How to make a theme demo site

How to make a theme demo site

One thing I get asked occasionally, which is really easy to do, is how do you make a theme demo site? Maybe you're getting into the premium theme business (jump in, just do something different 😛 ), maybe you have a bunch of pro / developer packages and just want a white label site for your clients to choose themes from.

How do you set this up?

Easy-peasy - just install multisite.

Sure, there's a few little extras, but that's the bulk of the work. You can choose to change your main site into a network, or you can install multisite off in a subfolder or subdomain so it's separate from your main site, and pick the subfolder install for ease of use and so it looks like just pages off the main install. Your visitors will not really notice a difference, especially if the main site in the network has a theme that matches your original single site. With it separate, you can also let some clients in the whole install without letting them in to your main (separated) site. Access to sub sites can be controlled on a per user basis (this is built in to multisite remember).

So now you have multisite set up - let's say on a subdomain. Just install all the themes you want to demo. I usually do it in bulk using FTP, then I go network enable all the themes.

Now, create your sub sites. I give each site the name of the theme - that makes it easy to remember and almost painfully obvious. even does the same thing for its theme demos. (click the "See it in action" button on any theme there.)

Visit the admin area of each site, activate the required theme, import the demo content, drag some widgets around, do some menus - whatever you like. The good part is here you can have generic text for all or use special demo text on each site, listing the theme's features.

For navigating between the sub sites, you can use Diamond multisite widgets and use the blog listing widget on every site to go back and forth between them. Or use custom links on your custom menu and type in each blog link.

But hey - that also sounds like work. You could set up one demo site and assuming you want to use most of the same content, use a plugin like the Replicator to make a copy of that template site every time you create a new site. Our Network Home pages ebook also has a section on how to include a site listing that updates itself.

Another use-case for this same setup is if you are developing several themes at once. Why use separate installs? Slap up multisite somewhere, close off registration - even lock it down via privacy plugins and work away in happiness. The admin bar makes it super easy to switch between sub sites.

So - who is going to try this first?

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  • Rolands Umbrovskis
    Posted at 14:48h, 05 January Reply

    … and to manage all sites with same plugins (Site-wide/Network-wide plugins), don’t forget about /mu-plugins/ in /wp-content/ 😉 where You can control some parts of themes via plugins

    • andrea
      Posted at 13:18h, 06 January Reply

      You really have to be careful about what you put in mu-plugins tho. 🙂

  • Vikram
    Posted at 08:37h, 06 January Reply

    Hi Andrea,

    I am a follower of your comments on various wordpress issues. I need your guidance on wordpress multisite option. We are planning to setup the multisite to fulfill our following requirements

    1. All subsites should be able to reuse main blog site theme template and customize it as per their own requirements(e.g. changing header image or site/language specific links) by non-programmers. Beside it, subsites should able to pull other sites contents without putting any programming efforts.

    2. Main blog site could pull recent posts with events,images etc from its subsites blogs.

    Please guide me on which plugins would be best suited to fulfill these requirements. FYI….I came to know little bit about multisite replicator and diamond multisite widgets plugins. Please share their feasibility as well in your guidance.

    Thanks…a ton….Vikram

    • andrea
      Posted at 13:19h, 06 January Reply

      1 – all subsites can already use the same theme. It;s built in. Just pick any WordPress theme that has the options you want. You can even search the theme repo for different criteria right from the admin area.

      pulling content from one sub site to another is not fun. There are no plugins to do this easily. There is multipost and broadcast mu but they do not do exactly what I think you are asking for.

      2. install the sitewide tags plugin. I have many posts about it here.

  • This Week In WordPress: Jan. 9, 2012 | Max Foundry
    Posted at 10:46h, 09 January Reply

    […] Create Your Own Theme Demo Site WordPress Must-Use Tutorials put out an article that gave an extremely simple solution to creating a theme demo site. The simple answer? Use WordPress MultiSite. That’s all, then for each new theme you create, create a new site specifically for that theme, giving your visitors and/or customers an easy way to view a live example. […]

  • sanjay
    Posted at 11:39h, 03 May Reply

    This is a cool guide Andrea, I always thought using multisite when designing my themes, but to showcase them for a demo site is really sweet! Btw, thanks for the Diamond MultiSite Widgets 🙂

  • Adam W. Warner
    Posted at 14:47h, 28 June Reply

    Hi Andrea, just about to get started setting up a theme demo area on our site and doing my due diligence…of course I find validation of what I need right here:) Thanks and stay tuned to see what we’ve got cooking!

  • Affan Ruslan
    Posted at 00:14h, 26 November Reply

    Wondering, how to have a demo site to show a theme with different colors? (like what Studiopress did)

    • andrea
      Posted at 10:12h, 26 November Reply

      Studiopress uses the exact same setup.

      For the theme colors, go look at their site with Firebug. Note the use of a custom page class (css) on the pages that show each color scheme.

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