Why I Build Wordpress Websites on Genesis
Ah, Genesis. No matter what industry your business is in, I think every freelancer and entrepreneur out there will be familiar with this sensation: when you suddenly find that product, tool or person you’ve been looking for. The one that just “clicks” with your business (with an almost audible snap) and sweeps away hours, days, even weeks of laborious tasks for you, leaving a beautiful, simplified system in its place. Genesis was my “click” when it came to designing and building Wordpress websites. It’s technically “just another Wordpress theme”, except of course, it’s definitely not “just” a theme. Genesis is what’s known as a “theme framework” which essentially means it’s a theme designed for building on. By itself, it’s not exactly a show-stopper:
But that’s because it’s not meant to be – like I said, it’s a framework. There’s nothing stopping you using a framework as a theme of course, since they’re essentially the same thing, but as you can see, the site will look pretty basic if you simply install Genesis and leave it at that.
Why Use A Theme At All?
I’ve always preferred a theme-based approach to web design; that is, building a website on a template and customising the design for the client’s branding, rather than coding completely from scratch. As you can imagine, this saves a lot of time, and cuts the cost of a website in half for my clients, without any noticeable loss in either design standards or functionality.
Some web designers are weirdly averse to this approach, as though there’s somehow an advantage to spending days coding all the bare bones of a site when there’s already a skeleton just sitting there. I see this attitude a lot more amongst less experienced web designers – those who are proud of their newly-acquired coding skills, and want to be able to say they did everything themselves.
While I definitely think anyone calling themselves a web designer should have coded at least one HTML and CSS based website from start to finish, that doesn’t mean that’s how we should be building our client’s sites. To this day I will meet the occasional professional who tells me proudly that they never use any templates and only produce “hand coded” HTML and CSS websites (like there’s some ancient craft to hitting keys on their keyboard).
But if it doesn’t actually benefit clients, then where does this attitude come from, and why do so many clients also seem to think there’s something better about a site “built from scratch”?
The Rise of the DIY Website Builder
The last ten years of web design has seen a massive shift towards WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors and drag-and-drop page builders for websites. It’s meant that pretty much anyone can build a website with no coding knowledge required – and the design community in general has not gone unaware of this.
In the very early days of my career, when I was still teaching myself code, I found the idea of those “drag and drop” website builder themes very appealing. My design ideas wouldn’t be constrained by my coding abilities, and I’d be able to build websites in half the time. Plus my clients would be able to make future edits themselves without any need to go near the website code – everyone’s happy!
Except the reality, as I’ve previously discussed, was very different. The glitches, oh, how I remember the glitches. “Quick fixes” would somehow take hours, and with so much code to wade through, I could easily lose half a day just finding the source of a problem.
The issue is that all of these visual editors don’t tend to produce the most streamlined code – there’s a lot of hacks and overrides which are a nightmare for us web designers to work with later on. The much bigger problem is that if you’re a graphic designer who relies on these page builders to create client’s websites, you might not know enough about code to know this.
So it’s easy to see why a developer might look at these sites and make a point of building everything themselves, ensuring every line of code meets their standards. Unfortunately, this can be just as bad for clients as the page builder option, especially if it leaves them without a CMS they can work with.
The Solution: Genesis Theme Framework
I was struggling to find a decent middle ground between these glitchy DIY themes, or coding whole Wordpress themes from scratch – when I discovered Genesis. There’s no bundled in plugins or page builders, no massive option panels – in fact clients are often surprised to find how limited their theme settings are: only one small page of options, and about half of those relate to “invisible” changes like SEO settings.
That’s exactly what makes Genesis so great to build on – without any fancy bells and whistles, what you’re left with is a simple theme, coded to the highest standards, that just works. Even though most of my clients might not notice the difference, building their Wordpress sites on Genesis means their sites will load faster (more streamlined code = significantly less time to load) and will have a stronger SEO foundation to work with.
And as I said, it’s designed to be easy to add your own code, completely transforming the appearance and functionality of your website, while leaving the core Genesis code intact.
That’s why I love Genesis so much: it means is that I can still offer custom designed websites to my clients, without making any compromises as to the quality of my code, OR having to spend weeks coding my own template every time a client hires me.
Even for clients who aren’t at the stage where they can afford a web designer, but still need a Wordpress site, Genesis is a great solution: with so many child themes out there (i.e. templates which require Genesis to work, but completely transform the appearance of your website) you can still create a custom looking website for yourself without having to get into the code.
The drag-and-drop editors may still look tempting, but trust me, you’ll be so happy with yourself a few years down the line when you start making changes to your website.
One Final Note: Are All Page Builders A Bad Idea?
Am I completely against all visual editors for web design? Absolutely not. Squarespace for example is a platform I’ve recommended to many freelancers, and it’s a CMS entirely based around templates and their own drag-and-drop editor. The code isn’t perfect by any means, but it works, and it’s a lot less glitchy than some of the alternatives.
As well as allowing me to produce professional looking sites even faster than I could on Wordpress (again, allowing me to provide an even cheaper alternative for clients who require it), I think Squarespace is also fantastic for clients with very limited budgets who simply can’t afford a professional web designer, and only need a simple portfolio or business site.
Unlike Squarespace, Wordpress just wasn’t designed to be hacked around with in this way, which is why in my experience the page builder themes cause more issues than they solve. So how do you know which one is best for you? Well, I wrote an article all about the pros and cons of Wordpress vs. Squarespace to help you figure that one out, or you can book a free, no-strings-attached call with me to get my recommendation.