Premium WordPress Theme Showdown

While there is no shortage of amazing free themes in the WordPress marketplace, a good premium theme can be well worth the cost to buy and the effort to learn. With the cost of premium themes, it’s hard to test each and every theme to find which one is right for you.

That’s why I’ve done the work to test several different themes to give you an unbiased opinion on each. This will help you choose the right theme from the start and avoid wasting money.

Since we all have very different needs for our websites and since we have different development skills, I don’t think I can recommend just one theme. Therefore, I will discuss Genesis, Standard, Catalyst, and Canvas in regards to several features: Flexibility, SEO, Ease of use, and Cost.

Flexibility

We’ve all used free themes at some point, and one of the reasons I usually steer clear of free themes is that they don’t allow you many options. Free themes are usually designed for one type of layout. For example, a two-column layout. If you want to use a three-column layout instead, you will have to add the 3rd column to the theme yourself.

This is not always very difficult, but it would be nice to simply change the layout by having a theme option.

As of October 2012, all of these themes allow you to have a wide range of layout flexibility by changing some options in the backend. But, we also need to consider how easy it is to change the layout for each theme.

With that in mind, the winners are clearly going to be Genesis, Canvas, and Standard theme. Genesis allows the user to pick between 6 layout options in the backend. Below are the layout options for Genesis.

Genesis Layout Options

Canvas also allows the user to pick between 6 layouts as well as 5 footer widget areas! Below is a screenshot of the layout options for Canvas.

Canvas Theme Layout Options
Standard Layout OptionsTo the right are the 3 layout options for the Standard theme. As you can see, it is super easy to pick between 3 layouts. There is not as much flexibility as Genesis as Canvas, but ease of implementation puts Standard above Catalyst,whose interface are difficult to use.

SEO

Chances are that you run your blog for more than just therapeutic reasons. Personally, I don’t write to just write. I write because I want to make money or increase my reputation online. Knowing that, I don’t want to waste my time writing great content when my theme is less than par in terms of SEO. That just stinks of wasted effort to me.

Genesis and Catalyst, and Cavas really shine in terms of SEO because they allow the user to control the home page SEO as well set SEO options on a per page/post basis.

Thesis Home Page Seo

By default, Standard allows the user to change the meta description on a per post basis. But, you can get much more SEO control in Standard by using a plugin such as WordPress SEO by Yoast.

With that said, it is also worth nothing that WooThemes, Genesis, Standard, and Catalyst are known for playing friendly with SEO plugins.

Ease of Use

Ease of use is very important to me. I like having options one the backend that will allow me to change things quickly. But, there is such a thing as having too many options.

The themes that are the easiest to use, in my opinion, are Genesis and Standard since they both give just enough options to be powerful, then back off.

My next favorite is Canvas since they do an amazing job of organizing the tons of options they have. Also, keeping the number of options on each page small helps with the usability.

Canvas Theme Options
I’ve always thought Catalyst was somewhat difficult to use, mainly due to the options interface. But, it is well organized which helps to find options.

Please keep in mind that I usually prefer to drop in custom code and this is why I have ranked the themes in this order for this section. If you don’t like to code, then Canvas and Catalyst are great themes as they have many options and organize them well.

Cost

There are two ways to look at cost of premium themes. There is the upfront one-time purchase fee. Then there are any residual fees, such as yearly memberships or client sites fees.

In terms of cost, Standard is the most affordable theme out of this group. Standard has two licenses. The $49 license allows you to download standard one time and allows you to use it on unlimited sites. The $99 license allows you unlimited version updates, unlimited domains, technical support, community discussion, and customized tutorials.

Genesis is the next most affordable theme at $59.95 for unlimited updates, support, and domains. You will also get access to detailed tutorials. For $349.95, you will get all themes that Studiopress makes now and in the future with unlimited updates and support.

Canvas is the next most affordable theme at $70 for unlimited domains and support and updates for one year. For just $30 extra, you can get lifetime support and upgrades!

Catalyst is the next most affordable theme at $127 for unlimited updates and support, unlimited domains, and premium plugins.

Whoa, Where’s Thesis?

You may be asking yourself why the heck wasn’t Thesis mentioned in this post. In short, at this time DIYthemes hasn’t released documentation, so we’re withholding their showdown review until after the fact. I truly believe Thesis 2.0 is a powerhouse and am looking forward to the documentation ;)

Conclusion

All of these themes are very powerful options to use in your web development. Each of these themes are backed by amazing teams that provide great support and push development.

In the end, I can not decide which theme is best as that is a personal decision. Personally, I am rocking Standard for now as it comes packed with some simply, but powerful, options.

Which theme are you using, and why? Leave a comment below letting us know!

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Written by Eric Binnion

Eric Binnion is a computer science student at Midwestern State University. When Eric is not online, he is usually volunteering in his community or enjoying time with his family. You can find Eric on Twitter.

Comments

  • Chris Langille says:

    Nice site man! I’ve used Woo, Genesis, and Standard, and Standard is hands down the best in my opinion for ease-of-use and overall functionality. It’s clean, light, but at the same time impactful with plenty of options. I love that Standard is lean and mean with no bloat, and their theme support is unrivaled in my opinion.

    My second favorite is a close tie between Woo and Genesis. Woo’s options are sometimes overkill, and when they go to Yoast’s WordPress SEO for their main SEO needs at the end of the month, that will cut some of the bloat from their themes. Sometimes Woo’s themes can be a bit cookie-cutter as well, while some of StudioPress’ themes just look dated. Both are very good though in theme selection and support.

    I’ve never tried Catalyst or Thesis though, although I’ve heard good things about both.

    Keep up the good work man!

  • Dennis says:

    I run Standard on my sites, but I’m not a fan of the customizations I’ve done mostly because my lack of coding ability forces them to be very basic. I’ve been eyeballing the Headway theme lately.. it was left off your analysis above.. where do you think Headway stacks against these powerhouse frameworks?

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Hey Dennis,

      I personally have not used Headway yet. I am currently testing it out and will update this post shortly.

    • Chris Langille says:

      Hi Dennis,

      Headway was the very first premium theme/framework I bought about 2 years ago when the were brand new. I used them for about 2 weeks and asked for my money back. Not because it was a bad product, but I had zero knowledge of how to customize it, and their support left much to be desired so I really couldn’t do anything with it at the time. They were respectful of that and refunded my money no questions asked which was cool.

      I think they’ve had several updates since then, so I don’t know if it got any easier to use, but Standard is a piece of cake once you learn some basic skills. I use Google Developer tools in my Chrome browser and that helps a ton!

      Good luck with your decision.

      • Dennis says:

        My sites are on Standard now.. have been for some time. I like how clean and crisp it is and easy to use, but without the time to learn how to code I am stuck without much customization. I’ve played with the Headway Demo and managed to make the demo site look a lot closer to how I want mine to look in little time thanks to what little coding knowledge I have combined with their visual editor.

        I like what you did with Standard. It shows a personality.

  • Chris Ames says:

    Great write-up, Eric!

  • I use Standard almost exclusively for all of my work now a days. Their support is personal, quick and just simply incredible. The team at Standard is a group of rockstarts who genuinely do care about you as the client, and not the $ bottom line. For that – Standard wins!

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Definitely. I like that they built upon Bootstrap also, which gives it quite a bit of power.

      Thanks for dropping by Keith.

  • Avinash D'Souza says:

    Hmmn…while I’m currently rocking Thesis on my beta blog, I do agree with your initial analysis. It’s a hard nut to crack and till Pearson and team release more comprehensive documentation, that’s how it’s gonna stay.

    You’ll see a couple of tutorials every week from leading devs on Twitter but that’s about it.

    As for the Schema and Google+, that’s pretty easily replicable via a plugin. Same for the 404 page.

    Sure makes things a bit easier but…till someone comes up with a couple of skins, the noobs(me) aren’t gonna like it much!

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Avinash,

      I agree. Thesis is hard to understand, and without the documentation it’s a very steep learning curve. Thanks for dropping by!