You may not know this, but your theme can really bog down your site speed. Making sure you choose a theme that is fast and scalable, or “future proof,” is what we’ll be covering in this Speed Series. My name is MadHatter McGinnis... I’m an Enterprise Support tech here at WP Engine and I’ll be your guide!
When creating your WordPress site, you are excited to get your site up and running as soon as possible. Most people start by finding a theme that fits their project, then they build around that. For those that aren’t developers, their first thought might be to find a theme with all the extras, the bells and whistles. Although this could save you time in the beginning, it could cost you in the long run with poor performance.
This is a problem we like to call theme bloat. Theme bloat is when a theme has way more functionality than you really need. Sure, a theme might have custom audio and video players or several different built-in styles that you can switch out on the fly... but are these things you really need out of the box? Parts of a theme that go unused are just sitting around taking up storage space and possibly processing time from the things that actually matter.
Let’s compare two different theme types to drive this point home. The first theme example is a “Site Builder.” These themes usually offer setup wizards or drag-and-drop elements to create the layout for you. These themes are great for small projects that are not getting much traffic. However, on more important sites, let’s explore why this type of theme isn’t future proof in terms of performance and scalability.
After you build your WordPress install with a site builder… When are you going to use that builder again? That’s more than likely a one-time event. This is now stale functionality and it’s just eating up disk space and possibly memory from your server’s resources. If the site ever takes off and starts getting more traffic, you could start to see problems with performance.
Also, where are all those options that the builder has stored away? Well, they get crammed into the WordPress database. That means that, in order to find the right styles for the text, links, images, layout, and so forth, it’s making a call to the database to find that information every single time. Essentially, that means that a site’s appearance could now also rely on the speed of your database, which is not ideal.
What’s worse is that these options are often being autoloaded in the background for every visitor on your site. If you’re not familiar with the pitfalls of autoloaded data, please check out the "Database Optimizations" video later on in this Speed Series.
With page builders, you can sometimes turn certain functionality on or off, but this does not remove the code required to make it work - it’s just not referenced anymore. So you still have files and lines of database just sitting there doing nothing to contribute to society.
This custom theme has only the specific files needed to make the site look great without reaching out to the database. This theme can fully utilize caching and CDN service. Overall, this allows your site to be much faster and eliminates impact of stale functionality.
If hiring a developer to create a custom theme is not in your budget, you should be able to find a good middle ground. There are plenty of sites that offer premium WordPress themes. Very rarely will you find a theme that works 100% like you’ve got pictured in your head. But that's why WordPress has plugins for you to use.
This begs the question, “What should I look for in a theme?” Instead of looking for a large list of functionality you can just jam into one place, you should be focusing on the visual aspects instead.
Does it have the layout you want? Does the color scheme match your brand and your image, and if not, is it easy to change? These visual aspects of the site should be covered by your theme.
Plugins can take care of the functions that are not included in the theme. E-commerce, social sharing, and Membership portals are all fine examples of features that could easily be added with plugins.
That wraps up this section on how to avoid theme bloat. Please continue with the Speed Series by watching our next video, which covers how a CDN can increase site performance.
Your theme may have all the bells and whistles but are you really utilizing enough of them to justify the bloat?
In this video we will explore how to future proof your site by selecting the right theme. We will also explore how to determine if a custom theme is right for you.