Magento Theme Customization: What to look for before buying a Magento theme

With Magento becoming more and more popular every day, so are the numbers of users who switch to Magento. For some, where budget allows, building…
  • Caitlin Mekita
  • Customer Success Manager
  • September 16, 2013 Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

With Magento becoming more and more popular every day, so are the numbers of users who switch to Magento. For some, where budget allows, building a Magento theme from the ground up is the better option. Others who are just getting started with selling online, and are on a limited budget, buy an already built Magento theme and then customize it. For those of you who are looking into buying a Magento theme and then customizing it, this article has some useful tips on how to chose a Magento theme to make the Magento theme customizations.

The Easiest Ways – Stick to the Admin

1. System > Configuration

If you’ve installed a Magento Theme and plan on keeping your budget extremely low, you will find plenty of customization options in the Magento Admin that allow you to brand your website yourself. Every theme is different, but most of them will allow you to choose between a few different layouts and color schemes. For example, you could choose your website’s width, it’s basic layout, and options for the header and footer. You might be able to pick a font, and a main theme color that will be used for important things like buttons. Link, background, and text colors can also be chosen here. Under “Design” in the configuration menu, you will also be able to change Magento’s default images, choose a Favicon, and upload your company’s logo. Getting through the configuration section of your admin won’t give you a completely customized site, but it should help you match your website with your company’s branding and is an extremely easy and cost-effective way of doing so.

2. Invest in Great Images

Great images are hands down the simplest way to take your website to the next level. Clients who provide us with high quality original images always come away with great looking websites. If you are just starting out and can’t necessarily afford fancy customization or functionality – you should start by focusing on product presentation. Your customers need to trust that they are getting the exact product that they see on your website. Showing them all of the color options and variations is also extremely important. Adding images on Magento is extremely easy. When adding a product, you will be able to add multiple images and with the click of a mouse, decide which is the default image and which images will appear as thumbnails.

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3. Set Up Your Slider

Your theme most likely comes with an image slider on the home page. This image slider is usually extremely simple to customize. You will probably need to consult with your theme’s documentation in “home page setup”. It will give you simple steps for uploading your own images, and adding custom URL’s to link different slides to different content pages, categories, or products. You will also learn to add custom text to your home page. Use this area to give visitors some information about your company.

Pros: Sticking to the admin is the way to go for companies on an extremely tight budget.
Cons: Your customization will be limited. While you can change colors and images, your website will still largely resemble the original theme and will utilize only the basic Magento functionality.

Getting More Tricky – for the Magento Savvy

4. Install and Configure Simple Magento Extensions

One of the best things about Magento is that it is an open-source platform with a huge community if developers. There are many companies that produce extensions that range from extremely simple to complex. You can find extensions to help you manage invoices, to send follow up emails, to create coupons, and much more.  Luckily, most extension companies also offer support for their extensions, so you will be able to consult with them if you experience a serious problem with installation.  When you purchase an extension, it will come with clear instructions on how to get it up and running on your website. Our favorite extension companies are Aheadworks, Mageworx, Webtex, Amasty, Gomage, and Webshopapps. Read our post about extension companies.

5. Edit the CSS to reinforce your brand

Knowing a little CSS is a great way to help brand your Magento theme. Your theme’s CSS file is what controls your websites look and layout. Without the CSS, your website would look extremely boring and be made up of plain text and images. You can get fancy with CSS but you can also make extremely simple changes to colors and backgrounds to give your site a new look and feel. CSS is pretty basic, and most web developers know it very well.

6. Implement your theme’s pre-made CMS blocks.

If your theme is well made, its documentation should hold a ton of information that will be extremely helpful – so make sure you read it! Now that you’re familiar with how Magento works, you know that a lot of the content on your site comes from CMS blocks, and that these are pretty easy to edit yourself. Check out the documentation. It will tell you how to activate CMS blocks. Many of them will already be in the admin, and you only need to change them from “disabled” to “enabled” to make them appear. Other themes will have you create your own static block, and will give you an identifier that you need to use to make your block appear where it should be. Then you can add images and text to your static block for even more customization.

Pros: Your store will match your company’s branding, and can have additional functionality to match your company’s needs.
Cons: You won’t have total control over your content and layouts, and will need to stick to the specifications of the original theme.

Expert Customization – Call a Professional!

7. Custom Layouts

If you want to change the layout or make major changes to the look of your theme, you need to call a Magento professional.  Great Magento developers aren’t easy to find, but that is because this powerful platform can be complex. A front end developer who knows their way around Magento will be able to help you create custom layouts and make your original theme virtually unrecognizable. This is a great way to get a completely custom website without needing to have it built from scratch, which is costly. Your developer will use all of the theme’s built in functionality and simply make it a true representative of your brand.

8. Custom Functionality

If you have a unique product or customer base, you might want some custom functionality that your theme or a simple extension can’t provide. Let’s say you own a wine store and your customers can create their own case of wine to have delivered to their door. As they fill their shopping cart with bottles wine, you want a graphic on the screen to display how many bottles they have, and how many more they can choose.  An experienced Magento developer would be able to create the logic that can make this happen – and you’ll have a completely custom and really cool-looking addition to your site. Your developer will help you take your brand to the next level by giving your customers a unique one of a kind experience that your competitors can’t offer.

9. Implement an Advanced Search

Magento store owners who have a specific product and knowledgeable customers might wan to implement an advanced search. An advanced search will allow your visitors to narrow down their selections in a very specific way, so their results display exactly what they are looking for. Of course, you will need to consider your customer base before utilizing advanced search because it’s not meant for those who are only “browsing” or who might be unsure of what they need. Read our post about how to create an effective advanced search.

Pros: Complete customization and branding. Total control over every aspect of your website.
Cons: A larger budget is usually required in order to hire expert professionals to build your dream online store.

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