I was thinking about WordPress themes this morning, and how hard it is to find a good theme. There are tons of themes that look great, but once I install them, I either have no idea how to set up the theme to look like the demo, or I’m presented with so many customization options that I say “whelp, nevermind!” and go try to find another one.

In theory, ratings are supposed to help you find better themes, but they’re so open to interpretation that you really only end up getting unfocused opinions. I like this, therefore, five stars. I hate Gutenberg, therefore, zero stars. It’s not really helpful.

What if theme ratings were more granular? For example:


◻️ Someone set it up for me

Works as intended
Did you encounter any bugs?:

Has the features I need

Helpful support
◻️ I haven’t contact support

Optional Comments:

Every person using a theme is, of course, biased — so in some ways the ratings would still be arbitrary — but by providing some semblance of categorization, we might at least help people think about the theme experience.

You might be saying (because I am also thinking) — “oh, but Mel, it’s already hard to get people to fill out ratings. By adding more questions, wouldn’t it make it even harder?”

Partially, yes. Someone’s gonna look at that form and be like “nah, pass.” But for some, the additional structure might make them more likely to review. I hate being presented with a single star rating field and a comment field because it feels so unstructured, I never know what to say. Since my name is always included, I feel like I need to have a smart response or else someone’s going to come along and be like, “wow, Mel’s an idiot.” Having a guided form like the above helps me at least rationalize how I feel about something, and by breaking it down into specifics, I feel like I can provide a more accurate rating.

Anyway, just random a Sunday morning afternoon thought.

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10 thoughts on “Ratings

  1. I think that the main issue is that it’s really tricky to get themes to look like the demo, and users just get frustrated and assume it’s not possible so give it a low rating, yet I feel like only those who really love the theme will take the time to leave a higher review. It leaves a tricky balance, but honestly, I don’t like the idea of complicating leaving a review too much. Perhaps checkboxes would be nice: “Did you get the theme to look as it was presented?”, “Have you contacted support?” etc.

    Honestly, the more granular experience you mentioned probably would strike a good balance between not being overcomplicated but being more fair to theme developers.

    1. Yeah, absolutely agree that it’s hard to get any theme to look like its demo. It’s a challenge we’ve been tackling for years on WordPress.com, and I feel like we’re only now just starting to break ground thanks to Gutenberg.

      Checkboxes are also a good idea!

      1. By themselves, themes are inherently difficult to setup (as is WordPress in general, realistically). But with something like Merlin WP – it’s a cinch. I’ve had so many folks complimenting the wizard. Gutenberg will help to a degree, but without some sort of helper to guide folk the issue will continue to persist.

        1. Totally — and I think there’s also a lot of potential to improve theme setup once Gutenberg templates are more standardized and fleshed out.

  2. The more nuances review style resembles the restaurant rating where people are asked to judge the friendliness of the service, the quality of the foot and the order and payment experience. It will have various degrees of helpfulness, especially when something is really not working right. Then the Themes author knows where to invest more time, and the other theme searchers know to stay away from it. Similar to your experience, I walk away if a theme has too many options and allows me to give color to every single piece of content. I am definitely a fan of Color palettes, and if the home page doesn’t look like the demo, I am ok with it at first, but after 15 minutes,I should have a working homepage. I think the world of black and white, right or wrong, i would like to get back to a more nuanced discourse. Let’s start with WordPress themes:-)

  3. I’ve been toying with this issue of review criteria myself for quite some time. I review WordPress themes and plugins on my blog. You’re right that any review is ultimately going to be subjective, as is the reason for choosing a theme, and then deciding whether it fits your project or not.

    I think your idea of a “granular” or more personable approach to theme reviews is on the right track. As others have mentioned, the problem is finding a balance between the specific and the general.

    All that being said, I still think that some review criteria are universal in appeal, including but not limited to the following:

    Security = Is the theme well coded? Does it have regular updates? Does it require many 3rd party plugins thus opening the way for security vulnerability?
    Installation & Setup = Does the theme work right out of the box? Or does it have a learning curve? This is tricky, because if you want specific features then you’re going to have to be willing to go the extra mile in terms of installation. But I still think that a one-click install is the way to go.
    Usability = Can you actually do what you need to do without applying for a Udemy course?
    Speed = Does the theme take a decade to load? Or is it lightweight and snappy?
    Functionality = Does the theme work across all major platforms from desktops to smartphones? So many themes I download look great on my 27″ iMac but when I turn to my iPhone they go into Frankenstein mode!

    Perhaps it would be helpful to draft a “white paper” for review criteria. Circulate it and get feedback.

      1. Hi Mel, this is just to follow up on my previous comment. After giving the whole theme review things some more thought, I came up with a tentative list of criteria for what a useful WordPress theme review might consist of: http://wpliving.net/what-should-a-wordpress-theme-review-consist-of

        I know this doesn’t strictly apply to the WordPress.org theme repository review system, although I do mention it in the post, but hopefully some of the thinking might help towards improving that system too. I’d appreciate any feedback you might have. Thanks very much.

  4. Friction definitely has its place in UX, and I see longer forms as a great example. I suspect that the least useful reviews would be weeded out, and negative reviewers would be forced to break down their complaints. A 1 star review in one section of a review like you propose is wildly more useful than a 1 star oveall review.


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