WordPress Theme Directory Improvements Boost User Engagement, Commercial Themes Page Still Recovering

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WordPress.org launched a new design for the Theme Directory just over a month ago and the meta team has continued to fix bugs and add enhancements. Preliminary stats and feedback indicate that the directory improvements have had a positive impact on users’ ability to hunt for themes.

WordPress.org contributor Konstantin Obenland reports that user engagement has taken a significant jump:

Users stay longer on the site, look at a lot more pages, and are way less likely to leave without any interaction. Comparing the week before the relaunch with this past week, session duration is up 9%. The amount of pages a user looks at is up 34%. And the overall bounce rate went down from ~30% to under 10%. Even on the homepage, where the bounce rate was at around 45%, we can see that drop by 2/3.

The new design has not affected the directory’s search engine ranking or download numbers. Obenland states that visitor numbers remain constant, as do search engine referral numbers and theme downloads.

While the new image-heavy grid design makes it easier for users to find the best themes on WordPress.org, the Commercial Themes page has suffered a sharp decline in stats.

“The Commercial Themes page saw a drop of ~40% in visitors between the old Directory and the new,” Obenland said. “That number was at 60% right after launch, but it recovered and continues to recover with some adjustments we made to the link placement on the site.”

Despite the prominent placement of “Commercial Themes” link on the main theme directory page, users are spending more time browsing for free themes. The previous design of the directory made it tedious to search for a new theme, but it’s likely that the new UI is helping users to discover how many truly beautiful, high quality free themes are available on WordPress.org.

The Commercial Themes page received the same UI updates as the main directory, but the chief complaint from commercial theme developers following the design switch was the placement and labeling of the link. This particular aspect of the design has been iterated upon several times since the launch.

However, relentlessly pursuing better stats for commercial theme shops is contrary to the purpose of the WordPress theme directory, according to an email reply received by one concerned user who contacted themes@wordpress.org:

“Our goal wouldn’t be to maximize traffic to the sites listed on the commercial page so much as making the site as functional and useful as possible,” the WordPress.org representative stated.

The commercial themes link has ultimately received an even more prominent placement than it had in years past and is also benefiting from the updated design. If stats remain down, it’s possible that the new design better reflects the quality of the free themes available. Satisfied users are less likely to turn to commercial options when they can easily browse and filter free options. For now, commercial theme shops listed in the directory will have to settle on improving their marketing elsewhere.

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13 Comments


  1. I definitely like the look of the new design, but I’ve been waiting to see if the link to the theme’s changelog will reappear. Previously, there was a link to view the changelog, but now it seems we must download the theme to view it. Are there any plans to bring back a link to the changelog?

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    1. I’m not aware of themes being able to have a changelog, at least not one supported by default by the directory. It’s something I’d like to see more themes adopt.

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    2. Perhaps referring to the development log (subversion repository and browse in trac)? The links are all under the “Browse the Code” section in the left sidebar for each theme’s page.

      It would be good for the theme review team to develop a changelog standard. Many themes in the directory have one. You have to look for it. It can be a separate changelog text file, in a readme file, at the themes website or many other “creative” locations. We’ve also seen it as comments in style.css or functions.php.

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  2. This design is catchy and I really like it. I hope WordPress adds schema.org to its repository, my site though has integrated it, but it would be a lot cooler if it is general. But good work all the same

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  3. Commercial themes aren’t the main goal of this page and that’s great. Every page needs a purpose. the previous design was text heavy at the top and that likely led to more clicks on the commercial link.

    Perhaps instead of a simple listing of commercial companies like we have now, the directory could include commercial themes that have gone through a vetting process similar to wp.com. With all the ranting that goes on about Theme Forest, I would hope WordPress.org would really try to help commercial theme companies who are doing things “the WordPress way.”

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  4. Now…

    For the Free Themes: how about adding more useful Categories to the the Feature Filter’s subject column?

    (just a thought)

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    1. You can choose holiday, seasonal … what you want more? ::)
      Really I think, this is necessary, currently searching between themes its just random clicking.

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      1. Now, you’re just being facetious, aren’t you (treating serious issues with deliberately, inappropriate humor; flippant)?

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  5. Quote “prominent placement of “Commercial Themes” link” is actually not really true. In fact, despite the location of the link, it’s almost in a blind spot based on how people’s eyes view the overall page. When the new theme directory went live, I was wondering where the commercial link was until I took more time to examine the page, only to finally see it come in view. It’s located in a darker grey bar and is easily missed.

    It appears that wordpress.org is looking to phase out the commercial listings, or at least placing it “all back of the bus”.

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    1. I’ll have to admit that I totally missed the Commercial link, so you’re right! :) Where have I been?

      Of course, I do have a whole bunch of favorite commercial theme developers (many of whom are listed in the Commercial bunch), but I visit them directly, and never even thought of finding them on .ORG.

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  6. I haven’t paid much attention to the interface itself, but I have noticed a sharp increase in people contacting me for support for my theme, which I’m hoping is a sign that more people are using it.

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  7. It is a decent looking improvement. When browsing themes, though, I noticed that they didn’t make an obvious link to the ratings, although you can at least click on a bar for a particular star rating, and then you get to the ratings area. That’s awkward, though.

    It would be nice if on the theme’s main page, they could link the word “Ratings” to the main ratings page.

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  8. Just an update to my last comment. I wanted to see how the traffic compared over the last few months to see if there was indeed a major drop in exposure and traffic.I’m not sure how the other commercial sites there are doing in traffic, but for myself, I’ve seen a 60% to 70% drop in traffic.

    Granted, the new theme directory looks better than it did before, but the commercial listings are “all at the back of the bus”.

    I thought they might have made a better adjustment to the commercial link on the page, like make it an actual button or more contrast at least.

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