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Critical Guidelines for Wordpress Template Creation

Posted on 12.09.2014

There are currently around 2,700+ free WordPress themes and 31,000+ free plugins to choose from. The directory keeps growing each month. Whether the purpose is personal or commercial, users can easily grab a free theme with no money involved and no strings attached.

So if WordPress is for free, why do people bother with premium templates? Ultimately, they want more than what free themes can offer including support, regular updates, clean codes, versatility and more features. Premium template buyers want to get their money's worth and don’t want to be bothered with complications like catastrophic browser errors because of mediocre and sloppy codes. When they opt for a $75 template, they want it to work as smoothly as possible.

If you're a developer looking to navigate the competitive and challenging world of WordPress Premium template creation, there are key considerations to keep in mind. From design to accessibility, code quality, security and license, below are critical guidelines to adhere to in order to guarantee client satisfaction.

Avoid Starting from Scratch

Two of the first things clients assess when considering a WordPress template are design and functionality. Premium templates need to look better than free themes and of course, have advanced functionality. If you can't pull this off, why even bother developing a full scale WordPress theme, right?

Start with a good concept and use the fundamentals of good design as your foundation. The structure of your theme’s designs which cover layout, color schemes and typography should be carefully considered. But more importantly, all aspects of the theme should be flexible and easily modified in accordance with individual preference and needs. Clients buy themes, after all, so they can customize and tweak it to perfection based on their point of view.

While good design is critical to how your theme will fare in the marketplace, making one from scratch is rarely recommended. Not only will this approach take time but it is extremely impractical. To speed things up, there are basic themes and frameworks you can take advantage. If you want to make changes like add a sideboard or menu, for instance, you can use child themes which allow you to expand and enhance the functionality of a parent theme. Just make sure the parent theme has clean and proper coding. If you want more say on a theme's style starter themes are perfect. These themes generally feature minimal to no styling affording you the opportunity to develop a full feature theme that adapts to what you want and need.

Adhere to Coding Standards

Just as important as design and functionality is the quality of your code. Before writing your first line of code, make sure you know what the standards are. Poor codes are going to be a major source of errors which will only lead to client frustration.

Doing it your way without paying attention to standards may seem easier but the consequences may be detrimental to your final output. As a developer, your goal is to pass the W3C HTML or CSS validation. By respecting HTML and CSS standards you ensure quality, clean codes and compatibility with cross browsers.

In addition to meeting HTML and CSS standards, you'll also need to have your theme in sync with WordPress coding standards. This is meticulous work but it's one of the best ways to minimize errors. When it comes to PHP, JS, CSS and HTML quality, WordPress expect themes to be free from notices, warnings or errors, as well as JavaScript errors.

WordPress also require all templates to have a valid HTML document HEAD or a valid DOCTYPE declaration. As mentioned earlier, WordPress recommend developers to use current recognized versions of HTML and CSS. You can test if your theme is current using either the W3C XHTM Validator + W3C CSS Validator Method. When it comes to name-spacing, clean code quality means proper usage of theme-slug for various purposes, whether it’s textdomain for translation, a unique slug or a prefix in the public namespace.

The key with code quality is to keep tweaking by adhering to standards and until it works perfectly.

Incorporate User Options Wisely

As an attempt to provide users with everything they need, developers seem to think that including every available and possible setting is the key. It makes sense but it's highly impractical. It's true that users want more options and control over their themes but too many may also frustrate your clients. When choosing which user options to include, think about what your theme will need and how it will improve overall user experience. As a simple rule to follow, provide an option for changes when the feature isn't usual or normal.

To make it easier for you and on your user's part to customize themes, you may want to consider incorporating the Theme Customizer. Rather than the theme options page available in many WordPress templates, the Customizer is simple, flexible and designed to improve end user experience. It includes a set of built-in controls for features like dropdown selects, checkboxes and text among other things.

Another great way to provide users with options while sparing them from frustration is to add an editor style. This addition will make themes look clean and organized on the insiders. Users need not align images or preview their posts before publishing. To add an editor style, simply call add_editor_style during the setup of the theme.

Test and Demo Theme Functionality

At this point, your theme is almost ready. All you need to do now is conduct a series of tests and use the right tools to ensure that your WordPress template is impeccably made. To avoid any catastrophic failures like a browser error perhaps, use theme check to test your template. The plugin will tell you what's wrong and what needs to be tweaked before submitting it to the WordPress theme directory.

We already know HTML plays a very important role with end user experience. To make sure that all HTML codes and elements are clean and in place, you can use the WP Dummy Content tool. The plugin allows you to test content formatting by adding posts, pages and categories giving you a clear picture of how your theme will look when full of content. Required for all WordPress themes are the Debug Bar, Debug Bar Extender and Debug Bar Console plugins which investigate de-bugging info like queries and cache. Also helpful is the WordPress Beta Tester which ensures that your template is compatible with the current and future WordPress releases.

Once your theme has been fully tested for functionality, you’re down to the final step which is to release your theme as GPL. This is another WordPress requirement where they emphasize that themes should be GPL compliant.

Offer Support and Regular Updates

No matter how much testing you've put your WordPress template through, there are still going to be instances when errors may occur. If you understand user demands and expectations, errors no matter how minor may lead to dissatisfaction. You don't want that.

To avoid losing your clients and a possible repeat customer, make sure to offer regular theme updates and support. Regular updates are the best way to keep up with the changes in new WordPress versions and releases. If you're selling premium WordPress templates especially, updates are part of cementing your reputation in the market. With updates, you also ensure that your themes are going to last for a long time.


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To avoid losing your clients and a possible repeat customer, make sure to offer regular theme updates and support. Regular updates are the best way to keep up with the changes in new Wordpress versions and releases. If you're selling premium Wordpress templates especially, updates are part of cementing your reputation in the market.

 

WordPress loves their users

With competition getting fiercer among developers, it has become even harder to stand out in the WordPress template marketplace. Clients are now demanding higher quality and better functionality. But you don’t have to complicate things to keep up with what your clients wants. At the end of the day, WordPress template creation is still about abiding with critical guidelines that will guarantee performance, functionality and overall high quality end user experience.

About the Author: Scott Donald runs CreativDigital a design agency working extensively with WordPress design and online marketing.

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