Pre-made WordPress Themes vs Custom Design – What’s Right for You?

By March 16, 2016 No Comments

So you need a website and you’ve decided to go with WordPress. Perhaps you picked it because the built-in CMS (Content Management System) will help you easily write blog articles quickly and easily. Or you’ve heard of the many plugins that can help manage your online business. Maybe it was recommended to you by a knowledgeable friend. Or maybe you dug deeper into the world of e-commerce and web design and saw how popular WordPress has become. According to statics as much as 26% of all the websites in the world running on a CMS are using WordPress.

So now the questions come up. What is you website going to look like? What do you need it to do? When do you need it completed? What’s the size of your budget? Coming up with the answers to all these questions will determine what tools your WordPress web designer will recommend in building your website. First and foremost, it will determine if your website should be built using a pre-made WordPress template, or built with a custom made design. Your choice among these two paths will be shaped by your business needs, as they can have a big impact on everything from the look and feel of your site, to the budget, to how long it takes to complete the website, and if it meets all your expectations.

Using a Pre-made WordPress Themes (Theme Customization)

My main focus right now is in taking pre-made HTML or WordPress multipurpose themes and customizing them to my clients’ needs. There’s more to customizing a pre-made theme than just adding the client’s images and copy. Plugins (like slideshows, contact forms, and storefronts) need to be added and configured to work seamlessly with the rest of the site. CSS and JavaScript code needs to be added to personalize the site to the client’s visual tastes and needs. The HTML and PHP may need to be altered to add elements like advertising blocks and widget areas that were not a part of the original template’s design. All these changes need to be tested so that the website works perfectly every time someone visits.

The main downside to using a pre-made theme is that it wasn’t built specifically for your website. Pre-made themes tend to be multipurpose. That usually means one of two things, the theme doesn’t have enough features to allow you to fine tune the website to you exact needs, or the themes has too many features that you won’t need and will make the website run slow. Because of these downsides, picking the right pre-made theme before starting to build the website is crucial. You don’t want to be a week into building the website, just to realize the theme you bought is not the right fit for your business needs.

4 things to look for in pre-made WordPress themes?

  1. Price – Paid themes tend to be higher quality than free ones. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a good place to start. A well priced WordPress theme on Theme Forest should cost you between $39 and $64.
  2. Demo Site – Most WordPress themes have a demo website set up for them. Here you can see the different layout options the theme has to offer. Remember that more isn’t always better. Look for layouts that you feel will be a good fit for what you want out of your website.
  3. Documentation – There are a lot of beautiful and versatile themes out there, but many of them don’t come with manuals or tutorials. You’ll install a gorgeous theme you paid $60 for, just to realize out-of-the-box it looks nothing like what the demo site. Visit the themes website for how-tos, check out if someone has made YouTube videos for it, look around for discussion boards hosted by the theme’s creators.
  4. Load Time – Because pre-made paid themes need to appeal to many different people so that they’ll buy it, they are usually multipurpose. Because they are multipurpose, chances are they have more features than you’ll need. Or perhaps they use a drag and drop editor that makes it easy for anyone without programming experience to build their own website. These fancy features will weigh down on the website’s performance; page will load slower. But many pre-made themes are better developed than others. When you visit the theme’s demo site, see how long pages take to load. Do you see a loading icon pop-up when you click on a new link? If the theme running on the demo site is slow, chances are it will be slower once you install plugins like Woocommerce, contact forms, SEO, and Google Maps.

For most businesses or personal blogs, a pre-made WordPress theme is all they need. Researching which themes are a good fit for you is top priority of a good web designer. It is something they will discuss with you during the planning stage of building your website.

Custom Made Theme (Unique Website Design)

While there are many great pre-made WordPress themes to choose from, they may not offer the functionality or unique features that your business requires. It may be better for you to start from the ground up with a custom designed theme. I can create a unique web design tailored to you and your business’ needs.

I start by designing the layouts of the individual pages (according to your business needs) using Adobe Illustrator. Then I develop the front end of the site using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Finally, I convert the HTML into a full-blown WordPress theme. During every step, I work with you to make sure your personal vision and business needs are being met.

Because it is a longer and more complex process, it is more expensive to solution. It requires not only knowledge of front end development (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), but also back end development in the form of PHP on the core WordPress Codex. But the result is a website built to your specific business needs. This is a good option for websites that have unique design needs. Or sites that may be feature rich, but still need to load fast.

Hiring the right developer is key to getting your site built. There are many developers who will over-promise and under-deliver. It’s important to do your research on the developer before you hire them, to see if they have the experience to build a custom WordPress theme. Checkout their portfolio and see if they’ve built any WordPress themes of there own. Find out how much knowledge they have with PHP and JavaScript. While most of the work the developer will the do will involve just placing snippets of WordPress code, there will be times where knowledge of PHP will be very important.

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