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What is the theme lock-in effect?

Arguably, the best part of WordPress is the instant accessibility it grants to thousands of plugins and themes. Any feature or functionality you can think of is probably offered by a plugin or theme in the WordPress library.

Generally, themes and plugins are viewed as separate entities in terms of the role they play in any given WordPress site.

Themes are meant to give a website a unique visual look.

Plugins meanwhile are meant to extend the theme’s functionality and make a website more powerful.

However, some themes go beyond this remit. You must have come across themes that come packaged with functionality that is generally provided by plugins.

In case you choose one of these themes and build your website with it, you will eventually see the theme lock-in effect.

Theme lock-in: What is it and why should you know about it?

Let’s assume you’re building a new website. You go to Theme Forest and choose a brand new theme for your site. It comes loaded with powerful features like customized social widgets, CPTs (custom post types) for unique content formats, and drag-drop features to create beautiful landing pages.

The fact that it offers a number of features doesn’t faze you. Instead, you’re happy that the theme eliminates the need to install more plugins.

You build your website using the features available. All is good until one day you come across a brand new theme and decide to use it on your website.

Since this is WordPress, you should be able to migrate to a new theme and redesign your website, right?

Not quite. As soon as you change your theme, you would notice that your website’s design is broken. All the CPTs you created with your previous theme are done. The shortcodes you used to add galleries, tables, and other forms of content are gone.

Any feature native to the previous theme is gone, and in order to switch to a new theme, you need to build your site from scratch again.

This is the theme lock-in effect. It basically forces you to remain locked with a particular theme.

How to avoid theme lock-in?

Avoidance is actually quite easy. All you need to do is choose a theme with minimal functionality. Official WordPress themes like Twenty Twenty are good examples of plain themes which are very lightweight.

Other themes like Astra and Neve are also reliable on this front. While they do offer some degree of features, the lock-in effect is not nearly as pronounced in them.

The big challenge is overcoming the lock-in effect. What can you do in case you already have a locked theme, and need to change it?

The only real solution is to rebuild your website with a new theme. You can create a staging website to get started and configure your theme accordingly.

Read: How to create a staging WordPress website?

Your theme and AppMySite

AppMySite is a tool that allows you to build a mobile app using your WordPress websites. So if you have a WordPress website, the platform will sync your site content to the app.

AppMySite is theme-indpendent. The layout you see in the app is native & unique and doesn’t rely on your website’s theme. However, if your theme has a lot of custom functionality, there’s no guarantee if the same features will be synced to the app

While you can sync your custom posts to the app, other features may face compatibility issues.

Furthermore, a bloated theme is likely to make your website’s response time slow. This will directly affect your app’s speed and make its loading sub-optimal.

A simple and lightweight theme won’t face such complications. You will be able to sync your website easily, and your app’s loading speed won’t be affected negatively by your theme.

You can thus seamlessly convert your WordPress website to an app without worrying about compatibility issues caused by your theme. It is also a good step towards optimizing your website and app’s speed.

What should you look for in a WordPress theme?

All this discussion around WordPress themes brings up one obvious question.

What should you look for in a theme?

It is a good question. If we shouldn’t look for powerful features from a theme, what else?

On paper, a theme is meant to set up the basic layout and design of your website. Here are a few points you should consider while choosing your theme:

  • Browser compatibility: Most themes are compatible with popular browsers like Chrome and Firefox. You generally don’t need to worry about this factor, but it doesn’t hurt to test the theme on popular web and mobile browsers.
  • Mobile responsive: While most WordPress themes are mobile responsive, not all of them look optimal on a mobile device. Responsiveness is not binary. Two themes may be mobile responsive, but one of them may have better compatibility. It is thus vital to choose a theme that is completely compatible across all major mobile device models.
  • Plugin compatibility: Make sure your theme is compatible with popular plugins like Yoast SEO, Cloudflare, and so on. This will make it easier for you to develop your site.
  • Update frequency: Theme updates are important. Compatibility with new versions of WordPress, bug fixes, security vulnerabilities, and new features are managed through theme updates. Make sure your theme author deploys regular updates. You can verify this by checking the release notes of your theme.
  • Support: Support is essential in case of any issue creeps up because of your theme. Let’s say your theme has a vulnerable file that can be exploited in a run-of-the-mill cyber exploit. A responsive technical support team would be able to resolve such issues and deploy a new build to fix the vulnerability in question.
  • Simplicity: If you’re looking for features, think of plugins. For a theme, you should expect a simple theme that is reliable, lightweight, and fast.

Also read: How to choose a fast and reliable WordPress theme?

In conclusion

Themes are an essential part of WordPress development.

As a website owner, you may be inclined to choose a theme offering the best features. On paper, this would seem like a logical option as well.

However, choosing a feature-rich theme will lock you down. You may not have the freedom later to migrate to a new theme.

It is thus advised that you select a simple theme for your website and use plugins to customize its functionality further.

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