There are countless WordPress themes – many are available for free or cheap for a flat fee around 60 €. Most WordPress themes make the same mistakes – although the WordPress theme requirements clearly state what a theme has to do – and what not. In addition to numerous technical specifications, there is one crucial dogma that determines whether a theme serves its purpose: Separation of Concerns.
Separation of Concerns
Design vs. Functionality
Themes have the task to represent the design of a website – and not the functionality. Whenever the question arises as to whether a function could also be mapped via a plugin, the probability is high that the function does not belong in the theme.
The reason: the dependence on a theme should be as minimal as possible.
A design may not be suitable for your business tomorrow – but the functionalities of a website should be preserved across multiple theme generations if possible.
Almost every function that is mapped via the theme is therefore a technical liability, which means that the function has to be re-implemented at the latest when the theme is changed – usually resulting in very high migration costs.
On the other hand, for features that increase the added value of a theme, companion plugins are recommended – through them, a theme can be loaded with additional features. Good companion plugins will continue to work even if the theme is changed.
Don’t be dazzled
When we relaunch websites, we sometimes have to painstakingly determine which functions are mapped via the previous theme – and which via plugins. The latter can usually be reused – functions that are mapped via the theme must first be recognized and then usually redeveloped or replaced by plugins.
This leads to enormous delays and high expenses – usually the entire website has to be developed from scratch.
This extends the time from project start to go live – if data changes in the meantime, e.g. for online stores on the live website, the go-live preparation and implementation alone means several days of effort – with the right theme you can save this effort for the next relaunch.
A WordPress theme should therefore adhere to WordPress standards as much as possible, have hardly any functionalities of its own and map the necessary ones as perfectly as possible.
Almost any functionality can be mapped via plugins – so depending on a theme is actually unnecessary. Since the introduction of the WordPress Block Editor Gutenberg, the numerous PageBuilders, such as Elementor, have also become unnecessary – thanks to Gutenberg, there is now a uniform, cross-theme standard for the content of a WordPress website.
Concentration on the essentials
Hardly any extension is as closely intertwined with the WordPress system as a theme – it is the glue that holds a website together and ideally gives numerous configuration options for the different website areas.
Due to the fast release cycles of WordPress, theme authors already have their work cut out here to keep up – the switch to the Gutenberg block editor alone was tantamount to a paradigm shift and forced many theme authors to rethink if their theme was to remain compliant with WordPress standards.
At worst, developer hours go into features you’ll never need – and new WordPress standards are delayed or never implemented.
When choosing a theme, also pay attention to whether it receives permanent updates – and which areas are mentioned particularly frequently in the release notes. This can be an indication of what the developers are focusing on – WordPress standards or features that are unimportant to you.
Themes vs Plugins
Strict separation of tasks – design relevant in themes, functionality in plugins, abruptly reduces future efforts. If this is part of the website concept right from the start, the later laborious separation during a website relaunch is omitted.
Tasks of a theme
- Color Templates
- Templates and Styles
- Header layout
- Footer layout
- Positioning of elements, such as menus or sidebars
Tasks of plugins
- Elements, such as sliders, forms or embeddings – ideally as Gutenberg blocks.
- Functions such as eCommerce, tracking or interfaces
- data processing
Themes with high feature density regularly lead to feature creep, i.e. have so many features combined that they become hardly maintainable – the overview is lost and it is no longer clear which components are actually needed.
At the latest at the time of the relaunch, the processes or functions of a theme must first be recorded and newly implemented.
Conceptual errors are difficult to solve in retrospect – usually only through a costly relaunch.
Opt for a WordPress theme that is as slim as possible and see a possible maintenance and migration hell in every feature that a theme offers.
At the latest with the next relaunch – and it will come for sure – you pay on it, if you have chosen a WordPress theme that has led them through countless functions into a dependency.
Especially with premium themes, i.e. purchase themes that you can buy for slim money, there is a real competition which theme offers the most features – after all, many features read well, you get more for the money it feels like.
Exactly then you are building on sand – but a theme is not a foundation, it is just a framework for presenting the functions that you should map via plugins.
With our PageSpeed 100 WordPress Theme SV100, we ask ourselves the question every day in development: what can go away. The slimmer our theme, the longer you will enjoy it.