What is the best WordPress theme? (Headway review)

What is the best WordPress theme?

Hi there, cherry pie! (I must be hungry.) In this post I will discuss why Headway is my go-to theme and the only one I use when building fully custom websites for my sharp and successful clients (hi, gals!) and even for DIYers.

I will also cover why Headway 3.6 is amazing and how it is different from and superior to the theme frameworks Thesis 2.0 and Genesis. There’s enough information to write a book, so keep in mind: this is an overview.

I’m gonna get in a lot of trouble for this, but here’s a crazy comparison: it’s kinda like how taking an invigorating hike in a lush forest awash with the smell of pine trees is 10,000 better than taking a rushed stroll through your local park and having a dog pee on you. And you’re wearing flip flops, not boots, because it’s summer. Ewww. (And yes, it’s happened to me. His name is Sammy and he’s a puppy, friends with my pup Naomi, and was so excited to greet me that he peed on me. I tell you, that little bastard’s lucky he’s so adorable.)

So what is the best WordPress theme?

First, let me clarify: neither Headway nor Thesis nor Genesis are in truth themes per se. Headway is a theme builder and Thesis and Genesis are theme frameworks. (More on this below.)

Now that that’s clear, let’s get to the tofu of the matter.

What is Headway (and what is it not)?

Let’s start from the beginning. Headway is a drag and drop theme builder, as opposed to a theme per se. You can use its kickass Visual Editor to build your own layouts and themes and create anything you want.

Meaning: when you first install Headway, you won’t see a default navigation, content area, and sidebar like you do with other themes. You’ll see a blank canvas. So you can make it look like whatever the heck you want, and unless you want something radically unconventional, you can do it all code-free, baby. This is hardcore epic shi*.

Why (else) is Headway amazing? (Check out these Miami-in-the-summer-hot features.)

  • It has a revolutionary Visual Editor where you can drag and drop boxes that you then turn into widgets, navigations, content, etc. in 1 click. Just click your mouse, hold the button down and drag. This method lets you position your “blocks” wherever you like in relation to each other. For example, if you have a really bad day and want a vertical navigation running through the middle of your pages to violate best practices blow up the user friendliness status quo, you can do it… and without any code, yo! (Disclaimer: I don’t recommend this.)
  • You can create any layout or theme you desire without the need to program it. For some instances of unconventional layouts, you might need to add CSS (code), but you’ll never have to program in PHP (a programming language) like you would with other WordPress themes, which are much less flexible than this puppy. Translation: it’ll be quicker and cheaper if you hire out these changes, and if you DIY, you can learn to do it without taking an advanced course in PH-freakin’-P.
  • You can get your desired layout going FAST with no code knowledge necessary. I’m kinda repeating myself, but this is huge.
  • You can see what things look like before saving thanks to its WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) Visual Editor. Wanna see how a different font would look on your headlines? Or if periwinkle would look better than white as the background color for your navigation? You can test it inside your Visual Editor before saving any changes, so you can realize you’ve made a huge mistake (ahem, watch the video below!) and scrap your experiment before the world gets to see it. Phew.
  • It’ll be responsive (look rad in phones and tablets so you’ll impress all your friends) if you don’t mess it up (and it’s kinda hard to mess up).
  • You can create a unique layout for each page (or just customize the main front page or blog layout and be set), again sans code. This is especially smart for when you want to set up a membership site and want to make the pages hosting your protected content look different from your main website. I mean, imagine if the pages where you have your course looked just like the rest of your site: people would be confused as hell. You’d be getting 70 emails per day from people asking why “Module 1” contains your About page (because they’re on your About page, not Module 1, but they don’t know because everything looks the same!). You’d get a stress ulcer and want to quit and go live on a boat. A membership site deserves its own different design, damn it, if only for the sake of everybody’s sanity.
  • Abundant documentation and an impressive support forum.

And tons more. But you don’t have all day, so those’ll do.

How is Headway different from and superior to Thesis 2.0 and Genesis?

You may have heard of Thesis 2.0 and Genesis, the popular theme frameworks with supremely cool names. Yup, they’re really good too. But they’re different. And arguably inferior to Headway. But if you’re on WordPress you gotta pick one, so here are a few ways the Headway theme builder surpasses Thesis 2.0 and Genesis:

  • Headway makes it easier to position the elements of your page (say, a photo, social media icons, opt-in, navigation, and copyright all snuggled up together in your footer).
  • There’s no Visual Editor in Thesis 2.0 or Genesis that lets you see what things look like before saving. Made a wrong move? It’s exposed to the world like a soiled naked baby until you fix it, buddy.
  • Thesis 2.0 is super confusing for non-technical peeps. Opening the editor is a clustereff. A clustereff! You need to learn what the hell boxes and skins are and where they are and what they’re for and how to use them. Even Genesis is more intuitive.
  • Learning curve: all 3 options have a moderate learning curve. But some curves are sexier than others. And Headway has Marilyn Monroe’s coveted hourglass figure. Just sayin’. Overall, Thesis 2.0 is the hardest to learn for non-geeks, and Genesis is in the middle.

There is SO much more to cover I could write a book. This overview only gives a taste of how mind-blowing Headway is, and there are many nuances I didn’t cover regarding the differences between Headway and Thesis 2.0 and Genesis, and why I recommend Headway hands-down. (By the way, if any readers have worked extensively with Thesis 2.0 or Genesis, I heartily welcome your input and questions too!)

So for now, I hope this post helps you understand this whole theme thingamajig better.

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31 Responses to What is the best WordPress theme? (Headway review)

  1. Hi Nat!
    This was super helpful for me because I’ve been on thesis forever and I kinda hate it!
    Does moving from Thesis to Headway negatively affect your SEO at all? Does all your content/blog posts/comments etc. move into the new theme seamlessly- or do you have to move all of it manually?
    I’m probably asking huge questions here, but thanks for any info!
    Jill Therese

    • Hey Jill!

      Happy to hear that it’s super helpful for you :D Yeah… Thesis. I definitely think Headway is superior.

      Moving from Thesis to Headway doesn’t affect your SEO at all (what affects your SEO is changing your URLs, but if you keep your permalinks as they are and don’t change your domain, you’ll be golden!). And all your content/blog posts/comments, etc. move into the new theme seamlessly. You’re keeping the same website — just changing the theme — so nothing else changes :)

      Please let me know if I can answer any further questions, and I offer free intro consultations if you ever want to discuss your move!

      By the way, I love what you do! My skin improved drastically when I gave up gluten, and recently I tried giving up nightshades and it helped even more! Food is magic, yo :) I’ve started drinking clay and that’s finishing up the job. Fascinating.

      xo

  2. Clay cocktails? Hmm, sounds uh, sounds…. So, on to my question! :D I’ve finally ready to buy Headway, thanks to your amazing powers, but I wanted to share the love and click through your affiliate link if you have one. Let me know!

    Thanks for being super awesome! Your #1 man fan, Adam! :)

    • Hey Adam! Damn, son, that is so sweet. I don’t currently have one. Will add it when I do. Thank you! I’m pumped to see what you do with HW :) xo

      • Oh man! I feel like such an ass!

        I went for the free trial where they let you demo the actual Headway Theme for a few days. I blew off purchasing it, but the next day they sent me a 20% discount code and I panicked and bought it! I checked your blog to see if a link was up yet, and there wasn’t. I didn’t know how long the discount would last and yeah, I fell apart and went for the deal.

        Sorry Super, but I’m totally excited about Headway. Thanks so much for all the great tips, and next time I see you I’ll get you a Starbucks coffee AND a healthy, gluten free, tasty vegan something or other (do they make anything like that?).

  3. Yes I confirm, thesis non ending…. took me forever to build my site, and I did not want to give up because of suborness. I feel now I need some time to recover from this but my plan is try headway for the next site!
    And thesis sites tend to all look the same in the end.
    I confirm, gluten free made also a huge difference in my life!
    Nath I’ve seen you are using open sans as a font, I ‘ve been using it as well for my headlines, and have realized that when not in admin mode, bold open sans is blurry with chrome…. I’ve kind looked around and it seems chrome and bold open sans are a problem when open sans installed on the computer. Wondering if you know anything abou this and what to do? I see your more website superhero wisdom blurry, might be just me, wondering? thanks!:-)

    • Hi Ophelie! Glad I could help you find a better option, lady. And isn’t the gluten-free thing amazing? I also noticed a big difference when I gave up nightshade vegetables. Crazy stuff.

      Great observation about Open Sans, Ophelie! In fact, it’s an issue with Google Fonts in general — and only in Chrome, which is 100% ironic. Google said this bug will be fixed in July 2014, so here’s hoping! :) The solution would be to use another font or try installing the font manually via FTP if, like in my case with Headway, Google Fonts are loaded automatically. I’m about to rebrand and probably switch to another font, and hopefully this issue will be fixed in July, so I’m not going to worry about it at the moment. How do you think you’ll handle it?

      xo

      • First of all, you guys are lovely. I’m SO glad that eating better helped your skin Nat and Ophelie! I literally struggled with acne for over 15 years and it was the only thing that changed my skin. You know Nat, I’ve been trying to do more research on night shade veggies- you saw a huge difference? So good to know.
        I also agree with Adam! I’m going to buy headway probably sometime in the next week so if you have an affiliate link I would be HONORED to buy from you (I’m a fellow Bschooler:)
        Much love, thanks again:)
        Jill

        • And when I go back on nightshades, boom — you can see it on my face. I’m still figuring out a bunch of body stuff haha.

          Jill! That is soooo sweet! I really appreciate it. I’ll come back here with a link if I get it in time.

          <3!

          • Ahhhh I’m in the exact same boat as Adam! But I will 100% send people your way to buy! ALSO!!! Would love to chat with you about your skin. We could put together a plansie for you! Email me if you’re interested:) XOXO

          • Nooo, Jill, please don’t worry <3 It’s not a big deal and, even if it was, you offered and I didn’t have it. Please, don’t feel bad about this :) And thank you for that offer! xoxo!

      • Hi Nat! I am glad to hear that it will be fixed in July hopefullly, so I am not going to do anything for now…. and crossing fingers that not to many people will see my blurry website and be hypnotised… bold open sans is everywhere ;-)…. would be to much to redo everything, graphics and co…. but next site, on headway I’ll change font!
        And I’ll follow the good advice given to Jill for switching from thesis to Headway….! Getting a test site to see how it goes….!
        I never eat nighshades… not attracted to those… maybe that is why, not good for skin as well! no dairy also does a difference for me!:-)

          • You know what SO interesting?! I went on vacation 1.5 years ago and for nearly 2 weeks ate a TON of ice cream and cheese (I was off gluten, though) and my skin was basically flawless. So a crapton of sugar and dairy and my skin looked awesome. I was also drinking a lot of wine and eating a lot of fish. It was winter in Europe, so very cold air. Any idea why that would happen?

        • Excellent, Ophelie! Go rock that test site :)

          I used to eat a tomato a day and a lot of cayenne. Sigh :P

          • So I’ve seen this happen a lot Nat (sorry I couldn’t reply to the comment above for some reason).
            If you have any stress induced stuff going on with your skin, you’re gonna see a huge difference when you go on vacation. (Everything is amazing on vaca right?
            Also, everyone’s body chemistry is totally different. I find that skin issues come from one or a combo of the following probs: hormonal imbalances, blood sugar imbalances, dietary allergies, stress, digestion issues or overall inflammation. It sounds like your skin could have been beautiful because you removed a ton of stress- which reduces your body’s inflammation overall and as a result all of the other systems calm down.
            Also, fish is great for your skin. Two supplements that I recommend are zinc + omega 3’s, so, if you were getting some awesome omega 3’s, that could have been another reason.
            I’m personally not sensitive to dairy either, more blood sugar and digestion stuff for me.
            Cold air too will naturally “shrink your pores” just because there isn’t so much moisture in the air. My skin always looks way better in the winter:)

          • Been thinking about this comment, Jill! I agree that stress can be a huge factor. How funny. It didn’t work last summer though haha. And I absolutely have experienced the better-skin-in-the-winter phenomenon. I live in Miami, FL so you can imagine what it’s like for most of the year haha.

  4. Nat, so good to know. Going to do a lot more research on this!
    Ok, so I’m totally paranoid- I actually emailed headway and wrote on their fb page about moving from Thesis to headway but got no answer. Moving from thesis to headway is super simple? All my blog posts, comments, they ALL move? Haha, I’m so scared that I’m going to make this change and lose a years worth of work and then I’ll cry hehe. There aren’t really any guides on this either, I’ve been googling!
    Much love,
    Jill

    • Hey Jill,

      Glad that was helpful!

      Here’s the deal: You won’t lose anything. But you should always make the change to a new theme offline on a test site. First, make a backup of your website. Second, move it to a test site (perhaps a subdomain). Third, change from Thesis to Headway and customize Headway there. Last, move that website to where your live one is, replacing it. Don’t do it all on your live site or you’ll be left with something incomplete and unprofessional until you figure out Headway. Does that make sense?

      Let me know if you have any other questions or need a personal Website Superhero to help. It’s gonna be great!

      xo
      Nat

      • Nat, you are the best. Thank you so much!! I may need a super hero to help so I might email you!
        Thanks again!!!
        (Also, if you ever want some skin tips or need some new ideas, please email me and I’d be so happy to help!!)

      • Hiya Nat,
        I just came over from my BSchool FB post you commented on. How do you set up that second website offsite? Got an article on that? :) Also, I am planning to change my domain name AND my theme to Headway. You mentioned earlier in the comments that might mess with SEO? Any key advice there?
        Oh, and btw, I’m mainly gluten-free too and see a great difference. :)

        • Hey Adria! I don’t have a tutorial on that. You can set up a test site by making a backup of your website and placing those files in a subdomain or different domain via the FTP in your hosting account. I haven’t wanted to make a tutorial on that because I don’t want to be held responsible if somebody deletes something they shouldn’t — the files in your FTP are sacred haha. As far as switching domains, once you change all your links, you’ll lose all your SEO juice, unfortunately. But if you have good SEO going with SEO by Yoast (here’s my video tutorial on it: http://website-superhero.com/2013/11/20/how-to-use-wordpress-seo-by-yoast/) you’ll probably rebuild it fast. I had a test site up and a B-Schooler Googled me and found a blog post in there haha.

          Yay gluten-free!
          Thanks for coming!

          • Thanks for the info! Makes complete sense not wanting to be held responsible!

            I have the plugin All in One SEO set up for all my 100+ posts. So I’ll lose all my google juice if I change domains? How long does it normally take to come back up in ranking and traffic? I’ve finally gotten to 30,000 hits/month and that makes me nervous. :)

          • You’re welcome, Adria :) I don’t know how long it’ll take you to come back up in ranking and traffic. You should set up a redirect, though, so your old URLs redirect to your new ones!! Leave that working for at least a year until your peeps take proper note of your move :)

  5. Hi Nat, I purchased headway (thanks!) and am using it to design my new site. Loving the design flexibility so far.

    Do you recommend I create a child theme before I open the live CSS editor and touch anything? I just want to do small things like remove featured photos and add a font not in google fonts. Thanks again.

    • Hi Adria, Great! Happy to hear it. No child theme needed :) just keep track of the changes and of course make backups regularly. Thank you for reading!

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