Our Position on the Free WP Theme Market – Transparency Report #5

Welcome to the fifth edition of our transparency report! In this series, we’re sharing everything that’s been going on under the hood at CodeinWP. (Hop over to the series’ own category to see all the previous reports.) The idea behind publishing this whole thing is to be transparent about the way we’re doing business and what we’ve been able to learn along the way. I hope that some of this will come handy to you when faced with similar challenges. In this edition, I talk about everything that happened at CodeinWP in June 2015:

A radical step

So you’re probably familiar (or at least I hope) with our top selling theme – Zerif Pro – and its lite version – Zerif Lite. Like I said here before a couple of times, this theme is the flagship product of ours and month after month it brings in around 40-50 percent of our revenue.

Obviously, we owe a lot to the WordPress community for receiving the theme so well and allowing us to grow our business as a result!

So we’ve decided to reinvest the money made from Zerif, take a radical step and give back to the community with the release of our newest premium-quality theme – Parallax One.

In short, it’s a fully fledged theme just like Zerif Pro, but we’re making it available for FREE.

Like, completely free. There’s no clever marketing trickery, no premium add-ons or anything, no upsells. There’s just the main Parallax One theme.

Our main goal during development was to make it a true first-league creation … make it usable for multiple purposes, integrate it with all major popular plugins, and get a strong code review to effectively make it one of the best free themes on the market (and likely better than many paid themes).

Now the question of the day: Why is it nowhere to be seen in the wordpress.org directory?

For the time being, the theme will only be available through our website. A couple of reasons for that:

  • We want to be able to communicate with the people who download it better.
  • It will make distributing the updates easier for us.
  • It gives us a better chance of driving people from Google straight to our website and not to a wordpress.org listing.
  • It’s a great opportunity to test how well we can promote a free theme that’s not part of the official directory (read below). This is actually the no.1 reason.

One more important detail; even though the theme is not in the official directory, we still got four reviewers from wordpress.org to take a look at it and examine the source code. The feedback has been good so far.

And of course, you’re welcome to check it out too: see the demo, download the theme. Let us know what you think!

Lastly, we don’t intend to hide anything or remain closed-off with our source code. On the contrary, everything is quite open and transparent (all issues, communications, commits, etc.). Here’s the main repo if you want to participate in the project: https://github.com/Codeinwp/Parallax-One

Relying on the official theme directory can be a dangerous game to play

Let’s stay with the topic of having free themes in the official directory.

In case you missed it, theme developers didn’t have the best month of June. This was all due to the WP theme review team (supposedly) cracking down on violations of the presentation vs. functionality guideline.

TL;DR. Themes are not supposed to provide any functionality related to content creation, and should only stick to adjusting content presentation. In other words, if your theme lets the user create any type of custom content that will be lost after switching themes then it won’t be allowed into the official directory.

This is something that many themes with, say, custom static homepages do. For instance, they offer custom widgets or text areas in the customizer, which are then displayed on the homepage.

As you’ve maybe noticed, our theme Zerif Lite was mentioned by name in that WPTavern post as an example of a theme that’s not entirely in tune with the guideline.

We’ve done some back and forth on this issue and managed to explain some aspects of the matter. But in the end, my opinion on this is that rules for rules’ sake aren’t a good way to go forward.

Let the users decide instead. Let them vote with their downloads.

At the end of the day, if the users want a cool way of building a custom homepage then we’re more than happy to provide. Ultimately, the methods used in Zerif Lite are only meant to make things quicker and more hassle-free than the alternative of downloading other third-party plugins (that will slow down your site) to get the same functionality.

On the other hand, if the users decide that they’d rather use our themes for presentation only and leave the content to plugins/native WordPress structures then we’re more than happy to comply too.

Now, about my takeaways from this:

Relying on any single marketing channel to be the core of your business is a dangerous game to play.

Be it Google (for SEO), or wordpress.org for getting people to your free theme, or anything else. Whatever your no.1 channel might be, it can vanish overnight if serious-enough problems come up.

And don’t get me wrong, I have no quarrel with the WP theme review team or anyone else for singling out our theme when talking about this issue. The review team and the whole community of wordpress.org have only one goal – making the platform better. This is our goal too. But also quite obviously, even though the goal is the same, the paths to achieving it can be different. This doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is wrong.

This whole situation had its influence on our decision to release Parallax One on our site only. This will allow us to get users’ opinions first – “let them vote with their downloads” remember? – and based on their feedback make the theme even better. We just don’t want to risk being outed from the WP directory due to our theme not passing the review.

So the advice for every entrepreneur out there is simple, and it’s been said over and over again:

Don’t put all your eggs in the same (marketing) basket.

Diversify as much as possible. Do it as a way of preventing trouble, instead of reacting when it happens.

One more project around free WP themes

There’s one new addition to the CodeinWP family that I’m happy to mention.

Actually, it’s been with us for more than a couple of months, but I haven’t had the opportunity to talk about it earlier.

It all started in January when we bought a website called freewpthemes.in for $1,000 and decided to re-brand it.

After a couple of months, JustFreeThemes.com was born.

jft

Although it might sound like a weird claim, it’s actually one of the biggest unofficial free WordPress theme directories.

Under the hood it’s a WordPress blog with some added functionality. Here’s what we did with the original site to improve it:

  • We’re adding one theme each day to expand the directory.
  • Added Schema markup for each listing.
  • Introduced a nicer way to present themes and review them.
  • General site structure improvements to make it more accessible and readable.
  • And most importantly, we’re hosting demos for each theme in the directory.

jft2

I want to emphasize that last thing some more. Basically, one of the main problems when you go to the official directory at wordpress.org and click on any theme’s demo is that it looks kind of unattractive, regardless of the quality of the theme itself. Actually, there are two specific problems here:

  1. The preview looks nothing like the screenshot of the theme. There’s just filler content.
  2. There’s the same boat. Every. Single. Time.

boat

At JustFreeThemes, every demo looks like it was intended to look. No boats.

Note. I have an interesting observation regarding those hosted demos. It turns out that because we’re doing this, some bloggers actually link to us instead of the theme’s listing at wordpress.org. This gives us some more organic SEO exposure, which is a great thing and it reassures me that we’re doing the right thing here.

Speaking of SEO. JustFreeThemes is growing even faster than our main blog (something I talked about in the previous report) and that’s all through organic channels. We didn’t invest in any kind of promotion. The traffic comes from the search engines, referrals and direct visits.

Here’s how the site has been growing since February this year:

ga

(In case you’re wondering, those huge traffic drops come every Saturday and Sunday … like clockwork.)

Why did we even get into a topic like that? Well, I’ve always felt that there’s too much confusion around the topic of free themes. I mean, the themes listed in the official directory are only a small portion of what’s available on the market. I hope that JustFreeThemes will be able to fill that void.

How much revenue are we bringing from this project right now? The answer is 0. But I hope that with enough patience and work things will change in the future. The dream is to transform this site into a main go-to place for people looking for free WP themes.

Revenue breakdown (Jun 1st – Jul 1st)

Here are the numbers for June:

jun-rev

Comparing to the previous month. In May:

  • # of customers: 879
  • revenue per customer: $91.25
  • total revenue: $80,211.14

Which gives us (approximately):

  • # of customers: +10.5%.
  • revenue per customer: +7.4%.
  • total revenue: +18.7%.

Interesting fact, a month ago, our revenue growth was exactly +18.7% as well.

Zerif Pro is still our leading product. On its own, it makes up 43.33% of our theme revenue this month. To be exact:

leader

(Treasure Chest is our main “all themes access” subscription and, as you can see, the no.2 on our bestsellers list.)

Final thoughts

Overall, dealing with the wordpress.org problems and all has had its toll on me. Most importantly, I learned that there’s no point responding to criticism right away, when the iron is hot. You’re always better off being respectful and trying to give yourself some time before handling high-stress situations.

At the end of the day, you’re only as strong, market-wise, as your ability to adapt and find your place on the ever-changing playing field which is the WordPress world.

Okay, I think that’s all for now. I hope to have you on board for the next report, and that the things I shared here have been informative. As always, thanks for reading and supporting CodeinWP!

Don’t forget to stay updated with what we have going on. Everything shared here:

All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.

Ionut Neagu

Love to travel, share and help others, I am working with WordPress at ThemeIsle.com. Passionated by Growth Hacking and the big things around me (trying to understand people, society, economy and our world ).
  • Parvez Akther

    Wondering, what analytics software you are suing to track sales and conversion? Is it mixpanel?

    • yes, is mixpanel 🙂

      • Parvez Akther

        Great 🙂

  • Will the free themes in your new directory be vetted to at least check for malware and other nefariously-included code?

    • Hey Donna,

      Basically the theme is w.org compatible ( the code is public as well), we just wanted for now to keep it on our side to avoid spending time on something else than product.

      Probably in few months, the theme will be distributed through the repository as well 🙂

  • Hey Ionut, this new project of free WordPress themes sounds pretty cool. I totally dig the Online Demo (hosting) thing. Good luck with this venture!

  • Hi,

    you are not getting any WP services work from the blog yet ?

    If you are getting services work then why not posting its revenue ? Thanks

    • Hey,

      At the moment we are not accepting clients, however we do not include blog revenue either, is more for Themeisle only.

  • Hey Ionut,
    The CodeinWP family is doing a great job. The offers are great and details about WordPress are revealing.

    I have come to see this site as place to address some problems I have with WordPress.

    This is the first transparency report I have read and I must state its details are revealing. I will surely follow the recommendations to read the previous reports!

    Thanks for these details!
    I left the above comment in kingged.com where this report was shared by Erik Emanuelli

  • Can you tell us on average how much time it takes to get a theme approved on WordPress.org directory?

    • It can be between 1 month and 3 months.

      • Andrew

        Now it’s about 6 months from the point of submission to the point of going live (providing that it passes). 6 months is just not acceptable.

        • True. The problem is even bigger than this, after those 6 months you don’t know what to expect, since things are changing and each reviewer have their own views or preferences.

  • Sorry for the confusion Donna. We look only at GPL themes, so code is transparent and most of the themes are hand-picked themes from the w.org repo 🙂

  • I Just found your transparency reports via an article on Elegan Themes – Very impressive figures!

    I would love to include your blog in an income reports roundup that I am just about to publish on my blog however, I would need your July figures.

    Can you tell me when you plan to publish these figures?

    Thanks in advance

    Raj

    • Hey Raj,

      The july article should be published in the next hours.

      Thanks!

  • Hey Ionut, it’s a really great point that the official directory at WordPress.org does not have all the themes out there, but they have all the tools and staff onboard to make sure that every single theme that they approve is really of high quality. With that in mind, can you guys guarantee the same (or better quality) with http://justfreethemes.com/ ?

    • Hey Vitaliy,

      Thanks for commenting here! 90% of the themes on jft are listed on w.org as well, so what we are trying to do is to hand-pick the best ones while providing a better browsing experience and demos.

      • Oh, I didn’t realize that. Thanks a lot for clarification!