Building a theme is just a starting point if you want to create a reliable source of income through a marketplace like Themeforest. You need to ensure that your design stands out among all the competition, to the point that buyers are willing to pay a premium for what you offer.
A big part of that puzzle is understanding exactly what the competition is offering: you can’t adequately compete with the many themes that a buyer might have to search for if you don’t know what you’re up against. Without in-depth knowledge and analysis, you can’t show what makes your design better (which is the key to effective marketing, after all). The only way to get that information is to roll up your sleeves and look at who is offering what on Themeforest.
1. Understand Your Own Offering
A good analysis is based on comparison: if you know what you want to offer, you’ll know what parts of a competitor’s theme that you really need to look at. Just saying that you want to design and sell a WordPress theme, for instance, isn’t enough. You need to get specific, consider:
- What sort of theme are you creating?
- How do you expect people will use it?
- What features will it include?
Deciding something as small as whether your theme will be responsive will help you make sure that you’re looking for the right details as you go over the offers other theme designers are making. You don’t have to have your new theme anywhere near ready to launch, but you do need a clear concept. Take the time to write out what you’re planning and make sure you list out the key features that you expect to be selling points.
Identify your audience, in addition to planning out your product. You may have a very specific audience in mind, like real estate agents or dentists, or you may be thinking in terms of people who want magazine style themes. The more specific you can get, the better you’ll be equipped to find and judge the competition.
You can dive surprisingly deep into the concept of audience, even if you’re taking the approach of creating a theme usable in a wide variety of projects. Just the technical abilities of your audience can have a major impact: there’s a difference between building a theme for users who might have a web developer set up their sites for them and for non-technical users who want to install a theme on their own.
Think about what terms your preferred audience uses to talk about website design and set up; you’ll want to know if your competition is matching that vocabulary.
2. Search for Competing Themes
Look for themes that are as close to competitors to what you plan to offer as possible. To start with, you’ll want to look at between five to ten themes closely. Depending on the niche you’re going for, you may find only a few direct competitors: if that’s the case, expand your search to themes that are a little broader, but that will still appeal to the audience you described earlier.
Take screenshots of the copy posted with each theme, as well as the comments and support pages. Such materials can be updated, so you want a snapshot of how a given theme looked during the time you analyzed it. You also need a copy of the screenshots the theme developer chose to represent his design; even if you have the actual theme to look at, having those screenshots can help you understand the developer’s mindset.
Buy at least a few of the themes you’ve found. You absolutely need copies of the designs your closest competitors are offering, if only to see how your work differs. Especially if you’re building your business on the side, buying themes that you have no plan to use on any website you build can seem like an expensive investment. But it’s a necessary one: unless you look under the hood, you can’t see how well a competitor is delivering on his marketing promises.
If the financial aspect proves difficult, you can start with purchasing just one theme that is the most closely aligned with what you’re trying to offer. Take it apart and analyze as closely as possible. Act on that analysis. Then, when you have a little more cash buy another theme and do the same thing. This is a process that you can follow in slow motion if need be.
3. Analyze Each Theme
Start with the copy listed on each theme’s page within Themeforest. The page selling a given theme is effectively a snapshot of what the developer assumes will appeal to prospective buyers and is the core of the marketing that most people do to promote their themes. Some individuals and companies will go to the effort of creating marketing campaigns outside of Themeforest, but many will just upload their design and copy without putting much else into making a sale. Considering how many buyers browse the site, it’s not as bad of a business model as you might expect.
There are a variety of factors that can convince a buyer to actually spend money when choosing a new website theme. Look at how the copy writer attempts to convince buyers, consider factors like:
- What problems is the theme expected to solve?
- How does the theme actually follow through on those promises?
- What language is used to appeal to potential buyers?
With language, pay close attention as to how the writer uses niche specific terms to make sure that the theme appeals to a specific audience, as well as if there is trendy jargon that is meant to capitalize on styles that might currently be in.
Go through the comments and any support issues associated with the theme. Make a list of questions, concerns and problems that prospective buyers had with the theme. Those potential issues are opportunities — both for the theme you design and the copy you write — because you can address them before anyone even considers them.
It’s also important to look at what real customers think a particular theme does well. You may not be able to compete on those features that another theme has mastered, after all, so you need to take a close look at what people praise and decide if that’s a feature you can match or if you just need to execute it well enough.
Take a look at the screenshots the developer posted with his theme. Even those theme designers who seem to go overboard on just how many screenshots they include (especially given that Themeforest has a live demo of their theme right there) rarely post a screenshot of every single screen. The pictures they post are almost certainly those portions of their theme that they’re most proud of. There are the places where they’ve likely spent the most time developing.
Understanding what your competition is focusing on will let you choose whether to go in another direction or to look for opportunities to improve upon what they’re offering. It gives you the insight you need to differentiate your theme.
Take notes for your own theme and adjust your plans according to what seems to be standard across other themes, what features you believe you can specifically compete against and which features you can only meet at a minimum level. If you can, outline the copy you'll write to promote your theme in terms of how you’ll stack up to the competition. You don’t want to reference other themes in your copy, but you can discuss any problems you notice in your analysis (such as poor implementations of responsive design).
With this information in place, you’ll have a reference you can use as you design your new theme and prepare it to sell.
Time to Tackle the Competition on Themeforest
With an in-depth analysis in your pocket, you can identify potential weaknesses in how you promote your own themes on Themeforest, as well as opportunities. You can improve your promotions, which should enable you to sell more themes.
But don’t assume that analyzing the competition is a one time deal. Not only does it make sense to run this sort of analysis any time you launch a new theme (particularly if you’re planning to sell to a new audience), but also to do this for your existing themes on a regular basis.
There are always new themes coming out; even if no one launches a new design that directly competes with something you offer, you may see an opportunity to improve your marketing by looking over their copy or screenshots. You may even see a chance to add a feature or a whole new theme to what you offer.