Do you want to enter the world of WordPress theme and plugin development? Are you thinking of designing or building a theme or plugin from scratch? We have done both free to use, open-source projects, as well as projects built for large scale markets such as Mojo Marketplace. Designing and building WordPress themes and plugins entails much more than creating custom websites or web based applications for a single use. Here are some useful tips to help get you started:
Rather than building for a client where the requirements are more concrete, you have to prepare for as many use cases as possible. What if one theme user wants to customize certain colors? What if another one wants to be able to adjust the layout of the sidebar, or menus? You have to weigh complexity vs how useful the feature is and only build features that are user friendly.
WordPress powers over 30% of the internet, and is by far the most widely used content management system (https://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all). WordPress is also open-source, so all code is free and the community drives updates and development. It follows that the theme and plugin development market is huge.
Research and Choose A Niche
Since so many people use WordPress, there is much to gain, but it is also very competitive. Choosing a niche, such as construction companies, real estate agents, or medical professions is a great way to focus your development, and narrow the market.
Check other popular themes and websites that focus on your niche. What do the successful ones do well? What services/goods are most important to this niche? What functionality would a business owner want for their website in this niche?
When developing a theme, you need to separate each part of the design or layout into separate blocks or entities, to make planning and organizing code and files easier. The header and footer are the obvious items to separate. Another common one is any sidebars, or navigation menus. For posts, the comment area would be another one. Does your homepage have unique sections? These could be another. More information on this can be found here: https://developer.wordpress.org/themes/basics/template-hierarchy/
Themes are used by many different users, for many different purposes. Therefore, you have to build some customizations, so the theme doesn’t look the same for every user. A common example of this is colors. Let your users change their background color, or main text color. Another example could be sidebar location. Most of the time, a user will want the ability to choose where, or if, the sidebar shows up.
Mobile design is absolutely required for websites nowadays. Make sure the most essential things are prioritized for mobile, and make sure the theme is 100% responsive. Use a framework, such as BootStrap, or plan a responsive framework ahead of time. The flexbox feature of CSS can also help with this.
There are a ton of useful guides for designing for mobile first, like this one: https://www.uxpin.com/studio/blog/a-hands-on-guide-to-mobile-first-design/
Nobody will use a theme that puts them at risk. Security is absolutely key. WordPress handles most of this for us, but as a theme developer you may need to create custom forms or settings. Anytime any user can type something that will eventually end up in the database in any form, protective steps need to be taken. In addition, whenever something is read from the database, before you display it, you need to be careful. This involves validating, sanitizing, and escaping. Validating is making sure input is the correct format. Sanitizing is removing any malicious or unexpected input. Lastly, escaping is cleaning data before it is output to any user.
Create a Release Strategy
Choose where and how to release your theme to the world. There are free options available, theme markets you can join, or you can sell and host it yourself.
Developers will need to prepare nice looking screenshots and marketing graphics, creative and helpful descriptions, instructions, and demos. If the theme documentation and demo are lacking, it will be extremely hard to stand out and gain traction.
Make sure to offer users a way to sign up for subscription updates to your theme building projects. It is always great to have an email list to send out alerts to when you have a new product or theme.
Once you release your theme, it is a great idea to provide support and listen to any reviews or feedback you may get. Once you have people that use your products, interacting with them increases the likelihood they will continue to use your products and be interested in future products. Use these reviews and feedback to plan future updates.