Whether it’s cost, speed or price; WordPress templates flood the market. But not all are fit for purpose. We provide our thoughts on the pros and cons on both the template / theme and the custom / bespoke approach.


Impact Media - WordPress Theme VS Custom

In the Blue Corner we have the challenger:“The WordPress Theme”

What is a theme or template?

A WordPress theme is a template solution that is pretty much ‘ready to go’. It has already been designed, coded, tested and is simply awaiting your content and brand to hit the go button.

There are over 11,500 WordPress themes available on ThemeForest (a popular template selling website) and the most popular theme has been downloaded over 400,000 times, that is a single template is in use on nearly half a million websites.

Themes are very popular, and with some of the pros demonstrated below, you can see why.

Pros of WordPress Theme / Templates

1. Low Cost

The most obvious choice is of course Price. Starting from as little as, well Free; you can explore the library and discover a theme that’s right for your business and your budget. Typically the most popular themes are priced around the £50 mark, which for a new or young business can be highly attractive.

2. Time & Speed

Being that you are simply shopping for a website like you’re buying your groceries, the time it takes to get a template website live is a fraction of the time it would take compared to a fully bespoke solution.

Depending on the agency or developer you are speaking with, times can range from a few days to a month, depending on the amount of customisation needed, who is adding the content or simply how busy the agency / developer are.

3. Good Looking Design

Most of the demonstration websites do look very appealing. Many of the most popular themes start with a core design which has been adapted multiple times to produce industry focused designs.

I.e. A plumber can see a version of the website that would suit a plumbing company, with selected stock photography already in place – this makes an easier buying experience for the small business.

4. Bundled Plugins For Customisation

Most of the popular themes come with page builder plugins that allow the user to be able to customise the website themselves, and juggle with the page layouts and even create new page templates.

Some other plugins like font libraries and header menus are also usually bundled in to allow the user the ability to customise the experience to try to make it more their own.

5. Easy To Use

I say this fairly loosely. Although their purpose is to allow users to be able to pretty much build the website themselves, the themes should still be implemented by a competent person.

Although the skill level to achieve this is not what is required of a bespoke or custom website, we’d recommend using a developer or agency to carry out the customisation, they’d complete it in a fraction of the time it would take to read the documentation.

6. Better than an under construction page

A motto we live by is “get it up, and get it going”. Spending too long not making a decision can be costly. A theme regardless of standard, with the right content will always provide more opportunities that not putting anything live at all. Even if it is just temporary, it beats looking at a under construction page.

Cons of WordPress Theme / Templates

There are of course many cons to WordPress themes.

1. They are not Built Around Your Business

Themes are multi-purpose created for the masses rather than your individual business. Being that they are templates, you are shoehorning your business into the website, rather than building the website around the business’ goals and objectives.

2. They are not Conversion Focused

Being that the themes are not built around your business’ objectives, they are also not focused around your content or customer journey.

Although in most themes you can customise the layout, you could find yourself customising the entire website to make sure it fits with your brand, which is slightly counter productive.

3. The theme might not be ‘On Brand’

If you’ve invested in your branding and offline marketing, the website should be the pinnacle of your marketing mix. It is where all your advertising will no doubt be directed to – so it needs to communicate who your business is. A generic layout with your logo positioned where the theme allows, may not meet your brand guidelines (and really upset your brand designer – they can be really touchy).

Aside to the logo, if you have additional brand assets, such as: diagrams, illustrations or other shapes. Can these be placed as they need to be, or does the theme restrict the visual appearance of how they should be displayed.

4. You Are Not Alone

Ever walked into a party and saw two people wearing the same outfit?

As mentioned above the top selling theme on Themeforest has been downloaded over 400,000 times. So chances are you may even see your competitor with a very similar website. If you go down the theme route, ensure that you invest more in customisation to ensure that you make it more your own.

5. WordPress themes are Bloated With Plugins & Unused Features

Although a massive positive having so many features as your fingertips, but once the site is setup – some of the features are not even needed. Some themes come with WooCommerce (allowing you to sell online), forums and other plugins that appeal to the mass market, but once the site is launched, some of these features and plugins and redundant.

In a recent audit of a template theme and a custom website, the theme had 27 plugins compared to the 5 from the custom website. Over half of the theme’s plugins weren’t in use, but we’re bundled into the theme. This adds a potentially heavy overhead to the site which inevitably slows the website down, as well as open up possible security risks, if the plugins were not kept up to date.

6. They can be painfully slow

There can be many reasons for poor loading speeds: hosting, poorly setup site, image sizes or but most of the time the theme has so much going on in the background, that the site just falls behind.

Imagine an extremely overweight person running a 100m sprint with Usian Bolt. Slow speeds can seriously increase your website bounce rate. With 55% of all users spending as little as 15 seconds on a website before leaving, if your site takes 5-10 seconds to load; they’re not staying very long.

Slow speeds also affect conversion rates with every second in loading time decreases the conversion rate by 7%.

The more weight, the slower the speed. This negative experience is not just for your customer, but the backend editing experience can be painfully slow too, meaning it takes you much more time to make simple updates.

7. They Can Be A Security Risk

The most popular themes are usually targeted by hackers who may look to exploit some of the multiple plugins for their own agendas or gain. Whether the plugins are being used or not if they are activated and not kept up to date, then they can pose security risks for your website.

Ensuring that any unused plugins are deactivated can reduce risk as well as looking at investing in a 3rd party firewall for your website such as Securi.

8. They are simply not scalable.

This is where we see so many businesses commit to a custom website. After experiencing some of the above flaws with themes, the biggest frustration is trying to scale or add new features.

Adding new pages or content is extremely easy, but adding a new page with new functionality can cause and array of problems. Although it can be done, you are modifying the theme to get this to work, which could be another problem altogether. If the theme hasn’t been setup as a ‘child’, when updating the theme in the future, your changes maybe lost as the theme update won’t contain your modification.

9. Support & Updates Could Stop

Theme developers usually provide a paid ongoing support to help with bug fixes and provide updates for security.

If you decide to stop paying the support fee or if the developer decides they no longer want to or find the time to support the theme; this could expose your business to possible security risks.

Themes that are no longer supported or have updated provided can actually be more costly in the long term, as your agency will need to modify the theme to solve any issues you may be having.

Conclusion

We never taboo themes because they have a purpose in the market. We feel that they are a great foundation for startups to get online relatively quickly and in a cost effective way.

Without experiencing the pitfalls of a theme, businesses cannot appreciate the custom approach. We have seen our clients take this journey and we are happy to help them take it. The moment of clarity happens when the website first becomes critical to the client and they begin asking about adding new features and discussing ideas that fall outside of the theme. It is that moment when they begin dreaming of what version 2 of the website will look like, and function.

That brings us to the end of part 1 of our 2 part journey. If you want to read about our champion in the red corner, then get notified by joining our email list below.

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