The Best WordPress Themes
It’s the question I would ask myself quite often. I was never sure if I should just grab a free theme off the WordPress repository or go with a paid theme. If it was paid, do I shell out for the developer’s license?
The final straw on using free themes, besides the limits imposed by not forking over cash for the premium version, came when I was going through a modification tutorial on YouTube. The video was two years old and, as I neared the end of the project, the entire site broke. I checked the comments and, sure enough, the latest comments revealed how everyone was winding up with broken sites. Hours of our lives were wasted on our projects.
That was when I decided that I was going to bite the bullet and pay for themes that I could use in my projects. The criteria were along the lines of support in terms of support desk, documentation and tutorials. Other criteria included value, like an option to purchase a developer’s license, and ease of use.
After years of tinkering with all kinds of themes and websites, I find I’m only using two basic themes these days; StudioPress Themes and the Socrates Theme. Now owned and operated by WP Engine, StudioPress Themes are child themes built on the Genesis Framework. Socrates was originally the brainchild of Joel Comm and Dan Nickerson. Dan took over the business and has rebuilt the theme while maintaining its ease of use and customization.
Let’s take a look at why these are the only two theme frameworks I use these days.
Reasons for Using Both Themes
WordPress Engine and StudioPress have expressed a strong commitment to keeping the Genesis Framework and child themes up to date. They recently passed this commitment litmus test through the updated PHP iterations and the WordPress Gutenberg updates in WP 5.0+ with flying colors. There is quite a bit of documentation available for each child theme and their support team will work with you to get your site’s theme back on track.
As far as Socrates goes, let me just say that I don’t think Dan Nickerson ever sleeps. I recently sent a message to Support and, surprisingly, he was the one that answered the call, going back and forth with me and his programmer via email over a few hours, eventually releasing an update. The theme recently caught the attention of some affiliate gurus and sales took off so, hopefully, Dan will bring some more help to the table and he can at least take a nap every now and then.
Suffice it to say, both of these themes are supported very well. Now, let’s take a look at the differences.
Reasons for using StudioPress Themes and the Genesis Framework
A little information is dangerous and this is truly the case when it comes to taking on clients. They think that because they can publish a post, they can rearrange the navigation bar and “fix” the footer. Genesis themes are designed in a linear fashion, allowing third-party developers to contribute “add-ons”. If my client doesn’t need to be messing with customized email forms, they don’t have access to email forms.
The other thing is that many of my clients didn’t want a full-on designer. I kept hearing, “Can’t I just get a simple, one-page site?” Well, not with compliance issues the way they are these days, no. What I would do is point them in the direction of the StudioPress themes page. I would tell them to narrow it down to at least three and then, we’d discuss the options available and which themes were best-suited to their business. I would specifically tell them not to purchase a theme because I have developer’s rights and the theme is included in their fee. I never ran into a client that, after a little personalization, wasn’t thrilled with their decision and I was thrilled that there were fewer things they could edit and break.
(Apologies here to my designer friends. You know, if a client wants a custom site, I got your back.)
If you’ve ever been short on cash, you probably know that, once you know what you’re doing, flipping new websites is easy money. The biggest trick is to keep costs down while creating greater value for the buyer. StudioPress allows you to transfer the site with a child theme built on the Genesis framework. Genesis is widely known and many buyers will probably have their own developers’ licenses which means they have access to many child themes already.
By contrast, the Socrates theme is non-transferable. That is, your buyer must have their own license to have access to the theme updates, tutorials, etc. A developer’s license only gives you the right to put the theme on multiple sites owned by you and your clients, so, either you or the buyer has to purchase another license to continue using the theme upon transfer. While the cost of the Socrates theme is minimal, especially in comparison to the StudioPress lineup, this cost is magnified on a short flip that will probably sell for less than $300.00 and, more likely, less than $200.00.
Reasons for Using the Socrates Theme
Let’s face it, if your site is slow to load, it doesn’t matter what your site looks like because no one will stick around, waiting to see it. A slow site means your Time on Site metrics are going to diminish, lowering your rankings in the search engines. With the Socrates, you never have to worry about this theme being the cause of your site speed issues. It’s one of the fastest loading themes in all the land.
Socrates ungates practically everything that’s already built into WordPress. I’ve never seen so many options, especially when coupled with the Socrates plugin. In fact, there have been times when I’m working on a page and I’ll look at the sidebar for options such as “hide title” or “hide footer” and realize that, since I’m not using the Socrates Theme, the option isn’t there.
This came into play recently while I was working on a landing page that was to reside on this site. After thinking about adding a separate CSS class to hide titles, I finally just decided it was easier to install “Genesis Toggle Title” by Bill Erickson.
It’s quite easy to make modifications on a per page/post basis with the Socrates theme. I recently canceled my license with a page building software as it was no longer necessary with this setup. As anyone who has worked with WordPress for a while knows, your plugin list can get out of hand quickly when trying to do things your theme doesn’t handle natively. This rarely happens with Socrates and its own plugin. Let’s discuss this plugin for a minute.
Socrates Toolkit Plugin
A license for the Socrates Theme gives you access to the Socrates Plugin and this little gem is a shortcoder’s dream machine, adding in style CSS without much effort. I used it for my landing page tutorial. It gives you creative control over panels, buttons, custom menus, alignment, timers, full-width sections, and, everyone’s favorite villain in WordPress, columns! If you know a bit about basic HTML, you’ll get even more out of this plugin.
The choices here come down to the goals for your site. If you need something that is mostly done for you, including the aesthetics, the vast array of child themes that are offered by StudioPress and the Genesis Framework are a good choice. If you consistently flip low-priced sites, the Genesis Developer’s license will pay for itself quickly.
If you need more flexibility and like to do a lot of customizing, the Socrates Theme and its speed can’t be beat. It’s easy to use and the YouTube tutorials are a great asset to getting the most out of this theme. I use it on lifestyle sites and on review sites. I have also built WooCommerce sites using this theme, eliminating the need for Shopify’s monthly subscription fees.
So, why do I use a StudioPress theme on my personal website? As I mentioned above, it’s what most of my clients use. While I have a sandbox site, I usually do live updates on this site first. In that way, I would know whether or not it was safe to move forward with updates on my clients’ sites.
Make no mistake, I use both frameworks on a consistent basis and I wouldn’t want to give up access to either one of them.