The Case for Custom
Are pre-built or custom designed WordPress websites better?
All WordPress powered websites are built using themes, which dictate how your content is styled and laid out on the page. One common misconception with WordPress is that a theme has to be selected before a web design project can begin. Sure, there are plenty of pre-built (often called “premium”) solutions out there that can be used as the basis for your website. Companies like Envato have built very successful business models around selling pre-built themes that are geared toward a host of different applications. Alternatively, themes can be custom built – tailored to your specific branding and needs. Before you make a decision on which approach is best, you should consider the drawbacks of premium WordPress themes.
With pre-built, what you see is generally what you get
Many WordPress developers dissolve into tears when they hear “I bought this awesome theme from ThemeForest, but I need it to…” Unfortunately, adding or modifying functionality on a pre-built theme can be quite difficult. For the most part, these themes are built to be plug-and-play – you add your content to pre-defined layouts and templates, then you are on your way. Colors and fonts can typically be changed to match your style or branding, but even the smallest functionality change can be a different story entirely. Not to mention anyone (including your competition) can download and use the same exact theme that you’re using. Awkward!
Jam packed with…everything
Premium WordPress theme authors build their themes to appeal to the masses. To them, more flexibility = more sales. However, this also means that they are loaded down with assets that you may not ultimately need. Include the entire library of Google fonts? Absolutely! 50 jQuery scripts, loaded individually? Why not?! In all seriousness, all of these bells and whistles that you may or may not utilize in your website create insane amounts of bloat that can ultimately kill its load time (which is a major SEO no no) or cause compatibility issues with plugins or WordPress itself.
Fast and Cheap?
One reason why many people choose a premium theme comes down to one of two things: time or budget. A pre-built theme can be installed and ready for your content in just a few minutes, and most of the options out there can be purchased for less than $100. This is all well and good, but only if the theme is exactly what you want in terms of design and functionality. Like we’ve mentioned above, modifying these themes to do something other than what it shipped with can be a nightmare. We’ve heard of many horror stories of projects that started out with a pre-built theme to save money, but ended up costing way more (like, twice as much) than a custom website because some seemingly minor thing needed to be adjusted.
A middle ground?
With all of this being said, there are some really nice framework themes out there that can sometimes offer the best of both worlds. A select few of these frameworks should not be lumped together with other pre-built solutions. One framework in particular that we have used is the Divi theme – full disclosure that we consult with the SuperFly team, who provide high-end Divi child themes. In our experience, Divi can be a solid compromise between pre-built and custom designed websites.
Why we prefer custom designed websites
We want to make our clients happy by giving them what they want – both in terms of design and functionality. Building websites from the ground up provides much more control over the finished product and doesn’t compromise on aesthetics, capabilities, or load time. The discovery phase in our web design process is incredibly helpful in learning about each client and what their needs are – we then take these findings and build out a tailor-made website to meet their specifications. Our opinion is that, at the end of the day, building websites using this approach provides a better overall experience for everyone involved.