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The Pros and Cons of Custom vs Pre-made WordPress Themes: A Comparative Analysis

Last Updated on January 19th, 2023

So you’re launching a website with WordPress. Obviously, design and functionality are at the forefront of your mind. One of the first things you’ll need to decide is if your needs can be met by a pre-made theme with some customizations or if you need a fully custom theme developed just for you. There are certainly pros and cons to both, which is what I’ll be exploring in today’s post.

What’s the Difference between Custom vs. Pre-made WordPress Themes 

The distinction between a theme and a template can be confusing if you’re new to WordPress. However, understanding the nuanced difference between them can help determine if a pre-made or custom theme is the right solution for your WordPress website.  

A theme is the core of the website’s design that determines its functionalities and visual appearance. 

On the other hand, a template in WordPress refers to a page layout within a theme that makes it easier to customize its content. Please note that the term template denotes the website’s design in other content management systems.

 Hence, a pre-made theme has predetermined functionalities and visual style you cannot change without altering its code. You or the person building a custom theme decides which functions it will have or how its frontend will look. 

 Consequently, you’ll have more freedom if you choose to create a custom theme for your website.

The Pros of a Custom WordPress Theme

There are two big pros to custom WordPress themes. The first is that you will be the only person and/or company online sporting that theme. With millions upon millions of blogs running WordPress, any pre-made theme is bound to be used by not just a few others – but many. So right out of the gate you have a big advantage in terms of setting yourself apart from the competition.

benefits of custom wordpress theme

The second big advantage of a custom WordPress theme is custom functionality. WordPress and the plugins that run on it are notorious for keeping certain powerful elements (such as custom post type templates) just out of reach for the average user to fully leverage. But with a custom theme you can have your developer(s) come up with all of the custom elements you’ll need to succeed in your specific niche.

The Pros of a Pre-made WordPress Theme

There are also two very big pros to pre-made WordPress themes. The first is affordability. While some themes may be more expensive than others, they typically stay under $100. There is no custom option available for those kinds of prices. So if you can find a pre-made theme that meets all of your needs, you stand to save a lot of money.

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benefits of pre-made wordpress theme

The second big pro for pre-made WordPress themes is future-proofing. Granted, not every pre-made WordPress theme is made equal. Not by a long shot. But the best ones all come with regular updates, good support and a large/active community that can help with customizations, troubleshooting, etc. If you have someone create a custom theme for you, it’s very likely you’ll be on your own after it’s delivered.

The Cons of a Custom WordPress Theme

Obviously, the biggest con for someone considering a custom WordPress theme is cost. It’s not going to cost you hundreds of dollars (or Pounds, Euros, etc.), but thousands. So depending on your size and budget this could be an immediate deal breaker for many. That said though, it’s important to invest in your online presence. These days it can make or break you. So anything you spend on making your website an attractive and effective part of your business is a good investment.

The only other thing I would make sure to look into before deciding on a custom theme is whether or not future updates, bugs, etc. are going to be addressed by the developer. If they are not then you’ll have to find another developer or online WordPress Maintenance Service that can jump in where they leave off.

The Cons of a Pre-made WordPress Theme

To a large extent, the downsides of choosing a pre-made theme depend on who you buy from. Is their code clean? Do they follow the recommended WordPress development best practices? Such as separating out core functionality from theme design. What’s their support like? Do they have an active community forum for everyday troubleshooting? How often do they update? And so on.

The answers to these questions will be crucial to picking the right author or shop to buy your pre-made WordPress theme from. Only after these questions are answered correctly will you be able to look at the basics like price point, theme design and features.

Assuming you get all of that right, the one con that will always follow you no matter which pre-made theme you choose is limited customizability. Especially if you’re buying a theme because you’re unable to get what you want out of a theme you can create or customize on your own. For the most part, you’ll have to stay within the boundaries set up by that theme author and customize only the basics like theme colors, fonts and images.

Key Factors to Consider Before Choosing a Pre-Made or Custom Theme

Before we go any further, I’d like to address the elephant in the room. 

The success of a custom theme creation project will depend on the designer’s skills. 

Finding a designer with enough experience to match your expectations is easier said than done. You’ll have no way of knowing how the final product will look like if you have never collaborated with the designer before, plus you’ll have to rely on the same person for all future updates. 

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Hiring a professional with a lengthy portfolio is the safest option, but as I noted earlier, you’ll likely spend thousands of dollars before launching a site

It’s easy to see why most small businesses choose to build their websites with pre-made themes since keeping a web designer on the payroll is too expensive for most startups.  

How Much Time Do You Have for a Project?

Building a custom WordPress website can take months if you’re lucky enough to find a designer who can bring your vision to life. 

Don’t forget that testing all functionalities and ensuring all its elements work seamlessly takes time. Rushing through this stage can only cause problems further down the line and create additional expenses. 

So, you’re better off using a template if you’re planning to launch a site within a few weeks. That said, some projects are too complex for pre-made themes, and your only option is to find a designer who’s up to the task. 

Growth Potential 

I believe custom website design vs. template debates are pointless if you need a site capable of handling high daily traffic. 

Custom solutions are a much better option as they offer much more optimization than pre-made WordPress themes. 

In addition, you’ll already have the infrastructure to extend a custom theme’s functionalities as your website grows. Adding new functions to pre-made WordPress themes is possible, but only if you know how to code. 

Hence, you’ll have to hire a designer if you’re not fluent in PHP, HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Alternatively, you can explore WordPress themes with lots of custom options, but keep in mind that they often contain unnecessary code that can make your website slower.

Frequently Asked Questions about Custom vs. Pre-Made WordPress Themes?

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Why is Custom Web Design Better than Templates?

Building a website with a pre-made theme cuts costs and saves time. Still, the final result often looks generic and offers a limited range of functionalities. 

Custom web design is painstakingly slow and expensive. Still, the extra cost pays off because you’ll get a unique WordPress theme that will set you apart from competitors. 

The benefits of building a WordPress website from the ground up go beyond a unique visual appearance since custom themes don’t contain unnecessary code. As a result, the site is unlikely to be slow even if it handles high traffic.

Final Thoughts

I always like to close posts like this with an assurance that there is no right answer that covers all cases. As I mentioned during the post, your website is extremely important and a good deal of thought should go into how it is created and what purposes it will serve. So whatever you decide (pre-made or custom) you’ll want to take as many factors into account as possible before making your final choice.

My personal preference and what I recommend to my friends and clients, is to find a WordPress theme framework capable of doing what you want. If there is an existing child theme for that framework that suits your needs then you’re set. If not (and you’d like some other custom elements) then hire a developer that specializes in working with that framework.

Ideally you’ll get the best of both worlds: a solid framework from a reputable WordPress development shop that has great support, updatability, community, etc. and you’ll also get the custom elements you’re after too. In this way it might be possible to keep costs down to a minimum while still getting the custom look and functionality you’re after.

What are your thoughts on custom vs pre-made WordPress themes? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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A team of WordPress experts that love to test out new WordPress related software, WordPress plugins and WordPress themes.