Budget or custom WordPress themes – which should you choose?
If you’ve ever considered building a WordPress website for your business, or you’re the current owner of one, you’ll probably have been faced with a key decision regarding WordPress ‘themes’ – the collection of templates and stylesheets which define the aesthetics, display and overall appearance of your website. In a nutshell, you’ll need to decide whether to buy a pre-made, ’off-the-shelf’ theme online, or instead have one custom-made specifically for your business.
It’s an ongoing discussion which has seen a particular resurgence in the last few weeks, as earlier this month a UK developer found themselves under the spotlight due to security issues with a public plugin for their pre-packaged WordPress themes.
The story was first broken by security company Wordfence, who has written a full detailed post on the controversy. Whatever your opinions on that issue, it’s definitely reignited the conversation about the various risks and rewards of choosing low-cost themes online versus custom built themes. So, which one should you choose for your business?
What you need to know about buying themes online
Essentially, the budget option is to buy your theme online from one of many theme vendors. These can be bought for as little as $30, which is obviously friendly on the wallet, and often made with a one-size-fits-all mentality. However, one of the major downsides is that they’re often littered with features and plugins that you’re unlikely to need or use.
Advantages to buying your theme online:
- Quick to set up
- Little to no technical knowledge required to get started
- Budget friendly
- Range of designs available for different business types
Disadvantages to buying your theme online:
- The theme will come with plugins you will likely neither need nor use
- Technical support can be limited and restricted to email only
- Hosting issues and site speed due to poor optimisation
- Greater potential security risks due to frequent patches / updates being released
- Technical ability required for customisation beyond initial design
Looking at the list of advantages above, it’s easy to see why they can be so attractive for small businesses who are short on time, budget and technical knowledge. Indeed, their modest price and relative simplicity means they’re often chosen by businesses looking to establish the beginnings of their digital presence, or those who want to get their site up and running as quickly as possible, so that they can focus on producing content.
However, the disadvantages can be pretty significant. For example, without decent technical skills, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to customise your theme without support. This can be a major issue, as many of these ready-made templates have limited developer support, making it difficult, complicated or impossible to make any large scale alterations to the design of the site. In many ways, the whole point of using these kinds of themes is because they offer the flexibility of choosing various different layouts for your site’s pages. The trouble comes when you have a layout that you don’t particularly want or need – it can be very tricky to get rid of it!
These budget themes may also come packaged with extra plugins (software components) that could slow down your site. Sometimes, these plugins can even pose security risks, intentionally or unintentionally. What’s more, some budget themes can have specific hosting requirements, which (in the worst case scenarios) can ultimately end up having serious repercussions for buyers – such as those that Wordfence discusses in the link above. All these reasons, considered together, means that while budget themes can sometimes be useful for getting off the ground quickly, they can also be very risky, which can make them a gamble for businesses (who usually have a lot to lose if things go wrong).
Custom themes have a better chance of maximising your sales
Custom themes require a little more investment, but their advantages are far more relevant and beneficial for established business owners. As we’ve covered, budget themes often don’t give you a choice in what extra features or code get packaged in with your site, which can cause you issues further down the line. However, the key advantage of a custom theme is that it’s built for you from the ground up, so you’ll only have the features you need or want.
This allows you to benefit from much better performance and optimisation, while providing far more flexibility and scalability. Unlike budget themes they can be easily modified, and they’re created specifically for how you want them to look and function, so that you can deliver a tailored experience for your customers (including a customer journey that’s designed to maximise sales and conversions).
Advantages to custom themes:
- Can be entirely unique for your business
- Tailored to your specific needs
- Greater chance of maximising sales and conversions
- Flexible and versatile, so it can be adjusted and optimised
- Ongoing maintenance available
Disadvantages to custom themes:
- Requires greater investment
- Longer development time involved
The time required to set up a custom theme can vary, but is usually a few weeks at the very least, and far more likely to be a few months – a timescale that most businesses are easily prepared for. Also, while custom themes can sometimes be cost-prohibitive for individuals, they are far less so for SMEs, who have more to gain from the versatile functionality and design, unique aesthetics, and branding opportunities presented by a custom-designed site, giving them a better grounding to establish themselves against their competition. Businesses also generally require far more detailed and complex functionality (such as checkout processes) than individuals such as bloggers, many of whom simply need a basic platform to host their content and images.
As we’ve touched on above, custom themes also allow established businesses far more freedom to specify exactly what they want in their sites, avoiding the risk of any extra code or unnecessary functionality slowing it down for customers. We should also take a second here to say: the importance of good hosting for your site really can’t be overstated. The combination of good hosting and a well-designed custom theme minimises load times (and downtime) for your site, allowing you to give your customers the very best user experience.
What’s more, building a custom WordPress theme allows businesses to benefit from ongoing support, so that if any problems occur, they’ve got access to dedicated advice and expert service they can rely on.
That’s exactly what we offer here at 21Digital – we’ve got a long history of making beautiful and incredibly successful sites for customers, with over 16 years of award-winning service to our name. You can see some of our case studies here, or visit our core digital services page to find out more about exactly what’s involved in our Web Design and Web Development services.