your WordPress theme is following best practices.


Image Credits

Featured Image: pedrosala via Shutterstock
Image #1: BortN66 via Shutterstock

Slobodan Manic
A web developer with a passion for all things WordPress, he is also a co-founder of ThematoSoup, a themes and plug-ins development company, and a... Read Full Bio
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  • Rob Thomas

    2 and 4 are ones I learned the hard way. I used SEO on a theme a long time ago and learned that lesson. I also had a theme that had its own icons and used them for a variety of links. I eventually switched themes but wanted to keep my icons, so I had create a css file and recreate the links with the new classes. That is how I should have set it up in the first place.

    • Slobodan Manic

      Thanks for commenting!

      2 and 4 (and probably one) are potentially the most harmful things a theme can do to your website. It’s even more dangerous because when you realize something bad has happened, it takes a lot of effort to fix it.

  • Shery

    i liked your 6 points that you discussed, but i think we should also choose that theme that should have built in multiple ad places for the adsense, specially in the header area. any how i loved your tip of incorrectly Capitalize WordpPress ..!

    • Slobodan Manic


      Ads are one of the things that make it very difficult to say if they should be handled by themes or plugins. You don’t want to lose all the ads when you change a theme, but then again, if you use a plugin it’s not easy to display them exactly where you want.

      The way I like to do it is use a plugin to add any code that needs to be in head section of the website, then use text widgets to insert ads. Hopefully this will be easier in the future, when standardized hooks are used. There’s already an effort to make it happen, and as far as I know Genesis framework has its own hooks that are used in all Genesis themes.

      This way plugin can insert their own code into the hooks, so for example you can add anything you want just above the header, below the header etc.

      I recently released a free theme that has full support for these hooks, and a free plugin that allows you to add anything you want to any of the hooks:

      Gumbo (theme) –
      THA Hooks Interface –

  • Zubair ismail

    Well there are many things that we should take care of…Thanks for letting us know of some important ones 🙂

    • Slobodan Manic

      Thanks for commenting, Zubair.

  • Tamar

    Wait, so if I don’t know how to build/design a website, what do I use if not a WP theme??? Eventually, I am hoping that I’ll be able to transfer features (like comments left on blog posts). Are the WP themes that WP creates, the only themes that I can rest assured about not getting “locked” into? I’m so confused.

    • Slobodan Manic


      It’s not WordPress themes in general that are the problem, it’s WordPress themes that try to do too many things at once. All standard compliant WordPress themes, and any theme you available at theme repository or at is standard compliant, are just fine.

      The themes that try to reinvent the wheel by replacing WordPress built-in funcionality with their own custom features that do the same thing, or try to do things that should absolutely be handled by plugins instead, they are the problematic ones.

      I wrote more about this here:

  • Rohan

    Nice tips. Two things to keep in mind are that the attribution links should be set to nofollow by the theme developers. If not, when you start using a wordpress theme, make sure the footer links / attribution links are nofollow and do not link to some spammy domain in any case.

    Second, check the number of separate JS and CSS files in the theme (quick way to do it is just view-source of the demo site where the theme you are about to purchase is installed on). The less the better.

    • Slobodan Manic


      You’re 100% right on both those things.

      Number of JS and CSS files some of the top selling themes have is just mind-blowing and for most buyers it’s something they are completely unaware of.

      Check out slides from my presentation at WordPress Mettup Arvika, in slide 9 you can see the difference in number of JS and CSS requests between a fine tuned starter theme (Underscores) and a top selling super-bloated theme:

    • Slobodan Manic

      P.S. I really like how you customized 2014 theme at your website.

  • Bhavia

    This is a must read for all WordPress beginners. Great tips and a wonderful resource material. Thanks for sharing

    • Slobodan Manic

      Thanks Bhavia, happy to share the tips.

  • Reginald

    Hi Slobodan,

    Thanks for such tips. I love the last part which I have absolutely no idea!

    I am very skeptical when it comes to themes. Usually stick to Genesis Framework only.

    Thanks for writing once again!

    • Slobodan Manic

      Hey Reginald,

      Yep, we’re like that, capital P is a huge deal in WordPress community 🙂

  • Riley Jackson

    Great article Slobodan! I use WordPress Themes on most of my sites and this is good information to have. I really didn’t know about the P in WordPress however, I always used upper-case to spell it out.

  • Dan

    I was hoping to find here a bottom line advise regarding what are some of the best theme frameworks or layout builders add-ons, that a beginner can safely use.

    Can you throw here a few combinations of a good theme plugs layout builders like Visual Composer or similar ?

  • Carlin Stanton

    Great article!

  • Lawrence Berry


    Insightful information here. I think a lot of people would be better off just using the WordPress themes that comes with WordPress. If not, then have a professional design one for you. The last one is actually quite funny, but true. If someone doesn’t pay attention to the details to make them look legit in every way possible, they are probably a lousy service. Great service come from people who care about their work, and that is one way to tell. Good post!


  • Ainie Hashmi

    Well for my case, i never purchase a wordpress theme untill i have checked everything in that theme. Including its design, texture, structure, its widgets, menue and logo style and place. Also footer is included. Well i think that is everything 😉