You’re a DIY-er—a “do-it-yourselfer.” That means you’re not afraid to tackle anything. It means that even if you ultimately have to hire someone else to finish a task for you, you’re at least willing to try your own hand at it first. Like, for example, tackling your own website.
These days, it’s easier and easier to tackle laying out your own website. Since we covered this topic in our last article, DIY Web Design Basics, we’ll assume that you’ve already purchased the perfect domain name (Namecheap, Godaddy) and have chosen a beautiful WordPress theme (WordPress.org, Themeforest) to upload to your FTP files.
We’ll also assume that you have heard all the hype about the Avada WordPress theme—that it’s possible to build almost any type of WordPress website you can think of with it, and you’ve decided to give it a try.
After all, it has over 254,000 sales under its belt, so that many customers can’t be wrong. Plus, nearly 17,000 of those customers have given the theme a “5-Star” rating. Therefore, for purposes of this article, the question is not whether a DIY-er knows what he or she is doing when it comes to uploading and activating a WordPress theme, but whether it is truly as easy to use the Avada theme to build a website to specifications as the theme developers claim can be done.
This article is written to offer a heads-up on what to expect when you—the DIY-er—decide to take on Avada Almighty.
To answer Why Avada?, we should first address who you are. You’re a business-savvy do-it-yourselfer who also happens to be tech-savvy enough to know where to find the best WordPress themes and how to get them up and running on your own. As such, you’ve heard the legend of Avada, the WordPress wonder-theme on Themeforest.net.
You’ve heard that Avada is a super-flexible WordPress theme that allows buyers to “design the website of their dreams without needing to know one word of code.” You’ve read that some buyers call it “the Swiss Army Knife of WordPress themes,” insinuating that it can do just about anything with the click of a mouse.
You’ve also seen with your own eyes that it comes with eighteen pre-designed demos (including Photography, Gym, Church, Café, Travel, Law and Fashion, to name a few) so that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel; you can simply decide on the business of your dreams and then click to import the perfect demo and build from there.
It sounds like heaven and you want to try your hand at it—not only because you’re trying to save money, but also because as a DIY-er, you love learning new things. That brings us back to the mission of this article: determining whether the Avada theme is actually as easy to upload, install, lay out and customize as it is said to be.
Again, for purposes of this article, we will assume that you are not a newbie when it comes to WordPress sites. We will assume that you understand how to upload a WordPress theme to your FTP files and that you understand that before you can upload Avada, you need to have already installed WordPress. HOWEVER, in case you weren’t aware that you need to know these things, here’s a quick refresher:
Avada is a WordPress theme. When designing ANY WordPress theme, before you upload you must make sure you have already installed the latest WordPress software to your server. If you haven’t already done this, you can install using Avada’s WordPress Installation article, or you can go directly to WordPress.org for a free WordPress download and follow their installation instructions.
FTP: The Avada authors were thoughtful enough to include a FTP Installation article that is a type of crash course in how to install via FTP.
Roadblocks: System Status
Assuming that the WordPress and FTP installation crash-courses above were a breeze for you, we can continue our up-close-and-personal look at Avada.
Once you activate your Avada theme you’ll see a dashboard display that prompts you to register your product (to be sure you are licensed to use it), install the demo of your choice, and activate the necessary plugins to run the theme.
You won’t have to search for the plugins via the WordPress.org plugin panel that is typically integrated into the WordPress theme; Avada tells you exactly which plugins you need. All you need to do is click “install,” and then later, “activate.”
As you progress through the plugin installation and activation steps, you will eventually arrive at a dashboard tab called “system status”—a section which could prove to be a bit of a monster for the novice WordPress user. The system support tab summarizes your server’s actual resource settings, and an accompanying display suggests the necessary resources required to run a humongous theme like Avada. Following are the challenges you may encounter:
Challenge #1 – WP Memory Limit
One of the first red flags you may notice when you visit “system status” is that the typical WP Memory limit setting is 40mb. Unfortunately, Avada needs at least 128mb to run smoothly—and all of 256mb if you’re planning to import the Avada Classic demo.
If your setting doesn’t match Avada’s suggested resource number, you’re going to have problems. First of all, you will most likely receive an error message when you try to import your demos. The message may look like this:
Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 134217728 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 644 bytes)
You may also get trapped in what I like to call the “memory fail loop.” This is when you cannot complete a task because there isn’t enough memory, but you also cannot get back to your admin panel to log out. If by some miracle you do manage to log out of your website, your landing page will still display that annoying error message. Following is what you should do to fix the problem:
How to Solve It:
- a) FTP the theme: Let’s assume that as a DIY-er, you already know how to extract your Avada files from their “zip” format. Once that’s done, you can use your FTP client to upload the necessary files. You would use the path:
FolderName (whatever your site will be called) > wp-content > themes.
You would upload your Avada theme, then login to your site’s url and open the admin panel and find “appearance” and activate the Avada theme.
- b) Edit some files: Simply put, you’re going to need to edit your ini file, .htaccess file, and possibly even your wp-config.php to help resolve your issues. This article has not included a lesson about what these files are, because the assumption is that you know enough of the basics to attempt to set up this WordPress theme on your own.
To edit your php configuration files, .htaccess file and wp-config.php file, you should run a search called “How to increase WP Memory Limit” in your favorite search engine to pull up the various articles, videos, pdf’s and other resources that are available to help you.
Let’s assume you find some great articles from this link. Aside from the fact that editing your php configuration files, .htaccess file, and wp-config.php sounds like a scary process, many novices agree that the process is nowhere near as easy as all the experts claim it should be. For example, adding the specific wording to the wp-config.php file does not always work—and many of the articles out there concede that it might not work.
If the wp-config.php file doesn’t work, you would make the changes in the php and .htaccess files. You should know upfront that the php file is not always easy to locate. In fact, it is often deliberately hidden, and trying to find it can lead to hours and hours of frustration.
The .htaccess file is much easier to locate, and most instructions will give you the exact wording that should be included in the file. Unfortunately, they don’t tell you where to include the wording. They assume that since you’re doing everything yourself, you should already know.
If the thought of trying to change these files is unsavory for you, you can always pay for installation.
- c) Pay for installation: Like many WordPress theme developers, the Avada authors realize that novices and do-it-yourselfers can often make things more difficult than they actually are. Therefore, they offer the option of installing the theme for a small fee. You might also decide to pay a 3rd Party vendor to install the theme, import the demos and fix the technical problems.
Challenge #2 – PHP Max Input Vars
On the system status page, you will see a recommended limit for the PHP Max Input Vars. Your system’s PHP Max Input Vars is probably set at or just above the typical 1,000 level, but to run Avada, you’ll need to be at 1500. Otherwise, many actions (such as working with menus) won’t complete or will time out (freeze) in the middle of the actions.
How to Solve It:
The Avada theme offers an article on how to solve the Vars issue, but like the article on increasing the WordPress memory limit, it may not help the novice. It instructs you to either find or create a php.ini file and input the following line of code:
max_input_vars = 1540;.
If this doesn’t work, it instructs you to locate your .htaccess file and insert this line of code:
php_value max_input_vars 1540.
However, it goes on to say that sometimes the .htaccess file is hidden, so there is yet another article you need to read about how to find the file so that you can change it.
By now, these issues probably sound like a belly ache waiting to happen. You may want to avoid the stress by contacting your ISP and asking them to make these changes for you, but don’t be surprised if they tell you that you’re basically on your own. Some ISP providers may offer links to instructional articles that will help accomplish your goal, but it is more likely that you will be offered actual assistance only if you are willing to pay a small fee.
If none of the above “fixes” work, there are other options. As a licensed Avada theme owner, you can submit a ticket to the theme authors and get specific help on how to make the above necessary changes to your theme. Just be aware that as of this article’s press time, Avada has over 254,000 customers. This means you may experience an extended wait time before your questions are answer. Therefore, you may want to consider paying a 3rd Party vendor to make the changes.
Let’s assume that you have solved your WP Memory limit and Max Input Vars problems—at least for the time being, and your demo site is up and running. You are now ready to build your dream site. Following is a personal account of what I experienced. Your own experience (based on your personal knowledge of WordPress and the amount of time you have to spend on learning Avada) may render different results.
Just What Can Avada Do?
The first thing that a DIY-er like yourself will learn is how easy the Avada authors have tried to make it for you to get your new site up and running. These authors tried to think of every type of business you might possibly be planning to engage in and then created a demo for it.
These demo themes (shown above include: Photography, Classic Shop, Avada Classic, Modern Shop, Hosting, Agency, Architecture, Hotel, Lifestyle, App, Gym, Church, Agency, Café, Travel, Law, Fashion and a Landing page. By the way, as mentioned in Part I, you will need the maximum amount of resources (Vars and WP Memory limit) should you choose to install the Classic Avada theme.
I selected the Classic Shop demo. Importing it was quick and painless, and after activating the theme and demo content, my site was “live” in no time flat. All I needed to do was begin customizing my navigation menu, posts and pages. To do this, I began with the following Avada documentation and training links:
Even though the Avada option panel is easy to manage (as most WordPress theme admin panels are), the sheer number of variations that are possible can be quite overwhelming—especially for DIY-ers and novices who have no design experience in your background.
For example, in addition to the ability to change the font, padding, background, height and navigation layouts, every page can have a different footer, title bar, slider, background, or custom shortcode on it.
In fact, settling on the immense number of features that can be mixed and matched to give your website your own personal touch can actually take longer to decide upon than it takes to physically get the site up and running on the web.
Thankfully, the authors created a safety net feature that quells the fears of those novices and DIY-ers who have no usable design experience: the “reset section” option. Any novice who has ever customized a site knows how terrifying experimenting can be.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, changes made to the default design can leave your site looking like a 5-year old has been working on it, and you can’t always figure out how to go back to the way things were. Avada eliminates that fear by allowing you to play with colors, sizes, padding, font, banners, background elements, menus, etc., and then simply resetting them to the default if you don’t like the results.
As mentioned, Avada offers an entire video series (see topics above) to help the novice build the site. These videos come complete with voice-over explanations of how to master the global theme options, pages, posts and shortcodes.
While not unheard of, this “voice-over” feature is quite rare. Many WordPress theme developers do not speak English as a first language, and since many of them speak with a distinct accent, they may feel it is easier to offer silent videos where users need only follow the moving cursor to learn how to customize the site.
Unfortunately, many times those cursors move at lightning speed; after all, the developers know their own product front to back and move quickly through the video, almost as an afterthought.
It can be quite frustrating to try to follow the demonstrator as he/she zooms through the soundless video lesson at an accelerated speed. Thus, the Avada video series voice-over—which is done at a slow and even pace with good, clear diction—is like extra icing on the cake.
Can You Set Up the Site of Your Dreams?
It should be re-emphasized that Avada is a powerful theme with a host of features, and no matter how good a DIY-er happens to be, he or she is going to have to overcome the learning curve. That being said, the question is: can a DIY-er really use the Avada theme to build the site of his/her dreams without entering a single line of code? The answer is: “I think so.” You will understand what I mean as I explain my own experience.
Of all Avada’s many demos, there was no demo to match what I wanted: a “talent agency.” I wrote to the theme authors and asked whether a talent agency demo might be added to their to-do list. Their reply was that what I wanted was doable using any of the demos already in existence.
They instructed me to simply choose a demo, then use the Fusion page builder to create a page for each model. From there, could insert images, videos, maps, and an information box about the type of modeling experience each model had.
It sounded simple enough—except for that darned learning curve. How steep the curve is depends upon how much you already know about laying out WordPress themes, and how much time and attention you have to devote to articles, knowledge bases and video training. Building and/or laying out WordPress sites full time (or even part time) is not what I do.
I’m a writer who happens to convey most of her content on the Internet, not a web designer. Therefore, to succeed with the Avada theme, it became necessary for me to split my time between researching and writing, and reading Avada’s extensive documentation in order to lay out the site to my specs. This division of time made learning, understanding and applying the theme’s features extremely slow.
For example, the Fuse Page Builder (right) was a challenge. I’ve used Page Builders before, but for me, the Fuse Page Builder had different terms and options (like “Menu anchor” and “Toggles”) that I was not accustomed to, and this made creating/designing unique pages a challenge. I also found “Widget Sections” for mega menus to be different from what I’m accustomed to.
A big plus was that the theme comes with forty (40) pre-built templates that you can choose from (see right). There’s no visual example of these templates, but you can input each into a page and then click “view” to find out what you’re dealing with. The theme also allows you to save one of your own custom designs as a “custom template” so that you don’t have to keep re-creating the page again and again.
Since I wanted a “talent agency” website and Avada had no available demos, I went to Themeforest.net and found a talent theme with lots of sales (and 5-stars) under its belt, and I attempted to pattern my site from it.
The image below represents the very beginning of my talent website. I used a pre-built Avada Homepage layout and changed some of the images to reflect what my site would be all about. I did need help from the theme authors to figure out the image sizes (and they’re still not right!).
Notice that the words on the images in the second row (Acting, Art, Dance) are faded and almost completely unreadable. This can be fixed within the Avada customization panel—after I conquer the font and color learning curve.
In the meantime, I found one or two excellent “model talent” websites from Themeforest and was able to determine what I wanted as far as page features, however, building these was a bit beyond my skill set. As the days turned into weeks, I finally conceded that I needed more direct help from the authors.
The online documentation, knowledge base and pre-built templates simply didn’t offer what I needed, and I had questions.
Creating and submitting a ticket was extremely easy, but with over 254,000 customers, I knew I would have to wait at least 24 hours for an answer. That’s not a bad thing; it’s actually quick in the world of WordPress design; however, as I explained before, I must split my time between writing and researching and laying out this particular website, so I had very little time to spare.
As I slowly but steadily built my new site brick by brick, I got another surprise as I worked to tweak my site. I found that every change/addition I made to the site changed the amount of resources needed. So even though I paid a 3rd Party vendor to change my WP Memory Limit and Max Input Vars, my resources were soon in the red again.
After several weeks of wrestling with system resources (which still aren’t where they should be), writing to the theme authors, waiting the customary 24 hours to hear back from them, and plodding through the theme documentation, I finally replaced Avada’s default posts, logo and settings with my own.
Here is what my blog page will look like. I have not customized the posts, nor have I tweaked the colors, typography and visual appeal. That will come in time. Again, I’m not a designer and I’m fully aware that I may have to pay a 3rd party vendor to take care of the cosmetics for me.
All in all, I’m happy with what I have so far, but I must offer my answers to two vital questions that have been at the forefront of my mind as I’ve worked with this theme.
Question #1: Have I built (or even simply worked on) the site of my dreams without entering a word of code?
Answer: No, I’m afraid not. I had to pay a 3rd party vendor to increase my WP Memory limit and Max Input Vars, and as things stand, they need to be increased again.
Question #2: Can I indeed build my dream site using the Avada theme?
Answer: I think so, but the final results remain to be seen.
Here are my quibbles with Avada:
- The theme needs extra resources. Even though the theme is billed as “not needing a word of code,” the novice often has to write code in the .htaccess or php.ini file in order to increase the resources to get the theme to work smoothly. I didn’t want to tackle this myself so I paid a 3rd party vendor. Even after the 3rd party vendor took care of this for me, I found that every change I made placed my resources in the red. Several times, my php “timed out” and my website froze because the theme is so big. Also, any time I needed to insert a feature inside a widget area, the theme timed out. This leads me to wonder if the Avada people should advise buyers to use a dedicated server or a VPN to run Avada, because a shared server (which is what I use) just isn’t working.
2. The theme has so many options, variations, and possibilities that it can be quite overwhelming. If getting a product on the web in a hurry is your goal, Avada fits the bill. But if customizing that product and using it as quickly as possible is your goal, you may find yourself hindered by the learning curve and distracted by all the available features.
- YES, you can build a great site with Avada (I’ve seen Avada’s showcase examples–though I don’t know if DIY-ers did them or if they hired 3rd party vendors), but unless you have days and days to dedicate to nothing but learning the theme’s features and possibilities, your dream site may be weeks or months down the road.
I do want to advise you that NONE of these quibbles are catastrophic. Avada is just so huge and has so many features that the average novice WON’T get up and running in a matter of minutes. There’s just too much to learn. This, I think, means that a user MUST make use of the Ticket System to ask those evasive questions that never seem to make it to the knowledge base
No matter how much a theme author may promise you that you can make your dream site with their theme, nothing convinces more than the opportunity to look at actual websites that utilize the design. The Avada Showcase includes a long list of websites that use the Avada theme. Some of them are dashingly beautiful. However, there is no way of knowing whether individual users tweaked the themes to look this way, or if they paid a 3rd party vendor to do design and/or programming work to get the results they wanted.
Avada is truly a magnificent WordPress theme, but with magnificence and flexibility comes a learning curve (however steep) that may slow or even halt a novice’s progress. After all, nothing is ever as easy as it’s cracked up to be…right?
In the meantime, I promise to return when my dream site is complete. Stay tuned!