When looking to create a WordPress website, often one of the first items to figure out is whether to use an existing theme or go the route of having a custom theme developed. Here are a few pros and cons of each route.
Benefits of Using an Existing Theme
Smaller Cost: When pursuing an existing theme, the cost for said theme is likely going to be in the neighborhood of $30-$100. If you need help with set up and customization of an existing theme, this could run you additional development hours, but overall, the cost will still be significantly less than a custom theme.
Realistic Shorter Timelines: Because your site is utilizing a pre-made theme, it will be able to get up & running much quicker. It doesn’t require design hours and revision rounds and development and QA to the extent a custom theme would. If you just need to get a website up & running as quick as you can, an existing theme is likely a much better route than trying to expedite a custom theme’s timeline.
Built-in Flexibility: Because these themes aren’t built specifically for any client, but instead to support a variety of users, they’re often equipped with a ton of shortcodes and layout options, some have page builders… they really are trying to give people the freedom to bend their theme in different ways.
Cons of Using an Existing Theme
Code Quality: While there are definitely some premade themes out there that are coded incredibly well, I have definitely encountered some themes that are severely lacking in the department of having clean & organized code.
Code Bloat: Existing themes are made for the masses so these themes are often trying to be everything to everyone and that can lead to being bloated with a bunch of code and features your site doesn’t need and isn’t using.
Lack of Originality: Your site can, and likely will, look exactly like others out there on the internet.
Theme Lock-In: Because these themes are looking to offer a ton of flexibility and layout options that can be used by whoever might purchase their theme, a lot of existing themes execute their layouts or various components with items like shortcodes. This makes it much more difficult to change themes as each theme likely varies in how its pieces are executed. If you change to theme that does things a lot differently, your pages will be littered with shortcode mark up and messed up layouts and similar. It’s rarely a smooth process to jump from existing theme to existing theme.
Benefits of Using a Custom WordPress Theme
Originality: Your theme won’t be available for the next person to come along and grab. It’s a one-of-a-kind creation, made specifically for you.
Endless Possibilities: Custom themes are built specifically for you and what your project requires. There’s really no limit on the kind of functionality and layouts that can be baked into a custom theme.
Efficient Code: Because your theme is created specifically for you, it’s not bloated with code to execute features you aren’t using.
Admin Clarity: Whereas a lot of existing themes rely primarily on shortcodes or page builders that can be confusing to a novice WordPress user, custom themes tend to rely more heavily on custom post types and custom fields. Because the admin is also created specifically for you to manage your website’s features, it’s typically much more straightforward.
Cons of Using a Custom WordPress Theme
Cost: A lot of effort is required to build a custom WordPress theme from the person(s) doing the designing and/or developing so it requires a bigger investment. There’s designing, revising designs based on feedback, developing, building custom plugins or customizing existing plugins, a lot of quality assurance and testing, project management, admin documentation, etc. The cost of an average existing theme on ThemeForest is less than the average rate for one hour’s work from a quality web developer. Imagine how many hours might be involved to execute everything in your dream theme. Custom themes are best suited for those with the resources to make a significant investment in their web presence.
Bigger Time Investment: Because of all of the great custom work that is going into making this theme exactly how you want, it inevitably leads to a longer timeline to execute. If you need a website by next Friday, a custom theme is likely not going to be a great fit.
Scope Logistics: With an existing theme, if you don’t have a blog to start out with and decide in a few months to add a blog, your theme likely included a blog layout so it will be really easy for you to do that. With a custom theme, it’s built exactly for the determined requirements. If you have a custom theme built and you don’t need or request a blog, a blog isn’t going to be designed and developed for you. If you decide to add a blog, or any new feature, it’s likely going to require additional design and development hours to integrate that brand new addition into your custom theme. This isn’t to say that custom themes aren’t flexible as a lot of flexibility can be created within them. They’re just built to order… so if you didn’t order it, it wasn’t built.
In conclusion, your project’s requirements, budget and priorities will determine whether an existing theme or a custom theme is the better fit. If you want to discuss a custom project, feel free to contact me. While I don’t personally do theme modification projects, if you’re interested in that direction and need help with set up or customization, I’d recommend Codeable.