Sadly, you can’t usually test ThemeForest themes without purchasing them first, so I’ve written my experiences here. Hopefully these experiences help you guys!
I’ve been bitten enough times and I have enough unused ThemeForest WordPress theme purchases to understand that it’s caveat emptor. Before purchasing theme, I have no idea how these themes install or perform.
The general rule is that the more a theme offers, the worse the experience is going to be. Meaning that, if you see the words “included” or “bonus”, run!
Most ThemeForest WordPress authors are from outside of the WordPress development loop. They’re too removed from the culture of Automattic to give one iota about the standards WordPress developers have fought for over the last six years. What these rouge developers are interested in is making money, though.
Because of this, they often bog down the theme with bells and whistles to drive up their sales.
What they tout as features are really just plugins embedded in the functions.php file. Unlike plugins, though, these embedded functions won’t get updated with the theme; any new theme versions will simply be display bug fixes and even those don’t come fast enough to be useful.
From my experience, the updates will also often break your design when you try to upgrade, especially if the developers do happen to slip in functions.php changes.
Simple is Better
There is one good feature to look for, though. This feature will let you know if the developer cares about the software or not: you want to find a developer that touts the new-ish theme customizer, as opposed to a bespoken options page.
The Customizer has been around for over a year now, and any developer that doesn’t use it either a) doesn’t know much about WordPress or b) doesn’t care. Either way, you’re almost guaranteed that their theme won’t work out of the box and if it does, it’s bound to break with a new version of WordPress rolls out (which is actually on April 16).
You can also choose another vendor besides ThemeForest. I almost either always hate the other marketplaces’ design, though. Their boring and generally, they also have their own crappy frameworks and options pages, too. Also, you can’t see these themes’ php files, either, without paying, so you’re still not solving the mystery meat problem.
If you’re looking for a great theme company, though, I’ll point you to my favorite WordPress related posts in a long time.
After reading this letter two or three times, I would implicitly trust UpThemes to provide standards-based themes, as well as superb customer support. And of course, they even use the new Customizer:
That’s why we’re building themes with simplicity as the feature. As the WordPress mantra states: decisions, not options. Sure, we have a few options (usually about 3 or 4), but rather than tucking them away in an options page somewhere, we’re exposing them in the Theme Customizer, allowing users to preview their changes live.
If the web designs they offer aren’t good enough, remember that you can easily skin any WordPress theme with a child theme. Awesomely, you can also create new page templates in this child theme by inserting the theme’s WordPress php calls with beautifully designed landing pages from, say, ThemeForest.
Because ThemeForest landing pages are just single-page HTML, you don’t have to worry about weird developer habits like you do with their WordPress themes. You can select exclusively on style and their ability to convert. That solves the design issue, and it also couples you with a solid WordPress framework.
P.S. I do want to note that it’s silly to be transfixed by web design and aesthetics—even if I do it a lot myself.
Always test your web design to improve conversion rates and lifetime customer values. On the same note, don’t spend a lot of time searching for or playing with the look of your sites without actual customer sales feedback.