Custom Themes vs Off-The-Shelf Themes?

Since 2008, we’ve invested heavily into WordPress, in fact we built our very first website using WordPress.

Over the years we’ve seen the rise of themes for sale on marketplaces such as Envato’s Theme Forest. Most themes aren’t that expensive and they are often designed to have multiple purposes. You can use the same theme to run an ecommerce store or a single page website.

If you’re not a developer these themes might seem to be a Godsend, but what is the benefit of having a custom built theme when you can just buy one?

Code

We’ll start with the least exciting but most important factor, code. As purchasable themes are designed to do so many things they are often extremely bulky in terms of code because they are trying to do so much.

What could be done in 5-10 lines of code is often extended to about 50-60 because it’s checking for various options. Is the header sticky on scroll? Does it have a regular menu or a burger menu? Is it using the light or dark version of the theme? etc…

This extends into the CSS and Javascript files, where you’ll often finds thousands of lines of uncompressed code.

All this bulk means the site isn’t going to run as efficiently as it could be, meaning the site is going to take longer to load.

One of the biggest issues we face when using pre-purchased themes is doing custom work outside of what the theme can do, or simply tweaking the layout. Whilst you can do it, it’s extremely time-consuming to look through hundreds of lines of code to change the simplest thing.

However when we build a custom theme, we look at what the site is going to do and build it to do exactly that in as little code as possible. Meaning the theme is an efficient, specialist tool rather than a ‘jack of all trades’.

Design

When you have a website you want it to be unique to your business.

Whilst a pre-brought theme can appear unique, you have to consider that thousands of other people have purchased that theme and will be using it. You’ll be restricted to the placements they provide and whilst some themes do offer varying layouts of headers, footers and have page builders it’s never going to be as good as having a developer build you a custom theme.

Each time we work with a client on a custom build we talk through what they want, what the homepage layout will be, what information is located in particular locations etc.. It is built to do exact what you want it to do.

Ease of use

This may not seem an obvious thing to talk about but when we start working with themes, even after years of experience they can be a real pain to work with. Options aren’t always clear and they usually have menus within menus of various options and then have even more when you get down to setting up a page.

With a custom theme we make sure only the relevant content is there. We’ve recently started using a plugin in our theme builds called Advanced Custom Fields Pro, which allows us to provide options similar to a purchasable theme but we can tweak what fields appear based on sections of the site and what you need.

Of course as stated earlier, all the options that come with a pre-purchased theme do bulk out the site – whilst when we can control what appears it’s limiting how much is necessary – meaning faster load speeds.

Updates

As with any code product on the market, it’s extremely important it’s supported. But at the same time, any product can have support stopped at any point. So when you decide to go with a pre-purchased theme you need to make sure the developer is well known and is going to continue supporting it.

Obviously when we build custom themes, we make sure that they always work. If there is a fault with the theme we will fix it.

Conclusion

Do we hate purchased themes? No.

We think they’re great, they offer quick and fantastic looking sites. They can cause some headaches because of the various options they have and when we have to do custom work with them. If you want a fantastic looking site for a lower cost and are not worried about it being totally unique it may be the right choice for you.

But as developers we love to code our own themes and provide solutions that are streamlined and fit for purpose. We love making clean, efficient code that makes your site run as fast as possible.

We hope this has been helpful in defining the difference before you make the choice.

Written by Luke Reid Webbie

Luke is an aspiring Front-End Developer who also enjoys WordPress theming. Luke is eager to expand his knowledge & take in as much code as possible.

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