When it comes to websites, it seems everyone’s talking about WordPress these days. One of the big reasons WordPress has become so popular is that there are thousands of high quality designs, called themes, available for the platform. A WordPress theme defines the look-and-feel of your site with a specific set of style sheets and templates that make up a website. Themes in WordPress can rapidly transform, much like a paint job and window tinting can transform the look of your car. The car interior and engine remain the same, but it looks very different on the outside.
With WordPress you can also choose whether to have a professional web designer create a custom theme for you or you can purchase a pre-designed, commercial theme. Both of these approaches have pros and cons.
Commercial themes have a number of things going for them:
1.There are many attractive choices. Not only are there very well-designed options but, increasingly, there are options for specific types of businesses. Are you looking for a spa theme? There are tons of those. Do you need a well-designed real-estate theme? No problem.
2.They are a great value. Most commercial WordPress themes sell for anywhere from $29 to $99. Compared to the cost of having a professional graphic designer create a custom designed website, this is a fantastic value for your money.
3.They enable you to get your site up and running quickly. Rather than going through a custom design process, which can be time consuming, with commercial themes you just install the theme and start adding content.
4.They are highly customizable. Many commercial themes today give you control over every aspect of the theme, including the header, footer, background, font styles, colors, etc.
On the other hand, commercial themes do have some downsides:
1.The more attractive the theme you’ve chosen, the more likely 10,000 or more other website owners have purchased the same theme. Therefore, your website can end up looking exactly like a lot of other websites, and maybe even just like your competitors’ websites.
2.While there are more and more industry-specific themes, they still aren’t as specific to your business as a custom design would be. And while you can customize a theme, doing a lot of customization could end up taking longer and costing more than if you had just had a designer start from scratch.
3.Because they are so highly customizable, many commercial themes have become bloated with all of the features they have added, causing sites based on these themes to load more slowly. This is a big detriment in a world where we keep expecting things to go faster
4.Since the underlying code in a commercial theme can be viewed by anyone that is willing to pay the $29 – $99 entry fee, hackers can gain access to the entire code base, review it for bugs and if they find any, search Google for all sites based on this theme and hack them. For this reason, hacking a commercial theme is one of the primary entry points that hackers use to compromise WordPress websites.
5.Good theme developers recognize that due to both the security issues explained above, as well as the need to be competitive in the market place, producing regular upgrades to their theme is a good thing. The problem with this, however, is that it creates a greater burden on site owners to stay up to date, constantly downloading and applying the latest theme update provided by the developer. And theme updates are the primary cause of site glitches, increasing the potential that after a theme is updated, some or all of your site will look different or be broken in some way.
The alternative to a commercial theme is a custom produced theme. A graphic designer creates a unique design and then a web developer turns that design into a custom WordPress theme. Custom themes have their own set of advantages:
1.They are unique and can be more specifically designed and branded for your company. All large companies custom design their websites to enable their creative teams to build a site that is distinct, has personality and is consistent with the overall company brand.
2.Because the underlying code of a custom theme is developed just for you, hackers don’t have access to it. As a result, custom themes are far less likely to be hacked.
3.With a custom theme, a developer can focus on adding only the code needed for the functionality needed for your site. This makes for much more light-weight, fast-loading themes. In contrast, commercial themes need to appeal to the largest audience possible, so the developer may try to build everything (including the kitchen sink) into the theme, which can bog them down, and slow them down.
4.Since a custom theme is less vulnerable to security issues, there is little need for your developer to put out constant theme updates. As a result, the cost of maintaining a custom theme over time is typically far less than with a commercial theme. Not having theme updates equates to much less breakage in your site over time, and therefore less maintenance.
The cons of custom designed themes are:
1.They are more costly upfront. You need to pay a professional designer and web developer for their time which is typically more expensive than buying a commercial theme.
2.They take longer to produce so you can’t get your site running as quickly as you could with a commercial theme.
3.They are typically less customizable. While a web developer could build all of the bells and whistles into your theme that a commercial theme has, this is typically not done as it’s impractical in terms of how long it would take. This means that certain types of changes to your site down the road might require help from your web developer.
The decision of whether to go with an off-the-shelf, commercial theme versus a custom designed theme often comes down to a question of budget. A custom designed theme is the direction that most businesses want to go if they can afford it. The simple fact that they are uniquely designed for your business, like a custom brochure versus one you might produce using a design template, means that they will better represent your company’s brand online. The additional fact that, if produced by an experienced developer, they will be more secure combined with the improved speed benefits of a custom theme make it a no brainer for companies that have the budget.
On the other hand, if you need to get your site up and running quickly and/or you have a more limited budget, a commercial theme offers excellent value for the money.
Masen Yaffee founded NDIC in 1994 to assist companies in building their businesses through the Internet. He has taught classes for UCSB Extension, Apple Computer, Adobe Systems and Women’s Economic Ventures. He provides instruction and consultation for individuals and businesses in all aspects of web site creation and development including strategy, planning, implementation, marketing, and business development. Lean more at http://www.ndic.com