That move was not the first time I had made such a change and, if you’ve read the previous 3 articles I wrote on the subject, you’ll see that I’ve been on a journey to find a flexible and powerful theme framework that meets specific criteria that I don’t think are commonly addressed or even talked about in most theme review posts you may have read in the past. The most important of those for me has become stability, both for the product and the vendor.
This post has been a long time coming! If you’ve known me for a while on social or from this site, you’ll know I have published similar posts before 🙂 I have tried reviving this blog a couple times in the past and circumstances just prevented me from putting time into it. But the thing is, this site has never been my only focus anyway and I’ve never made a real effort to monetize it. But I’ve never “neglected” it as long as I have in the last 3 years. Yes, my last published post here was in June 2014. That IS a long time! But I want that to change…
These State of my Toolset blog posts are becoming a annual tradition on pixelyzed.com and this year will be no different. If 2012 had been a year of all around stability and growth for me and my business, 2013 was one of continued growth in my business but one of significant change in my toolset.
Those changes were brought by the same desire for efficiency and refinement to my workflow that I’ve described before but also because I’ve been going back to some of the core principles I learned and followed when I first learned my craft and started my business in the mid to late 90’s and early 2000s. I was a strong Web standards advocate then, long before it was popular to do so and long before Web professionals realized that clean, semantic HTML code was good for search engines optimization and accessibility (that was before Google…).
While not exactly bad in that respect, I started to feel that iThemes Builder, my main theme framework in 2012 and the first half of 2013, was not as good as I’d liked in that regard. I was starting to find its HTML markup way too heavy with an overuse of div containers, too many CSS classes and not enough effort placed on semantics. This was done by design at iThemes with the goal to make creating different layouts Builder as flexible as possible. I was also starting to find styling it (CSS) tedious and frustrating because of all those extra containers with similar class names that made the code difficult to read.
In addition to that, my business partnership with a designer has given me more time to concentrate on strategy for my clients in the last year and see what I could do to help them better with their business. This entails many things not related to WordPress but, one of the ways I felt I could improve our offering and our WordPress development process is with natural on page SEO. That means, among other things, clean semantic markup and faster load times. So I started re-assessing my themes toolset and looked for ways to improve it. Again, not because Builder was bad at this but it’s not using HTML 5 elements and it’s heavier markup makes it so search engines have to get through more code to get at the actual content. It’s not a ton more, but SEO is so competitive, I figured that every little bit counts.
This review of WooThemes Canvas is my first theme review after writing my 4 Basic Criteria to Evaluate a Theme Framework post a while ago. I chose to start with Canvas because it’s a theme I’ve used often in the last 2 years and it’s been receiving a few major updates recently. As one of my 4 criteria is stability through upgrades, I can speak to that with more experience with the theme now.
I will soon be writing reviews for some of the main WordPress plugins and theme frameworks that I use in my client projects. But before I do that, I wanted to write a post explaining the basic criteria I use to evaluate a theme because they are not necessarily the same you’ll read about in most other reviews out there that focus on workflow features alone. I’ve read many theme framework reviews in the last 3 years and I found most of them to be lacking in substance. That’s not because they were bad reviews or because the people writing them were doing a bad job, they were just aimed at a specific kind of user (non-coders, beginners or casual users) and limited themselves to what I consider “surface” criteria that become far less relevant when you build Web sites with WordPress for a living. When your business and reputation depend on the quality of the themes and other products you install on client sites, “features” like drag and drop and especially “no coding required” quickly take a second or third seat to more important matters like performance, stability and flexibility.
So here I’ll explain 4 of the basic criteria I use to evaluate a theme framework’s suitability for inclusion in my workflow to be used on specific projects. I’m concentrating on issues I rarely if ever see mentioned in theme reviews so I won’t talk about things like ease of use or flexibility of any workflow related features here. Those things will be included in my specific theme framework reviews. I hope this article will help you make more informed decisions if you are looking for a theme framework to use on a client site and are not sure which one would be the best fit for your workflow and your client’s needs.