Pre-built WordPress themes are not your enemy

Within the world of web design you’re going to run into a couple of different camps. Those who love WordPress, and those who loathe it. Both have some good points to make for their case, and it’s hard to argue with either. At the end of the day for us it boils down to personal preference and the specifics of the project at hand. 

Even for those in the pro WordPress camp there are disagreements on how the platform should be utilised. The main issue is whether or not pre-built WordPress themes should be used or if custom built is the only option. We’re going to look at some of the pro’s and cons of both, and why we feel there is nothing wrong with using pre-built WordPress themes. In fact, for us it is the only option that truly makes sense for our clients.

what is a WordPress theme?

Let’s start with the basics of this debate. What actually is a WordPress theme? What does it do? Do I even need one?

WordPress is an open source content management system, which basically means it provides a framework from which to build your website. Think of it as the foundations of a building. A WordPress theme is what you build on top of it. It’s the visuals and functionality of your website.

Obviously websites come in all shapes and sizes, and as you’d expect the same is true of themes. There are themes that have been built specifically with industries in mind and have built in functionality that you would expect a website within that industry to have.

For example, if you need a website for an estate agent business then there are WordPress themes out there with the functionality not only to display houses for sale and for rent. They also allow users to set a search radius, or price scale. Essential functions for a website of this type.

I've heard pre-built WordPress themes are bad.

From what I’ve said so far it sounds like pre-built themes are an amazing idea, and I agree. However, there are many who don’t. There are those that believe pre-built WordPress themes are poorly built, and the final product delivered to a client will be sub par.

To an extent this can be true. There are no rules or regulations in place as to how a WordPress theme has to be built. Naturally there will be those that are of a much higher quality than others. A badly built WordPress theme can be an absolute nightmare. It may look fantastic from the front end, however that’s only half the story.

A great looking website is nothing if you as the owner cannot update it and manage it easily and efficiently. This is where a lot of pre built WordPress themes fall down (and a lot of custom ones for that matter). Too much focus is put on how it looks from a user perspective, and not enough on how the owners will operate the website. This can then lead to a website that goes stale once the original designer or agency has finished with it.

Website Design Framework

A good ‘drag and drop’ visual editor makes updating your website simple and straight forward.

Another downside to SOME pre-built WordPress themes is that they’re code is heavy and bloated. This leads to longer loading times and sometimes penalties by search engines for being slow, and not abiding by common codes of practice. Again, this is not something you want for your business website.

custom WordPress themes should be the only choice.

So far it seems like pre-built WordPress themes really aren’t the greatest choice, and that having a bespoke custom built theme for your website is the better option. In all honesty, yes it is. You can tell your web developers exactly what you need your website to do, and that is exactly what it will do. Nothing more, nothing less.

It will be perfectly optimised for your business and will function just as you need it to. There isn’t going to be any additional functions that you don’t need so it won’t be a bloated website with slow lading times and you won’t have to navigate a bunch of admin areas that you will never use. All in all it sounds ideal.

That’s just it though, it is an IDEAL solution. But not always a practical one. The main issue that will arise when going down the custom theme route is that the costs are extremely high when compared to using  pre-built WordPress themes.

A well constructed theme will take hundreds, if not thousands of hours to develop and if it’s bespoke to you, you’re the one paying all of the costs. A premium pre-built theme will be purchased by a large number of people all paying a share of those costs thus bringing your expense down.

But if hundreds of people are using the same pre-built WordPress theme then your website is going to look the same as all of theirs isn’t it?

pre-built does not mean pre-designed.

It’s one of the biggest criticisms of pre-built WordPress themes and it’s not without justification. If hundreds of people use the same theme, their websites will look the same. This is true if you simply unbox the theme, install it and populate it with content.

This is what a customer is expected to do if they want the cheapest solution possible to their website conundrum. However, this is not all these themes can be used for. In fact, any freelance web designer, or web design agency using pre-built themes do so not because of how they look, but because of how they function.

When we decided on a theme to use as the base of most of our website projects we did a lot of research into what makes it such a good option to use. This boiled down to how feature rich it was, how well written and documented the code was and how easy it would be for our clients to use it. How a theme looks is not important, as we’re going to completely change that to match the brand of the company it’s for.

Two websites we completed using the same pre-built WordPress theme. Two completely different websites.

Another way of looking at it is to use car manufacturers as an example. There are certain staples within the car industry, whether it be engines, chassis or interior trims. These will then crop up in cars by different manufacturers because it’s cheaper and more practical to use something that has already been developed than design and develop a new one just for that car. That doesn’t mean that because your car uses the same engine and chassis as another car that it’s the same. The look and feel can be totally different, as can the way it feels to drive.

This is because you’re simply building from the same foundations, what you put on top of it is entirely up to you. So even though a website may be built on the same theme as another, there is no reason why it has to look and feel the same, they can be as unique as your business.

it all comes down to cost vs practicality.

As you may have gathered by this article so far I’m very much in favour of the solution that best fits your requirements, timeframe, and budget. Do what’s right for your business and for you. Whether this is a bespoke one of a kind custom built WordPress theme, or even a bespoke CMS for you website, or a customised pre-built WordPress theme.

If you don’t have a budget of tens of thousands of pounds then a well chosen, well customised, pre-built WordPress theme is a fantastic solution for your web design project. I for one do not believe it is ‘being cheap’ or ‘cheating’ when it comes to designing and building a website. It’s simply the most practical option for most businesses.

So to sum up, no, pre-built WordPress themes are not your enemy. In fact, they may well be one of the best things to have happened to the web.

can we help you with your next website project?

At Foundation we specialise in helping small and medium size enterprises get the online presence they deserve. We understand that budgets may be tight and timeframes may be short but we’re confident we can provide you with the website you need. Find out more about our web design services or take a look at some of our previous work and see how we can help you today.

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About the author

Mark is a logo design and brand identity specialist, and founder of Foundation Design Agency. He has worked for many years as a freelance logo designer operating www.thelogomark.co.uk. He has a passion for all aspects of brand identity design as well as being a keen NFL fan and occasional songwriter.

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