This is a chapter from my book “A Practical Handbook for WordPress Themes”. Keep reading here, or download the full Amazon Kindle version.

How It All Started

My first experience with WordPress was when I was tasked with migrating the content of a blog for a coffee company to their new website’s content management system (CMS.) As luck would have it, the new CMS did not accept the export file WordPress offered. So, there I was, copy and pasting text and re-uploading images by hand. Not a fun way to be introduced to WordPress.

At the same time a few friends were asking me to look into their WordPress sites to change the look and feel of them. I had been designing and coding static websites for a while at that point, but WordPress was a whole different animal. So, I read every WordPress tutorial I could find online, tore through a couple books on theme development, and built my own WordPress theme.

Since then, I have designed, coded, updated, managed, mangled, repaired, improved, migrated, secured and consulted on dozens of WordPress websites and blogs.

Why I Wrote This Book

Over the years I have written and rewritten the same emails to numerous clients and friends regarding their WordPress sites’ themes. I have seen so many people throw good money after bad when it came to purchasing and modifying themes (myself included.) I have also come across some developer’s with great insights to better ways of buying, developing and maintaining WordPress themes.

I was writing an email to a friend about her theme when it dawned on me: I’ve already written this email. A dozen times, I was sure! And that was when I decided that I would write it one more time, and then gather it all up into a book for others to reference. I liked the idea of empowering new web designers, agency staff and experienced bloggers alike with information that can help them have better conversations with their developers.

My other reason for writing this book was a little more personal: to explore the dark and dusty corners of WordPress themes that I have only bumped up against. It forced me to conduct a deeper inquiry into how themes actually connect to and work within WordPress far below the surface.

Who Is This Book for?

This book is primarily for those that have a self-hosted WordPress website(s), but some chapters can help those with a site set up on (If you need clarification about the difference, be sure to read the next chapter!)

Some other people who might benefit from reading this book include:

The agency, the project manager, the intern

I really envisioned a book that would educate the person who is looking for a theme for their client, and/or who is working with a theme marketplace or theme developer. As a developer that worked on WordPress themes, much of my time was spent educating clients on the capabilities, limitations and pitfalls of themes. I like to think that they walked away from those conversations being able to have a better and more informed conversation about WordPress with their clients and other developers. Plus, projects tend to have a higher success rate when you and the developer are on the same page.

The beginner- to intermediate-level WordPress user

WordPress can be very confusing and contradictory at times. (Even the name is confusing in that seemingly every product and service they make is called “WordPress” and all of its various components are often referred to simply as “WordPress.”) So, I will try to start each chapter with the basics for someone who has just started using WordPress, then as a chapter moves along it gets deeper into the conceptual foundations of the subject of each chapter. Read as far into the chapter as you are interested in learning. Though some of the deeper knowledge is quite interesting, only you can decide whether or not it’s necessary for what you need to do.

Even if you are brand spanking new to WordPress I hope you will get a lot of good info from reading this book end to end.

The web hybrid

This is a term I use for someone who is a web designer that also knows some web development—or vice versa—and is looking to choose and install a theme that won’t limit them (too much.) Not every web designer/developer out there has experience with WordPress and how it works. It has its own terminology, taxonomy and way of pulling it all together that is unlike other content management systems. Web designers/ developers may want to read deeper into the chapters.

The enlistee

And let’s not forget the person on the team who pulled the short straw and got tasked with “fixing” the WordPress site because the theme is wonky and someone said it was time to “get a new one.” You may or may not have much experience with WordPress or the website itself.

Since you came into this under duress—possibly with a badly behaving website sitting on your back—you may be looking to get just the basics you need to know about themes. The minimum you should read is the next chapter, and then chapters 1, 2, and 3 to get your task started. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 will finish your task. But, I highly recommend the others too since they will give insights on protecting and managing your website.

What to Expect From Reading This Book

By the end of the book I hope you will:

  • Be able to spot future pain points in themes by knowing what to look for
  • Know what to ask theme developers before buying any theme
  • Know how to validate the theme you installed against the developer’s claims (and understand the reasons why those don’t always line up)

Heaped on top of those primary areas of focus, there will be some guidance on site/theme maintenance, how a theme integrates with WordPress, how to swap themes out, and some good words on troubleshooting. My great hope is you will also understand that backing up your website(s) will be the single most important thing you can do, because if you don’t, we can’t be friends. (Seriously, back it up. We’ll talk extensively about this in chapter 7.)

No dark paths

Each section will give an introduction to the topic, what it means to the system as a whole, and (where applicable) the pros and cons of the choices we have to make. In some chapters I recommend a service, product or plugin by name. Know I will never recommend anything that I haven’t used myself, or don’t stand behind. My goal is to get you on solid ground; not send you down a dark path of uncertainty.

Ultimately, this book is written to empower you to make better choices on your own. In the world of WordPress there are thousands and thousands of choices out there from hundreds of sources. Some days it can be easy to get lost, or bamboozled (or even just feel bamboozled.)

A better conversation

You can expect a lot of words—it’s a book after all. But in the name of full disclosure, I have a tendency to use 15 words where five may do. As this is all based on hundreds of conversations, phone calls and emails I have written over the years on this subject, when I decided to write this book I chose to be a little more descriptive and less cut and dry than what I’ve seen in other WordPress or web design guides and manuals.

My job as a representative of the web industry is to help you better understand what you are getting yourself into. Not all of it is puppy dogs and ice cream. Some of it is, but hopefully this book will help shine a light on all aspects of themes so that you can have a better conversation with and/or within the WordPress community, a stronger understanding of what you are working on, and the confidence to make the right choices for you or your client. You can also expect me to use analogies to help explain complex (or bulky) ideas. I love analogies and think when done right can really help speed up the learning curve.

A new vocabulary

Again, projects tend to have a higher success rate when you and the theme developer are speaking and understanding the same language. Our industry has set terms like “website” and “file,” and we always know what they are because we really don’t have any other common names for them. Then there are terms like slideshow, carousel, slider, slide deck, rotator… (which happen to all mean the same thing, but developers the world over cannot agree on one name for them.)

I’m going for consistency in this book. I will let you know if there are other names for things so that you can expand your web search when exploring concepts. I will also use terms that the WordPress development community tends to use to help make your conversations and web searches more successful and productive.

At the end of this book you will find a glossary of terms for this book. Glossary definitions in technical manuals tend to be some of the driest, most underwhelming things on the planet. I find great value in learning industry terms, so I tried not to make these too boring.

What’s Not in This Book

The short of it is that this is not a “theme development” book. I will not be covering how to design, develop or code your own theme. There are plenty of great books already on the shelves that cover WordPress theme development specifically. This book is what you need to know before, during and after getting a theme from a developer or marketplace, whether it is purchased, downloaded for free or being designed and developed by a freelancer/agency.

That being said, know that this book is complete, and you can successfully choose a new theme, understand the one you have, or maintain/fix your current theme by the end of the book.

While plugins can be an integral part of themes, and I do mention using them, they are outside the scope of this book. Where I need to I will cover the basics of plugins, but in-depth plugin discussion will need to happen in another book.

We also won’t be going over how to install the WordPress Core on your server. We are focusing on learning WordPress themes as a consumer (owner), maintenance person and someone that has to live with it day in and day out (operators.) Since it is not possible to have a WordPress website without a theme, this book is for everyone! ← Ha! Your first lesson of the book.