Selling WordPress themes
Since 2003, WordPress has grown to power over 30% of all websites on the internet, and along with that consistent growth, there have been (and continue to be) plenty of opportunities for making money selling WordPress themes!
A workable theme is fundamental to any website, providing the structure, navigation, and design elements that define a website – and the website visitor’s experience. Needless to say, demand is no issue, but what about market saturation? Modern trends? Niche needs? How do you know what to charge? How can you make ongoing revenue? Where do you sell your themes? These are all things to consider in your efforts.
So, let’s talk about the basics you need to get started selling WordPress themes with confidence!
Just like with other types of digital products, pricing your themes isn’t automatic – there are different factors to take into consideration when coming up with the right number. Understanding your target market is the first step, but how do you go about it?
Doing some research is a good place to start; what themes are being used by your target audience? What are the prices of those themes? What features do they include, and how do your themes compare? This can give you a sense of the general price range you’re dealing with.
For example, you might find that high-end eCommerce boutiques tend to use themes with more advanced features and a sleek design aesthetic (along with premium prices) – or that themes designed for showcasing audio or video may call for a certain price point that reflects their highly specialized nature.
Once you’ve got a ballpark idea of what you can reasonably charge, consider some of the following questions:
- Is your theme of premium design quality? Does it stand up (and stand out) against the competition?
- Is it niche-appropriate? Does it jive with what your target customer is looking for?
- Is the market saturated? It may be more difficult to get people to pay higher prices when there are many other options for customers to choose from.
- Is your theme lightweight and bloat-free? This can be extremely valuable in and of itself!
- Does your theme have extensive features, or one standout feature that makes it unique? Advanced features, or simply the right combination of features can add to your price tag.
- Is it highly customizable? Many people expect at least some degree of customization when they purchase a theme.
- Is your theme multi-purpose or specialized? Multi-purpose themes cover a lot of bases and can be used in all different kinds of scenarios and applications, while specialized themes are designed to be perfectly suitable for specific niches.
Overall, the market for WordPress themes is very competitive, so if you want to make sales you may have to use existing reference points. Larger marketplaces like ThemeForest have normalized lower prices due to high traffic and demand, with many themes selling as low as the $20 mark. However, the range can extend upwards of $150-200 for premium themes, with $60-70 being a common mid-range price.
At the end of the day, you want to feel good about what you’re earning from your hard work, so don’t forget to factor in the number that you feel is fair and rewarding – and remember that some experimentation may be required to find a price point that will sell!
There are a few common avenues for ongoing revenue when it comes to selling WordPress themes – in fact, themes are particularly good for ongoing revenue. How so?
Well, first of all, as technology advances and updates are made to WordPress, plugins, and eCommerce practices, there’s a constant need for theme updates. Not only that; along with these updates, customers often require support or even custom development and other related work.
You can generate ongoing revenue with themes by offering:
- Licenses. The license model gives customers the option to buy a license that gives them access to all updates and support for their theme purchase. Licenses can be for a single site (for individuals and businesses), for 2-5 sites (for people who own multiple sites), or unlimited (for design agencies, etc.) Licenses must be renewed each year.
Theme license options (Organic Themes)
- Customization. Some customers may require custom development, custom code, or other assistance with the use of your theme.
- Site maintenance. Often, people need help with maintaining their site on a monthly basis, or whenever they need to add new content. In fact, some customers don’t want to deal with site maintenance at all. Offering maintenance packages has the potential to bring in a serious chunk of regular income.
There are really only two ways to distribute your WordPress themes: through a marketplace, or through your own digital store / website. Your long-term business goals and the time you have available (among other factors) will dictate which option you choose.
If you’re not entirely sure, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons:
The marketplace option
- It’s a good way to get initial sales traction. The higher amount of traffic can give you the momentum you need for your seller profile (and sales) to take off. You could even use a marketplace to build a name for your products and then expand to your own store later.
- You get a pre-qualified audience that’s ready to buy. With wider reach and a bigger and more targeted draw, marketplaces can provide you with potential customers who are already predisposed to want your product.
- Marketplaces have lower prices in general. Even if sales are more numerous, this could mean overall lower returns on your work in the long term.
- You won’t have as much control over your prices, either. Most marketplaces have guidelines for pricing that you must adhere to. Even if they don’t, the competition can end up dictating your price.
- The marketplace keeps a portion of each sale. This can really eat into your revenue!
- Competition can be extremely high. With so many sellers, it might be difficult to get noticed.
- Quality control can be lacking. Sometimes quality themes can get overlooked due to the sheer number of themes, and with so many multi-purpose themes – some with excessive bells and whistles (along with extra bloat) – specialized themes, or lightweight and bloat-free themes might not get the recognition they deserve, simply because they have less features (even if they are better themes!)
- Customer details belong to the marketplace. This can make it harder for you to build a mailing list, for example.
The digital store option
- You get more control over everything. From your marketing and site presentation to your pricing, you have the freedom to sell your themes as you wish.
- You keep all of the money. No need to pay marketplace fees.
- You can collect customer information. This helps you build a mailing list that you can use to expand your brand, engage your audience, and market your products in the future.
- You are responsible for everything. From starting a digital product store to responsibly handling payments, site security, and sensitive customer information, everything starts and ends with you. Some sellers might prefer less responsibility.
- You have to build your audience by yourself. Promotion, advertising, and sales are up to you, too.
A huge part of the theme ecosystem is made up of free themes – and that means that customers have thousands of free options to consider before deciding to go premium. As a result, many theme companies choose to monetize in other ways like selling a pro version of a theme, or selling premium features in the form of plugins.
It’s important to make sure your templates are compatible with current versions of WordPress and any plugins they are designed to be used with. Although some developers make things backward compatible, you can’t rely on it; therefore, ongoing licenses that include updates are essential if you want to keep your customers satisfied for the long-term. The good news is: you get to make ongoing revenue from the license renewals!
When it comes to making your themes stick out in the crowd, advertising compatibility and integration with popular plugins and platforms can add to your competitive edge. Browsing theme marketplaces can show you just how many themes advertise WooCommerce, BuddyPress, or EDD compatibility, for example. Plugin developers also might recommend your theme to their clients!
Support and documentation
When it comes to selling themes, be prepared to provide support! Having a good support ticket system in place can be hugely beneficial – we like Help Scout, for example. If you want to cut down on your support requests altogether, anticipating and addressing customer concerns preemptively can make a big difference.
This is why documentation is so important. The best themes come with quality online documentation that makes it easy for people to work with the theme, and find guidance when they get hung up on something. Not only should your documentation be thorough; it should also be easy to read and navigate for maximum effectiveness.
You might even consider implementing a commenting system or discussion forum where customers can go to ask questions. Remember: your audience is a source of knowledge as well. They can teach each other, which helps take some of the support load off of you.
Selling your themes isn’t complete without a proper demo – and a live demo site is the most effective way for customers to experience features and functionality first-hand. You’ll want to include live versions of different page templates and post types using custom demo content, as well as widgets, shortcodes, different customization options, and any standout features.
ThemeFurnace created an entire page of this live demo that lists all of the primary features of the theme, and showcases some of them in action with descriptions of the functionality:
Theme features page (ThemeFurnace)
It’s also standard practice to showcase a theme’s responsive design by demonstrating desktop, mobile, and tablet displays. Think about anything you can do to make sure nothing is left to the customer’s imagination, other than the creative application of your theme!
There’s always a market for high-quality themes
A digital society needs websites, and websites need themes! And with WordPress holding strong as a content management “top dog” (and growing), selling WordPress themes continues to offer lucrative business potential. Just keep in mind that with high levels of competition come greater expectations.
Getting all of the basic elements together is just part of the puzzle; don’t forget to honor your own values, your quality standards, your brand image, and your hard work and expertise! If you’ve got something unique and high-quality to offer, you could very well find success in the theme world.
Do you sell your own WordPress themes? What are some of the obstacles you’ve overcome, or advice you’d impart onto others looking to get started? Join the conversation below!
Illustration by Jessica Johnston.