A PressTrends Inspired Rant (From a developer who uses it!)

39 Comments

My 82 year old grandmother heard that I was writing an article and her first response was “You should write it about sex. That’s all anybody talks about these days.”

I won’t be talking about sex. Instead I’m going to talk about why I include PressTrends in all of my themes and the problems that it has brought to the surface.

The bounce rate on this post just skyrocketed, didn’t it?

Who am I, and who cares?

My name is Jake Caputo and I run designcrumbs.com. I’m a designer and developer living in the Chicago suburbs with my wife and two cats. I’ve been designing/developing with WordPress for the past four or five years. On top of freelancing, I’ve been selling commercial WordPress themes for the last year and as of this past April 1st I’ve made the jump to doing commercial WordPress themes full time (no more clients [hooray]). You can find my WordPress themes for sale at ThemeForest and Mojo Themes.

I was an early adopter of PressTrends, but unfortunately not early enough. I was given access to PressTrends Beta literally the day after one of my themes was in the Mojo Theme Holiday Bundle. Since then I’ve used it as a tool to make my themes better.

Why is PressTrends even important?

I can easily go down that list and view a handful of them to see how actual users are using the themes.

Short answer: It isn’t. Plenty of developers build their WordPress theme and push them out the masses and not bat an eye. People are using it wrong? Tough. Chalk it up to user error or “that’s their problem.” The theme was built to look good in the demo.

On the other hand, PressTrends is invaluable for those of us who care about our craft. What I use the most is the simple list of sites that are using my themes. I can easily go down that list and view a handful of them to see how actual users are using the themes. I build them to how I think people will use them, but there are always people doing things I wouldn’t have ever imagined. A lot of them can be brushed aside, but if I see the same little problems popping up over and over I can make a fix for it.

But let’s move on to something a bit more exciting.

The information given on the PressTrends Dashboard are things that we already assume, but now we have the hard facts. This brings me to the biggest issue I’ve noticed.

The Big Problem: Users don’t update their theme

Let’s take a look at this one. Many of us authors just assume that nobody updates our themes; Turns out we were right.

The graphic above is from the PressTrends stats on my theme named Campaign, which is sold at ThemeForest. Neither ThemeForest or Mojo Themes offer a way to automatically update themes so it’s up to users to manually download the new versions of the theme and upload them to their WordPress install.

Right now, the only ways for one of my customers to know that there’s an update is to follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my support forum, or periodically check the item’s marketplace page to see if there’s a newer version. As a developer, I would think that if I cared about my site and I paid money for a theme, I’d be checking as often as I could for updates, just as I do with anything else that could have updates.

Obviously, that’s not the case. A staggering 96% of my customers have not updated their theme. From what I can tell, the majority of users only upgrade when a release has a fix for a specific problem they’ve encountered.

The Big Solution: Uhhh…

As commercial theme authors on marketplaces like ThemeForest and Mojo Themes, we really don’t have a good solution. These marketplaces need to step up and push out a solution.

A staggering 96% of my customers have not updated their theme.

ThemeForest recently released a “WP Toolkit” to their authors that lets buyers auto-update from within their dashboard. I’m glad they took the initiative but the system thus far is pretty convoluted. And the kicker is that it does not even bother to check for a license.

ThemeForest sells themes with a “one site” license. So if we use this WP Toolkit we’re also opening it up for users that pirate our themes to have the most up to date version. It seems to me that if ThemeForest is going to go through the trouble of making this thing, why not go one step further and lock it down?

Anyway, it doesn’t even matter because it seems like very few authors have actually gotten it to work.

Since many of the purchases are people just “flipping” the themes and reselling them to their clients, I would propose a simple email sent to the buyer announcing the updates. This way we don’t run into problems of end users overwriting changes the buyer made straight to the theme. Which brings me to the next rant problem.

The Small Problem: Buyers don’t use child themes

PressTrends allows me to view all of the sites that use my themes (and don’t opt out, of course). While looking at these sites and the sites that my users show me in my support forum, I have seen two sites that did customizations with a child theme. Everyone else makes their changes right in the main files. It doesn’t matter that I tell them to make a child theme, they don’t do it.

The Small Solution: Educate buyers more efficiently

I already mention child themes in my documentation, but I’m going to go a step further. I’m going to include a blank child theme with downloads of my themes and have a separate readme.txt file for them that explains exactly what it is and how to use it. That seems like a simple enough solution.

Of course, if buyers don’t update their themes, this step could be useless. Hopefully sooner or later these big marketplaces will come out with something to notify buyers.

Okay, but you barely talked about PressTrends

That’s true. A lot of this post might seem like it didn’t have a lot to do with PressTrends, but PressTrends was the springboard for it. Without PressTrends, I would still be assuming things. Now I know.

As I said above, I’m relatively new to the world of commercial WordPress theme authorship, but I love what PressTrends has brought to the table.

39 thoughts on “A PressTrends Inspired Rant (From a developer who uses it!)

  1. Jake, this is solid feedback on PressTrends and the issue of updating themes in a marketplace environment. We have been in close discussion with George from PressTrends and are working on solutions to make this data more relavant and useful. I will definitely talk with the team about your feedback though.

  2. I applaud your commitment to quality and command of the English language (two hard-to-find traits!) and will now check out your themes for sale.

    • I didn’t know that plugin existed! Why doesn’t Envato just push that out themselves though? Or if it exists already, buy it from that user and release it to the community. Having it hidden on CodeCanyon doesn’t really help.

  3. “no more clients” – aren’t the people who buy your themes clients? don’t they have support questions and feature requests?

    if the update is not automatic and seamless, only a minority will update, that goes for any kind of software.
    Also, lots of those “developers” who buy themes from themeforest, do a quick customization for a client don’t want to bother learning about child themes. So they won’t update because it would mess up their customization.
    End users are probably just afraid they’ll break something. My wife is non-technical and she never updates anything, even when a prompt to update pops up on the screen.

    • Point taken about the clients. Let me rephrase; “No more custom website work for clients.”

      I agree with you that it should be seamless updates. I suppose you’re right, people don’t have to update. It’s a fine line there considering who the end user is…

      The developers you say “don’t want to bother learning about child themes” is exactly my point. Child themes are extremely simple to create, and as far as I am concerned, these “developers” are being wreckless by not using them. Making changes to the theme itself that would be overwritten by an automatic update is inexcusable as a “developer”. If these people want to work in our industry, they should learn the rules. If they make changes to the theme that are overwritten by an update it makes me look bad, it makes that developer look bad, and it makes the end user’s site revert back to the original theme, which makes them look sloppy.

    • I’d suggest that ThemeForest authors have customers, not clients. “Clients” purchase services; “customers” purchase a product. As a freelancer, you work for a client; as an independent theme author, you work for yourself. Of course, the customer is still extremely important – but their influence (which may or may not be beneficial to the product) is indirect. I think that’s the distinction Jake was making :)

      Good point about the people who won’t update. I think for non-technical people, the process is a mystery, so they tend to just avoid it for fear of the unknown.

      Nice article, Jake!

  4. I believe the dominant reason themes don’t get updated is because they are used by other freelancers that make sites for clients.

    After the site is finished and launched, the web developer leaves the site in the hands of the client, who in most small projects will know nothing besides how to post new content.

    It’s not stupid users, or careless users, it’s just the model that is the WordPress theme marketplace.

    In order to change this, clever marketing will need to be developed and deployed to increase the knowledge of the ACTUAL end user of themes (Artist, Small Business Owners, Photographers, etc) and decrease the friction of updating a theme.

    • Right, that just furthers the two points of the post. If marketplaces had auto-updates and developers would use child themes we’d have zero problems.

    • Well if we had a working auto update system for the market places, and in our documentation made more evident how to make a child theme. Things could be better.

      Any end user will want to get rid of the blinking ‘engine(update)’ light on the dashboard.

  5. Just stummbled on the presstrends quick video, watching the code for a second I can say that every bit of a users information (e.g. number of posts, pages, comments, installed plugins list, number of category, pingbacks, etc) are transfered to the presstrends server. How ethical is this? Doesn’t it violets the users privacy? I guess we all know about the “phone home” term :S

    • Well first of all, users can opt out or remove the code from their themes at any time. Nobody is forcing them to give us the information.

      The information the author is given is average number of posts, average number of pages, average number of plugins, the top 5 used plugins, the theme version, the WP version, and the URLs themselves. We’re not given any private information whatsoever.

    • From our humble beginnings back in October, privacy has always been at the forefront of the platform. We continue to have discussions over privacy with pretty much everyone involved in the WordPress community from theme reviewers on WordPress.org to WooThemes and many others. We encourage authors to integrate PressTrends with an opt-in option and even developed a nice library with code samples. We also push metrics back to authors in the aggregate as another measure of privacy, while still creating a valuable platform where insights can be achieved and authors can build better products for the overall community. We’re always looking for ways to ensure the privacy of common data sets such as number of posts, WordPress versions, etc. are handled well and the overall platform is solid in that regard, even with the general metrics we serve.

    • I got a refund and called a developer a douche when i noticed he was tracking my details without my permission.

      I have no problems with PressTrends, on the condition it’s opt-in (asks me if i want to send my details first.) If you don’t do that, then you have bigger problems than not educating users on child themes – in my opinion, it shows that you don’t give a damn about the user.

  6. Nice post. We just recently found PressTrends and I must say, it’s definitely a nice service but I’d almost 100% want to rebuild it inside a WordPress plugin or something. That way I’m not dependent upon a (currently) free third-party service to “phone home” data from my customer websites. Now, PressTrends has a very simple, easy-to-check PHP file that collects the usage data, but I still don’t feel 100% awesome about putting that code in a plugin for thousands of users.

    We’re currently building a theme developer toolkit that solves a lot of your problems. We’re trying to keep it fairly lightweight, but the idea is that you’ll be able to bundle in common theme features like PressTrends, automatic theme updates, a metabox UI builder, and a few other enhancements that we feel good about including inside our WordPress themes, rather than plugins.

    Check it out here and let me know what you think. It’s pretty rough, but it’s coming along.

  7. Jake, what has been the response of your customers to including PressTrends in all of your themes? Is it opt-in by default or opt-out? WooThemes got a pretty mixed reaction when they announced they were integrating PressTrends into all new themes. Lots of people had some privacy concerns, others didn’t like that it was was opt-in by default. Personally, I think a lot of people are up in arms without understanding the big picture.

    • Yeah I saw the backlash on Woo. I agree with you, I don’t think people realize what exactly it is. They just head “data collection” and lose their minds. What PressTrends collects is miniscule compared to what people willingly give to Facebook or Google.

      I haven’t actually heard much of anything from my customers. Me selling my themes on ThemeForest and ThemeThrift is far different from Woo’s platform though. Woo has a who community built around them whereas I sell my themes on marketplaces.

  8. We’ve seen a lot of users gain valuable insights from our plugin and recognize the insights being gained from the products they use and love that have PressTrends built in. It definitely is an education process. Plus, if PressTrends can be an agent for actionable change such as a higher priority set on theme updates, then it’s doing exactly what is was created for… to find and create a better web. I think Jake hit the nail on the head with these insights.

  9. Interesting read. I’m the guy your users call when they are frustrated because their site looks nothing like the demo. They usually try and make changes on their own first. And I often see outdated themes. I have to go in and figure out how the theme works figure out the options. Most themes have way to many options by the way and the users I come across either aren’t using them, can’t figure them out or they don’t allow them to make simple customizations.

    They don’t update because they either don’t know how ( even though they have no problem copy pasting code from random tutorials in), or their hacked up customizations won’t work if they do.

    I always try and educate them and explain that I’m either creating a child theme or a custom functions plugin so they will be able to update but you guys make it hard when you create complicated systems that that change default WordPress behavior and don’t take advantage of the APIs available. Use the settings API instead of those silly overly JavaScripted up “option frameworks”. Yes I’m talking to you Elegant Themes and Woo.

    I think it’s great that the author is giving his users a way to make actual customizations but I dought the rest of the industry will adopt because they either don’t care or don’t want to actually have to rewrite the “system” they are using behind the skins.

    Think like a user instead of a designer and don’t make it where I have to create a child theme, spend an hour figuring out where all your hooks and filters are defined just to remove the link back to your website. Why wouldn’t an average user just make the change directly in the theme file?

    I recommend WordPress.org themes to clients who can’t afford custom development. Because it’s much cheaper to make changes to those themes because you know everything is going to work.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for chiming in.

      You’re hammering my points home.

      “They don’t update because they either don’t know how, or their hacked up customizations won’t work if they do.”

      That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Our marketplaces need to help us help the users update the themes, and we as authors need to educate the users on how to make a child theme if they want to make customizations.

    • Many of that over doing it in code options and an unachievable demo come from constantly trying to one up each other for the same price range. I personally think themes with those many damn options using a custom framework should be worth far more and used by far less, but they are not and no enforcement has gone into getting developers to use the api. To a degree it is the marketplaces fault “again.”

      I expect that to change somewhat with wp 3.4

        • Totally. In the UpThemes Framework, we’re actually just now finalizing our next major version which actually REMOVES a significant bit of functionality from the framework. Since it’s an options framework, there’s no good reason to include SEO management tools and typography controls (we now have the Typecase plugin for this, which works with any theme).

          You can see in the settings-api branch, it’s actually very lightweight and uses WordPress core wherever we possibly can. In that way, we can very easily release themes for WordPress.com or other hosted platforms without having to worry that our “custom options panel” is too heavy or laden with potential security bugs.

          We’re always looking at ways to remove options by offering a simple plugin that can replace that functionality because in all actuality, the number of users that use certain options is very small – so why are we including a million options they’ll never use.

          “Decisions, not options.”

  10. People don’t go to ThemeForest to get a theme so they can make a child theme and expect automatic updates. In fact, I’d gesture that most people who know how to create child themes won’t buy anything from ThemeForest anyways.

    People go to ThemeForest and purchase themes because 1) the themes are designed very well and are pleasing to the eye, 2) they are cheap, and 3) the theme solves their immediate issues. If the theme does that, then why would they want to update or create a child theme?

    Speaking to your issue about automatic updates, as a developer who has created automatic updates systems for both themes and plugins for numerous clients, why not just make one yourself? Do theme marketplaces not allow this?

    If you integrate this right off the bat and tell people to use child themes or else their customizations will be lost on the parent theme’s update, I’ll think you’ll find better update rates and more users making child themes. :-)

    • Well personally, I’m a designer before I’m a developer and I’d rather leave the heavy coding to up to somebody who’s better at it.

      I do plan on putting in an ‘alert’ system to let people know that an update is available for their theme, but actually implementing something that let’s them auto-update and locks it down via their Envato login to stop piracy of themes is well beyond me.

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