Genesis WordPressTheme Framework Review: Gorgeous, Flexible, and Insanely Powerful
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If you are in the market for a new WordPress theme, you’ve likely heard of frameworks, including one of the most popular ones: Genesis.
StudioPress promises that, regardless of whether you are a rookie blogger or a veteran developer, you’ll be able use Genesis to create a modern, high-performance, SEO-optimized website.
Let’s take a closer look at those claims.
After reading this review, you’ll be well-equipped to decide:
- WordPress Frameworks 101
- Speed and Performance: Key Features of Genesis
- Genesis Themes: Turnkey Website Designs
- Is Genesis a Good Option for E-Commerce Sites?
- Additional Benefits of Choosing Genesis
- Are There Drawbacks to Using the Genesis Framework for WordPress?
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Genesis
- Genesis Framework Offers Great Value for Writers and Bloggers
WordPress Frameworks 101
A WordPress framework:
- Provides the basic “brains” and structure of your website
- Allows for easy customization
Excellent frameworks are known for key features like speed and security.
Frameworks Are Like Cars
You can think of a WordPress framework as a car model that you can customize.
- WordPress is like Ford.
- A framework (like Genesis) is like the Mustang.
If you walk into a Ford dealer and say “I want a Mustang” he’ll say “What kind?”
There are 10 different 2019 Mustang models and hundreds of options such as exterior color, leather seats, aluminum foot pedals, various safety packages, and horsepower variations.
Likewise, you can customize websites built with WordPress frameworks like Genesis. Your final website is like the specific Mustang model that you choose: it’s not just a “Mustang” but a bright yellow Mustang GT Premium Fastback with a heated steering wheel and remote starter. Nice!
With Genesis, you’ll decide exactly which — and how many — add-ons you want.
An Experience Anyone Can Enjoy
On the technical side, that Mustang has a lot of engineering under the steel: electrical, mechanical, and computer. A WordPress framework has its technical side too: underneath it all, it’s made out of code.
When you drive your new Mustang though, you won’t be reading engineering plans. Everything will be intuitive. It’s the same when you use a framework like Genesis.
Speed and Performance: Key Features of Genesis
Just like the Mustang, the Genesis is known for its speed and performance. But what kind of speed and performance are we talking about?
Site Loading Speed
How fast your site loads has a direct impact on your site traffic and sales. Google research has shown that “53% of mobile site visits leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.”
The bad news? Most websites take an average of 15 seconds to load on mobile devices. (Source: Think With Google, 2018 data)
StudioPress states that “[P]age load times for sites built on Genesis can often be measured and discussed in milliseconds.”
After you publish your site you can also take advantage of StudioPress’ tips for tweaking your site further for speed.
What is “Lightweight” and “Optimized” Code?
To understand what “lightweight” code means, consider its opposite: “bloated code.”
Most websites are bogged down with unnecessary code.”Lightweight” code includes exactly what’s needed and nothing more.
“Optimal” code refers to how well-written the code is and where parts of it are placed: when certain types of code aren’t placed in the best spot in on a page, it can slow your website loading time down.
Keeping your WordPress site safe requires that you keep the core software and its plugins updated.If you don’t your site can become vulnerable to known hacks like the Japanese Keyword Hack.
The fallout from such hacks can last for months and damage your website’s reputation.
To create “airtight security” for Genesis StudioPress brought lead WordPress developer Mark Jaquith on board. Mark was put in charge of making sure that the framework follows WordPress security best practices.
SEO: Ranking Well
How well your site ranks depends partly on how well your site is coded.
The “clean, optimized” code that we mentioned under “Speed” contributes to good SEO.
Genesis also boasts of “smart design architecture.” The way a site is structured improves the experience for the visitor, but it also impacts SEO by helping search engines figure out what the site is about.
Genesis also supports something known as “schema markup.” This displays information — like hours you’re open or event dates — in your search engine results.
StudioPress brought industry heavyweight Greg Boser onboard to ensure all of the Genesis themes have been “fully optimized” for SEO.
So, what is a theme?
Genesis Themes: Turnkey Website Designs
Themes are pre-built — or “turnkey” website designs.
The theme provides the visual style and layout for your website. All you have to do is select one you like, then customize the colors and add your title, and content.
All Genesis themes are designed to perform correctly on all devices types, including smartphones.
Built With HTML5
All of the themes are built on HTML5 – the most current version of HTML, which is the basic code that websites are created with.
The use of HTML5 means is your site will be compatible with any future versions of HTML that come out and it’ll work uniformly across different browsers.
Choose From Dozens of Themes
Genesis comes out of the box with a default theme. But you can choose from dozens of alternate Genesis themes.
A note on terms:
- The default theme of a framework is sometimes called the “parent theme.” And the alternate themes are sometimes called “child themes.”
- “Genesis” is used to refer to the framework. But it’s also sometimes used to refer to the “parent theme.”
Here is the default Genesis theme:
When you purchase the Genesis framework, you have the option to purchase premium (child) themes along with the framework. (You’ll need to get a child theme, and I’ll explain why a bit later in this review.)
Let’s say that you want to run an e-commerce store. You could use the framework and modify Genesis to build something that is more appropriate for selling things:
Perhaps you wanted to run a media site. The Magazine Pro theme is a good example of something that would fit this need:
All of the examples we’ve shown above are child themes. You can view the StudioPress-created options available to you, which gives you an idea of how varied the child themes can be.
The themes are grouped into categories:
- Real Estate
- Magazine Style
Keep in mind, however, that StudioPress is not the only purveyor of Genesis themes. There are many developers and agencies offering services related to Genesis that may be of interest to you.
Technical Note: Child Themes Are a Must
You could use Genesis as your active theme, but this is something StudioPress strongly recommends that you not do. In short, child themes are a must.
Why is using the default Genesis “parent theme” so problematic?
We’ll need to get a bit technical here, so feel free to skip over the details. If you are a bit familiar with code though, it will make sense to you.
Only Child Themes Can Be Customized
First, Genesis is set up so that any of the customization you want to make go into the child theme’s functions.php file, and if you’re not using a child theme, you don’t have this file. In short, you can’t customize Genesis itself, and (by extension) your site without a child theme.
Preserving Your Changes
However, let’s say that you decided to modify Genesis’ default CSS file. StudioPress updates Genesis quite frequently, and when it does, it will overwrite the changes you have made. Without a child theme, you’ll lose your work.
In short, child themes are StudioPress’ way of making sure that your framework stays that way and doesn’t become a fancy theme for your site.
Red Flag, Red Flag
Not sure if you’re using a child theme or not? Your dashboard will alert you if you aren’t, and the warning will not go away until you are.
Is Genesis a Good Option for E-Commerce Sites?
There’s a lot of overlap between the blogging community and e-commerce.
Maybe you want to sell swag with your brand on it.
Maybe you want to link to products you like and recommend.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to consider e-commerce features on its own when looking at WordPress frameworks. While some features for blogging are appropriate for e-commerce (and vice versa), selling online raises distinct requirements you need to consider. Let’s see how Genesis helps (or hinders) your entrepreneurial goals.
With the ability to customize your child themes as much as you’d like, you can create e-commerce friendly themes for your site. Regardless of whether you want to include an abundance of text or you want to feature galleries upon galleries of product images, you can implement all of the design elements of your choice.
Furthermore, a big part of e-commerce is offering your customers what they want when they want it.
Using child themes allows you to prepare for upcoming events (e.g., holiday sales) ahead of time without changing underlying functionality (payment processing functionality, shopping cart integrations, and so on).
Integration with WooCommerce
WooCommerce is the most popular e-commerce platform/plugin for WordPress, and StudioPress has released the Genesis Connect for WooCommerce plugin that integrates these two products.
The plugin allows you to replace the built-in WooCommerce templates with Genesis-ready options, as well as enabling compatibility between WooCommerce and Genesis elements like Simple Sidebars and Simple Menus.
Determining if Genesis is Right for Your E-Commerce Site
In the end, the crucial thing to remember if you want to launch an e-commerce site is that Genesis is simply an additional tool to help you bring about your e-commerce vision. It is not the primary tool — for that, you will be relying on your e-commerce platform, whether that is WooCommerce, some other e-commerce plugin, or a freestanding third-party platform.
While there are a lot of benefits that Genesis offers to those looking to start an online store, we think that the more important task is to choose the e-commerce platform that best fits your needs. Then, you can take advantage of the features and functionality in Genesis to enhance the product that you are using.
Additional Benefits of Choosing Genesis
There are many options available to you when it comes to purchasing a WordPress framework, so let us take a look at the benefits you will get specifically by choosing Genesis.
We hesitate to use the word “unlimited,” but in the case of Genesis, it is true that your purchase of Genesis gets you every feature and functionality of the framework. StudioPress does not have pricing tiers, where plans that cost less come with fewer features.
- Unlimited software updates, executed for you
- Unlimited customer support
- Unlimited sites – build as many as you like
- Access to their step-by-step tutorials
Lifetime Access to Customer Support
StudioPress backs the Genesis framework with “lifetime access” to their support team of WordPress experts and their online community forum.
Theme Pricing and Agency Plan
Lastly, here are a few pricing notes you should know about.
Themes Are Extra
You can buy themes a la carte at an additional cost.
For Agencies: Pro Plus Membership
If’ you are a design or developer freelancer or agency, you may want to consider the Pro Plus Membership. This gives you access to every current theme and every future theme developed by StudioPress for a one-time flat fee.
Are There Drawbacks to Using the Genesis Framework for WordPress?
There is a lot to like about the Genesis framework, but it is not a perfect product, and it is definitely not the right option for everyone! Here are some things to know when it comes to drawbacks resulting from using Genesis.
Genesis is not free. It’s well under $100, though, and that’s a reasonable cost for lifetime use.
There are some hosts that offer Genesis free of charge to their users (e.g., WP Engine), but they tend to be premium options that are on the pricier side.
So, before you become too attached to Genesis, be sure to look at its pricing.
Genesis can be used to create an infinite number of designs, but its ubiquity can mean that there is a good chance your site will look like somebody else’s.
If you just care about your site looking good, this is not an issue for you. If, however, you want to stand out with a unique design, Genesis might not be the best option.
Advanced Features Require (Some) Technical Knowledge
Genesis can be pretty easy to use, but to take full advantage of its advanced features, you should be comfortable or familiar with things like CSS, PHP, working with webhooks, how to administer a WordPress site, and so on.
Part of the learning curve with regards to Genesis stems from its power — the more powerful something is, the harder it tends to be to use. There are other frameworks that offer a lot of the same things as Genesis but are easier to use.
StudioPress-Authored Code Snippets
There are certain elements that are frequently used by bloggers, yet do not come with the default Genesis installation.
To help bloggers implement such commonly-used functionality, StudioPress provides a fair number of code snippets that you are free to use when customizing your themes.
Again, you still have to be somewhat comfortable with technology to do this.
To be sure, the coding itself is not super complicated — you are not being asked to build apps from scratch for example. Nevertheless, to get the full benefit of Genesis, you will likely need to touch some code.
For those who want to use Genesis but can’t (or aren’t willing to) work with code, you can hire a third-party to handle this task.
Genesis has a large community, including agencies and freelancers, who assist bloggers with the theme customization they need.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Genesis
Before you purchase and download Genesis, here are some things we think you need to know.
Is there a good amount of Genesis WordPress theme documentation?
Yes, there is. With a product as complex as Genesis, documentation is of utmost importance. You have lots of options available to you.
The StudioPress FAQ
For those who are new (or relatively new) to Genesis, StudioPress’ FAQ page is a good place to get started.
Once you have purchased Genesis, you can access the company’s documentation, which is only available for viewing by customers since the content is placed in the user-only support area.
New Users’ Guide
However, the documentation can be overwhelming, due to the fact that there is so much content about everything. As such, new users should refer to The Beginner’s Guide to the Genesis Framework as a less intimidating starting point.
For those who need a bit of coding-related help, Genesis offers a number of code snippets you can use to implement a wide variety of custom features, including:
- Author boxes
- Integration with Google AdSense
- Search forms
Finally, StudioPress maintains a blog that they update regularly. In addition to announcements and the like, StudioPress writes a number of articles on best practices, ideas you can implement, how-to guides and tutorials, and so on.
How hard is it to convert a WordPress theme to one that’s built on Genesis?
So you have a WordPress theme already. Let’s say that you want to convert it to a Genesis child theme so that you can take advantage of all the Genesis features that are under the hood.
Is this possible?
Well, yes and no.
If you are looking for a simple input/output option (e.g., you provide your current theme, push a button, and get a fully functional Genesis child theme in return), the answer is no.
How Does This Work?
However, you can certainly convert your theme manually. The amount of work required to complete this task varies, but you basically need to do two things:
- Import your design elements — take the Genesis theme, and customize it so that it looks like your current theme
- Import your functional elements — if the Genesis theme does not include any functionality present in your current theme, you will need to add it to the child theme on which you are working.
As we said, the amount of work required to complete the two tasks above varies based on the complexity of your current theme. In some cases, this might be so labor intensive that this process is not really a conversion — it is a rebuilding of your theme from scratch using Genesis.
Should You Convert to The Genesis Framework?
If you already have a theme you love and want to keep, think carefully about whether you want to undergo this conversion process. Sometimes it might be worth it (for example, you might be seeing slow page load times and want to utilize the lightweight Genesis framework to improve your blog’s performance), but in other situations, Genesis might not be a good fit for your at all.
How Does StudioPress work with Genesis theme?
Here are the key players and some notes you need to keep in mind to make sense of this product:
- StudioPress is the company that puts out the Genesis product.
- Genesis can refer to either of the following:
- The framework itself
- The parent theme, on which all child themes are based
- The Genesis parent theme cannot be used on live sites — you must use a child theme (which are typically named something other than Genesis)
How Does Genesis Compare to Divi?
If you are not familiar with Elegant Themes’ Divi, it is a WordPress theme builder. Divi ships with a drag-and-drop page builder that you can use to build themes from scratch. In short, it is a website builder for WordPress blogs.
Framework vs. Editor
First, we want to make it clear that Genesis is a theme framework, whereas Divi is akin to a single theme that you customize as you see fit.
Child Themes vs. Templates
Genesis asks that you create child themes on top of the parent Genesis theme, while Divi provides you with templates you can modify. In short, both products allow you to change the appearance of your blog, but the method in which this is done differs.
Genesis asks for more of you when it comes to code — there is a fair amount of coding required to get things to behave or appear as you want, while Divi’s goal is to eliminate as much of this as possible (hence the templates and drag-and-drop editor).
Adding Features and Functionality
If you need to add features to your website with ease, Divi is the option for you. While Genesis focuses on being as lightweight as possible (and therefore does not add much on top of what stock WordPress offers), Divi comes packed with features and functionality you can add to your site.
To be clear, you can make the same additions with both products, but Divi makes the process slightly easier at the expense of performance.
However, because Divi comes with so much, there are not as many plugins that work with the product. Genesis users, on the other hand, have access to a robust community of plugins available to them, since plugins are the way to go for adding functionality.
Finally, security is a big selling point for Genesis. While Divi is not inherently insecure, we see more of an emphasis from StudioPress on providing a secure product.
Should You Choose Divi or Genesis?
The question of whether Divi or Genesis is better is not one that we can answer, but we can provide guidelines on who should go with which option.
If you are comfortable with coding (or have the monetary resources to bring in a developer), want the flexibility offered by a framework, and want to prioritize security, Genesis is the option for you.
If you are on stricter budgetary constraints and want to build a great theme for your WordPress blog without the assistance of a developer or the need for code snippets, Divi is probably a better option for you.
Genesis Framework Offers Great Value for Writers and Bloggers
There is a lot to like about the Genesis Framework — we think that the product successfully balances the line between feature-rich and lightweight.
The framework provides you with lots of benefits (especially regarding security and usability) while still maintaining its ease of use and flexibility.
Head on over to StudioPress to learn more.