We've had some questions about why certain features are implemented, or modified, or dropped when it comes to theme updates. There are a number of factors that go into the decisions, but the most important one is:
If a new blogger were to install this theme today, what would be the best configuration to get them set up for success?
As we explained in the what am I paying for post, themes are designed to work with the current version of PHP + WordPress + Genesis + best practices (ui/ux, SEO) at the time they're purchased. This means a theme you purchased and installed in 2017 will have many setups/configurations that are designed for 2017.
The theme you bought in 2017 would not be designed for 2019. It's impossible for us to know where other software developers, design trends, and search engine best practices are heading in advance.
Themes cost tens of thousands of dollars to develop, between designers, developers, consultants, and the tiny $75 contribution is a price that allows you to access those theme files for use on your own website.
All this means that while we make theme updates available to past customers, the themes are not designed for compatibility with their previous setup or customizations.
They're designed for modern best practices, period.
Should I update the theme?
Universally, we recommend updating the theme once per year to stay current.
Notes on theme updates are found in the changelog at the bottom each theme page:
Whether you specifically should update depends mostly on personal factors.
For instructions, see: how do I update my theme?
What about my customizations?
When you perform a customization, you're using out theme as a base to create your own custom theme, which then falls on you to maintain. While this can be satisfying, and many food bloggers do it, this comes with a set of downsides that you have to live with.
See: types of customizations.
The cost of maintaining your customizations
You become responsible for making sure your customizations are compatible with on-going best practices, and compatible with changes coming in PHP and WordPress and Genesis. We can not do this for you.
There is no way for an outsider (eg. theme support, developers) to know how you implemented your customizations. The saying "there's more than one way to skin a cat" is especially applicable to design/programming, and different philosophies exist at all level of WordPress + Genesis + Plugin development.
Tutorials you follow to implement a change may be optimal in one context, but come with trade-offs in another aspect. Trade-offs that neither the original developer who wrote the tutorial is aware of, or you.
Maintenance is a full-time job, and not physically possible for one person, which is why Feast has developers and consultants who stay on top of their respective niches and notify us of changes that need to be made.
As a rule of thumb, every customization or feature you make will require that much time every year to maintain. A one-hour change will take one-hour to troubleshoot (if you're good), and one hour per year to maintain.
Because of this complexity, we always recommend asking yourself: why am I making this change?
If you can’t draw a clean justification (return-on-investment) for paying a programmer $125/hour to make this change, you probably shouldn’t do it.
Changes we're proud of
Changes we've recently implement to aid in improving user experience and complying with quality rater guidelines for food blogs include:
In 2018, we released an updated header to fix hidden text (bad for search engines), and based on user feedback, make the header image easier to customize. For more details, see: https://feastdesignco.com/rethinking-the-header/
We also updated the font sizes to become more in-line with modern web practices, and resolve "text too small" errors in Google Search Console: https://feastdesignco.com/how-to/font-size-for-food-blogs/
Additionally, we added styling to resolve the "clickable elements too close together" in Google Search Console, which was having a negative impact on mobile usability.
We dropped support for the heart_this plugin, which was not being maintained by its developer, and which was a vanity metric that provided no value to the visitor.
We've removed guidelines to use the before-header area for newsletters, encouraging bloggers to place this after they've delivered the content their users came for (user-intent).
We've dropped support for landing page templates, recommending instead that the full-width layout be used.
We've dropped support for woocommerce, which universally turned out to be a waste of time for food bloggers, not generating nearly enough revenue to justify the high technical complexity and time + effort.
WordPress is undergoing a massive redevelopment, along with Genesis, which will require heavy redevelopment. This means that any changes or customizations made in the past or present need to be done with a focus on how they'll comply with these future changes.
Right now, there is no guide or tutorial for this. There's just rumors and testing by thousands of highly technical developers that are sharing this information informally through dozens of channels including chat, email, tutorials, blog posts.
At Feast, we have a team of highly technical people working on themes on a daily basis, and we're still unsure of how this will look in 6-12 months.
For more information, see: https://feastdesignco.com/future-of-food-blogging/
Focus on what sets you apart
Food blogs are nothing more than small businesses, and should be treated as such. You have revenues, and you have expenses, and you need to focus your time on revenue-generating activities in order to cover your expenses.
As a business, you need a unique value proposition that is valuable to your customers, and this value is your content.
Your revenues are derived from your core offering: your content, and more specifically, your recipes. This is where you should be spending the vast majority of your time.
Your expenses include anything not core to your offering: maintenance. Whether you choose to make customizations yourself, or hire someone else to do it, there's a cost associated with initial setup, as well as maintaining it.
This means that making customizations, and maintaining them, should be kept to a minimum. Unless you're a designer, you're more likely to make your website worse than better, because of the depth of knowledge and insights required. It's the old adage: it's what you don't know that's going to hurt you.
Focusing too much on design means you're increasing your expenses, with the consequence of not spending that time and effort on your content.
When should you make customizations?
Customizations should be undertaken when your revenues can justify the expense of making them. This means that unless you're profitable, you should be exclusively focused on content.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that because you're "DIY", it's not costing you anything. At minimum, count your time at minimum wage. If you spend 10 hours customizing something at $10/hour, that's cost you $100, whether or not you've had to pay yourself for it.
Once you're able to account for your time in this way, and you're generating revenues, it becomes a lot more clear whether you should be spending your time on customizations, or hire it out. If it takes you 10 hours to do something a pro can do in 1 hour, it's a better use of your time and resources to hire a pro to do it.