WordPress Themes vs. Custom WordPress Development

| WordPress

I’ve been asked this question numerous times so I figured I would go ahead and give my two cents on the topic and create a list of pros and cons for both.

I’ve been working with WordPress for about five years now and absolutely love it. I use it on pretty much every client website I build because of how easy it is to understand and teach. Depending on what your goals are and what your budget is really determines which route you should go.

 

What’s The Difference?

A pre-built WordPress theme is something you buy from a marketplace such as ThemeForest. These are meant to be sold over and over again to suit simple business needs. Custom WordPress development is the process of wireframing, designing, and developing a custom website to fit your business needs in the best way possible.

 

Pre-built WordPress Themes – Pros:

1) You will save some money.

For a small business just trying to get a simple website up this could be a great option. You can buy pre-built themes anywhere from $40 – $65 on ThemeForest. Keep in mind, each one of these themes is very different and have their own caveats and learning curves. Once you’ve bought the theme, you will most likely still want to change around some elements and customize it to fit your needs which can take some time to learn since each one is proprietary and totally different.

2) You will save some time.

If your goal is to get something up quickly and you’re okay with throwing something together on the fly then this could be a good option for you. The amount of planning that goes into a theme is greatly reduced since you are using pre-built pages and elements. You can get a theme up and running in about 2-3 weeks.

3) You have a lot of options.

On ThemeForest alone, there are 6,884 themes for sale (at the time of this post). That is a lot to choose from and there are definitely some quality themes there for pretty much every industry. This gives you a great starting point for your business and can even help provide some inspiration!

 

Pre-built WordPress Themes – Cons:

1) Lots of unnecessary code.

To try and fit the needs of as many people as possible the theme authors usually try to jam-pack every single feature they can into their theme. This is a great selling point but you most likely won’t use everything they provide which leaves a lot of unneeded code / features. This can cause many unwanted symptoms on your site that include security vulnerabilities and impact page speed.

2) Poor quality.

You really never know what you’re getting when you buy a theme, some authors are better than others and it’s important to know who you’re buying from to see how well they’ll be able to support you if you have an issue. When choosing a theme it’s always best to check reviews and the number of sales it has to determine if it’s a good choice for your business.

3) Not future proof.

When you buy a theme it comes with a lot of proprietary code that the theme author created. They usually come packed with theme specific plugins and options. You are now locked into their codebase with the risk of them not updating your new website when a new version of WordPress is released.

 

Custom WordPress Development – Pros:

1) You’re in complete control.

A good developer will make sure you have complete control of your website and will be able to make content edits anytime you want without any assistance. WordPress has something called Custom Post Types which helps developers create simple interfaces for our clients to use and edit their website with.

2) It’s built for your business.

Every business is different and has its own unique brand, so should your website. You will have a unique website that is tailored to your company where you can plan every step of the way. Making sure your website is targeting your demographic in the most efficient way possible is very important when you are trying to grow a business.

3) Future proof.

A custom built theme will be built to spec and make use of as minimal amounts of plugins possible. The less amount of plugins your website is reliant on, the better. When WordPress Core updates and your website is running a new version the rest of your website needs to be compatible so everything runs smoothly. It’s also much easier to hire a developer after it’s built to come in behind someone versus trying to find your way around a theme.

 

Custom WordPress Development – Cons:

1) Time.

It definitely takes longer to plan, design, develop, and launch your website when you’re building it from scratch. The discovery process and planning how to lay out all the elements in a way that your audience will understand is crucial to your business. The average timeline for a custom website is about 2-3 months.

2) Cost.

Since it is so time intensive the cost goes up. A lot of people don’t understand the process that goes into building a website so I’ll share mine:

  1. Wireframe (Rough Design)
  2. Design
  3. Development

The cost of a custom website can be anywhere from $4,500 – $15,000.

 

Conclusion

I think there is a use case for both options and depending on the stage of your business determines which route you should take. Pre-built Themes will be cheaper to build and will be done faster but Custom WordPress Themes will be an overall better product at the end of the day if you’re willing to invest in your online presence.



Nick Meagher
Nick Meagher is a web consultant and developer from Keller, Texas. He specializes in WordPress development for service-based businesses and is also an aspiring entrepreneur.

  • Mark

    Great article. If you build custom themes, how can make sure the code is kept up to date?

    • nmeagher23

      Thanks Mark! And you can perform regular maintenance on the site to make sure everything is up to date which is what I do for my clients.

  • Krzysztof Radzikowski

    one more cons – custom desingn – “bind” the dev to the site – Even if you dont use many plugins core changes can break your website. Ive seen many custom themes and all base only on frontend – functionality still come from plugins

    • nmeagher23

      @KrzysztofRadzikowski:disqus Not necessarily. A good WP dev won’t use plugins if there is a way around it, most of my sites consist of 4-6 plugins that are all very safe to upgrade. Most of the functionality is built into the theme or custom plugins I’ve created. It’s a lot easier for me to come in behind on a custom site versus a hacked theme that will break on update.

  • MartinDower

    Counterpoint: Building WP themes from scratch is probably dead in the near future.

    It requires too much re-inventing the wheel, can create impossible to support sites and often forces huge compromises with ongoing development.

    Far better (IMHO) to create the functionality a client needs on top of an established, well-written and well-supported theme that will evolve as the world or WP does. It’s pretty straightforward to create a child theme and additional functionality, and far easier to develop and support in the future. My 2p.

    • nmeagher23

      @MartinDower:disqus I would have to disagree. I have a base theme that I use as a starting point for all of my custom sites and it works perfectly for me. Hacking around a theme and their proprietary theme options can slow down development in my experience and limit what you can do in the future. I’ve never had a problem with ongoing development with my 30+ clients I’ve worked with and still do work for. Almost every client I’ve had go the theme route comes back to me about 2-3 years later and wants to rebuild because they either broke something or we can no longer extend it for what they’re looking for.

      It’s much cleaner and you are no longer relying on a third party to update your website when a new version of WordPress comes out.