A Commercial or a Custom WordPress Theme?
WordPress first appeared in 2003, and over the last 17 years, has become a lot more user-friendly, more reliable, and more secure. This isn’t what makes it a perfect solution for virtually any type of online business, though…
WordPress’s incredible versatility comes from the themes and plugins developed by the community. It’s an open-source platform, which means practically anyone can code their own add-on. Thanks to such extras, WordPress 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 the chosen theme is especially important for WordPress. In addition to determining your website’s look and feel, it also gives users many features and functionalities they interact with. In a word, choosing the right theme is essential not just for good looks but for great UX and UI as well.
We’ll now take a look at the options most website owners face, and we’ll try to cover some of the things you need to consider when you’re picking a theme for your WordPress-based project.
Table of contents:
Free vs Commercial and Custom WordPress Themes
You’re never more than a Google search away from a gallery of free WordPress templates. They’re usually created by small-time WordPress developers who like to 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 a free theme makes that task way harder. Millions of people use such visuals, and although some site owners do minor customizations, the chances of making your website truly unique are pretty slim.
Free themes are also more likely to cause problems when you try to run them alongside your plugins, and they’ll almost certainly lack advanced functionalities. Furthermore, because they’re free, there is no support included, so 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 take depends on many different factors.
Defining your Website 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 often much more expensive than a store-bought team.
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 versatile set of features run well into the 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 imperative to think about your website’s purpose and goals.
If you’re trying to launch a new business venture and you expect to make a lot of money from it, you should seriously consider investing in a custom theme. On the other hand, if you’re starting a side project that doesn’t have a commercial purpose, you’re most likely better with a premium theme. It might give you less freedom but will also put significantly 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 template that was not designed for the niche.
Believe it or not, the choice of theme can affect the experience of owning a website in many different ways. The overall design and the cost associated are just two of them.
The Pros of Commercial WordPress Themes
If you have a deadline to launch your WP website, you might have no other choice but to go with a commercial theme. It’s a simple process where you buy the template and install it easily through the WordPress dashboard.
If you have an existing website, though, you’ll need to ensure everything works well with the new theme and play around with the options to import all your content. Even so, the time and effort that will go into that task are incomparable with the time a developer will need to write the theme from scratch, set it up, and customize it.
You’re less likely to find yourself cleaning bugs, as well. The companies that sell commercial themes build products that are supposed to suit the needs of various organizations, 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 identify and fix bugs and compatibility issues more easily. With a custom theme, the entire debugging process is down to you and the developer.
But there is yet another potential advantage of commercial themes – the template developers want people to use them continuously.
As a result, they want to ensure that updates to the WordPress core and plugins on your website won’t compromise how 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 might take extra time and money.
The Pros of Custom WordPress Themes
The fact that you have complete control over how your website looks and behaves is the most obvious advantage of a custom theme. Even if you don’t have a completely clear vision of your project, you’re now creating it with the help of professionals that do this for a living.
Theme developers often follow the latest web design trends 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 specific design for your organization and brand.
It’s not just about the design, though. Every website has its own set of requirements, and a commercial theme, no matter how many features it comes with, can rarely meet them all.
Not all commercial themes let you embed maps, for example, and if you have more specific needs, like integrating a CRM system, a custom solution might be the only alternative.
All in all, most of the advantages of a custom WordPress theme are related to your complete freedom in building the design and functionality of your website.
But there is another major plus to having a custom rather than a commercial theme, and it often remains overlooked…
WordPress Themes and Website Performance
The companies that sell commercial themes understand their customers want to create something unique. To ensure that is possible, they incorporate a plethora of customization features.
Commercial themes pack modules and add-ons that can be operated from the WordPress dashboard. You get to upload your own images, choose from an array of different fonts and colors, and even move stuff around. As a result, it’s often difficult to determine if two websites utilize the same theme.
The upshot 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 sheer presence makes the theme rather heavy and inevitably affects the website performance.
With a custom theme, you don’t have this problem because the developer will only include the features and modules you need. Ideally, they’ll keep the code as clean as possible and optimize it for better speed and performance.
It’s a serious point to consider because a faster website not only makes users happier but can also get you a higher search engine ranking. From that perspective, the extra cost associated with hiring a professional developer might end up more justifiable than initially thought.
Is Custom Development on a Commercial WordPress Theme a Solution?
Some of you may have already found a perfect middle-ground solution. A ready-made commercial theme often helps you 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 to meet all your requirements. The visuals 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 you might want to look into, but don’t just 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 need to be removed and which ones require modification. The successful completion of the task depends on the theme and the developer’s skills. Still, the customization of a commercial theme might end up being more expensive and time-consuming than creating 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 often in a position to tell you what’s possible and what’s not.
At the end of the day, don’t forget to outline what you need and how it’s going to get done.
What Do the ScalaHosting WordPress Hosting Plans Offer?
Choosing the right hosting environment is just as important as picking the right theme for your WordPress-based project. At ScalaHosting, we are well aware that the CMS popularity is unlikely to crumble any time soon.
That’s why we offer you hosting plans specially catered to WordPress users. They are all optimized to provide the best possible environment for hosting a WordPress website, with 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 there to help you with any specific questions and problems.
Those who decide to choose one of our Managed VPS plans will get guaranteed system resources and enjoy an optimized server performance. In addition, your VPS comes with the SPanel hosting management platform and the SWordPress Manager tool, which lets you operate all your WordPress websites from a single, easy-to-use interface.
You can easily overlook many things 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 is sometimes out of reach.
To ensure this doesn’t significantly affect your website performance, we’ve optimized our servers to ensure our plans offer the best possible environment for your project, regardless of your chosen WP theme.
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, 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 to the WordPress core could end up breaking your website.
Is it better to go with a custom theme or a commercial one?
Indeed, a custom theme can bring better performance as it lets you build your website to your exact specifications. Still, it’s a big investment, and you need to consider its cost-effectiveness.
At the same time, while budget limitations might single out the commercial theme as 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 to meet my exact specification?
It depends on the theme itself or the developer that is going to modify it. Before you commit to such a project, be sure you discuss it with the person responsible for doing all the development work. They need to know exactly what the project involves, so there is a clear timeline for its completion.
Can my choice of WordPress theme affect my website performance?
Yes, it can. In order to be as versatile as possible, commercial themes often come with multiple features and customization options that put an extra load on your server. In contrast, custom themes should only include the modules and features specifically designed and developed for your project. The cleaner code can do wonders to your website speed.