OceanWP is a no-cost WordPress theme with a huge range of design options, plus paid upgrades available for even more power. Using it, one can make a beautiful custom website without programming or coding. It’s one of a new breed of “blank canvas” themes intended to work with “page builder” plug-ins. In this article, I will review the free version, and examine the premium add-ons in Part 2.
OceanWP’s Place in WordPress History
Here’s a quick history of WordPress and its themes and plug-ins: For those new to it, WordPress is a website creation tool that started as a blogging platform in the early 2000’s. Because it’s open-source, WordPress opened up a 3rd party market of templates/skins called “themes” and software applications called “plug-ins.” Developers around the world create these themes and plug-ins, allowing professional web designers and amateurs alike to make anything from corporate websites, to restaurant websites, to online stores, to personal blogs, to mobile apps, and just about anything else that lives on the web.
Themes were originally pre-designed skins that allowed only the swapping of text and images. As the WordPress marketplace grew, developers added extra features and design choices, and charged money for them. The “freemium” business model thrives on WordPress, in which basic free versions of themes and plug-ins are available, with the chance to buy premium upgrades. Premium marketplaces like ThemeForest do healthy business selling themes that are paid at the beginning, but have strong development teams who make it their job to develop and support them.
The drawback to most paid ThemeForest and freemium themes is the paid versions are good for only one website. If you wish to use the paid themes on multiple sites, you would need to purchase a separate license for each one. Professional web designers can pass on the cost of a premium theme to their clients in their invoices, but do-it-yourself entrepreneurs or hobbyists are taking a risk with something they may not like down the road.
In early 2016, a freemium theme called GeneratePress changed the game with a brand new value proposition: offering a free theme, and a bundle of exclusive paid plug-ins for $39.95 that can be used on unlimited sites for 1 year. What’s more, GeneratePress is dependable, efficiently coded, and supported wonderfully by a lone developer named Tom Usborne. OceanWP is the second theme I’ve come across that follows the same business model, and it’s necessary to compare it with GeneratePress. I foresee OceanWP, GeneratePress, and another new theme named Astra leading the next wave of quality WordPress themes.
OceanWP was developed in France by an independent creator named Nicolas Lecocq. His own website for the theme, oceanwp.org, features a cartoon shark mascot and a wealth of helpful information. The site is a great example of online entrepreneurship. One of the most valuable resources on it is a “sandbox” allowing visitors to try out the theme in a WordPress simulator. Click the “Test OceanWP” link in the top menu and provide your email address, and you’ll be sent a link to the simulator. It includes both the free and premium features. Not only is this a great opportunity to test run the whole package before you buy it, but it’s a no-cost resource for people to try out the WordPress dashboard if they’re new to it.
Nicolas has tested and recommended separate plug-ins that are compatible with OceanWP. The “Recommended Plugins” page lists them and briefly describes how they’d be helpful to your own business website. He includes affiliate links to the paid plugins, so if you follow them to make a purchase, he earns a commission of the sales.
The “Support” page leads to links where you can get assistance in using the theme. Buyers of the premium package have access to direct support, while users of the free version have access to the theme’s documentation. Several of the documentation articles have YouTube videos demonstrating how to use the built-in tools.
To download OceanWP, head to oceanwp.org. There are a couple links on the homepage to download the theme to your computer. From there, you can log into your hosted installation of WordPress, hover over the “Appearance” link in the left-hand menu, and click “Themes.” In the upper level of the next page, click “Upload”, and a box will appear allowing you to select the theme from your downloads folder. You should unzip the theme before uploading.
After uploading OceanWP and activating it, there will be promotional links in the top of your dashboard page recommending the free plug-in Ocean Extra. This extension enables more widget areas (sections on a page to display 3rd party plug-ins, social media links, blog categories, etc.), extra options in the Customizer mode (more on that later), an import/export area for bringing in demo templates (similar to old style themes- OceanWP is like multiple themes in one), and a panel for activating premium extensions.
When OceanWP is the active theme of your website, there’s a link in the dashboard menu titled, “Theme Panel.” On the Theme Panel page, you can activate the Ocean Extra Customizer sections. These will open extra design options for the header, footer, blog, and sidebar areas, as well as increased typography choices, meaning more text fonts. Below the Customizer sections are links to the Customizer itself. These are somewhat redundant, because the Customizer is standard with every WordPress theme and found in the Dashboard menu under “Appearance.”
The other major link in the “Theme Panel” section is “Install Demos.” These are free layouts that can be imported from oceanwp.org, and they’re built with the free 3rd party page builder plug-in Elementor. Suffice it to say, you would need to upload Elementor in order to use the demos, but it’s a simple matter of visiting the Plugins link in the dashboard and searching for it in the catalog. The demos are designed with various business and personal type sites in mind. Demos are a common inclusion in premium themes, and they are meant to be easily changeable, swapping images and text. The fact that OceanWP and its demos are free signals a significant value, meaning its premium add-ons are even more advanced than the average premium theme.
One of the first steps in building a WordPress site is creating the pages. Every theme has its own page settings, so let’s look at the OceanWP page editor. In this example, Elementor has been uploaded to the site, and the user can launch Elementor to create custom designs or tweak the demo content. Other page builders such as Beaver Builder or Divi can be used instead of Elementor, with their own templates and sample content. If no builder is installed the launch area will take the shape of a word-processor-like typing area where you can write text and insert pictures.
Below that section are the OceanWP Settings. “Main” lets you choose which sidebars to include on the page, if any. Or you could choose “100% Full Width” to open up the whole horizontal space of the screen. This is convenient for page builders. The “Shortcodes” section allows plug-in or widget displays to be inserted above or below different page areas like the header or page title. These plug-ins use “shortcodes,” which are lines of code that can be copied and pasted wherever they’re allowed on the page. The other Settings options including “Header,” “Title,” “Breadcrumbs,” and “Footer,” let the user disable those sections of the page. By removing them, the site owner or designer can create completely blank canvases, which is desirable for landing pages.
The Customizer area of WordPress includes global settings for your theme, meaning you can choose styles and appearances that will be consistent throughout your site. The free version of Ocean WP has abundant settings for the site header, which is important. You can control its height, navigation font sizes, background appearance, where the logo and navigation menu are located, and whether the header is transparent. Transparent headers are very stylish, and few themes enable that option easily.
In “General Options” in the Customizer, you can set the primary colors of text and links, the style of forms, which are built with plug-ins, margin sizes, and the appearance of button links. The “Blog” menu of the Customizer allows you to control the appearance of blog posts, which is very rare. Most themes consider blog design an afterthought and confine the user to their limited design choices. The Beaver Themer tool, which is a paid add-on for Beaver Builder, allows complete customization of blog posts, but costs $147.00. OceanWP’s blog options aren’t as robust as Beaver Themer’s, but they crush the rest of the competition. GeneratePress has generous blog settings, but they’re included in the paid version.
OceanWP is compatible with a variety of page builder plugins, the recommended ones being Elementor, Beaver Builder, Visual Composer, and King Composer. I’ve never used Visual Composer or King Composer, so I can’t comment on them, but I’m an avid fan of Beaver Builder and I’ve tested Elementor while hearing glowing reviews of it. OceanWP is to GeneratePress as Elementor is to Beaver Builder. All of them are wonderful tools and leaders in their fields. I love GeneratePress, but OceanWP has more options in its free version that you would need to pay for in GeneratePress. Beaver Builder is the top ranked page builder around, but it costs $99 per year, while Elementor offers many equivalent modules for free. For a more thorough comparison of these themes and builders, you can read my piece here. I would prefer to support all of these tools because the competition would drive their developers to continually maintain and improve them, and make them available for years to come.
The free version of OceanWP has a larger toolbox than I can cover in a single blog post. Next time, I’ll preview the premium extensions. I urge you to visit oceanwp.org, try the simulator, and follow Nicolas’ YouTube channel. Hopefully, I gave you a mental framework to understanding it and WordPress in general. If you spend enough time in the WordPress world, you should see why this theme is so significant.