Are ThemeForest and other paid themes really that bad?
In a private Facebook group about WordPress speed someone asked an excellent question:
I have a question about paid templates for WordPress, e.g. Themeforest.
Is it true that cool looking templates, with e.g. animated buttons or an interesting mouse cursor, are definitely slower and less optimized than the simpler, more standard-looking ones?
It’s true that there are many genuinely awful, bloated, badly-optimized themes in ThemeForest and other “marketplace” theme retailers, though Sturgeon’s Law, which says “90% of everything is cr*p,” has a lot to do with this.
This isn’t an endorsement of ThemeForest or other commodity theme vendors, just an observation that there are plenty of agencies out there with in-house development staff to meticulously hand-code purpose-built themes built from scratch, for thousands of dollars, that also drag their knuckles on page load.
And finally, no matter how lightweight the theme, performance will crash if the customer decides to use dozens of 4000×4000 pixel, 12 megabyte PNG files in a gallery.
A bigger problem with ThemeForest-style themes is that their typical developer begins with a suite of relatively bloated and increasingly obsolete “bonus” plugins — two or three extraordinary but also extraordinarily bandwidth-intensive sliders, a certain dinosaur page builder, the oldest contact-form generator, etc. They keep using those things because a) those particular vendors offer really attractive licensing deals to developers and because b) new, mostly-DIY customers want as many bells and whistles as possible for the same low, low price.
Better themes on any platform will have demo sites. You can run performance-measuring tools to get an idea of what they’re throwing at you. GTMetrics, or the Network tool in Chrome-based browsers can help you estimate a theme’s performance before you buy.
The good news is that more responsible commodity-market developers will optimize their themes till they’re lighting fast. The bad news is that very, very few commodity-theme customers have the know-how to assess performance and so they’ll tend to base decisions on animated buttons and cool hero images in the demos.