Building a site without any Genesis child themes


This past weekend I was ready to write my first headphone review for a new site. Yes, if you've been paying attention in the last few weeks, I spun up a new site on leadership, and now I've started a new site for headphones. Soon I'll have another one on cigars.

Each of these are dedicated sites that don't need a lot except for a way to present their content and do it in a way that Google likes.

So it's no shock that for those kinds of sites, I choose the  Genesis Framework for WordPress sites, from StudioPress—the makers of Rainmaker (the platform that hosts this site).

Now, normally, one would look for and pick from one of the many Genesis Child Themes that are out there.

If you want to do that, you totally can. Here are three of my favorite stores:

Alternatively, you have another option, and that's a custom Genesis Child Theme. If you're doing that, you know who my go-to folks are:

  • Bourn Creative: They create custom child themes for Genesis but they do more than that. They help your business establish itself and grow!

But what if you aren't looking to spend a penny*?

Now, to be clear, the Genesis Framework has cost. Right now it's $60. But you likely know that when you choose the Genesis Framework, you're getting access to code, support docs and a support forum, and tons of additional plugins that are written just for the framework.

You're also stepping into a community that can often help you. The number of tutorials out there are tremendous.

What I'm talking about is the people who decide that after buying the framework, they don't want to purchase a child theme. Can they do it? Can they leverage all those tutorials without hosing themselves?

The reasons for using a Genesis Child Theme:

  1. The core framework can be updated and you won't lose any changes
  2. The child theme offers you additional color options for your site
  3. The child theme offers you additional layout options for your site

Most people I talk to end up wanting a child theme for reasons 1 or 3.

So this post is for people who care about 1 or 2. I'll explain your options for #3 later.

Building a Genesis Site without any Child Themes

Reason number one above, to protect yourself from changes to the framework, is a really smart call. And as I was working on my new site this weekend, I wanted to protect myself from the same thing. So I installed three plugins.

  • Code Snippets: This plugin lets me add all that code you read about in tutorials that is supposed to go in your functions.php file. And it's portable, so if I add a child theme later, the code I added still applies. And when I have an issue with some code, I can deactivate that particular snipped on its own.
  • Genesis Simple Edits: This plugin lets me change the meta data that shows up under the title, or at the footer of the site. It's perfect for changing the published date to the last updated date – a favorite move of mine. And again, it's abstracted from my particular theme. So adding a child theme later won't make me lose what I've done.
  • Simple Custom CSS: Lastly, this plugin lets me add all the CSS that I read about in those tutorials without creating or using a child theme. Like the others, it abstracts away my changes from a specific theme – which means I'm not editing the core theme at all (keeping me safe for updates).

These are all free plugins. And they all so the same thing—they separate the code I'm adding to my site from the actual theme itself—which is what a child theme is normally for.

Now to be clear, this approach works great for a site where you're not wanting additional layouts. Or where you know what CSS you want to add to your site (either because you know CSS or because you're copying from a tutorial article).

NOTE: There are changes going on with the parent framework that suggest you'll want a child theme. A free and basic one. I'll tell you about it in a second. These steps will still work when using it.

I wanted to change the size of the logo space for my new site. So I used the Snippet plugin to add a snippet to create logo support with a different size. It was fast and easy.


Then I went to my CSS plugin and made a quick addition.


Pretty fast. Pretty simple. And flexible enough because of these plugins that I didn't need a full child theme.

So that's what I did, and how I did it. And the result is exactly what I was looking for—no more, no less. (Of course I did add a couple more plugins for product reviews and WP Forms for my contact form).

But what if I want more CSS without coding?

If you're one of those folks who wants to customize the look of your Genesis site without writing a lot of code, then you might want to look into Design Palette Pro—a product that removes your need to code, while giving you all the options you want to change how your site looks from a color, spacing, padding, and font approach.

What if I want more layouts without coding?

And if you're one of those folks that was using a child theme for reason #3 above, I told you I'd come back to you. Unfortunately, there's not a ton I can offer you for free. But for a bit of money, and with far more options than your normal child themes, you might like Beaver Builder.

Beaver Builder is a page builder that lets you create a variety of layouts and can cost you as little as $99- and it works great with Genesis.

But should you skip the child theme altogether?

As I spoke with the StudioPress folks, I heard that the parent framework will be simplified a bit. And that's why they created the free Genesis Sample Child Theme. It's what Bill and Gary were talking about below. This free child theme gives you just enough basics that you can still use my tips above, but may not need to (like the logo stuff) because their free sample child theme does it for you.

So when the next update comes, your site won't bonk.

So can you? Yes. Should you? No.

Use the free Genesis Sample Child Theme and then add whatever snippets you need.

In conclusion

The point of this post was to mitigate the fear of people who get stressed about having to create a custom child theme just so they can add two or three snippets from tutorials they find. They stress. And it limits their ability to launch.

If you're in that spot, you can still launch. Get the free Sample Child Theme, download those plugins above, and drop in your snippets. You'll be good to go and be protected from Framework changes.

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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