#WPDEVMAG is bringing the interview with Ben Sibley from Compete Themes. It’s a WordPress theme development team with a very unique and good “content first” philosophy that led them to almost 2 million downloads. Enjoy!
The best way to start this interview might be to ask you about your “content first” philosophy!?
When I first started designing WordPress themes, I was seeing a lot of complex layouts and busy designs, and I felt that the extra details were distracting. WordPress users put so much care and energy into their content that there shouldn’t be anything distracting visitors from it.
I wanted to make themes that would place full emphasis on the written words and media created by the users.
According to the official website, you are close to 2 million downloads. What can you tell about your market success!?
WordPress.org is a massive platform for theme developers, and it’s been amazing to see my designs reach so many people around the world. Back in 2014 things were a lot easier, but these days if you want to get a lot of downloads, you need to give people something special.
More recently, I’ve found success with the Mission News theme which fills what I call a “visual niche.”
Name a few of your themes that are having the biggest number of downloads!?
My most successful theme has been Tracks, but Author, Chosen, and Mission News have done well too. Tracks has a unique layout which makes it stand out in the repository and has lead to more list post inclusions across the web which keep downloads up.
In your opinion, the most important things in the design and development of a theme today!?
Highlighting the user’s content is the most important design consideration, whether that content is poems, photographs, or eCommerce products. Additionally, I would say that a theme needs some element of uniqueness. With minimalism and system fonts being so popular these days, there’s almost a flattening of style on the web taking place. It’s important to use uncommon typefaces or unique layouts at times to stand out and not have your theme look like everyone else’s.
What is your marketing and promotion strategy!?
I’ve always relied on the official theme repository to drive the bulk of downloads. However, content marketing and email marketing have been a great supplement to those downloads. When someone reads one of your tutorials, subscribes to your email course, and watches a video tutorial, they become much more familiar with you and your brand, and this affects their behavior in regards to download themes and upgrading to Pro versions.
As a WordPress themes development expert, what can you say as advice for those who are now starting with a themes development business!?
When it comes to development, I would say to work with WordPress, don’t fight it. WP is always changing and if you follow best practices and use their built-in features, you get to reap the rewards of their ongoing development rather than fight it.
For example, my first themes used a logo option I added to the Customizer rather than the one that comes included in WordPress. It worked fine, but then users couldn’t take advantage of plugin integrations that know where to find the default logo option, like Elementor Pro’s header tool, for example. At times this is tough.
There are many aspects of the Gutenberg editor’s design that I disagree with, for example, but at the end of the day, embracing the technology the platform puts out is the best way forward.
In regards to marketing, it’s really competitive out there, so you’ll need to create beautiful and unique designs. The best marketing tool you have is the theme’s screenshot, so make sure it stands out.
Additionally, I think we’re past the point of fascination with multipurpose themes. They’re great for more advanced users, but not everyone wants all of that functionality. You can create simpler themes as long as they look great and have easy-to-use customization options.
To end this conversation in the best possible way, send one special positive message to our readers and to the WordPress community!?
The internet changes fast, and I always had this fear in the back of my mind that what I learned about WordPress would one day be obsolete, but after nearly a decade of using WP for my own websites and six years of developing themes for others, it has only grown more popular and customizable. The way we use WordPress may be changing and the people who use it might be different, but this platform isn’t going anywhere.
Learning WordPress deeply is a great investment in yourself and your future regardless of whether you plan to create themes, plugins, or offer client services.
Keep learning, keep creating, and keep WordPress-ing.