WordPress.com theme review

It’s been interesting to compare theme review processes. Now it’s time to take closer look at WordPress.com theme review process. I’m lucky enough to have couple of themes in there and therefore have some insight information.

Let’s talk about how you can get your themes in WordPress.com and what is the theme review process.

How to get your themes on WordPress.com

WordPress.com themes

WordPress.com staff can pick free themes from the WordPress.org repository. But I don’t think they even ask you if you want your theme in WordPress.com. They most likely pick themes that looks good and seems a good fit.

So all you have to do is create awesome themes, review them first and send them to WordPress.org and hope for the best!

What about commercial themes? There is submit your theme page but it was only open short time period, and the year was 2014. From my understanding new theme shops are only invited at the moment. They most likely check out theme shops from time to time and decide to invite new theme shops if they really really like your work.

Or you can always contact them directly and let them know you’re the best of the best!

By the way there are 181 commercial themes and  39 theme shops in WordPress.com. It means less than five theme average per theme shop at the time I’m writing this (January 2016).

I was originally invited by Philip Arthur Moore and week after that he quit his job at Automattic. I thank him for that! Not leaving his job but giving me the opportunity.

WordPress.com theme review process

When you get in to WordPress.com that’s only the beginning. There are several steps before your theme is actually live. In short the theme review process looks like this:

Step 1: Upload your theme

Upload theme

Upload your theme for review

  • Send your theme’s .zip file trough Themer Lobby Dashboard. That’s a custom tool they are using.
  • Theme will be automatically scanned. I think they are using custom, combined tools from theme check plugin and VIP scanner.
  • Provide demo site URL and theme price.
  • WordPress.com theme review team will run through an initial review of a theme and can reject the theme at this first step. First step review is mostly about the design.
  • For example Toivo theme was rejected because it was, how do you say it, ugly. I was adviced to look at their top themes what users would like. Munsa theme was rejected because it looked too much the same as some of their themes. That’s what I call irony 🙂

From initial review, which takes about 4-14 days, you can get three kind of responses:

  1. Yes: Oh yes, this is awesome!
  2. Perhaps: There are potential in this theme but needs some changes and polishing. Could you fix these issues?
  3. No: Are you crazy? Why would you ever think we would want your shitty theme in our glorious platform!

Jokes aside, it would actually be nice to know what percentage of themes get approved.

Step 2: Review

If your theme is accepted, the actual theme review starts. It’s intense, only themereview.co can compete with that. I mean they will rip your theme in pieces, turn it upside down, jump on it, feed it to bears and see if the theme can make it.

Technical part looks like this:

  • They will give you commit access to review SVN repository. Yes, they are using SVN, not Github.
  • They will assign one theme wrangler to review your theme. Then reviewer open new issues in the SVN repo and your job is to solve them.
  • Reviewer will go over every line of code in your theme.
  • After that reviewer go over every detail in theme design and test it on WordPress.com unit test data.
  • When this review is mostly done, final review will move over to live SVN repository.
  • When on live repo reviewer starts looking at the WordPress.com specific stuff:
    • Custom Widgets design for WordPress.com. Those inline styles and !important CSS rules ain’t no fun.
    • Check support for custom colors and fonts.

Step 2 can take several weeks or months depending on lot’s of different factors:

  • How long does it take to start step 2.
  • How fast can you fix the issues.
  • How much there are other responsibilities for you and the reviewer.

Step 3: Accessibility review

I try my best to create accessible WordPress themes. I was so happy to hear that all reviewers make suggestion to improve accessibility:

All the reviewers make suggestions to improve accessibility when doing regular reviews (for things like menu toggles, and keyboard navigation), even if the theme doesn’t have an accessibility-ready tag.

I have the accessibility-ready tag in my theme and therefore David Kennedy did in depth accessibility review. Accessibilty guidelines are the same as in WordPress.org.

For me there wasn’t any big issues:

  • Small color contrast tweaks.
  • Better headings for screen readers.
  • Better keyboard navigation support inside off-canvas sidebar. This was great lesson for me, I’ll write separate post about this.

Step 4: Showcase and documentation review

Every theme have their own Showcase and Documentation page. They have guidelines how to write good documentation. All I can say that my initial documentation was not very good. I got over ten improvements ideas and reviewer also edited the docs. I’ll thank her in the next chapter. She was amazing.

After our improvements editorial team checked showcase and documentation pages. We got another round of ideas how to make them even better. And we did. Launching the theme was getting closer and closer.

Step 5: Launching the Sonsa theme

Sonsa Theme

First I want to thank Laurel Fulford for excellent review! I felt like we were on the same page and working hard to polish Sonsa theme. It’s definitely a lot better theme after the review process. And now Sonsa is also available at WordPress.com. High five, we did it!

I really liked her attitude and how she presented the ideas. Compare the following:

  • I noticed an issue when testing on several browsers and devices. Here are screenshots. Have you considered that we could fix this by doing this kind of improvements? Or did you have other ideas for this?
  • This needs to be fixed.

Which one would you prefer? For me the helpful review process is really important, not just that I get my theme approved. This was team effort.

Details on my review

Like I said before I really liked the review process. Laurel showed what quality, efficient and friendly review means.

There were couple of major issues I haven’t considered before submitting the theme.

  • All themes needs to support IE9 and IE10 in WordPress.com.
  • Right to left styles.
  • Custom widgets styling.

Right to left styles and custom CSS for WordPress.com wasn’t that bad but supporting IE9 and even IE10 was a lot of work. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but Sonsa have unique layout and uses heavily flexbox CSS.

Sonsa tickets in SVN repo

Tickets for Sonsa theme in SVN repo

There was 55 tickets to solve and it took about five weeks to complete the review. I hope hard work pays off, even in terms of theme sails. Now it’s time to concentrate building new themes.

Let me know in the comments if you have questions about WordPress.com theme review.