We work with a lot of folks who purchase an off-the-shelf theme, or get a custom theme made, who seem to think that theme purchase is a one-time expense. In WooCommerce, we work with a lot of shop owners, so we know they’re careful and conscientious budgeters, and the realization that they may have to spend to either upgrade, change, or re-design their theme can be a tough pill to swallow! So why can’t you just set the theme up once, and forget about it?
Glad you asked.
More than just another pretty face
It’s easy to think of a theme as a simple slipcover on your site – a coat of paint and nothing deeper. But a theme – a good theme – is actually integral to your site’s function. Think of it as skin – your skin certainly can’t be taken off like a piece of clothing, and it relates deeply to other processes in your body – heating, cooling, alerting you to danger, etc. Your theme is how your site looks but it also can significantly change how your site works.
A unified experience
Your theme works with your plugins to display them in a uniform way. It makes sure that wherever your customer navigates on your site, they know they’re on your site at all times. No page looks weird, no button does something unexpected. They make the experience comforting and frictionless for the customer, so that the navigation of your site doesn’t impede their behavior on your site.
Still waters run deep
Your theme also uses PHP to both display the lovely exterior and those handy plugins. PHP is the bones-deep architecture, and your theme will reference the same library to make the site run quickly and smoothly, without you needing to do (almost) anything at all.
So why does that mean you’ll need to eventually do something with your theme again? It’s because all those things – plugins, platform, PHP – they all are moving pieces. The language they are using to work together is constantly evolving, just like ours is. As the site upgrades, the theme will need to as well, or it will slowly lose the ability to perform its most basic functions.
Now, I’m not saying you need to change your site look every two years, but you may need to be investing in under-the-hood maintenance that often. Certainly if you budget for that, you won’t be caught unawares if you end up needing to abandon a theme, or are ready for a big change. Otherwise, investing in having a child theme developed that is maintained is also a safe bet – but you need to plan for regular maintenance. If you look around the internet today, it looks very different than it did a few years ago – even Facebook (and just think back to GeoCities!) has changed significantly. While it’s true that that is partly because we as humans get bored, but it’s no small part due to the need to upgrade infrastructure, and everything that runs on it – including themes.
And always, always, always, keep regular backups of your site!
Storefront – the official WooCommerce theme
Twenty Seventeen – the default WordPress theme for 2017
VaultPress – backup and security for WordPress (built by Automattic)
WordPress meetups – the place to find local meetups of WordPress enthusiasts and professionals (a great place to go, ask questions, and find locals to help you!)