Let’s play two truths and a lie.

  • WordPress lets you build a website that can be endlessly redesigned without starting from scratch each time.
  • When you redesign a WordPress website, all of your content is preserved. Just the layout and colors, etc. change.
  • When you buy a theme with everything “all-in-one”, you’re set for life. You’ll never need another theme.

Ok, confession. One of those is true, the other is true sometimes. And the other leads to a crippling state called lock-in.

How “All-in-One” WordPress Themes Hurt Your Business

Many WordPress themes are designed to be one-size fits all. They guarantee to take any small business web design from zero to hero. They do this by providing built-in SEO tools, build-in portfolios and oodles of gadgets, they aim to stand out from the pack.

They’re so good, they say, you won’t ever need or want a different WordPress theme. But we all know you’ll want to eventually.

You’ll want to redesign your site, in two years, maybe three. One of the cool functions of WordPress is when you switch themes, your web page content, blog posts, media and other content are unchanged.  They are just displayed inside a new web design. But if you are using an all-in-one theme, some of that content will just disappear. Why?

All-in-one themes tend to store your content in a unique way so nothing else can retrieve them. That content is locked-in. You can never ever see it again unless you use the old theme. Not even a WordPress expert can guarantee restored access.

There goes two years of paid-for content, hard work and SEO value down the tubes. That could mean starting over, hard.

How To Avoid Theme Lock-In

Don’t start with an all-in-one theme. I’ve found themes with big promises are often difficult to work with. So, that widescreen slider with beautiful animations will look great BUT ONLY if you purchase this additional plugin, toil for hours learning Portuguese to read the instructions and hire models and a fashion photographer for your pictures.

In fact, if you’re browsing for WordPress themes right now, stop. Do you have all of your web pages written? Have you taken all of your product shots and team pictures? Are you prepared to call a photographer today to get that done? If not, you aren’t ready to buy a theme.

I highly recommend planning, writing and finalizing as much website content as you can before choosing a theme. When you know you don’t and won’t have pretty pictures, you know not to choose a theme which relies on large images.

Plan For Change

When you plan your website ahead of time, you can identify the website features critical to your business. Things like online scheduling, order forms, e-commerce, image portfolios, etc. Then, as you choose a theme, lookout for designs which offer built-in solutions for these features. Avoid depending on a theme to provide critical business systems.

Instead, plan to support those features with plugins. Plugins are individual software packages that integrate with almost any theme to give you the features you need. I think you’ll find you switch themes more often than you change out plugins.

Expect and Accept Some Lock-in

However, some lock-in symptoms are unavoidable. Like mobile homes, your website can be moved to any number of hosting companies, be refitted with new windows and doors and get new appliances. But you’ll always have to give something up to bring in the new.

For example, every theme styles blog posts a little differently. We often have to reformat the images and spend time making tweaks to old content after switching to a new theme. No problem, all the content is preserved, just needs a little polishing. We can plan for that.

What you must avoid are themes that compromise the integrity of your marketing strategy. Convenience and flashy presentation might be built-in, but these luxuries aren’t worth the heartbreak of lost blog posts.