Quick Tip: Guidelines for Improving WordPress Themes


There has been a lot of talk recently about standards, guidelines, and best practices when it comes to developing WordPress themes (and plugins too, for that matter). I noticed a good post on the ThemeShaper blog (ThemeShaper are Automattic's theme team) specifically calling on theme authors to pay attention to code quality, not just aesthetics, when developing themes. There's also been some discussion on the CodeCanyon marketplace forums about how to include jQuery in your theme or plugin. So I thought a quick post to help point to resources and further raise awareness wouldn't go astray on WP.TutsPlus.

Following Guidelines and Quality Control

A lot of resources are available on this topic in the WordPress Codex. There's actually a template file checklist to make sure you've included all the files needed for a complete theme, a testing process, theme review guidelines, and a theme check plugin for a little automated checking.

If you've never gone over these documents before, I'm not going to lie to you, there's a lot to take in. Once you've done it though, and these things just become part of your normal theme development process, you ultimately end up producing higher quality themes. Higher quality themes means a win for the community, a win for your customers, and a win for you. Everybody wins!

Keep Up To Date

Along with producing quality themes and plugins, it's important to maintain them. The best way for you to maintain your themes and plugins is to keep up to speed with what's going on in the WordPress community and the various other technologies involved, so you can release updates to your themes in a timely fashion. Customers love that!

As an example, there was an update to jQuery in WordPress 3.2 taking it up to version 1.6.1 which had a few minor backwards incompatibilities with previous jQuery versions. There's also the recent TimThumb exploit that occurred affecting many themes that use the third-party library. If you keep on top of these sorts of occurrences and know what's going on, you can fix problems before your customers even notice them.

So here are a few places to check out for keeping up to date:

  • WordPress News - Updates on all things WordPress from releases, to WordCamps, to general news
  • Make WordPress Themes - Official discussion on theme-related development
  • WordPress Development Updates - Official discussion on development
  • WordPress Trac - Where tickets are lodged, and you can keep informed about issues being worked on
  • jQuery Blog - Official source for what's going on with jQuery releases

There are many other places that discuss the latest WordPress-related happenings too, but that should get you started!

Why Bother?

The quality of our code is how we are judged by the wider WordPress community. Our themes and plugins speak for themselves whenever someone else has to interact with them in some way. Whether it's a user, a web master, or another plugin developer, if they find a cobbled together mess it makes us look bad. However, if they install our plugin or theme and they "just work", even when other plugins and themes are installed with them, we look good and they may recommend us to others too.


As a community having and maintaining a high quality in our themes and plugins is what makes us. Giving our customers robust solutions they can trust is important, and it'll also mean they come back to us again and again. Let's take some pride in our work!

Do you have something you'd like to add? Or do you perhaps disagree with something I've said? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear from you.

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