Block 3 is your WordPress theme

How to Easily Decode What’s Included in a WordPress Theme

When choosing a WordPress theme, you always want to know what’s included in the package. Just like anything else…

If you’re purchasing electronics, are all the cords, chargers and accessories included? Or do you have to buy some extras to get all the functionality? After all, nobody wants to have to run out to buy batteries on Christmas morning because they weren’t included in the box!

Readers have similar questions about WordPress Themes.

Here’s a recent email a reader sent me. I thought I’d share it (and my answer), because I’m sure she’s not the only one with these questions.

I’ve been looking for WP themes for a few sites. I am confused about what I am actually purchasing. When I look at the templates, will I be getting exactly what I see (colors, backgrounds, layout, etc.) or am I getting something more like a “bucket” of the elements I see in the template that I can then manipulate as I like?

I guess the easiest way to ask is, “When choosing a theme, is it pretty much you get exactly what you see in the template–as is–with little/no opportunity to make changes?”

Thanks for your time.

Not All Themes are Created Equal

With some themes, what you see in the demo is exactly what you get, with no changes allowed.

My advice is to stay away from those. You want something with a little bit of flexibility!

Let me focus on the themes from the two designers I recommend: StudioPress and Elegant Themes.

Unlocking the Code

If you’re in the market for a house, you quickly learn that there are some words used in house ads that might not mean what you think they mean.

For example, “cozy” usually means “too small.” “Lots of potential” means there’s a lot to fix.

Just like 'cozy' means 'too small' in a house description, there are code words in WordPress theme descriptions.Click To Tweet

WordPress theme descriptions do the same sorts of things, so you need to get comfortable reading between the lines.

Here are some of the basics:


Most of Elegant Themes’ newer offerings boast “unlimited colors.” Typically this means there are a few preselected color schemes, and they’ve also provided tools for you to totally customize colors on certain options.

As with any kind of “total” customization, it’s great to have more options, but it’s also more complicated to set up once you move away from the presets.

Some StudioPress themes are set up with preset color schemes. They’ll tell you how many and show you, in the theme demo, what they are. Other themes will allow you to choose a color or two — usually the background color and an accent color — using a color picker tool with unlimited options.

If you want more color choices, though, you’ll have to get into the CSS code.

Mobile Responsive

Every year more people are visiting websites using their phones, tablets and other small devices. If you don’t use a mobile responsive theme, you’re giving a big chunk of your visitors a bad site experience. At least 30% of all my site visitors are coming to it on a mobile device, and I’m not about to ignore that big an audience segment!

Additionally, Google currently downgrades sites in the search rankings if they’re not mobile friendly. When someone searches for your business on a mobile device, your rank will be lower (or nonexistent!) if your site isn’t mobile responsive.

Rule of thumb — if a theme isn’t mobile responsive, don’t even consider it.


This is the most current official version of HTML, the programming language that tells your browser how to display your website. If you’re getting a new theme, make sure it complies with HTML specs.

Both StudioPress and Elegant Themes newer offerings do.

All the StudioPress themes that have the word Pro in their name are already mobile responsive and HTML5 ready. (They’re also going back through older themes and updating them, and will add “Pro” to the names of the updated versions.)

Custom Background

This tells you the theme provides tools for you to either select the background color or upload a background image of your choosing.

Custom Header

This refers to the logo or banner image at the top of the site. A word of caution — just because a theme tells you that you can add a custom header, don’t assume it’s going to allow a full-width header!

Current site design trends allow for small logos or headers, which are more mobile friendly, so if it’s important to you to have a banner image that runs across the entire top of the site, check with the designer’s sales or tech support before buying the theme.

Theme Options

This is sort of a catch-all phrase that doesn’t mean anything specific. To find out about the specific options for that theme, you may need to ask.

Page Templates or Layout Options

Most themes will offer a choice of page layouts. Common layouts include:

  • Content on the left with a sidebar on the right (content/sidebar)
  • Content on the right with a sidebar on the left (sidebar/content)
  • Sidebar/sidebar/content
  • Content/sidebar/sidebar
  • Sidebar/content/sidebar
  • Content

Additionally, most of these themes offer a Landing Page, which means no sidebars at all, a Blog page, which gives you an easy way to showcase your latest and greatest posts, and an Archive page. Some also provide a pre-made Contact, Sitemap or other common pages. A portfolio-style theme might offer a Gallery or Portfolio page, for example.

If you want a specific page layout, check to make sure it’s included before you buy.

Parallax Scrolling

Parallax scrolling is very popular, as it encourages readers to scroll down… and down… and down.

It’s easier to show than describe. . . Examples of parallax scrolling include the Parallax Pro theme and the Vertex theme.

Featured Images

Some theme descriptions still talk about Featured Images, but these are so common now that you can mostly take them for granted.

News or Magazine

If News or Magazine is in the theme’s name or description, it tells you the homepage may be quite complex. Aggregate and News Pro are examples of magazine-style themes.

Custom Menus

The ability to create custom menus is now built into WordPress, so this is another feature that you can almost take for granted with both designers. It’s a good idea, though, to check to see how many custom menus the theme is set up for, and where they’ll show up on the page.

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