Why You Should Be Wary of One-Page WordPress Themes

Landing pages — stand-alone web pages that deliver a single marketing message and a single call-to-action — have been around for decades. They’re usually used to entice people to sign up for an offer or mailing list.

During the past year or so, one-page websites have exploded in popularity. Now, instead of functioning primarily as a sales tool, they’ve morphed into full-featured websites.

One-page websites work well for brands in their infancy and for sites that have a small amount of content. We developed a one-page site for a new organization, West Coast Christian Writers, while they were lining up speakers for their 2015 conference and crafting content for their full-featured site, http://westcoastchristianwriters.com/.

We did the same for Thomas Locke, an author who will release the first novel in his three-book epic fantasy series in January 2015.

Thomas Locke’s one-page site will also morph into a full-featured website next spring, when the first book in his technological thriller series releases.

Thomas Locke has been publishing novels for years under a different name, but this is his grand entrance into the realm of fantasy fiction. To kick off the new brand, Thomas and his publisher (Revell), wanted to keep things simple and tightly focused.

The Blogging Bistro team designed a one-page site for Thomas that incorporates responsive design technology (meaning that it works perfectly on a tablet, smartphone, and desktop screen).

The text is minimal. We introduced the Legends of the Realm series in one sentence:

“Epic tales of imagination and adventure – crafted by acclaimed international novelist, Thomas Locke.”

We enticed visitors with a free downloadable eBook Short, The Captive.

We highlighted Emissary, the first book in the series, with a large image of the book cover and a short promotional blurb. We added links to read the synopsis, sample an excerpt, view a map of the Realm, and order the book.

The site also includes a sign-up form for Thomas’s “News of the Realm” and blog feed, and a brief author bio.

The only “clickable” page on the site links to Thomas’s WordPress.org blog, http://tlocke.com/blog/.

Theme vs. Custom

People who visit Thomas Locke’s site email us, asking, “What WordPress theme did you use to create this site?”

We didn’t use a theme. We custom-designed, custom-programmed his site.

After researching several popular “premium” responsive WordPress themes for single-page sites, we noticed two pervasive problems with them.

1.  Size.

In terms of megabytes, they are gigantic. Parallax themes, in particular, are problematic. You’ve likely seen sites that use a parallax theme – as you scroll down the page, different layers of images move at different speeds, creating an illusion of depth.

While this effect has a faddish “cool factor,” I get seasick, dizzy, and cross-eyed when I view parallax sites. They look particularly bad on smartphones, where animations, slideshows, and ever-changing background images defeat the purpose of the site, which is to help visitors access content quickly, without hassle.

We compared the size of popular parallax themes with Thomas Locke’s custom site, and discovered that the themes are 5.6MB, 14.1MB, and 6MB in size (for the desktop version), compared to 1MB for Thomas Locke’s desktop version.

The other problem with these themes is that they do not reduce the amount of data for the mobile version. With one popular theme, you have to download 5MB of data before the site opens! Think anyone is going to wait around for a couple of minutes for your website to load on their phone? Think again!

The TLocke.com mobile version, on the other hand, is only 500KB.

When you’re evaluating themes, or themes vs. custom development, remember that even if you have a great mobile connection, a large site is going to take more than a few seconds to download. And we all know just how impatient we are when we’re using a smartphone. We want our data, and we want it NOW.

2.  Themes don’t support older versions of browsers.

A web browser is software that allows you to view pages on the World Wide Web. Common desktop browsers include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firebox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera.

If you use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 11 (the latest version), you’ll probably be fine. But if you haven’t bothered to install the latest version and you’re still using IE8 or earlier, many themes will crash your browser. They do not support IE8 or earlier.

The TLocke.com site fully supports IE8, even though it doesn’t look quite as good on the older browser. But, it DOES work.

TIP: Before investing in a theme, test it on all the major browsers, including older versions of browsers that a significant segment of the browsing public is likely to be using.

What’s the best deal?

If you are tech-savvy and comfortable manipulating code, investing in a theme and customizing it may work for you.

But when you research themes, don’t let the “looks cool” factor influence your buying decision. Take a close look under the hood. What appears slick at first glance may have abysmal usability.

TIP: Ask yourself, “Am I willing to throw away 20 percent of potential traffic to my site because people can’t view it on their outdated browser, and another 50 percent because my site loads slowly?

If you’re comfortable losing up to 70 percent your website’s potential visitors, then by all means, buy a one-page theme.

If making your site accessible to 100 percent of visitors is important to you, consider investing in the services of a website developer. You’ll spend more up front, but you’ll likely recoup your investment more quickly and be more satisfied with your website’s performance.

Chime in!

What are your thoughts about the pros and cons of custom development vs themes?