What do you look for in a “premium grade” WordPress theme?

… Is it an advanced feature set? Is it a cutting edge design? Is it a combination of both with a sprinkling of pixie dust for extra magic? What do you look for in a “premium grade” WordPress theme? I use the term “premium grade” as I’m not refering specifically to paid-for or “premium” WordPress themes, but rather to themes of a high standard.

With such a vast array of free (and paid-for) WordPress themes on the market today, it’s easy to get lost, wading through the thousands of themes available. As many of the themes are user created, and not everyone has experience or training as a web designer or developer, users get presented with many sub-par WordPress themes. In contrast to this, the themes market is becoming more and more advanced on a daily basis, opening doors for users to experiment with more advanced, theme specific, functionality, enhancing their themes and making them unique and personalised.

With this advancement in the “premium grade” themes market, users are also becoming more expectant, and critical, of the themes which they are presented. It is becoming more common and expected for a theme to have a clever design hook of sorts, some nifty Javascript or an additional “unique” custom feature, if not all three.

So my question is; “What makes a theme ‘premium grade’ in your eyes?”

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16 Comments

  1. Thats an interesting question because I am looking to change my WP theme soon because I will be adding the Shopp plugin to my self-hosted WP blog. In that case, I will be looking for something that can support my existing blog and Shopp, but I’m not quite sure what all I will need yet….

    1. Thanks for your reply, Carla. 🙂

      Yeah, finding a theme that us robust enough to accommodate various plugins is very important.

      A simple theme usually does the trick. 🙂

  2. First up, I can offer a little bit of user feedback from the WooThemes survey that we ran last year… The two most important features of our themes (in the eyes of our users) – which were ranked as *extremely important* – were Customizability & Easy-to-use Theme Options.

    So based on that, I’d stick to my mantra that the code-base of the theme should be superior. Because not only are the value-added options built onto that base; but that also highly influences the customizability of the theme!

    1. Hey Adii. 🙂

      Agreed re: the code base. A solid base leads to solid additions on top of that base.

      Also agreed re: the customisation and options panel. Considering the user from all angles is extremely important. Handing over control of the theme, where necessary, is also an important feature, in my opinion.

      Do users, in your opinion, focus more on the design or on the functionality and unique additions the theme offers?

  3. I have paid a for a lot of themes recently but none of them really meet the grade. Most are missing the simple things I would expect in a free theme like CSS comments. I would really love to see some themes with minimal HTML markup all the current themes seem bloated and uncommented.

    1. Hey Daniel. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

      I agree. A nice simple code structure, with a few comments (where necessary), is very important.

      I’ve learned a lot from looking through code structures of various themes. Comments would definitely help users to learn and to eventually get to designing and developing their own themes, widgets and plugins, should they wish to do that. 🙂

  4. In a premium theme I look for something that sets it apart form the rest. That is easy to use (noob proof widgetized) and has SEO, and all other essential features built in.
    A theme that I almost bought some time ago was http://www.premiumthemes.com/preview/?theme=perfection the problem here is that the creator has free versions of themes that almost look the same. Only if i’m really lazy to modify those into this clean 2-col version with categories menu, then id still buy it.. So the premium version really needs to ad value. In this case the added value could only be seen by me if the price would be much lower +-30$.
    For the price of 70$ for a premium theme I’d like to have some customization support, I think most sellers are offering this. A premium theme that can easily be customized (own colors) is a plus I think.

    1. Thanks Antonio. 🙂

      I agree. When you step into the “premium themes” market, value becomes very important. Users’ definitions of what adds value and what doesn’t add value can be different, though. Hence, many themers try to add as much value as possible from all angles, and the theme chances becoming bloated and overflowing with functionality. This can be negative for both the user and the developer, as man hours have been used for very little return and the user gets confronted with large amounts of extras, which could be confusing or just too much, at times.

      SEO features are a definite value adding addition. If the user’s experience is easy and pleasant, I believe the developer and designer have done their bit… extra bells and whistles or not. 🙂

      In some cases, less is more. 🙂

  5. For me it is a theme which has customizable options which actually work as well as clean code. There is nothing I cannot stand more than a CSS file which has not got documentation or tagging. Freaks me out.

    And of course the theme has to look good 😛

    1. Thanks Dave. Totally agreed re: clean and documented code. Can be invaluable. Even a readme.txt file would be cool, just to get an idea of how the theme works. 🙂

      The question is, does form follow function or visa versa? 😉

  6. Yeah I know what you mean a theme should be perfectionized for one objective. I kinda feel like there is a lack of simple, but elegant looking out of the box premium themes for hardcore 2-columns blogging (with categories as header menu).

    Shades of blue gets close http://www.studiopress.com/demo/shades/ (no categories menu) and the Perfection theme in my last post (colors need editing), but both aren’t elegant, amazing, apart looking out of the box. That’s why I’m kinda waiting for Meta-Morphosis theme to be released. (Luckily its free even).
    Maybe there is some market for 2column hardcore simple blog themes.. Dunno, do you know any more themes that look like this?

    1. Yeah, I like a simple yet elegant theme as well.

      In terms of two-column blogging themes, I quite like “Typebased” by Woothemes. A nice clean theme, with a few simple design elements and a solid 2 column layout.

      I tried to go for a clean, two column layout as well. I’ve always been a fan of simple, clean, even minimalist web designs. 🙂

  7. Like adii mentioned. I look for the coding and features.

    when I pay or look for a premium I want to see the following:
    1. Professional Coding (most important)
    + this means the Css, Html, and php code is clearly labled and used properly. If you include the Psd the layers should be labelled.

    -The worst ones are those who use an image for the main layout. Sure it looks great on the surface but the minute you want to change or expand a paragraph the whole thing collapses. (thankfully I have seen less of this lately)

    2. Unique usage and design
    + Give me something that I cannot find in a freebie. Something like automatic image resize included in your theme is a good start. Makes my life easier. Big fan lately of using jQuery effects to help set it apart.
    + Areas that include easy placement of widgets

    3. Graphics
    + This is the sprinkles on the top. It can be hard for someone like me who is not graphically intune. This will catch my attention to even look into a premium theme. Being a premium and meeting the first two I know I can implement the graphics I may need to change.

  8. @DailyPush : Thanks for your comment. 🙂 So it’s essentially code structure and neatness first, unique/creative design and then the graphics, in your opinion. Is that correct?

    I agree that the user experience is important (automatic resizing of images, etc). This makes the user want to use your theme and to try out what it can do. Attention to the flow of your theme is also important, in my opinion. What the user’s eye reads first, etc.

    @Daus : Thanks Daus. What you say is exactly on the point, in terms of the layout. Simple, neat and well considered in all it’s aspects, is a theme that would work for me as well. A bit of extra funcitonality to enhance the user experience wouldn’t hurt either. 😉

  9. In my eyes, like Daus said simple, clean, neat typography.

    But what might make a premium theme in my eyes, might not be in other peoples eyes.

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