A Commercial or a Custom WordPress Theme?
WordPress first appeared in 2003, and over the last 17 years, it has become a lot easier to use, more reliable, and more secure. This isn’t what makes it a perfect solution for virtually every type if online business, though.
WordPress’s incredible versatility comes from the themes and plugins people develop for it. Thanks to them, it has been transformed from a humble blogging platform to a flexible Content Management System (CMS) that can create anything from a small personal website to a large online store.
You could argue that the theme is especially important. In addition to determining your website’s look and feel, it also presents users with most of the features and functionality they interact with when they’re visiting. In a word, choosing the right theme is essential, and, as usual, it’s a bit more complicated than you might think at first.
We’ll now take a look at the options that most website owners face, and we’ll try to cover some of the things that you need to consider when you’re picking a theme for your WordPress-based project.
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Free vs. commercial vs. custom WordPress themes
You’re never more than a Google search away from a gallery of free WordPress themes. They’re usually created by amateur WordPress developers who hone their skills in their free time. Some of the free themes do look relatively well-made, but it’s fair to say that if you’re serious about your project, you’ll probably steer clear of them.
You want your website to stand out from the crowd, and with a free theme, this is just not possible. Millions of people use them, and although some of them do offer customization options, the chances of making your website truly unique are pretty slim.
They are more likely to cause problems when you try to run them alongside your plugins, and they’ll almost certainly lack the functionality you want to integrate into your website. Furthermore, because they’re free, there is no support, and the next time you update the WordPress core, they may very well stop working completely.
If you’re committed to the project, your only real choice is between a ready-made commercial theme and a custom one. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages, and choosing which path you’re going to go down depends on a large number of different factors.
Defining your website’s goals and functionality
For many, the choice between a commercial theme and a completely custom one boils down to the budget. You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that a custom-made theme is much more expensive than a theme bought from a website.
The difference is pretty significant, as well. You can buy a commercial theme for as low as a few dollars, though the ones that offer a more comprehensive set of features run well into three figures.
By contrast, a custom theme is extremely unlikely to cost less than a few thousand dollars, and if your requests end up being too specific, you could be looking at a very hefty bill. The expenses could easily spiral out of control, which is why it’s very important to think about what you want to do with your website.
If you’re trying to launch a new business venture, and you expect to make a lot of money from it, then you should probably try to finance the development of a custom theme that will let you make your website look and behave exactly the way you imagined it. On the other hand, if you’re starting a side project that doesn’t have anything especially innovative in it, you’re most likely better off going for a commercial theme. It will give you less freedom, but it will also put less pressure on the budget.
To a large extent, a commercial theme might sound like a compromise. You pay a lot less, but you’re forced to build the website around a product that was not designed specifically for it. This may well be true, but it’s not the full story.
Believe it or not, the choice of a theme can affect the experience of owning a website in many different ways. The overall design and the cost associated with getting the project going are just two of them.
The pros of commercial WordPress themes
If you have a looming deadline to meet, you might have no other choice but to go with a commercial theme. You buy a theme just like you would buy any other piece of software, and the installation process in WordPress has been optimized to the point where it takes no more than a few seconds.
Of course, if you have an existing website, you’ll need to make sure that everything works well, and you’ll definitely need to play around with the customization options in order to import all your content. Even so, the time and effort that will go into it are not comparable with the time a developer (or a team of developers) will need in order to write the theme, set it up, and customize it.
You’re less likely to find yourself swiping bugs, as well. The companies that sell commercial themes build products that are supposed to suit the needs of as many website owners and organizations as possible, and the testing procedures tend to be quite thorough.
What’s more, because commercial themes are deployed in so many different environments, their developers can more easily identify and fix bugs and compatibility issues. With a custom theme, the entire debugging process will be down to you and the developer.
Having mentioned compatibility issues, we should probably touch upon another potential advantage of commercial themes. The companies that sell themes want people to use them continuously.
As a result, they want to ensure that updates to the WordPress core and the plugins installed on your website won’t compromise the way the theme behaves. When problems do appear, many theme developers issue updates and give you instructions on how you can apply them.
On the other hand, if you use a custom theme and a critical security patch breaks it, you’ll need to contact the developer and ask them to fix it, which will take time and money.
The pros of custom WordPress themes
The fact that you have complete control over what your website will look like and how it will work is the most obvious advantage of a custom theme. Even if you don’t have a completely clear vision of what you want the project to look like, you’re creating it with the help of a developer that does this for a living.
These people know all about the latest trends in web design and can help you steer the project in the right direction. Commercial themes are also designed and built by professionals, but they can never create a design that is specific for your organization and fully represents its values.
It’s not all about the design, either. Every website has its own set of requirements, and a commercial theme, no matter how many features it comes with, can never meet them all.
Not all commercial themes let you embed maps, for example, and if you have more specific needs like the integration of a CRM system, then a custom solution might be the only alternative.
All in all, most of the advantages of a custom WordPress theme are related to the fact that you have more or less complete freedom in building the design and functionality of your website. There is another major plus to having a custom rather than a commercial theme, and it often remains overlooked.
WordPress themes and website performance
Commercial themes might not be able to fit all your needs, but it will certainly try hard to meet most of them. The companies that sell commercial themes know that their customers want to create something unique, and to ensure that such a thing is possible, they incorporate as many customization features as they can.
Commercial themes are packed full of modules and functionalities that can be enabled, configured, and disabled from the WordPress dashboard. You get to upload your own images, choose from an array of different fonts and colors, and you can even move stuff around. As a result, it’s often difficult to realize that two websites use one and the same theme.
The upshot of all this is that a commercial theme can make your website look unique. Unfortunately, all this comes at a price.
Behind every customization option, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of lines of code. Even if you don’t utilize all the features, their presence makes the theme rather heavy, and they inevitably affect the website’s performance.
With a custom theme, you don’t have this problem because the developer you’ve hired will only include the features and modules you need. Ideally, they’ll keep the code as clean as possible and will optimize it for better speed and performance.
It’s a serious point to consider because a faster website can not only make users happier, but it can also achieve a higher search engine ranking. From that perspective, the extra cost associated with hiring a professional developer to create a custom theme might end up more justifiable than initially thought.
Is custom development on a commercial WordPress theme a solution?
Some of you may have already spotted what looks like a perfect middle-ground solution. You’re probably convinced that if you take a ready-made commercial theme and customize it so that it fits your project, you will be able to achieve the best possible results at a relatively reasonable price.
You can have a developer remove components you don’t need and add custom ones that will meet all your requirements. The look can be personalized, the performance can be optimized, and because the creation of the theme doesn’t start from the ground up, the development work will be considerably cheaper. This is definitely an option that you might want to look into, but don’t jump in head-first.
A WordPress theme is a pretty complicated product. If a developer is to customize it, they’ll need a lot of time to get familiar with the code and see which bits of it need removing and which ones have to be modified. How complicated the job is depends on the theme and the developer’s skills, but sometimes, the customization of a commercial theme might end up being more expensive and time-consuming than the creation of one from scratch.
If you think about hiring someone to modify an existing theme, it might not be a bad idea to contact the commercial theme’s original authors. They know the code better than anyone else and are in a position to tell you what’s possible and what’s not.
Don’t forget to clear up what you need and how it’s going to get done, as well. There are individuals and organizations out there who will misrepresent custom development work for tweaking the theme’s readily available options. If you go with one of them, you could end up paying for something you could have easily done yourself.
What do Scala Hosting’s WordPress hosting plans offer?
Choosing the right hosting environment is just as important as picking the right theme for your WordPress-based project. At Scala Hosting, we know that about a third of all websites run on WordPress, and we’re aware of the fact that the CMS’s popularity is unlikely to crumble any time soon.
That’s why we have hosting plans specially catered to WordPress users. They are all optimized to provide the best possible environment for hosting a WordPress website, and they all offer a one-click installer that can set up the CMS in seconds.
If you have an existing WordPress website, we can transfer it to our servers for free, and our experts are always on hand to help you with any specific questions and problems you may be experiencing.
Those of you who decide to choose one of our Managed VPS plans will get guaranteed resources and stand to benefit from better performance. In addition to this, your VPS comes with the SPanel management platform and the SWordPress tool, which lets you manage all your WordPress installation from a single, easy-to-use interface.
There are many things that you can easily overlook when picking a theme for your WordPress-based website, and the importance of this choice shouldn’t be underestimated. We know that the budget is often the ultimate deciding factor, and we realize that the price of a custom solution places it out of reach for many of you.
To ensure that this doesn’t have a significant effect on your website’s performance, we’ve optimized our servers to ensure that our plans offer the best possible environment for your project, regardless of how heavy and cluttered your theme is.
Can’t I just get a free WordPress theme?
It’s tempting to consider going for one of the many free options that are readily available in your WordPress dashboard. Bear in mind, however, that the limitations they present make them unsuitable for a serious project.
The customization options are practically non-existent, and your website will never really have a unique feel to it. In addition to this, these themes get no updates or support, which means that every single security patch and new feature added to the WordPress core could end up breaking your website.
Is it better to go with a custom theme or a commercial one?
There is no straight answer to this question. Indeed, a custom theme can bring better performance, and it lets you build your website to your exact specifications, but it’s a big investment, and you need to think carefully about whether it’s a viable one.
At the same time, while budget limitations might make the commercial theme the only option in some cases, the lack of support for certain features could make it unusable in others.
Can a commercial theme be customized so that it meets my exact specification?
It depends on the theme itself and on the developer that is going to modify it. Before you commit to such a project, be sure that you have an extensive discussion with the person who will be in charge of doing all the development work. They need to know exactly what the project involves, and they must be confident that the goals can be achieved.
Can my choice of WordPress theme affect my website’s performance?
Yes, it can. In order to be as versatile as possible, commercial themes often come with multiple features and customization options that can weigh the entire theme down and affect the website’s loading speeds. By contrast, custom themes should only include the modules and features that are specifically designed and developed for your project. The cleaner code should be able to contribute to your website’s speed.