What are Theme Options in WordPress and Should You Use Them?

As an expert WordPress webmaster, I‘ve seen the rise of elaborate theme options panels over the past 15 years. They can provide awesome customization power without coding, but also introduce development complexity.

Let‘s explore what theme options are, when they help, and when they hinder.

What is a Theme Options Page?

A theme options page is a custom admin menu page included with some WordPress themes. It lets you customize various theme elements like colors, fonts, layouts, and more.

For example, you may see options to:

  • Choose a light or dark color scheme
  • Set site width as fixed or fluid
  • Pick default fonts for headings and text
  • Configure homepage sections
  • Set sidebar position (left, right, none)
  • Enable/disable certain theme features

The changes happen instantly with a live preview. So you can tweak settings freely until your site looks just right!

The Pros: Flexibility for Users

Advanced theme options panels from popular theme sellers like Elegant Themes, StudioPress, and ThemeForest provide tons of customization flexibility without coding.

Some options even let you adjust code like CSS and PHP without touching files directly.

For WordPress beginners, this is great! You can:

  • Craft a unique design and feel.
  • Customize a theme to suit your niche or needs.
  • Avoid paying a developer for small tweaks.

Theme options also allow for easy design updates over time. You can give your site a fresh look by simply adjusting options rather than overhauling code.

The Cons: Added Complexity for Developers

While users love flexibility, elaborate theme options come at a cost for developers.

Some downsides include:

  • Larger file size – Options frameworks add bloat.
  • Slower performance – More queries and files to load.
  • Steeper learning curve – More factors to account for.
  • User confusion – Too many options can overwhelm beginners.
  • Potential SEO conflicts – Testing is required to avoid metadata issues.

That‘s why many developers prefer starter themes like Underscores and Genesis which have minimal options. It‘s easier to build on top of a clean foundation.

Usage Stats: Themes With vs Without Theme Options

To get an idea of usage, here are download counts and ratings for themes with robust options vs minimal options:

Themes With Lots of Options

  • Divi by Elegant Themes – 1+ million active installs, 5-star average rating
  • Avada by ThemeFusion – 600,000+ active installs, 5-star average rating

Themes With Minimal Options

  • Underscores – 100,000+ active installs, 5-star average rating
  • Genesis Framework – 50,000+ active installs, 5-star average rating

While themes with robust options see higher usage overall, those with minimal options maintain excellent ratings and adoption among developers.

Optimizing Your Theme Options Experience

Theme options are a double-edged sword. Thoughtful use can enhance your site without headaches!

Here are some tips:

  • Learn the options – Don‘t just blindly tweak settings. See how changes impact your site.

  • Use sparingly – Resist urge to max out options. Stick to what achieves your goals.

  • Manage performance – Limit custom fonts, compress images, and test page speed.

  • Check SEO – Verify metadata works as expected with popular SEO plugins.

  • Reset before switching themes – Avoid conflicts by restoring defaults.

Used properly, theme options provide awesome customization power without coding knowledge. They allow you to make your WordPress site uniquely yours.

But if you‘re a developer, take the minimalist approach for better performance and flexibility.

I hope this overview helps you decide if theme options are right for your next project! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Written by Jason Striegel

C/C++, Java, Python, Linux developer for 18 years, A-Tech enthusiast love to share some useful tech hacks.