Using a Prebuilt WordPress Theme vs a Custom WordPress Website

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If you want to create a WordPress website that includes pages, a blog, pictures and perhaps a small eCommerce store there are two options. The first option is to have a professional web design company build a custom WordPress website and second, use a prebuilt WordPress theme or template. Both options have their pros and cons which I will talk about in this article. The first question that comes in mind is why even use a professional web design company and why not use a prebuilt WordPress theme that is cheaply available and in some cases for free. As of December 2012, WordPress is the most popular open-source (free of charge) Content Management System for website development and as a blogging platform. Can you make a superb WordPress website yourself by choosing one of those fancy prebuilt WordPress themes that are available on websites like ThemeForest and WooThemes or is it better to have a custom built WordPress website?

WordPress is often chosen as a website platform because it is easy to add content. However, setting up a professional-looking and smoothly-functioning WordPress website is more complex than it looks when you buy a WordPress theme. WordPress is written in PHP and uses a MySQL database. The basic framework is relatively easy to install if you use a one-click system, as advertised by many hosting companies, but actually creating a professional-looking website will require a web design company or a single web developer who possesses multiple HTML/CSS, PHP and web design skills. Whichever one you use, you’ll need to choose a prebuilt WordPress theme or have the web design company build a custom WordPress theme for your website. This dictates how a website will look: layout, fonts, colors, white space, location and size of images, banners, etc. As far as themes go, WordPress touts these themes as making it super-easy to make your own WordPress website. Flicking through thousands of free themes and hundreds of paid themes is dazzling. So where is the catch than?

Prebuilt WordPress Themes

First, lets go over a few things that you should look for if you are in the process of researching a prebuilt WordPress theme:

  • looks great is not enough
  • read reviews, they never lie
  • has it been programmed properly
  • does it have the right plug-ins for your needs
  • are these plug-ins configured correctly without any conflicts
  • their widgets make sense, are maintainable, and do not break
  • it is possible for a programmer or designer to understand how the styles work — rather than working with a jumble of spaghetti style sheets (this saves a lot of time when someone wants to change a font style.
  • they are programmed properly
  • customizations to the WordPress theme are documented in the code
  • any redirects on the site are easy to update and keep organized

Cost

The main reason why website owners use a WordPress theme over a custom WordPress website is price of course. Today, you can buy a prebuilt WordPress theme/template for an average of $30-$50. The number of WordPress themes available on the web is ever increasing and these themes come with a ton of prebuilt functionality. The cost incurred comes when customizing that theme so that your high end boutique website won’t look exactly the same like a landscapers website.

Too Much Functionality

Most WordPress themes come with a ton of prebuilt functionality like SEO configurations, responsive design, multiple gallery options, custom post types, options to change visual/front end look, etc. For the average website owner all of this options are needless. In reality they are almost never used, and they just overload the website. They serve, however, the WordPress theme company as a selling point.

Code Issues

While all these WordPress themes come loaded with the different options mentioned above, their code is problematic and can present security issues. We have evaluated quite a few of these themes, and we have to report that the quality varies. The quality of the code is not always correlated with how snazzy the theme looks. Some themes are coded very badly and not up to standard. In short, the problem with a badly coded WordPress theme is that it takes longer to set up and changes are more difficult, which will affect the cost of setting up the website or making future code changes a nightmare. Sometimes we have to correct the code on a deep level, or throw away the theme and start over with a more reliable one. The code can also be so outdated that it can easily be hacked.

Difficulty to Work With

A particular theme is available for sale to anyone on the market. You don’t need your unique business website to look exactly like your competitors, or do you? As part of the WordPress setup, the theme needs to be customized to include your logo, company information, look & feel, and structure for your content. Some themes offer tools to make the customization easier, but to really get the theme to match your brand, the theme needs to be edited by a PHP and CSS programmer. Branding is crucial to marketing success, and customizing the theme will help get the appropriate look you really want. To implement branding or do too many changes on some of these WordPress themes is sometimes almost impossible and it can take days to dig into the code to get the desired visual look.

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Custom WordPress Website

To begin with, first lets go over what a custom WordPress website is. A custom WordPress website is a website that has been built from scratch, hand coded, based on a unique pre-approved design. Usually a custom WordPress website uses a very basic WordPress theme like “Twenty Ten” which provides the elementary PHP code functionality and then the rest of the website is developed. A custom website is built upon it based on a custom design that a professional designer has prepared in close consultation with the client.

More Expensive

A custom WordPress website, as its name indicates, is build to order. Taking into consideration that every business is different, their needs for representation on the web will vary as well. A custom WordPress website is based on a unique design that matches someone’s branding and it is a product that is exactly what they’ve have asked for. A web design company will first design the website after having paid close attention to the clients needs and wants. Once the design is approved, they develop the website so that it looks exactly like the design. Thus, setting up such a website takes longer and it needs to be done by knowledgeable professionals. On the positive side, the website will completely be a product of the clients choice and it will match their branding. Plus that it will be easier to update and grow in the future. Small to mid-size businesses are those that usually go with a custom built WordPress website.

Clean Code

A custom WordPress website is coded in a very clean way and does not contain excessive or unnecessary lines of code. Having less code helps the website to be indexed very easily from search engines. Being indexed allows for better SEO, less 404 errors, and generally faster load speed for the website. To illustrate this point, a prebuilt WordPress theme for the homepage alone will have ten pages with lines of code, while a custom WordPress website will have only two or depending on the website it will have significantly less code. That is because the prebuilt theme is pitched to a massive number of consumers and will consecutively have so many additional configurations and more lines to meet and please all the different possible buyer expectations to which is addressed to. The custom WordPress website needs to satisfy only one person and that is the person who is paying for it.

Ability to Update to the Latest Version of WordPress

Lately most WordPress themes come with prebuilt with what is called in the industry as a child theme. This allows the ability to update the website to the newest version of WordPress without loosing any of the styles. Older themes don’t come with this privilege. So lets say that you did built your website a year ago. When logged into the WordPress admin you always see that there is a WordPress update. When updating to the latest version of WordPress everything on the website breaks and the website is a mess. To fix that mess it can take a long time and it can get expensive. In our case, we build every WordPress website with a child theme, which allows the website owner to update the website at anytime.

Built for Growth

A custom WordPress website is built for expansion. Adding a different plugin or a shopping cart, add more functionality anywhere in the website, change styles (colors or design) can be done instantly. A prebuilt theme is sometimes more limiting as to what you can do with it, which was mentioned in a few points above.

Concluding, in the past we have used both prebuilt WordPress themes and continuously build custom WordPress websites. We prefer the latter because we know what we are working with and are more efficient with it. Working or trying to customize a prebuilt WordPress theme can be a headache and your website will look like another 200 websites out there. If price is the major concern over quality and brand continuity then a custom WordPress website is not for you. Prebuilt WordPress themes are quick to set up and cheap but they have quite a few drawbacks. In the end, they exist because there is a demand for them.

Best,

Genti

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