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ThemeZilla Review: Elegant Designs and Not-So-Friendly Support

ThemeZilla

ThemeZilla
Orman Clark
Orman Clark works from his home in the United Kingdom.

Headquarters: United Kingdom

Employees: 4

Designer Orman Clark launched ThemeZilla in May 2012 as a shop window for his hugely successful ThemeForest business.

Clark became ThemeForest’s third elite author in September 2012, surpassing $1 million worth of sales.

Clark’s story is a heartwarming one. It’s best read over at Envato.

TL;DR: Clark started out as a graphic designer in the British Armed Forces and went on to use WordPress to build client websites. He eventually quit his day job even though he had a newborn baby and started working on themes full-time, selling his work on ThemeForest, before setting up ThemeZilla.

He also runs Premium Pixels, a free design resource.

In April this year, Clark launched Dunked, which allows creative folk to build a free online portfolio

Cost

ThemeZilla Buy
When you click “Buy” you will be taken to the ThemeForest website to complete your purchase and download your shiny new theme.

ThemeZilla sells its themes through ThemeForest for a flat $50 fee.

The licensing terms are confusing. On the ThemeForest site it says that each theme purchase is good for one installation of the theme – one license, one use. But after initially publishing this review, Clark confirmed that the themes may be used on multiple domains.

A Tumblr-style theme, Launch, is available for free.

If you’re not happy with any themes you buy, you’ll need to contact ThemeForest to sort out a refund. According to ThemeForest’s refund policy, refunds are only issued if a theme is malfunctioning, corrupt, or does not work as described.

For this review I downloaded ThemeZilla’s latest theme, Sparks.

Features

ThemeZilla sells 22 themes for a variety of uses – agency, business, blog, magazine, photography, portfolio and Tumblog.

All themes comes with lifetime support, and in his case lifetime does actually mean lifetime. It’s not two years, it’s not ten years – it’s for life, unlike some other theme shops.

There are a range of features that come with many of the themes – custom background, multimedia support, post format support, filterable portfolio, accent color control, ad management and sliders.

ThemeZilla designs
ThemeZilla offers a collection of 22 designs, six of which are responsive.

Just six of the 22 themes are responsive, which is disappointing given the overall modern look of the designs.

All themes use the ZillaFramework, which provides backend theme options, custom page templates, localisation support, custom logo upload, custom widgets, automatic image resizing, cross browser support and SEO settings.

The custom widgets  allow you to display video, Flickr photos, menus, latest tweets, ads and testimonials.

If you need a hand customizing your theme after purchase, ThemeZilla refers all tweak requests to WerkPress.

It isn’t clear on the ThemeZilla site whether themes are multisite compatible. I contacted support to find out more about this and received the reply that they weren’t but, “they should still all work though and should require major work.”

Not exactly a helpful or insightful reply – and that’s the reply word-for-word. It would have been nice to have received more of an explanation about what exactly any major work would involve.

So I tested Sparks on a Multisite install and ran into all kinds of weird errors messages.

However, after initially publishing this review, Clark confirmed that all themes are in fact Multisite compatible. The demo site at ThemeZilla.com even runs on a Multisite installation.

Aesthetics

Clean and minimalistic is the best way to describe ThemeZilla’s design. The themes make good use of white space and are uncluttered, using splashes of color to complement the flat design, particularly for the newer themes.

The themes look modern and fresh. The Blox theme, in particular, makes a bold statement with solid blocks of color and a big, flat icon set.

Then there’s the Viewport theme with its massive fullwidth header slider and crisp fonts and the Hoarder them with its Tumblr-esque design and cute demo images.

I really like the simple aesthetic, though it would be great to see ThemeZilla push the boundaries further with some parallax themes and fullscreen photography and video themes.

Check out some of ThemeZilla’s themes:

Sparks: INFO | DEMO

ThemeZilla Sparks themes

Blox: INFO | DEMO

ThemeZilla Blox theme

Volumes: INFO | DEMO

ThemeZilla Volumes theme

Usability

When you install and activate a theme a menu item will appear in the WordPress admin backend from where you can manage theme options, theme updates and visit the ThemeZilla Support Forum.

As I mentioned above, all themes use the ZillaFramework, which provides general, styling and homepage options, as well as portfolio options if you’re using the Sparks theme. I would assume other themes would have other theme options available, but I wasn’t able to test and confirm this.

The theme options are really easy to navigate and allow basic customizations, such as the ability to upload a logo, switch your sidebar layout and add a favicon.

ZillaFramework
The ZillaFramework offers basic options for personalising your WordPress site.

I found Sparks easy to set up and didn’t run into any major issues.

As for the ThemeZilla website, I really like the filterable portfolio on the themes page, which makes it easier to sort through the themes and find what you’re looking for.

The homepage is clean and easy to navigate. I also like that the About page features photos and a short blurb about each staff member. I think it’s really important to personalise your business so customers know they are dealing with other human beings, not just a faceless company.

When you buy a theme you’re taken to the ThemeForest website where you will need to set up an account (if you haven’t already) if you want to buy a ThemeZilla product. At first I found this annoying, but because I’ve used ThemeForest before I already knew what to expect. Plus, buying on ThemeForest it means any ThemeZilla themes you buy are listed in your ThemeForest account and you can go back there to download them.

Customer Service

Support is available to verified customers only in the theme shop’s forum. Any support requests made by email, via Twitter or Facebook are redirected back to the forum.

ThemeZilla Support Forum
Support staff are quick to tick.

ThemeZilla is based in the UK and works to GMT so if you’re having problems with a theme and need help but you live in another timezone it’s good to keep the time difference in mind if you’re expecting a quick response.

A quick glance over the forum shows a sea of green ticks indicating resolved support requests. So I started a new discussion to test out support. I did get a reply, though I’m not sure exactly how long it took. I couldn’t find an option to receive an email when a reply is posted to a topic, but apparently there is one. While each topic has a date stamp there are no time stamps.

The response I got was straight to the point, no mucking around, not even a “hello”. The topic was even ticked as resolved before I had a chance to reply. It made me feel like I was rushed out of a room and the door quickly closed behind me.

I understand that support staff are busy, but it doesn’t take much to make people feel welcome – and encourage them to stick around and buy more products.

Speed

I tested two themes using Google PageSpeed Insights – Sparks.

PageSpeed Insights measures the performance of a page for desktop and mobile devices and provides a rating from 0 to 100 points. A higher score is better, with a score of 85 or above indicating the page is performing well.

PageSpeed Insights measure how a page can improve its performance on:

  • Time to above-the-fold load: Elapsed time from the moment a user requests a new page and to the moment the above-the-fold content is rendered by the browser.
  • Time to full page load: Elapsed time from the moment a user requests a new page to the moment the page is fully rendered by the browser.

Sparks

ThemeZilla Sparks PageSpeed Insights

Sparks is a responsive agency theme featuring a clean, flat and minimalist design. The theme boasts a flexible homepage (any kind of content you want, i.e. text, video, images), custom background for each portfolio project, custom widgets, post format support, page templates.

Sparks performed really well, scoring 87 out of 100. According to Google, a score above 85 is a good thing.

The theme ticked all the boxes as far as minifying code and compression goes. Some Javascipt slowed the site down a little, but any issues were more to do with caching and other server and script optimizations.

It’s important to keep in mind that when you install and activate a theme, it’s then up to you to optimize your WordPress site to give your theme the best chance to perform well, i.e. set up caching, minimise scripts and think about getting CDN.

Disclaimer: In putting together this review, we bought our ThemeZilla review themes just like any other customer – via the Buy link on the Sparks theme page. We didn’t let ThemeZilla in on the fact we were reviewing their services to avoid any special treatment.

Have you used ThemeZilla? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

Edit: This review was updated on 20/9/13 with new information from ThemeZilla founder Orman Clark regarding Multisite compatibility and licensing.

Image credits: Envato.

The Good

  • Beautiful themes featuring flat, clean and elegant design.
  • It's easy to set up themes and the theme options offer basic customization.
  • The Sparks theme performed well when tested for speed.

The Bad

  • Customer support is not all that friendly or helpful.

Our Verdict

  • Cost:
  • Features:
  • Aesthetics:
  • Usability:
  • Customer Service:
  • Speed:
  • Overall: