When shopping for a car–or a WordPress theme–ask the opinion of those in the trenches.
It’s cliché of course, but the sales guy wants to make a sale. You could also say that the mechanic might have you choose the car that breaks down the most, so he’d also lead you astray.
If you’re old enough, you might remember the ads for the Maytag (washing machine) repairman. The joke was that he didn’t have any work because the washers never broke down and never needed any maintenance. A slight advertising exaggeration to be sure, but the point was made: they had good products. Or at least that’s what they wanted you to believe. Guess what, it worked. Hey, I remembered it … and I can’t remember anything.
So who do you ask about a WordPress theme?
The users? Great, but make sure they are users who actually use the theme. Didn’t just install it and it sits there looking pretty, but maybe tinkered around a bit, at least tried out some of the features. Even better is someone who knows a theme for a while, have lived through updates, upgrades, and things breaking when that plugin or latest WP release wreaked havoc. What happened then? Did the theme hold its own? Was there a support group behind the theme to help out? Even better: who foresaw the potential risk and prevented it? Or at least tried?
The programmers? Yes, sure, but they’re so deep in the code, they might not even know what the end user really wants. Also, are you talking to the marketing team, the engineering design team or the guy in the factory on the assembly line? Do you know? Do you care? Does it matter? What would you ask anyway?
The sales team? Ideally, they should know their product and the feature set that you’re looking for. They should also know how to talk to you, talking in terms of benefits rather than technologies under the hood. But how much skin do they have in the game? If they sell you a lemon, they might not ever hear about it–but the mechanic will.
The mechanic? In WordPress terms, this might be a programmer who works with a theme or even a designer who knows a theme–and can compare it with lots of other themes they’re familiar with. If they’re any good, they want your theme to work. They don’t really want you to come back for all kinds of little broken things. Sure, they’d like you to come back for a new design or some new features, but they’d like you to be happy overall. They’d like to have you as a long-term customer, but a happy one.
What questions can you ask? Think about the car: what do you ask there? Here are some thoughts:
- Portfolio: is there a collection to see of different sites that use this theme? Maybe a variety of how it’s been customized?
- Changelog: how often is the theme updated? Do the programmers respond to feature requests? (more on changelog)
- Support & Maintenance: is there a team of people who know this theme (e.g. BMW) or is so special that only a few highly-trained mechanics know how to open the hood (Tesla)?
- Testimonials: are there some happy campers out there who have shared their love? Are they happy or giddy?
- Past & Future: has the theme been around a while? Does it have a future? Maybe a road map?
Who else can ask? What are some good questions to ask?