Flexible, Customisable WordPress Themes

Pre-designed Sites

At the start of this article, I pointed out that the themes I’m discussing do need some customisation to make them look attractive. If you aren’t great at design, or you struggle to decide on page layouts, this could be quite daunting.

If you are finding the layout of individual pages to be a challenge, then it might be worth looking into page builder layouts (see below), which could be used with any of the themes featured in this article.

However, the three themes take this further, each with their own approach to helping you get a new site up and running.

Please note that I am not advocating this method of website building. Personally, I’m too much of a control freak to want my site to be built by someone else, but I think that these pre-built pages and sites could be useful tools in the right circumstances.

UPDATE: This article was originally written before the introduction of the WordPress block editor (a.k.a. Gutenberg). The information I’ve given above, about customising colours and so on, is still relevant. The suggestions below should still work, but it is now much easier to layout pages than it used to be, as I’ve described in my articles “A Simple Page Layout With GenerateBlocks” and “A Simple Page Layout with the WordPress Block Editor“.  I’d suggest you check them out before diving into using one of the following methods.

Page Builder Layouts

Page builder plugins, such as Beaver Builder and Elementor, enable you to drag and drop rows, columns and modules onto a page. It’s also possible to obtain ready built layouts for various types of page.

Here’s an example using the free Beaver Builder Lite plugin and the Ultimate Addons for Beaver Builder plugin ($69 for 1 year with a 40% renewal discount).

As well as a range of Beaver Builder modules, UABB gives you over a hundred templates, including several that are intended for use on about pages.

I installed a template that seemed appropriate for my gardening website, and then it became available for me to use on my about page.

Using the template as a starting point, I could for example, change the words, add or delete modules, use my own photo (from microstock site Dreamstime, in this case) and change the shade of green to one which matched my branding.

GeneratePress

GeneratePress Sites are available only with the Premium plugin and are described as “importable demo sites to kickstart your next build”.

As I write this article, in early May 2018, GP Sites were launched only a few weeks ago and there are just 22 to chose from.  The sites have been contributed by several different developers. Some are based on either Elementor (free or Pro) or Beaver Builder (Pro), and some do not use a page builder plugin. [UPDATE: There are now some nice GP Sites using the GenerateBlocks plugin, rather than a page builder plugin, and those are the ones I would condsider if I was going along that route. ]

Sites are far more extensive than the layouts I discussed earlier; they import plugins, change settings, add CSS code, pages, posts, menus and (in some cases) contact forms. Importing a site turns your website into an exact copy of the preview, which you can use as a starting point for your new website.

I feel that if design is not one of your strengths, then GP sites could be a good way to build an attractive website. Inexperienced users may find it helpful to have a site already set up for them with pages, menus, contact forms etc. already in place – but could find it challenging to change certain aspects of the design. It helps to have a bit of knowledge about GeneratePress – particularly how the headers feature works.

I imported the Catalyst site for this exercise.

The Catalyst site uses GP headers, GP sections and the Lightweight Grid Columns plugin. Personally, I find this plugin to be a quick and easy way to add columns – although non-coders might panic (needlessly) at the sight of its shortcodes. [UPDATE: These days I’d use the block editor, and columns blocks instead. There are some newer GP sites that use the block editor.]

Most of the colours in this site can be changed in the customiser.

GP Sites are still in their infancy so it’s likely that in future there will be a far greater range to choose from, and there may be improvements in the way they work.

Astra

Astra sites have been around for longer than the GeneratePress equivalent and there is a larger selection to choose from, although some of them require the Astra agency bundle. However, the free Astra Starter Sites plugin enables you to import certain sites with just the free version of the theme.

All the sites are based on a page builder plugin, either Elementor or Beaver Builder, and it isn’t necessary to have the paid versions of these. [UPDATE: Gutenberg (i.e. block editor) starter sites are now available too and those are the ones I’d use if I was doing this exercise today.]

I was able to find a free site that seemed perfect for my gardening test website. It automatically installed some free plugins…

… and then importing the demo content added pages ready built with Beaver Builder lite.

Because I was using the free version of Astra, there were limits to the extent that I could change colours via the customiser.

But it was easy to add my logo and to use Beaver Builder to change the content of the pages. I could have added other modules (provided by Ultimate Addons for Beaver – lite) or widgets from the SiteOrigin Widgets bundle.

I was impressed by how easy it was to get the new site up and running.

OceanWP

The free OceanWP demo import plugin provides access to a selection of 13 free demo sites. All of these, except the “Blogger” and “Personal” demos, which do not use a page builder, are based on the free Elementor plugin. Pro demos are also available if you purchase the extension.

I wasn’t sure there was a free demo that exactly matched the requirements for my garden site, but perhaps that’s not the point – this is supposed to be a starting point that I can customise. I decided to go with the “Yoga” demo. This installed the Elementor and Contact Form 7 plugins and suggested that I purchased the Ocean Sticky Header extension for $9.99 but I decided not to do this.

As with the other two themes, once I’d installed the demo content, my site was transformed, with new posts and pages.

Various elements could be customised, as usual.

The Elementor page builder was used to edit the content of the pages.

6 thoughts on “Flexible, Customisable WordPress Themes”

  1. Landed here from /r/WordPress. The post is archived, so just wanted to comment and say terrific article! So few reviews talk about the customization options, and what is free versus requires premium. As someone who creates a lot of WordPress sites this was one of the most helpful reviews I’ve seen in a while. Thanks!

    Reply

Leave a comment