Pros & Cons of Custom vs Pre-Designed WordPress Themes

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If you are reading this blog, you are probably interested in building a new WordPress website, re-branding or refurbishing your existing WordPress website. According to W3Techs, WordPress powers 40% of all the websites on the Internet, so we will only be talking about WordPress.

WordPress uses themes to specify the layout and appearance of your website. This includes the layout, headers, footers, widgets, typography, colour, and other design elements. In the theme you can also control much of the functionality and features of your site. Your theme also specifies how your site looks and adapts to different devices such as mobiles and tablets. If you are building a new WordPress website, rebranding or re-furbishing your existing WordPress website, your decision about the “theme” will be the most important decision to make. Your choices fall in one of the categories below:

  • Custom Designed Theme
  • Pre-Designed Theme
  • Pre-Designed Theme with Customisation

Whatever you choose, make sure you have a list of requirements. Think about the sections and content required on each of your pages. Will you need Pricing Tables, Forms, Call to Actions, Galleries, Sliders etc. Will you require a Testimonials section, will you need a company blog or an events section. Will you need to sell products or services on your site, how will that need to look?

If you need any of the features above and don’t consider them during your build, you will end up with issues down the track.

Custom WordPress Theme

If you have specific requirements for your site layout such as style sheets, fonts, logo placement, header, footer, sidebars, widgets, colours and behaviour, then a custom WordPress theme may be the right choice. Developing a custom WordPress theme adds an extra layer in the development process and requires a mix of resources including graphic designers, project managers and software developers. They will need to work with your marketing or branding team to draw up the design specification from a visual concept.

It can be a complex process as you are building something from ground up. A graphic designer needs to produce a few concepts to the client and then provide a specification and Wireframe for every type of page required, homepage, contact page, blog pages or portfolios etc. In addition to this, there needs to be a separate Wireframe for each terminal device such as desktop PC’s, notebooks, tablets, phablets and phones. Upon approvals, all of the above and any digital assets such as images, videos, and icons etc need to be handed over to a developer.

The developer then builds a theme using the supplied specifications and wireframes. Some designers call themselves developers, and vice versa, but these two demand entirely different skill sets.

Key Points:

  1. The benefit is that you will have a site that meets 100% of your design requirements. It will also contain all of the functions you have specified. If you have specific requirements and a strong brand that needs to be preserved, this option may be the right one for you.
  2. It isn’t unusual for the entire process to take up-to 6 months on medium-large scale projects.
  3. Typical costs for the design component can be anywhere from $5,000 – $25,000+
  4. Typical costs for the development component can be anywhere from $5,000 – $15,000+

Pre-designed WordPress Theme

There are many highly skilled designers who design and develop themes for a living. Pre-designed themes are sold on the market place such as Theme ForestCreative Market and StudioPress to name a few.

Here you can find some good looking themes and get a good idea as to how they would look on your site before you buy them. Make sure that you have a list of requirements and that the theme you like ticks all the right boxes. Pre-designed themes often come with a certain amount configurable options, for instance it may offer several different pre-built styles of headers and footers. Some themes have more configurable options than others.

Many pre-designed themes come with a content builder such as Divi, Elementor and Beaver Builder. These have their own pros and cons. Builders can make it easy for non-savvy people to add and manage content. But because there is no on-size fits all these builders often come with many options, so what would otherwise be simple, often becomes complex with a steep learning curve. The other con is that most builders lock you in and your content in using their builder. If ever you need to migrate to a different theme, porting the content out of the builder is often a very complex task.

Just looking at the theme visually does not tell you anything about the quality of the theme. While there are terrific designers and developers out there, there are just as many terrible designers and developers. It’s the nature of the internet where there is no regulation on quality. Themes with many options often become bloated, and have a high impact on page speed which will become an issue for SEO down the track.

Poorly written themes may look good aesthetically but they may also be a ticking time bomb if coded poorly and contain buggy code. When buying a pre-designed theme look at the comments and the support forums from others who have purchased the same theme or from the same author. This will give you a good indication of how well the author responds to support and what others think about the theme. If you purchased your theme from a market place such as Themeforest, they don’t offer any gurantees as they act as the middle-man.

These theme designers and developers need to sell many themes in order to recover the cost of their time. If they sell the theme to many, they will be inclined to provide better support for it and actively fix bugs. If they don’t sell the theme to many, they may abandon any further developement which is not good.

If the theme does tick all the right boxes for you, looks good in all responsive modes, then this may be a good cost-effective solution over a custom developed theme.

Key Points:

  1. Typical costs for the design and development component is anywhere from $100 – $200+. This is usually an annual fee to cover support.
  2. You may have a site that fits most of your requirements. You may need to add third party plugins to fulfil any functions the theme does not support.
  3. You will need to invest some time to shop around and find a suitable pre-designed theme for your site.
  4. If you choose a popular theme, your site may look too generic or similar to other websites.
  5. If you choose a theme that is not of high quality this may cause problems down the track.
  6. If the author abandons the theme your site may contain errors and bugs.

Pre-Designed Theme with Customisation

Many clients find themselves in this realm. With not enough budget for a custom designed theme, they have found a pre-designed theme that fulfils most of the requirements. They have some development requirements which are not supported by the themes configurable options. They request additional custom development amendments and changes within their budget.

While a good designer and developer can make almost any changes required, it’s important to understand that these type of changes are often complex and take more time to implement. However, what may be a simple request can translate to many hours of design and development work. One or two small changes, not supported by the themes configuration may only add up to an extra 8 hours of work. On the other hand, four or five more complex changes may require an extra 5 days of development work.

If there are many changes required then this will drive the costs. If you get too close to the cost of a custom designed theme, then you probably chose the wrong theme. Try to keep some control, and only request what is absolutely necessary, look for another theme, or increase your budget.

Key Points:

The same key points as Pre-designed WordPress Theme and additionally:

  1. The amount of customisation is a variable that will impact on additional development time which will drive costs anywhere from $1,000 – $10,000+.
  2. The amount of customisation is a variable that will impact on delivery time and may take up-to 3 months+ on medium-large scale projects.
  3. You still may not have a solution that fits all your requirements due to budget. You may need to add third party plugins to fulfil any functions the theme does not support.
  4. You may have additional annual costs to support any custom software that was developed.

So what is the best option?

I often try to explain the difference by comparing it to buying a house. It all starts with your budget.

You go to a display village and see a selection of houses to pick from. With each home you can change the style of bricks, the interior colour and the taps and fittings. The supplier has spent a great deal of time and money designing each house, but you pay only a fraction of that design cost since they intend on selling many homes with that design. This is like choosing a pre-designed theme.

You go to a display village and see a selection of houses. With each home you can change the style of bricks, the interior colour and the taps and fittings. You also want to extend the garage, add an extra room and change the ceiling height. This will add to the overall cost and add extra time to the build. This is like choosing a pre-designed theme with customisation.

You go to a display village and see nothing that you like. The style you are looking for just does not exist. So you get a designer to work with your architect to produce your specifications and plan. Then a developer builds your house according to the plan and specifications. You get what you want but it will take longer to build and it will cost more. This is like choosing a custom designed theme.

 

 

Steven Lutrov
Steven Lutrov
Steven is a software engineer, managed services specialist and a part time musician living in Melbourne. Educated at RMIT, Steven has worked extensively in the telecommunications and IT industry for over 30 years. Today Steven works for Net Solutions as CEO and does not mind getting his hands dirty.

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