Getting Your WordPress Theme Approved by ThemeForest – An In-Depth Guide


Who isn’t sold on the idea of selling on Envato Market’s Themeforest? It’s one of the largest marketplace-and-middleman out there. Hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and all those prospective customers: ThemeForest can (justifiably) boast that its top authors make upwards of $20k a month. 50% of all WordPress themes on ThemeForest have made at least $1,000 in a month. The best selling theme Avada continues to hog the top spot with over 175k sales, earning author duo Harris and Beck a cool 10 million dollars.

ThemeForest can get your work all the eyeballs and attention it deserves.

Whether or not your work is ‘deserving’ is decided by ThemeForest’s Review Team. If you are already picturing an end-game boss with wicked horns… you’re probably not that far-off the mark. You’ll feel gored by those ‘thorns’ once the team rejects your work with a curt note saying “Your work doesn’t meet our quality standards.”

Note that I said ‘once’ and not ‘if’. The likelihood of getting rejected is very high. Almost everyone has been rejected by that review board at least once.

Instead of breaking out an ice-cream tub and listening to Adele (don’t judge), you need to take the rejection with a grain of salt and buckle up for some massive modifications. You need to find out what the team wants and give it to them.

Getting Your WordPress Theme Approved by ThemeForest

Let’s switch perspectives and try to look at a WordPress theme from the eyes of ThemeForest review team.

What are they looking for? Let’s see:


Apparently we have to start with the theory.

The concept is the very idea incorporated in a design. And to get the review committee to like your WordPress theme, your very concept needs to be unique.

It makes sense from their point of view. Similar concepts mean similar designs. ThemeForest wants variety because variety brings the spice of choice. The more variety there is, the larger variation there is to offer something to all kinds of customers, and the more Envato sells. You need to make sure your concept is not too similar to others.

“One can steal ideas, but no one can steal execution or passion,” said Tim Ferris.

Steal the ideas but execute them as originally as possible. Any by that, I mean steal, not blatantly copy/ plagiarize.

A color scheme here, a shape there, an idea from that patch you saw on some guy’s backpack, the texture of the wallpaper at your friend’s place… anything and everything can constitute for an idea.

And that’s where it all begins.

Concept Rich Theme Example 1: KnowHow Demo


Concept Rich Theme Example 2: Equestrian Demo


Now to execute the concept in our design…

Humans process visual cues faster than words. This is why more than 90% of our (face-to-face) communication is non-verbal. This is also why your design needs to look stunning.

Premium-quality and smooth looking designs capture attention and are more likely to get higher sales. Recall the first and foremost purpose of a WordPress theme. Users want something that looks great. Face the fact that most customers are not designers/developers and they will be looking for themes that are aesthetically awesome without checking what it’s actually packing.

If your design doesn’t looks and feel premium, you can rest assured ThemeForest isn’t going to bother with it. Make sure to pay attention to design principles, white space, colors, and typography.

Catch as many eyes as you can. Everything else literally comes later.

Creatively Designed WordPress Theme Example 1: Modelish Demo


Creatively Designed WordPress Theme Example 2: Jupiter Demo



There are two types of code issues here. Small issues will get you a small slap on the wrist (soft rejection). Fundamental issues will make the review board stomp all over your wretched heart (hard rejection).

Let’s take a look:

Small Issues

Use of deprecated WordPress tags and methods, PHP error notices and warnings, a handful of validation issues, code bloat, and DIVitis: These will most likely get you a soft rejection.

Fundamental Issues

Including scripts directly, too many PHP short tags, blatant misuse of JavaScript code, more than a handful of validation issues, bad hierarchy and cascading in HTML/CSS will get your theme rejected.

Coding clean isn’t enough. You have to keep 4 coding standards in mind: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP. Do not strip native WordPress functions and widgets from your theme. Instead, use them to your advantage instead.

So, here’s the checklist:

  • Don’t include scripts directly.
  • Don’t go frenzy with JavaScript.
  • Use proper hierarchy and cascading structure in the code.
  • Validate extensively with W3C validator tools.
  • Check out the standard submission requirements (part I) for WordPress themes on ThemeForest for a complete set of rules.

Notice that WordPress’ own theme submission requirements are stricter and need not be followed to the latter for ThemeForest.

3D: Documentation – Demo – Descriptions

You are likely to get a soft rejection if your theme doesn’t pack documentation.

So document the heck out of your theme, comprehensively. Cover all possible ground and pack it in a readable HTML or PDF format. The better your documentation, the less trouble users are likely to have to get started.

There are still going to be many who’ll badger you with questions because, “Too Long; Didn’t Read” the documentation. But document well anyway for yourself and everyone else.

Give the theme review board and potential customers a chance to take your theme for a test drive; make a demo. Bonus points if you can include screenshots and sample data from it in your documentation.

Incorrect descriptions and tags can also get your theme rejected. Now, correctly defining descriptions is a good practice you should follow everywhere, for SEO purposes if nothing else. For Envato, check out these steps to upload process to ensure that your theme shows up in correct categories and search results.

External Assets

You can use stuff other people developed to your heart’s content, but Copyright and intellectual property issues can come back to bite you in the… back.

Every external asset you use in your theme, from CSS frameworks, JavaScript plugins and libraries, WordPress plugins, even code snippets and design elements, right down to every last stock photo needs to be licensed for commercial use. If you got it from Envato, the license needs to be ‘extended’.

Also, just because it is “free to use and distribute” does not mean it’s free to distribute for money. Even the products licensed for commercial use may have restrictions like referral or no-modification.

While it’s a bad practice (in general) to include plugin functionality in your theme, there’s no denying that customers actually like feature-packed themes. But that’s your call.

  • If you must include external plugins, make sure you include them through TGM Plugin Activation class or something similar.

While you’re out there, you can also make an effort to find out what all that legal mumbo-jumbo means. Check out TLDR Legal to find out the practical meanings of popular software licenses.

Commercial Utility

Submissions need to be commercially viable and provide a minimum level of utility for potential buyers.” – Envato

This may put a big wet damper on your dreams, but you can do everything right and you’ll probably still get rejected. That’s because a pretty design, clean and compliant code, and extensive documentation does not a high selling theme make. Your theme needs to be reasonably priced and give back users’ their money’s worth. Envato is a marketplace. To survive there, you need to know your audience and the competition and strive to stay a step ahead. Check out these examples from Envato:

Cost Effective Theme Example 1: Mikado One Demo

Mikado One

Cost Effective Theme Example 2: Official Demo


So check market trends and see what the customers have a hankering for currently. Is it accessible designs? Are certain industry specific themes making it big, and why? Did you know that only 25% of themes are WooCommerce compatible, but they make for more than half the sales? (Source: Envato Insider, Pressnomics)

Don’t ask yourself how much money you can make. Ask yourself what problems you can solve with your theme.

Summing Up:

  • Start with a unique Concept. You don’t have to be completely out-of-the-world, just original. If you must steal, do it wisely.
  • Make a devastatingly gorgeous design. The more elegantly polished it looks, the better. Keep in mind that simplicity is not Bold, garish colors aren’t the only things that can catch eyes.
  • Code with standards. Clean, compliant, and well-validated code is good for everyone. You, your customers, your customers’ customizers, and so on. The review board knows this and so should you.
  • Description. Presentation. Pack all the starter information in a HTML or PDF file. Whet their appetites with a beautiful presentation in the form of a live preview. In the midst, do not forget to correctly use descriptions and tags so people can find it.
  • External Assets need to be properly licensed.
  • Solve a problem. That’s the one rule you should always follow in any market.

P.S: Keep in Mind

Even if you do everything right, you should prepare yourself for rejection anyway.

A soft rejection will force you to work harder and open your eyes to some of the faults that you overlooked/ missed. A soft rejection means there is still a chance that your theme can get approved with some changes. Mercifully, most rejections fall in this category.

A hard rejection will, quite frankly, break your heart, especially if you are emotionally invested in your project (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?). A hard rejection means there is no hope for improvements and re-submission (not under the same category/name anyway).

Despite what you might feel at not getting approved, rejections are Envato’s own quality control measures. You want to sell on ThemeForest because it’s well-known and trusted by thousands, if not millions of users. Those review guidelines are there to maintain that popularity and trust.

It looks difficult, but it’s worth it. Once your theme gets approved, starts raking in money and give you exposure, you’ll see.

About the Author:

This article is written by Tracey Jones, Sr. WordPress consultant with with HireWPGeeks. When she is not developing websites, she helps her clients to hire WordPress developer from the team of 150+ experts. Being a passionate writer, she loves to write blogs and articles about technical stuffs in her free time.

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  1. Siroos January 7, 2016 at 12:43 am

    hi there!
    thank you for article , i read it and work base on it,
    but my theme soft rejected yesterday and i donot know what is the problem , can you help me?
    email content:

    “Sorry to say, but overall quality of your theme doesn’t meet our minimum design requirements. Major improvements are needed. Good luck!”

    what i have to change in theme? i need details and suggetions!

    theme demo :
    please , any suggetions?

    1. Tayyub January 7, 2016 at 6:31 am

      Well Siroos, they have not identified any violation of TOS so that means they are just not finding your design to be at TF level. Since it’s on soft reject, that means there is still hope. Try to make major amendments as they have suggested. Do make sure your theme is not closely similar to an already available theme at TF and do make sure your theme contains highly professional documentation.

  2. Siroos January 7, 2016 at 6:48 am

    tank you Tayyub for reply…
    my demo link was wrong in above comment

    theme demo :

    i will glad if you check it and tell me what i must change for better result.
    tank you again.

    1. Tayyub January 7, 2016 at 8:04 pm

      Siroos, your theme is okay at the “Design” and “Code” parts but I feel it lacks “Concept.” Please go through “Concept” section once again.
      Initially, your theme looks purely like a gallery/portfolio theme but it immediately turns into blog theme. The upper section looks nice on full screen, blog section is made for smaller resolutions only.
      All in all, it seems to be lacking on concept.

      Seeing that you have got code and design part right, I wanna tell you that you have done the hard part. You are all set, I wish you luck and that if you do put in a little more effort, you will make an incredible theme.

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