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For Theme Authors

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My primary responsibility out here at Weblog Tools Collection is to keep a close eye on WordPress plugin and theme releases.

One of the places I check regularly for theme releases is the WordPress Theme Viewer. I also keep track of updates via Google Alerts and more importantly our News section.

I’ve lost track of the number of themes that I have downloaded, read about and previewed.

While doing this, I have observed several different methods of promotion and distribution of themes by their authors; some highly effective and some so bad that I have had no option but to ignore the release.

This WordPress Codex page has an indepth explanation on starting off with themes for public release to promoting them and is a recommended read.

In this post I hope to address a few points that every theme author should consider when releasing a public theme.

The Theme Page

What use is a theme if nobody knows where to get it from? One of the most important elements in marketing your theme is a static page devoted to it.

I’ve seen a lot of theme authors have a single page which will list all their themes. It’s good if you have a single, but what if you release two, or maybe five or maybe fifty?

Do you want your visitor to download your theme quickly or search through the list to find it?

One practice I follow is to make a seperate page for each theme and plugin I create.

Contents of a Theme page

The theme page could contain the following:

  1. Short description of the theme
  2. Features
  3. Screenshot or a Link to a live preview (I prefer the latter)
  4. Download Link
  5. Changelog
  6. Known Bugs
  7. Things you can do with the theme. This should preferably be a list of links to different posts that explain in detail
  8. Support Information. Make sure you specify how a theme user should contact you if you are offering support. If you are not, make this clear.

How a theme page helps

For one, it provides a quick and easy way for people to link to your theme, find the theme etc.
It also works well with search engines as it normally becomes the top result if someone is searching for your theme.

Additionally, the page is timeless, unlike posts, especially if you have a permalink structure with the date in it.

Individual Posts

As I mentioned above, the theme should be on a static page. However, you should use individual posts to market the theme.

Posts should be used for theme releases and updates. It should also be used to highlight things you can do with the theme, e.g. if your theme has a custom header image support, then a post explaining how to change the header will be in order.

Posts also appear in your feeds by default and if someone is subscribed, he/she will be able to keep track of your development.

Effectively using the WordPress Theme Viewer

The Theme Viewer should be the first place where you should be getting your theme listed. It’s one place many people, including us at WLTC, track new themes.

However, this should not be your only place. The theme page belongs to your blog, not to some other site.

Another point I noticed with the theme viewer is that though you get a link back to your site, you don’t have a link to your theme page. However, they do allow you HTML in the post.

When writing a description, include the name of your theme and link that to the theme page you created. Also, a good detailed description with features works well, especially for those reading via RSS where categories are not visible.

Make the contents of your theme clear

I’ve recently been reading about the controversy surrounding sponsored links in a theme. While some authors are for this, others are against.
Hence, if you are including paid links into the footer, make it clear to those who are downloading that these are present. Also make it clear if you need them to be there, because if you have an open license, the user is free to modify your theme and remove these links.

While you don’t have to account for each and every file in your theme folder, it helps if you have an explanation for a few critical ones. e.g. if you have an Archives template, let your visitor know.

Summary

To sum up:

  • Create a page for your theme
  • Use individual posts for theme updates and other information related to your theme
  • Use the Theme Viewer effectively
  • Make the contents of your theme clear

Do you have any other tips that you would like to share?
If you are a theme author, what have you done to effectively spread the word about your theme. Have you posted your theme in our News forum?

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26
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Comments

  1. Azmeen (14 comments.) says:

    Hi Mark,

    First and foremost, I feel that you’re doing an excellent job at helping themers and plugin writers promote their products. I’m one of thousands who appreciate the service you’re providing to the community.

    I do post about any releases to the News forum, and for good measure I email you as well :)

    One think I don’t do is to dedicate a page for a theme. In hindsight, I probably should have. But I never imagined when I released my first theme that I would ever create more. Therefore, all my themes (a whopping 2 of them ;) ) are now showcased on a single page along with a widget I wrote.

    However, I use anchors so that visitors can straight away jump to the details of a particular theme from the beginning.

    As for using the theme viewer, I did it when releasing my first theme. I definitely would like to upload Quicklime there as well. However, it seems that the admin there might have other higher priorities at present. Yes, I did submit an email asking for upload permissions but haven’t obtained it yet.

    Thanks for the tips Mark. Useful stuff… as usual :)

  2. Mark (386 comments.) says:

    Azmeen, this post was written by Ajay. :)

  3. Geren (14 comments.) says:

    Mark, Ajay, et al,

    I echo Azmeen’s thought in that you guys are all doing a great job with the Weblog Tools Collection. Thanks!

    I’d like to add a couple of thoughts to your message to theme authors. Over the past couple of years, I’ve amassed a collection of several hundred themes that I thought looked great and that I might be able to use for some project some day. One thing I’ve noticed, though, that makes life a little difficult for those of us who like to customize things is that some theme authors seem to go out of their way to use arcane nomenclature in their CSS files.

    I’d like to call for theme artists (and some really are!) to try to use at least the same naming conventions that are used in the stock themes that come with WordPress. Sure, add what you need that’s not covered in the basic theme, and happily change the appearance of anything you want. But, to keep things sane for the rest of us, please try to keep some consistency with the original themes as far as tag names.

  4. Ajay (72 comments.) says:

    You’re welcome Azmen and Geren.

    Geren, what kind of tags are you talking about that is named differently? Are you talking wrt CSS?

  5. ttancm (34 comments.) says:

    Great post! Only thing I disagree with is

    “Screenshot or a Link to a live preview (I prefer the latter)”

    Should be “Screenshot AND a Link to a live preview” =)

    Screen shot lets you take a quick look at the theme and decide if you have even a remote interest in the design, etc. and the live preview lets you get under the hood, kick the tires and drive it around the block a few times (how far can I stretch a metaphor).

    I download a lot of themes but I don’t bother with themes that don’t have a live preview anymore. It’s not worth having to download it, setup somewhere yourself just to find out it only works in one broswer, or the code is horribly obtuse/non seo-friendly or whatnot.

  6. Jonathan (81 comments.) says:

    Ajay, another great post of yours. This was very helpful to me, as I’ve a theme I’d like to release in the near future.

  7. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    Thanks Jonathan.

    @ttancm, I put the “or”, because I don’t think a screenshot will ever do justice to a theme, unless it is a full size one, in which case, you might as well have the live preview.

  8. Small Potato (19 comments.) says:

    We’re having a little discussion about sponsored themes over at wpdesigner:
    http://www.wpdesigner.com/2007.....ed-themes/

    Is it enough to simply inform users of sponsored links? Do they need to know that it’s against Google’s webmaster guideline?

  9. Geren (14 comments.) says:

    Ajay:

    I’ve run across themes that use CSS tags other than the basic “content”, “entry” and other basic tags for those functions. Or, they group the tags strangely in the style.css file, placing tags for a single element in several parts of the file.

  10. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    Guess, that is the authors style :(

    I try to make all my themes with a similar layout and CSS Styles, though they don’t match the default themes.

  11. migger (2 comments.) says:

    Excellent read, guys.

  12. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    If that is the case Small Potato, then I guess you need to mention that to the visitors. It may actually weigh in whether they will use the theme or not.

  13. Small Potato (19 comments.) says:

    Ajay,

    I don’t actually accept theme sponsorship for my themes. Those are questions for the community because the solution comes down to a disclaimer.

    If the disclaimer requires the author to say it’s sponsored, say it’s against Google’s guideline, then there’s not much point in uploading the theme for download in the first place because people will assume they shouldn’t download it.

  14. Deep (5 comments.) says:

    Actually, I would suggest theme authors should keep the theme files clean and follow the common standards. i.e. keep some common files like page.php, single.php, archive.php, search.php etc.. in many themes, I have noticed that there is only one file i.e. index.php and rest of the things are taken care by if conditions, which according to me is not a good idea.

    Do let me know what you guys think about it?

    Regards,
    Deep

  15. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    @Small Potato, well I too wouldn’t accept sponsorship for my themes. I run a donation program on my site where I offer links. They can also buy ads on the Theme page on my site. But, as for footer links, I too won’t indulge it.

    @Deep, I’m with you on this one. I make the theme with a whole set of files, as that is how WordPress starts looking.

  16. Deep (5 comments.) says:

    Yup, the ones who have good experience, who will take care of every minor thing but the new guys (who just port the themes) do not care much about the standard..

    May be I will write one soon so it will help people :)

    Regards,
    Deep

  17. Deep (5 comments.) says:

    Just a minor correction..

    “Yup, the ones who have good experience, who will take care of every minor thing”

    should be

    “Yup, the ones who have good experience will take care of every minor thing”

  18. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    Do write up and let us know about it…

  19. Lisa (1 comments.) says:

    Excellent post. I’ve released a few themes, but only with my most recent on did I give it all the things you’ve discussed here. I will eventually do this for all my themes, as time permits – wishing I had done it to begin with :) Cheers!

  20. Lorelle (12 comments.) says:

    RIGHT ON! Excellent.

    The same applies to Plugin authors. Please, use Pages to feature each Theme or Plugin, or if you have hundreds of Themes, then use a Theme Viewer (I think Alex King has one in a Plugin) or create a Page with a list at the top with jump links to the specific ones listed on the page so if someone wants to write about the Theme on their blog, they have a SINGLE LINK that will take the user directly to the item under discussion. One Page per item is better.

    As someone who also writes about these things, this is the NUMBER ONE complaint I have.

    Number Two is directed to those who think “I did this for my mother. I hope you like it.” is enough of an explanation about the Theme or Plugin to help us understand what it is and why we should be motivated to use it. I can’t you how many of these I found while doing my month long series on WordPress Plugins.

    Folks, don’t wait, and don’t use the excuse that you will do this on your new ones and not the old ones. You can update the links within the Theme Viewer and http://wp-plugins.net databases and even use redirects or a link on the old page to the new Page. Do it now. It can be the make or break difference.

    You can post updates in blog posts, but update the Page, too. And put your changelog at the bottom. Tell us first about your Plugin or Theme so we know in the first two sentence what we are looking at.

    The harder the potential user has to work to figure out what this is about, the less interest they are going to have in it.

    Ajay, you are a star. Thank you for bringing this up.

  21. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    Hi Lorelle, thanks for the compliments :)

    This post was directly inspired by the frustration I used to feel while hunting for themes. Plugins were easier because the wp-plugins.net feed is a lot better.

    I do hope though that this post and your comment above inspires people to present the themes and plugins better.



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