What it Really Takes to Create a Great WordPress Theme

How a theme with a mediocre design became our best selling theme and how we failed trying to replicate its success.

Let’s get to know each other

In 2008 I created a site which accidentally started to bring me earnings of more than five-figures a month from WordPress themes.

As a student at that time, I wasn’t prepared for this, but it seems that exciting things in life often come when you least expect them.

I wasn’t a programmer at that time and I barely could slice a PSD file to XHTML/CSS, but I quickly adapted and was addicted to learn more and more about WordPress theming every day.

In just a month after releasing Yamidoo Magazine, my very first WordPress theme, I was already making $10k/month from sales of just a single theme. So you can imagine how the numbers increased after releasing my 2nd and 3rd themes.

I knew it was the beginning of the Premium Themes boom, so I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to build something big.

Shortly thereafter, I started to bring people onto my team and this resulted in what today is called WPZOOM, a popular WordPress theme provider

Design doesn’t always matter

As a small team of 7 (2 developers) we’ve managed to create more than 100 WordPress themes, starting with February 2009 (i.e. 1 theme/month).

Yes, that’s crazy.

But the sad part is that only 35 of them are still maintained and available for sale.

What happened to the other 70 themes? — you may ask

Well, there comes a day when you notice that a specific theme hasn’t generated any sales in the last month or so, and the only thing we can do is to remove it from our site and focus our work on new products or maintaining those that sell well.

When does a theme stop generating sales?

Generally, if a theme is not re-designed or at least given a major update after 2–3 years from release, the sales take a noticeable downturn.

This happened especially with most of the themes developed before the responsive design era, which was obvious as no one would want a non-mobile-friendly theme anymore.

Meet “Videozoom” — the theme that ruins all stereotypes:

Original design of Videozoom theme, released in 2010

Prior to releasing the Videozoom theme, the process of creating a new theme was pretty obvious:

  • find a good designer,
  • create a nice-looking theme,
  • profit

However, things took a strange turn after releasing the Videozoom theme, and we couldn’t understand for a long time what was so different, what made it so popular.

The design wasn’t too attractive, but it seemed like our non-techie customers didn’t really care about that.

People were just looking for a theme with a video slider.

They didn’t really care if the design of the theme followed any design trends or if a slider with multiple videos can affect their site performance

Houston, we need more Video Themes!

Shortly after the Videozoom theme started to sell hundreds of copies each month (which was about the same volume in sales as the rest of our 50 themes put together), we decided the entire team should focus more on maintaining popular themes and updating them more often

During the last 5 years, the Videozoom theme has been updated 50 times, including 5 major updates and 2 re-designs.

Current 4.0 version

Despite the theme generated good sales, I was never totally happy with how it looked, so over the last few years, I made more than 5 attempts to create a better replacement

1st attempt:

Unfinished Video Theme, ca. 2011

I’ve even hired an experienced designer to design a new Video theme:

Proposed design for a new video theme, ca. 2013

In 2014 I hired the guy who originally designed Videozoom theme for us in 2010, to design a new video theme:

Redesigned Videozoom version, ca. 2014

In the end, none of the above designs made it into a theme, even though some of them were completely coded and ready for release.

What stopped us from releasing these themes?

The problem was that sometimes the development process took more than just a few months, and because design trends change from one day to another, we always wanted something different in the end

5 years to find the perfect design

After years of unsuccessful attempts at creating a replacement for the Videozoom theme, at the beginning of this year we finally managed to come up with a new design that was simple enough to meet our expectations.

Early wireframe for a new video theme, ca. 2015

The new theme was released at the beginning of this week, and we can finally say that we have found the perfect balance between a simple design and great functionality; exactly what our customers need to share their video content.

The new theme is called VideoBox and below you can find screenshots of the final product:

I really hope that after sharing my “story” about the effort it can take sometimes to create a great theme, some people will think twice before saying that $69 is too much for a WordPress theme.

Pavel Ciorici, founder of WPZOOM. Follow me on Twitter 🙌

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