WooThemes Review: Feature-Rich Themes that are Pricey and Boring
Headquarters: Cape Town, South Africa
When Adii Pienaar, Magnus Jepson and Mark Forrester met online, little did the trio from different countries know that their business would grow into an international team of designers, developers and support staff – as well as a household name amongst those of us in the WordPress community.
The name WooThemes, according to a WebDesignDev interview, was Magnus’ idea. He came up with the name during the time when “w00t” was popular online. WooThemes combines w00t, WordPress and themes.
It hasn’t been all fun and games for the company, which created the well-known WooCommerce plugin. It has also courted controversy.
In 2008 when WooThemes celebrated its first birthday, the company posted a late birthday blog post and announced its first ever theme, the Premium News Theme, would be available for free. The move upset customers who had previously paid for the theme.
In a 2010 interview with Mixergy, Pienaar revealed that WooThemes was making more than $2 million a year. He said he was willing to give up some of the company’s privacy to show entrepreneurs that there was another way to build a successful online company and to show that you don’t have to live in California, accept funding or give everything on your site for free to be successful.
On August 1, WooThemes announced controversial changes to its pricing structure that upset customers. After promising lifetime updates and support to users, the theme seller took it all away and “lifetime” was redefined as “two years.” The company also upped its pricing.
The announcement spawned the creation of WP Avengers, a group of WooCommerce/WordPress developers who say they are fed up with WooThemes policy changes and prices and want to make WooCommerce extension more affordable.
Themes are sold as packages or as part of a club subscription.
- Standard Package – $99 – Unlimited domain usage, two bonus themes, one year support and updates
- Developer Package – $179 – Unlimited domain usage, three bonus themes, one year support and updates, layered Photoshop PSD
- Standard Club Subscription – $199 startup fee + $29 a month. Includes access to all WordPress themes, minimum one new theme per month, support access, regular theme updates, unlimited concurrent domain uses, does not include Photoshop files
- Developer Club Subscription – $299 startup fee + $39 a month. Includes access to all WordPress themes, minimum one new theme per month, support access, regular theme updates, unlimited concurrent domain and includes Photoshop files
If you choose to buy a Club Subscription, you’re billed monthly and updates and support are only available until you cancel your membership. There’s no contract so you can cancel at any time. You can also re-start your subscription at any time without paying the start-up fee again.
All themes purchases comes with a 12-month licence and unlimited domain usage. You can renew your license and get a 50 per cent discount within 60 days of your license expiring.
Now here is where it gets tricky, thanks to controversial changes announced on August 1.
If you bought a theme before August 1, which included lifetime support and updates, you can choose to keep those terms or “support” the new licensing system. Moving over to the new system means you get updates and support for two years. After two years you need to buy a new license. So… you’re basically being asked to give up your lifetime support.
If you sign up for a package or subscription and for whatever reason you’re not happy, WooThemes offers a 30-day money back guarantee. This guarantee also gives you an opportunity to try out a theme and get your money back if you’re not happy.
Alternatively, if you like what you’ve bought and want more, you can upgrade your theme purchases in the “My Account” section of the website.
WooThemes offers a collection of 84 themes for all kinds of uses – blogs, multimedia, magazine, business, app, Tumblog, WooCommerce and personal.
All WooThemes themes use the WooFramework. The framework offers basic theme options for customizing your site quickly and easily without having to dig into code, but it doesn’t go as far as allowing you to drag and drop elements or build pages. It does, however, allow you to change fonts, colors, switch sidebars from left to right and edit your footer and contact page.
There are a lot of other features available for many of the themes, such as sliders, custom post types, widgets, headers and Google map integration.
There is dummy content available for all themes so if you want to see up your site to look just like the demo, you can do just that.
Other WooFramework selling points include consistent code and structure (you can copy and paste modules across themes), one-click upgrades, custom branding, shortcodes, localized for translations and custom page templates.
Canvas is WooThemes flagship themes with options to change just about every element of its layout and style. According to WooThemes, its used by more than 20,000 customers.
WooThemes has retired a large number of its themes, 59 to be precise. It’s a bit unnerving to see the long list of themes, all of which are no longer updated. Support for these themes ends six months after they’re retired so if you have any issues you’re on your own.
All WooThemes themes are compatible with WordPress MultiSite. In fact, all of the demo sites for the themes run on WPMS. As far as licensing goes, you are allowed to use their themes on an unlimited number of domains and on client sites. Just keep in mind that support that comes with your membership does not extend to your clients.
WooThemes also offers five plugins, including its well-known eCommerce plugin WooCommerce. There are 270 extensions for WooCommerce currently available, which allow you to add added functionality to the plugin.
WooThemes has some nice themes, I guess… Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m not a big fan of their design. When it comes to WooThemes, it’s all about functionality and features and not so much about stunning design.
According to the Meet the Team section of the WooThemes site, there are only a couple of designers on staff. However, the theme seller does collaborate with outside designers. Pienaar says the company does this because it “helps out with the capacity in terms of designing new stuff, but also supplements our own design work in keeping the style and ideas fresh.”
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So far, WooThemes has collaborated with 18 designers from around the world on themes such as Spectrum, Empire, Kaboodle and City Guide, just to name a few.
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The themes are easy to install and use. The theme options make it easy to do things like upload a header image, enable a slider and display elements like featured content, testimonials and latest blogs posts.
Installing demo content makes it even easier to get started because, let’s face it, it’s a bit confronting installing a theme and refreshing your site only to see an empty shell of a design. Setting up the demo content helps you get a better idea of what your site will look like when it’s finished and what elements you need to change to get it looking like you envisioned.
I installed a number of themes and found them easy to customize in the theme options. However, you do need to have images and text ready to load onto your site because the themes with just some basic content are not enough.
The My Account section of the website is also straight forward to use. When you login you’ll be taken to your dashboard where there are details of your recent order and popular themes, plugins and extensions. There are also ads for some of WooThemes’ premium products, such as the Canvas theme and the WooSlider plugin.
You can also access free downloads, your subscription downloads, orders and licenses as well as update your billing address and personal details like your password.
So you’ve bought, downloaded and activated a theme… and now you’re stuck. Or a slider image isn’t aligning properly. Or your header image is missing.
There’s no need to panic… just yet. WooThemes offers a comprehensive Documentation Portal, which includes all you need to know about the company’s themes, WooCodex, extensions, Sensei coursework, WooCommerce and other plugins and site features.
Each of the theme documentation pages includes a theme overview, details on homepage options, how to set up your blog, adding images to posts and using custom widgets and other features.
If the documentation isn’t enough to help you with any issues, the Knowledge Base contains articles and troubleshooting informations, while the Community Forum is filled with other WooThemes users also looking for help. It’s important to note that the forums are not moderated by WooThemes staff.
If you’re really stuck and need help, the best thing to do is fire off a support ticket to the motley crew featured on the front page. I have to say, it’s a nice touch to feature pictures of staff on the homepage and support page. It lets users see who they’re dealing with – and it’s definitely better than using a stock image like some sites.
I contacted the support team to test their response times and received a response the next day. While the reply addressed my issues, it was a bit slow.
I checked out WooThemes Twitter page and it turns out slow responses aren’t rare:
@abombelli Sorry about that, I’ve re-assigned it now so it can be answered today!
— WooThemes (@woothemes) September 10, 2013
WooThemes also answers support questions via Twitter and on its Facebook page.
If you prefer videos, there is a comprehensive library of videos about everything from customizing the Canvas theme to managing comments and upgrading your theme.
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.
The Canvas theme is WooThemes’ flagship theme and is highly customizable. It boasts 100+ options, such as advanced layout controls so you can set the width of your site from 600px to 2000px, a responsive layout, Google fonts and portfolio functionality.
I didn’t find any major issues with speed. In fact, the theme scored above 85, which, according to Google, indicates the theme performs well. The CSS could be “minified,” but that’s really about it. Other factors that affected the theme’s score related to caching and other server and script optimizations.
Show Off is WooThemes’ latest release. It is designed as a blogging or business content-focussed theme with a customizable homepage.
There weren’t any problems with speed. Show Off tested well and 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 WooThemes review account just like any other customer – via the sign-up link on the homepage. We didn’t let WooThemes in on the fact we were reviewing their services to avoid any special treatment.
Have you used WooThemes? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
Edit: 13/09/13 – This post has been updated with new information about customer service.
- Themes are feature-rich and customizable.
- The Community Forums allow users to help each other out and ask advice about customizations.
- The large number of retired themes – all of which are no longer supported or updated – doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
- Themes can be fiddly for new users and would take time for them to set up.
- The designs aren't exciting or inspiring and don't push modern design trends.