Template vs. Custom Design on WordPress Themes

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    Good vs Bad of WordPress ThemesAs a die-hard WordPress fan, I build websites using both premium themes and custom themes for my clients. I am often asking clients which option they prefer of course. Most often it depends on budget and time. But typically we start a conversation about the pros and cons of each WordPress option; Custom designed or Predesigned themes. What are the differences and what are the pros and cons of each. It really comes down to cost and features, really. But below I have listed each so you can make a decision on which option you want to embark on.

    The difference between templates (free and paid) and custom themes are discussed.

    Template Themes

    Many people and businesses are completely satisfied with purchasing a $30-$100 premium WordPress theme from one of several very reputable and wonderful resources. Templates have their uses especially when you just starting out. So what are the good and bad of template themes?

    Template Themes – The Good.

    • Quick and Easy. Your site can be installed and configured within a week if your is content ready.
    • Code. Some templates have clean code, meaning the HTML and CSS are compliant and up-to-date. It depends on the theme you choose though. Stay away from free themes.
    • Budget friendly. Oftentimes, you can have a theme installed for free if you know what you are doing and are confident enough to understand some of the basic requirements. Or, for a few hundred dollars, you can have a professional install and configure the website (add your logo, change out colors, setup the widgets).
    • Clean, Modern Designs. There are some really nice themes out there now. It is not like it used to be. I remember the old HTML themes with bloated code and heavy graphics. You can find some really great themes out there.

    For themes that are designed well, have great support, and some nice options, we recommend StudioPress, Elegant Themes, and Woothemes.

    Template Themes – The Bad.

    • Locked. With a template you are typically locked into a design and configuration. If you choose a theme, make sure it has page options like sidebars, full-page width, and header configurations for your logo and/or slogan.
    • Code. A template can be bloated with code and heavy plugins to make it work as you see the demo work. It is important that your website be lean and load fast.
    • Support. Support for the themes can be limited. If a theme conflicts with a plugin, your theme developer may not be responsive. Choose premium themes with good support to prevent issues later on down the road. Send and ask a question to monitor their response time then check their support forums for activity.
    • Security risks. Some themes, especially free themes, have ‘dirty’ code meaning the template contains harmful or malicious coding (security holes) placed there by the author or a hacker. Hidden or missing code can wreak havoc on your WordPress site, and when a hacker gets in… you’re in big trouble. Be sure to buy a premium theme from a reputable company.

    Custom WordPress Themes

    So say that your company has specific requirements for features and branding. That your brand is too important to leave to a predesigned theme and that you have features that cannot be found without doing some custom work. Don’t be confused by a design that is simply a modification of an existing premium WordPress theme. Truly custom WordPress themes are coded specifically for the company and its complexity. But, as with templates, custom designs have their positives and their drawbacks.

    Custom Themes – The Good:

    • Versatility. Starting from scratch and getting all the features you need and desire allows for greater flexibility. We start with wire framing then we pull out Photoshop and send you designs that we collaborate on. Designs are only limited by your imagination.
    • Branding. A custom design is specifically branded to your company with your colors, target market, and goals.
    • Specific Needs. Arrange widgets and functionality within the theme while still using a unique layout and format.
    • Uniqueness. As with any company, a custom design will set you apart from the rest and stand out from the competitors. With a predesigned theme, you run the risk of looking like the rest.

    Custom – The Bad:

    • Investment. A custom WordPress theme can be cost prohibitive if you are just starting out. I sometimes recommend to my clients that they understand their budget as they will need to do more marketing after the site is live. Can they afford the time and money? A custom web design is an investment I remind them.
    • Time. It can take some time to build a custom theme; from 4 – 10 weeks depending on how complicated the site is.
    • Bugs and Maintenance. The final downside of a custom theme is to keep up with the new features that WordPress comes out with. Templates, premium templates, tend to have developers that routinely come out with bug or security fixes. You’ll need to continue a relationship with your developer or find another to fix any bugs.

    So there you have it. In a nutshell, your choice of a WordPress theme is dependent on many things like budget, time, brand, and support. There is no right answer but you need to consider how important your website is to your marketing efforts and strategy. Either way, WordPress has a a solid framework from a reputable WordPress development core with great support, updatability, community, etc. and you’ll also get the custom elements you’re after too.


    WordPress Templates or Custom Design

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    Christina Hawkins

    Christina Hawkins is CEO of GlobalSpex, Inc. and a Fractional CMO for her clients. A seasoned digital marketer since 1999, Christina has designed and built exceptional websites partnering with small businesses to help them grow and increase revenue. She understands that digital marketing is a constantly evolving technology and works to stay on top of the latest changes. She is always looking for the best route for clients' lead generation needs and revenue. In addition to her ability as a digital marketer, Christina is a coach and mentor with Agency Mavericks to other digital marketing freelancers, helping them grow their businesses. She is also a sponsor and co-leader of Houston's WordPress Meetup.


    1. Barakha Rao on October 15, 2018 at 10:50 am

      any thanks for sharing an informative article on this subject. Frankly speaking, I’ve been blogging for almost over a year now and have always tried using free themes because of the cost factor.

      However, lately, I have realized that everyone seriously should consider investing a little bit for a premium theme instead of spending all the efforts on free themes.

      Also, I started blogging just out of a passion and never thought of monetizing. I am currently using various themes and they work well. Yet premium themes are meant something from a blogging perspective, which is what I can think.

      Anyways, very nice post…!!! Really I don’t know much of a difference between the free and paid or premium WordPress themes. Keep sharing.

    2. Colibri on November 21, 2018 at 6:54 am

      I’ve made WordPress sites in the past, but I’ve never tried building my own custom theme. Till now! Turns out it’s not as hard as I thought it’d be, thanks to this helpful tutorial
      I wanted to keep my professional wordpress themes simple, so after following Steps 1 and 2 of the tutorial I backtracked and pared down a lot of the code, eliminating the sidebar and archive and things like that. I also didn’t bother with any widgets. I’d named my theme SuperSimpleTheme, after all.

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