Difference between a Theme and a Template in WordPress

For many people, the use of the word Theme and Template mean the same thing. In Drupal, for example, themes are called templates. In WorPress, templates are called themes.  That being said, there is also something called a Page Template in WordPress. To complicate things, you may also occasionally see the term Theme Framework. Confused? Lets sort this all out.

Themes

Themes are what control the way your website or blog looks,

Theme Frameworks

Themes Frameworks are the same thing as Themes but allow a webmaster to customize not only the look of your site but also turn features on and off globally and on a per page basis right from within WordPress and often without having to know or use any HTML or CSS code. With more flexibility comes a slightly higher learning curve until you start to know your way around. That being said, it can often make possible what was very difficult or impossible to do in a regular theme.

Page Templates

Page Template in WordPress allows you to change the look, layout or content of a single page. For example, you might want to have a squeeze page on your site that doesn't look anything like the rest of your website. You might want to have an automated sitemap to help visitors quickly find what they are looking for. You might have a directory of contacts or businesses in a database that you want to display in a consistent way. These are all reasons to use a Page Tempalte. The list of available page templates varies from one theme to another. To discover which page templates are included in your WordPress theme, edit any page on your site (not a post) and locate the Page Attributes section in the right-hand column. There you will find a field called Template that allows you to select a different look for a particular page.

Some themes come with just one Default Template and others, like Weaver II, come with several. Some themes, like OptimizePress, are specifically designed to create queeze and sales pages and come with many page templates which can literally save you days of work.

All that being said, within the context of WordPress, some people who are used to using the term Template might just be unknowingly using the wrong terminology for the particular technology.

What to Look For in a Theme

I have seen people go pretty far using regular themes that were not frameworks. Because they have less optons, they are often simpler to use and therefore easier for beginners. For someone who is creating a simple site, that could be fine. However at some point, many people wish they could do something that can't be done in their theme and end up either replacing the theme or hiring a developer to extend the theme with a custom page template.

Also be aware that not all themes can be extended. Some themes, like Blogolife, have a commercial counterpart where the developer appears to have gone out of his/her way to create the theme in a non-standard way that does not permit additional page templates to be created. Fortunately, in the case of Blogolife anyway, there is a setting right in the page editor that allows you to the sidebar on and off.

With the world moving quickly to HTML5 and other newer technologies like support for mobile devices, these are definitely things I consider. Sales of Smart Phones and other mobile devices have skyrocketed compared to computers which tells me that more people will be surfing the web on these devices. Look for templates that are Responsive, which means that they will make your site look good no matter what the device. Why implement something that is obsolete or that won't meet your needs in a couple of years? Building a website may sound easy but if you want something professional looking that meets your customers needs, it takes any two of the three -- time, effort, money. You may as well build something sustainable unless you don't mind re-doing it in a year or so.

No matter which theme you end up choosing, create a child theme right away. It's not too difficult and most standard compliant themes support this. What it does is separate the customizations you make to your site from the original theme so that, when you upgrade your theme to get the latest security fixes or new features, it doesn't end up overriding and undoing all your work. Don't leave your website volunerable because you don't want to mess up the common look and feel of your site.

One last piece of advice. Always have a good backup of your site. If you are playing around with the Weaver II theme settings for example, use the built-in feature to quickly and easily backup your theme settings so that they can be instantly restored in case you really mess up. This alone can save you hours of work.

Page Templates Included in Some WordPress Themes

This is not a list of themes that I necessarily recommend. They are just a few examples.

Twenty Ten

  • Default Template
  • One Column, No Sidebar

Twenty Eleven

  • Default Template
  • Showcase Template
  • Sidebar Template

Twenty Twelve

  • Default Template
  • Front Page Template
  • Full-width Template, No Sidebar

Weaver II

  • Default Template
  • 2 Col Content (split w/ <!--more-->)
  • Blank
  • HTML Source
  • Page With Posts
  • Raw
  • Sitemap
  • iframe -- full content width

Blogolife

This theme has no page templates but does include an option to turn the sidebars on/off when editing a page. As such, it is also not compatible with the WordPress Page Template system so you can't add or create your own.

Panorama

  • Default Template
  • No Sidebar

Flexibility 3

  • Default Template
  • Full Width Page
  • Full Width Page No title
  • Page with No title

Responsive

  • Default Template
  • Blog (full posts)
  • Blog Excerpt (summary)
  • Content/Sidebar
  • Content/Sidebar Half Page
  • Full Width Page (no menu)
  • Sidebar/Content
  • Sidebar/Content (Half Page)
  • Sitemap

Comments

Difference between a Theme and a Template in WordPress — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the explanation; it really saved me time from going crazy with the terms. I don’t understand why WP would change the meaning of templates though.

  2. Hi,
    I would like to build couple of Amazon Affiliate Niche Review Websites. And for that purpose I am wondering what kind/type of WordPress Theme I would choose. I know only a couple of types/kinds of wordpress themes such as : Blogging themes, business themes, professional themes. But there are another 1 or 2 types and kinds of wordpress themes. So I am now asking this question to an expert like you so that I have this total idea about the different kinds/types of WordPress Themes out there. After gathering this information I can choose which typpe of WP Theme I am going to use for building my Amzon Affiliate Niche Review Websites.
    Would appreciate for your detail advices.

    Thanks
    Kamrul

    • Hi Kamrul,

      You don’t need a special WordPress Review theme. Most of these are bloated and will lock you into using them forever. A better option is to use a WordPress reviews plugin because these will work with any theme design you choose. It will give you the flexibility to change your themes in the future without having to hire a developer and make big changes to your site.

      Take a look at the WP Product Review plugin. There is a free version and a premium one that provides you with many useful options.

      Don’t care for this one? There are several others available. For example, Product Review. There are also commercial plugins available like Let’s Review WordPress Plugin with Affiliate Options. Either way, I think these are better options than buying into a Review theme.

      Now that you no longer need to find a review theme, things to look for in a good quality theme should:
      a) be compatibility with your product review plugin of course;
      b) meet WCAG 2.0 level AA accessibility standards;
      c) be optimized for SEO; and
      d) be responsive – should work both on desktop computers and mobile devices.

      Hope this helps. Best regards,

      Michael

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