Joel is the person I refer to the most when people need technical changes done to their WordPress blogs. Given Joel’s strong knowledge of the WordPress platform he’s perfect to review this premium theme.
Note this post contains affiliate links, so when you buy the Headway theme after clicking a link in this article, you are passing a commission on to us, so thank you. Joel of course remained as unbiased as possible while writing this review despite the potential to retire young thanks to massive affiliate payouts :-). Over to Joel…
Headway is the new kid on the block in the world of premium (aka paid-for) WordPress themes.
It’s different to a lot of other premium themes in that it attempts to do away with themes only being customizable by designers or coders, and provide a theme that can be altered quickly and easily by just about anyone.
One of the “wow” factors of Headway is the real visual editor. That means “what you see” is really “what you get”. When you make a change, you see the change live on your page, no waiting to see what it will look like. It’s also drag and drop, so if you want to move something, just pick it up and move it. If you want to style the text differently, just change it there and then, or use the custom CSS if that’s more your thing.
It works nicely too. When you’re logged into WordPress and visit your site, there is a Visual Editor link in the top right that normal visitors don’t see. Clicking the link loads up the editing tools to the left of your site, right in front of you, with changes shown live on the right hand side of the screen. If you are a developer then there’s no need to worry, the theme has many “hooks” for faster custom coding.
Like Thesis, there are some great built-in SEO features that reduce the need to use the All in One SEO plugin. While never a deal-breaker, it’s nice to reduce the number of plugins used and have it all built in. It does add some other nice advanced SEO features, such as controlling
nofollow and separating post/page titles from their headlines which can be a nice SEO tactic.
One of the most frequent questions I get is “How do I change my header image on my blog?“.
You’ll be glad to know this is quick and easy in Headway. Not only that, but you can choose whether the header is fixed width or fluid, you can move the navigation above and below it by simply dragging, and you can change the contents and font color/size/type easily. I’m sure you get the picture, pretty much everything you would like to do is controllable!
They also have introduced the concept of “leafs” – yes, not leaves. According to their site this is correct, they looked it up! A leaf is simply a content box or section that you have on your page. You have almost total control over every leaf, from how many you have to what goes in each, where they go, what size they are, the background color, font type and so on. There are a large number of preset leafs which serve a variety of functions.
A particularly nice feature is the ability to allow different users of your WordPress blog different levels of access to various parts of the theme design editor or layout tools. This can be very useful in larger multi-author blogs where you want some users to have a certain amount of power, but not total control.
There are all sorts of neat touches to the theme that makes you think they’ve really taken care to listen to what people want, and need, from a theme.
Support for the theme is offered via an excellent series of tutorial videos, written documentation and a members forum.
You can create almost any site you can imagine in WordPress using this theme. Blogs, Corporate homepages, membership sites, landing pages, squeeze pages – they’re all possible in Headway. Not only possible, but easier than ever before, and I really mean that. Even if you still don’t like to do layout work or site design, your freelancer will be able to do things much more quickly than ever before.
There are many “tricks” and techniques that can be used to enhance your blog. Adding drop-down menus is easy, as is re-ordering your navigation. You can have different sidebars on different pages without having to use another plugin. I’m also sure some of my clients could sit for hours tweaking the color combination of their site instantly as they watch (you know who you are!), or arranging the post meta options to be optimal in their eyes.
I looked long and hard and only have some minor points.
First there is a learning curve. Like with anything new it takes a while to get used to. To begin with I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t move the navigation above the header, but I had to enable that feature and then move it. Not a problem, but perhaps reading the instructions may help! In fact, it’s highly recommended, there are so many features that it can become overwhelming, with so many windows open in the Visual Editor it can be hard to keep track of what you’re supposed to be doing.
I would have liked the Headway menu options in the dashboard to be in its own main menu section on the left. Perhaps because I’m very organized, or I’ve become used to it with other premium themes. However these options are used much less as the Visual Editor makes things simpler.
Previous versions insisted you had to have PHP 5 installed on your server, however the latest version now has support for PHP 4 inbuilt. If you’re worried, Headway even provide a free compatibility checker on the purchase page before you buy.
Installing was easy, no changing of file permissions on your web host, or anything like that. I have Headway running on WordPress 2.9 and it integrates with no problems at all.
Perhaps uncoincidentally (if that’s a word), Headway’s purchasing options are very similar to those of the Thesis premium theme. The Personal option is $87 for up to two sites that you own or develop (Thesis only allows this on one live server), and the Developer option is $164 that allows unlimited use on your own sites and removal of the footer attribution.
If you wish to develop a site for a client it’s an additional $40 per site (the same as Thesis, though they do offer bulk discounts for this).
Both versions offer free upgrades for life which is a great benefit to have.
Headway’s visual editor will come as a welcome relief to the countless number of people who want to design their own site but don’t have the coding skills required. While Thesis provides a brilliant framework and I love working with the hooks and controls it gives me, an average WordPress user often struggles customizing it, even adding a header image is challenging.
Though the Thesis forums provide great support on how to do almost anything with the theme, it can often be bewildering to people who have no experience of doing anything like that before. Headway attempts to remove this barrier and while still offering the hooks and customizable features that developers like me love, it provides a visual platform that many WordPress users have been waiting for.
Other well known premium themes, such as Affiliate Theme and Squeeze Theme have specific purposes and requirements in mind, and while they allow you to control certain elements, they do so in a relatively controlled environment.
If you’re looking for a new way of having control over almost every element of your site, take a look at Headway.
And learn how to build a better blog.