Content MarketingMobile and Tablet MarketingSearch MarketingSocial Media & Influencer Marketing

Don’t Blame the CMS, Blame the Theme Designer

This morning I had a great call with a potential client about their inbound marketing strategies. They mentioned that they were meeting with a firm to develop their website. I had noticed prior to the call that they were already on WordPress and asked if they would continue using it. She said absolutely not and said that it was terrible… she couldn’t do anything with her site that she wanted to. Today she’s speaking with a firm that will develop on Expression Engine.

I had to explain that we’ve worked with Expression Engine quite extensively, too. We’ve also worked with Joomla, Drupal, MarketPath, Imavex and a host of other content management systems. While some CMS systems have needed some tender loving care to leverage all the benefits of search and social, we’ve found that most CMS systems are created fairly equal… and really are only separated by the administrative functionality and ease of use.

I would be willing to bet that this client could accomplish anything she would like to in WordPress. The problem isn’t WordPress, though, it’s the way her theme was developed. One client we’ve started working with recently is a VA Loan Refinance company. They’re a great company – giving money back to veteran’s charities every time they collect a referral. Although we do a ton of WordPress customization, we’re fairly agnostic that a client can have a beautiful, optimized, and usable site on virtually any CMS as they can on WordPress. WordPress is simply very popular right now so we find ourselves working much more on that platform than others.

VA Loan purchased a custom theme and then hired us to develop their search and social strategies. The theme was a disaster… no use of sidebars, menus, or widgets. Every element was hard-coded in their template without using any of the great features that WordPress accommodates. We spent the next couple of months redeveloping the theme, integrating Gravity Forms with Leads360, and are even developing a widget that retrieves the latest mortgage rates to display on their site from their bank.

This is a systemic problem with theme designers and agencies. They understand how to make a site look good, but not how to fully leverage the CMS to incorporate all the different features that the client may want later. I’ve seen Drupal, Expression Engine, Accrisoft Freedom, and MarketPath sites that were both beautiful and usable… not because of the CMS, but because the firm that developed the theme was experienced enough to incorporate all the CMS features that leverage search, social, landing pages, forms, etc. that might be needed.

A good theme designer can develop a beautiful theme. A great theme designer will develop a theme that you can use for years to come (and migrate easily in the future). Don’t blame the CMS, blame the theme designer!

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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  1. Nail on the head. We develop a good 90% of our projects with WordPress and there are times you’ll hear comments like this and things such as “Well, it can’t do __________”. Which of course the correct response is, “If there’s not already something out there that suits your needs (theme and/or plugins), and if your developer knows how to use the API, you can do pretty much anything you want to do as long as the time and budget it there.”

    But sometimes the client has their mind set on something “new”, so you either roll with it or turn it down.

  2. That’s interesting. After starting work at Reusser Design, I’ve switched majorly to working within EE, our CMS of choice, from WordPress, which I worked with mostly when I was on my own. I would agree with you in my WP themes made all the difference. Something like WooTheme’s Canvas theme, for example, was so great to work within, while there are some other “premium” and custom themes out there that are just… icky.

    That being said, I do really like EE for website content management, in cases where “blogging” isn’t a priority. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it’s way more robust than WP, I think. Still, when you do a lot of writing or blogging within your CMS, nothing beats the user experience of WP for that writer.

    Thanks for your post!

    1. @awelfle:disqus I’m a bit clumsy when it comes to EE, it’s definitely written more for MVC developers. With that in mind, I understand that development is a bit more friendly and scalability and isn’t as much of an issue. Since I don’t think of myself as a formal developer, I tend to stick with the easy stuff that doesn’t require as much thought (but could honestly cause much more damage!).

  3. This site appears to be a modified version of TwentyEleven. Is that the case? Either way, you’re correct; it’s all about the theme, not the CMS. But WordPress, IMHO, is the best platform to work with at this moment.

    1. Good eye, @jonschr:disqus ! It’s a highly modified TwentyEleven theme… we really tore it up!  We just haven’t got around to masking all the theme names.  And we like the fact that we’re giving the good folks at @Wordpress:disqus the attention they deserve.

      1. Out of curiosity: I got here via a straight HTML landing page which pulled in this feed. Why not integrate them directly? That’s one of WordPress’ biggest draws for me; different page templates to whatever degree you choose.

        1. Hi @jonschr:disqus  – where was the landing page? We publish links out to sites like but want to focus the traffic back to a single source.  I’d rather have all the traffic here, push the authority up of this domain, and ensure any links back push this domain up with search engines.  Hope that’s what you mean!  If I publish on multiple domains, I’m splitting up that authority… I’d rather have 1 strong site rather than 2 weaker ones.

          1. Yep, that’s the one! Hmm. Makes sense… Although, then, why not simply make the “landing page” the index page of this site? No offense at all intended; just wondered what the advantage is. I like the landing page, BTW. Very nice.

          2. @jonschr:disqus no offense taken at all! You may be surprised to realize that’s a WordPress site, too. And there are a ton of internal pages that are visible to search engines. At the time the book was released, it was pretty common to have a landing page site specifically for the book. I wanted to have a domain that was optimized just for “corporate blogging” and it worked quite well. I wanted the content to frequently update on the site but I didn’t want to have to write another blog altogether – so pulling in the feed, the social communication, and using it as an events calendar keep it constantly changing. It ranks very well for a number of terms so it did the job and continues to sell books for us!

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