UPDATE: We’ve released a series of WordPress framework reviews covering the four that received the most votes. You can check out the wrap-up or read the individual reviews for Ultimatum, Gantry, Headway, and Divi Builder.

WordPress frameworks are all the rage these days. As opposed to themes, which usually drive the look and feel of simple blogs or websites, frameworks allow WordPress administrators to manage larger WordPress sites and help users create wonderfully dynamic, responsive user experiences. With so many available and more coming out all the time it can be difficult to know what sets them apart and if you even need one at all.

Wait, what is a WordPress framework?

A WordPress framework is a tool set that allows you to manipulate the look and feel of your WordPress powered website more fully than a standard theme. In most cases a theme allows you to change the menu, sidebar, color schemes, and other minor elements. A framework lets you completely change the layout of posts and pages and have a great deal more control over how your site looks and functions. WPMU Dev has a lengthy write-up here explaining more.

How much do they cost?

Frameworks range from free to several hundred dollars. There are three general models:

  • Free  (Gantry, Hybrid, Thematic) –  The framework doesn’t cost anything, but this usually means it’s pretty bare bones and you’ll need to spend time learning it and develop your own theme or build significantly on a generic theme.
  • One Time Fee (Genesis, Divi Builder, Thesis) – Some companies charge a one time fee for lifetime support of the framework. This sometimes includes other themes and plugins.
  • Annual Subscription (Headway, Builder, Themify Builder) – You pay a set annual fee for updates and support. Sometimes includes other themes and plugins.

Which is the best WordPress framework for you?

As with most software, that can be fairly subjective. It often depends on your skill set, budget, and requirements. Free frameworks rarely include support beyond community forums, which can be strong or practically non-existent. Support that comes with paid frameworks can vary from phone, to Email, to forum-based. It’s important to do your research. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the framework still being updated? How often? Try and find a public roadmap to get an idea of what’s coming and if you can have input.
  • What’s the community like? Even if you have paid support, a vibrant forum and developer community makes a huge difference.
  • What’s the ongoing cost? For some this won’t be a concern, but the annual fees can start to add up. Is purchasing the framework alone enough for you, or will you also need to purchase a theme or other plugins?
  • What are the reviews like? Be careful with this one. So many seemingly professional reviews are actually just affiliate sites trying to make a buck from your clicks. Look for up-to-date information that’s written subjectively and professionally. Based on the poll results here, we’ll probably post some reviews and comparisons in the future.
  • Can you find examples using the framework that you like? It doesn’t matter how efficient and technically impressive a framework is if no one has been able to build anything interesting with it outside of a technical demo. If you can’t find examples of good design, move on.

Vote here for your favorite WordPress framework and tell us why you love it in the comments. Be sure to let us know any we’ve missed and we’ll add them.

Best WordPress Frameworks
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