How To Choose a Theme for Your WordPress eCommerce Site with Chris Tuttle
WP eCommerce Show

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Episode 61 is a revisit on a subject I talked about earlier last season. And that is choosing a theme for your WordPress eCommerce site.

This time, I wanted to bring in someone experienced in the theme marketplace, and Chris Tuttle from MOJO Marketplace was the perfect fit. I know from experience how WordPress users, when choosing their theme, can get bogged down and lost in the thousands of them that are out there. In today’s show we give you some good tips and guidelines to help point you in the right direction.

We chatted about:

  • The benefits of a theme marketplace vs. randomly searching on the internet for a theme
  • If having a theme that is built to work specifically with an eCommerce plugin is an advantage
  • What you should look for in a theme when building online courses and membership sites
  • Why you should not ignore niche themes even if at first glance they don’t seem to fit your business
  • Choosing a theme that is filled with options and features vs. a simpler theme
  • The pros and cons of using a page builder on your eCommerce site

Thanks to Our Podcast Sponsor: Bluehost


Bob Dunn: Hey everyone and welcome back to the WP eCommerce Show. Bob Dunn here, also known as BobWP on the web. Today we are talking about choosing your theme for your eCommerce site. Now I know from my own experience and working with others over the years, finding a theme is similar to going down a rabbit hole. And for the person just starting with WordPress and thinking of an online store, it can even be more daunting. In an earlier show in our last season I touched on this subject, but I felt it need to be revisited. It’s time to bring in someone experienced in the theme marketplace to chat with us. And that is Chris Tuttle, Training Manager at MOJO Marketplace. Hey Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Tuttle: Hey Bob.

Bob: Before we get knee deep into themes, can you tell us a bit about MOJO Marketplace?

Chris: Absolutely. MOJO Marketplace is an awesome theme marketplace where professional developers can come and sell their WordPress Themes. We have an awesome audience, awesome community and we’re really excited to be a part of the WordPress community as well.

Bob: I know that it’s overwhelming and sometimes instead of people going to Google and to start searching, which I’ll be asking you a bit more about, they like having a marketplace where they can actually go through it all in one spot rather than going from site to site.

Benefits of using a theme marketplace

I’m going to start out by touching on the direct experience you’ve had with the marketplace. Can you tell me what advantages a new WordPress user would find when visiting a site such as MOJO Marketplace to find a theme versus randomly going online and starting with a Google search like, “Hey, I’m going to Google search ‘WordPress theme’?” What do you think?

Chris: When you come to the marketplace you have a lot of tools available to help you narrow your search down. Categories, tags, as well as the niche themes that are out there. You can even call and talk to somebody. We have specialists here that can help you work through finding the theme that’ll work for you. It’s super important to be able to have assurance when you’re looking for a theme that it’s going to maintain its updates, that there’s going to be continued support as well. Here at MOJO Marketplace, we offer awesome support for the themes. A lot of times with these premium themes you’re going to get updated features and fun stuff like that.

Bob: I know the support is huge. It’s interesting when you actually said that people can call and talk to someone at MOJO. I don’t know a lot of theme shops that do that. I’ve had people in the past actually hire me to help them search for a theme and chat through this process. That’s pretty cool, that you guys, actually, that they can get on the phone and talk to somebody about it, especially if they have those little lingering questions on a specific theme.

Chris: Absolutely.

Should online retailers look for an eCommerce-compatible theme?

Bob: eCommerce, that’s what we’re talking about, online stores, is a huge umbrella and pretty much covers everything that you can sell online. Let’s start with a person looking for a theme for their retail store. Should they specifically look for a theme that is marketed and works with an eCommerce plugin that they are going to be using or they’ve already planned to use? Is there really any benefit there?

Chris: Absolutely. There’s a huge benefit to finding a theme that is eCommerce-compatible. I can think of a few different e-commerce plugins, some very popular ones. If you for instance grab a blog theme or something like that, that’s not eCommerce-compatible, you’re going to run into those compatibility issues that can sometimes, especially for a new user, cause a lot of headaches. Because you need to dive into coding, if not just some basic file manipulation, at the very least, to be able to get these working. Some of the not so popular e-commerce plugins, you really don’t have that same level of support that you get from some of the more popular ones. It can be daunting if it doesn’t already come built into the theme.

A lot of times too, one thing that I really like about making sure that you find a theme that is already eCommerce-compatible, is the fact that you’re going to have more features specifically for your products,  the things you’re trying to sell.

Bob: When somebody comes to Mojo Marketplace, can they actually filter a search through a specific eCommerce plugin or are all the eCommerce themes put together in a category or searchable that way?

Chris: All the eCommerce themes are searchable that way. For the most part, I don’t know of any other team other than WooCommerce that is being used on our marketplace right now.

What kind of theme do sellers of online courses and memberships need?

Bob: Along that same train of thought, there’s another piece of eCommerce: online courses and memberships. Is there anything specific that somebody should keep an eye out for when looking for a theme for that, or is it pretty much fair game across the board?

Chris: That’s a really great question. When it comes to the new user, I highly recommend finding a theme that’s very flexible. There’s a lot of themes out there that don’t have the flexibility that you need to create the membership content and online course content. I highly recommend doing something that’s multi-purpose.

Themes that are multi-purpose generally give you more customization than a blog theme or a niche theme. They usually come with some form of layout or page builder. It really gives you a lot more control of where to put the features on your site and the functionality. You can always add functionality through plugins for memberships and online courses and stuff like that.

Don’t pay too much attention to the name of the theme if it works for you

Bob: Let’s step back because I think in one of our discussions, you were talking about niche sites. I think they’re very cool and they have a specific reason for being there because they’re often built around, if this is a real estate theme, then it probably takes IDX and all that good stuff. I want to give you a scenario here.

Let’s say I’m selling a few eBooks. Maybe I’m selling three of them. Downloading. Then I am selling my coaching services, maybe I’m putting 2-3 retainers on there, nothing huge. I’m looking on your site and I find this theme but it’s called the Beauty Salon theme, and I’m about as far from a hair stylist as I can be.

I like the look of that and I’m seeing that demo and I’m thinking, and this is something that I ran into a lot of times, clients, they’re looking at and they think, right away they’re just like, “This is a beauty salon thing, I can’t use this.” Should they just move on or how should they look at that?

Chris: I say look at it. The first thing you really want to look into with a theme is the look and the feel. Once you find a theme that gives you the look and the feel that you’re going for, then you want to start diving in and looking at features and functionality. Look at how customizable the theme is.

A lot of the times, when you look at a theme, you’re going to look at the demo. Sometimes the demo is just simply images. They’ve changed out the images for that specific niche. A lot of the times if you look through the demo you can see that there’s … I guess try and imagine what your content is like in place of what their content has.

See what the features look like as presented in the demo. It’s really a good way to truly determine if a niche theme is something that you can use for what you’re doing. Because, in all honesty, it doesn’t have to always be what the niche is. You can change that up quite a bit in most themes. Some themes not so much.

How do I know if a certain feature of  a niche theme will work for my needs?

Bob: Interesting about the beauty salon theme, I know some people might actually think about it, is if they go there and they’re selling coaching services then they may see that the beauty salon theme has a booking feature and they think, “This booking will help people book my coaching services.” Is there some way they can determine if that would work?

Chris: That’s a really good question and a really good insight. In that case, there’s a lot of awesome reviews and things like that on the site. Another benefit of coming to a marketplace is on one of the sides, it’ll tell you what features come with the theme. A lot of the times they’ll tell the exact plugins that are being used to create certain functionality, for instance, like booking. A lot of times you can find more information about the plugin that way or give us a call or send out a quick message to the author and ask them if you could get a quick demo on how the booking software works.

Bob: It’s probably a good idea, like you said, if you see the plugins called WP booking plugin compared to the WP beauty salon booking plugin, that might give you some indication that you might be safe with a more generic booking plugin.

Chris: Exactly.

Whether to purchase a theme with a lot of built-in features or go with a simpler one and add plugins

Bob: You touched on this before as far as a lot of these themes have built-in features. I know in the space of themes, WordPress themes, everybody’s out there doing the little WordPress drama on this and that and developers have their own say, which I … All you developers, I love you out there, you’re my friends, but I know a lot of what you guys talk about between yourselves.

Can you give me a good solid tip on looking for a theme with a lot of built-in features versus finding something simpler and building it out using plugins? I guess that’s maybe the struggle and there’s probably not one tip you can say, but it’s that … Okay, this has all these features, I can see I may begin to use a good 50% of them or should I go to the simpler theme and just find some plugins to put in. Anything you have to say about that?

Chris: I think it all depends on your level of engagement. How much work do you want to put into the site? I work with a lot of brand new users that are small businesses just getting started. They don’t know much about the internet, let alone WordPress. Somebody like that, I would steer away from finding a simple site and adding lots of plugins because those plugins can cause issues and not talk with each other very well. It creates that rabbit hole that you were talking about before where, yeah, the theme is super simple, but it can get very complex as you start adding plugins.

It all depends on, like I said before, your level of engagement, the effort that you’re willing to put in. Do you have a budget to hire a developer if you get stuck or something like that? If you are a little bit more tech savvy and you understand how plugins talk to each other and how to do some basic troubleshooting, then by all means jump in and work through the plugins.

It’s a give or take. The easier it is to use something usually the less functionality it has out of the box. You have to add to it. When you get themes that have more built into them, sometimes there’s a little bit more of a learning curve, but you get a lot more customizability and function right out of the box.

For new users, depending on what they want to do and how much they want to jump into it, I usually recommend, if it has the features you want, a lot of these new themes that are coming out allow you to actually turn off specific things that you don’t need.

Will too many features, even if I’m not using all of them, slow down my site?

Bob: That’s a perfect segue because I was just thinking, what if somebody called and said, “I’m looking at XXX theme. I love it. This is so cool. It’s got tons of features and I can see using it, but right now I’m thinking, I’m going to only use 50% of them,” and being a new user they might come out and say, “Since I’m doing that is it going to make my site slower because I’ve got all these features that I’m not using but they’re still in my theme?”

Chris: That’s a great question as well.

Bob: That’s one I kind of threw out at you.

Chris: Ah no, I love that question. I love that question. In fact that’s one of those main dilemmas when it comes to things like this. Is the more features, the more plugins and things like that that you toss in there, potentially, your site could run slower.

A lot of the times when you get these really heavy themes, they have a lot of features and a lot of things, you have that potential. Like I said, a lot of these developers have seen that and are addressing that through being able to turn off specific modules and things like that within the themes to allow for that lighter experience, so it’s not quite as heavy on the server if that makes sense.

Benefits of using a page builder

Bob: Now I’m going to take you into the depths of page builders. We’re in the WordPress community, you and I, and I’m sure you’ve seen what everybody has, their own opinion on these. Myself, I’m like, “Hey, they’re cool, there’s a need for them. There’s people that can use them, whatever.” I want you to tell me, what do you consider are pros and cons around using a page builder or a site builder theme, not just for your regular site, but for an online store?

Chris: Absolutely. A wonderful question. I personally for the new users, I enjoy teaching people how to use page builders, because you see a lot of awesome light bulbs go off in people’s eyes as they learn how to develop their website and how to put their thoughts on the page and actually have it come up online and see it on their website.

I’m a proponent of page builders myself. They definitely have their pros and their cons. Pros are if you’re a new user for WordPress, they give you a visual representation of code basically. It’s not a drag-and-drop, but it’s more of a visual builder for the page. It allows you to add all kinds of fun things in the places that you want them that might take a little bit more like a plugin or some kind of code or something like that to make it work the way you want it to. These page builders give you that awesome flexibility. A lot of them come with specific elements just for your common e-commerce plugins.

What if I’ve used a page builder and I decide I want to change my theme?

Bob: What about, and I’m going to throw a wrench into it, and maybe this is on the con side of it, maybe you were actually going to go into that. An online store is pretty important. For people who start those basically, not for everybody, but maybe a side gig, sometimes it’s like, “Hey, here’s my business, I’m putting it online.”

With the page builder or the site builder what kind of, I don’t want to say words of warning, but sometimes you’d want to tell them to consider, because if for some reason down the road they want to change that theme what might happen to their online store and what that may involve?

Chris: When you’re using something like a page builder, your content is dependent upon that page builder. If you were to switch to another theme, a theme that perhaps wasn’t compatible with that, your content isn’t going to work and look the same. You do become dependent upon the page builder. That is a definite con.

As far as your shop and eCommerce, if you’ve got a few items, personally I think it’s something that you can go with a page builder with. If you have a huge store with just tons of stuff on there, maybe you want to back off of the page builders. Because not only are you having all of the different products and things that you’re selling, but also page builders do create … In essence they create more calls for the website, which means potential slowness.

It all comes down to that give or take and your engagement with it. If you’re going to make money off of something and this is going to be your livelihood, then take every step you need to be as engaged as you possibly can with the website. This is my personal opinion, but I really feel like that balance comes from feasibility of use and not necessarily reliability, but the ability to update and make changes and stuff like that in the future. I don’t know if I said that quite right.

Bob: You did, yeah. That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s something people do need to consider. Good stuff. Chris, this certainly has given our listeners something to chew on. I know that when they’re starting to explore a theme, it can’t be wrapped up in our 20 minutes, 25 minutes that we talked here, but I think that people need to have a good starting point. This gives them some good ideas of where to go and not just start googling their brains out and going down the vortex of themes.

Where to find Chris on the web

That’s what I call it sometimes. I’m erratic, I change my theme quite a bit. Of course, I do it a lot, so it’s a little bit easier for me. I know people’s pain and what they go through. Again, thanks. People can probably find you on MOJO Marketplace, but is there anywhere else on the web if they want to connect with you personally?

Chris: I love Twitter. You can contact me at @see_tutt S-E-E underscore T-U-T-T.

Bob: Excellent. I appreciate you pulling yourself away from your busy day and joining us. Thanks, Chris.

Chris: Thank you.

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