Should I use a Custom Theme or a Template for my WordPress Website

Today I want to address custom WordPress website themes vs. templates.  Occasionally our clients ask us questions such as, “Should I use a WordPress template or a custom theme?” and “What is the difference between a custom theme and a template?”  Some web design companies will brag that they hand code everything and don’t use pre built themes inferring that templates are bad. In reality we find that both options have pros and cons that people need to consider.

Custom WordPress Themes

The advantages of a custom WordPress theme:

  • It can look exactly how you want it to look. Complete customization is the main benefit.
  • It is one of a kind and no one has an identical website.
  • You may be able to develop an ongoing relationship with the programmer for future work. (This totally depends on who is coding your theme as many companies outsource the programming oversees).

The disadvantages of a custom WordPress theme:

  • They have a high upfront cost. A custom theme often costs $1,000 or more compared to a template which is usually closer to $50.
  • They are often expensive to maintain.  WordPress is updated on a regular basis and themes must be updated to stay compatible.  Updates to keep the theme working cost extra and clients are usually charged a programmers rate of $100-150/hour.
  • Updates are typically done on a “break/fix” model instead of proactively.  Once a theme is built there are typically no proactive updates for compatibility and security.  Themes are typically only updated when something breaks and a programmer is hired to fix the problem.  This can create a crisis as the website is broken and you may have to pay a “rush” rate to get it fixed quickly.
  • Changing web design companies or programmers can be a hassle.  At some point the person who programmed the theme may no longer be available or you might choose not to work with them anymore.  Every programmer does things a little differently so there will be a learning curve when you bring the next person on.

WordPress Theme Templates

The advantages of a using a WordPress theme template:

  • They have a low upfront cost.  Most theme templates cost $50-60.
  • They often come with free updates for the life of the theme.  Good theme developers will continue to update their themes on a regular basis for security, compatibility and functionality.  Most developers provide all of the updates at no charge.
  • Many website template developers provide free support for their themes.  They usually have a forum where you can post questions or request help.  If your template is not working correctly the template developer will typically get it working for you at no charge.
  • When you buy a template you have access to the person who coded your theme usually by email and support forum.  If you switch web design companies you still have access to the theme developer which makes for an easy transition.
  • Most theme templates are designed to be easy for a client to update.  They typically have an interface that is easy to learn if a client so desires.
  • There are 1000’s of templates to choose from and WordPress templates are typically so customizable that they generally fit most client’s needs for appearance and originality.
  • When buying a template you can visually get a good idea of what you are getting upfront.
  • If a template is purchased from a site like you can read reviews and get an idea of how well the theme will function before buying it.  You can also see the developer’s other work and see how often he releases updates.

The disadvantages of a using a WordPress theme template:

  • You can be limited in appearance and layout by the way the theme was coded.
  • The theme may be discontinued at some point in the future.  If this happens the developer stops providing updates and you would need to hire a developer for any future work on it or purchase a new theme.
  • If there is a problem with the theme you can be at the mercy of the developer to get around to fixing it.  Some developers are fast to fix reported bugs and some are not.  This is where reading reviews upfront comes in to play.  You can always hire a developer to fix it on your own if needed.

Custom Theme vs WordPress Template – The Verdict

The final answer is that there is no right answer, there is only what is right for you.  That being said probably 99% of the clients we do WordPress web design for choose to use a WordPress template.  In my opinion they are the right fit for the majority of businesses because they can be made to look incredible and unique while keeping over all costs down.  We have had the occasional client that wanted something very specific that we weren’t finding in a template.  In those cases you can often start with a template and add some custom programming to accomplish what the client needs.  It is rare that we find a client who wants to spend the money for a from scratch website theme.

We have always used a template for our website.  With all that current templates can do we haven’t found a good reason to use anything else.  If you are interested in a WordPress website or need a new theme on your current website we would love to visit with you.  Give us a call today at (208)939-0493 to see how we can help.