Custom WordPress themes are not always the panacea of proprietorship as they are often sold.
Sometimes, custom themes can become a pain in the tuches, as I recently learned from a client.
This client had a theme built for her music business by a design company that she is not interested in working with anymore. It seems there was a language difference and she had a difficult time communicating with the developers. She wanted my help to update the site and make some necessary changes.
Everything was going well until she decided to add some widgets to her sidebar. But, oops, there was no sidebar. The side menu on the left side of page was not accessible on the widgets page but actually coded into the theme somewhere. Where? I didn’t know. I’m not a developer.
Then we worked on her posts. She had created a post but when she tried to preview it, she got a 404 Error notice from Hostgator. This happens every time she posts, she told me. She could not view the post until it was published. Hostgator told her the problem was not on their end, that something in the coding prevented her preview.
And this was a theme she paid a lot of money for. It’s a nice theme, clean and simple, with good functionality that probably didn’t exist in plugins when it was built.
But now she wanted to make changes and found, to her dismay, that she would need to deal with the developer with whom she was uncomfortable working.
Which brings me to the eternal quandary about creating a WordPress website:
To use a premium or custom theme, that is the question
Essentially, choosing a theme is like buying a house.
- Free themes are like fixer uppers that require ongoing investment of time and money. $0
- Premium themes are move in-ready, with special rooms prepped for improvement. $40-100
- Custom themes are like parcels of land where you’ll build the house from the ground up and have everything you want. $2,000 +
When choosing a WordPress theme, you have to know your budget for time and money, as well as where your future lies.
To consider whether to purchase a custom WordPress theme over a premium theme, it’s important to understand the reality behind the hype.
Custom themes make your site look unique
There are currently over 1 billion websites on the Web. What are the chances of anyone noticing that your site looks like another?
And, with the conventions of basic web design fairly established, how far do you want to veer from the norms?
Also, with trends for web design ebbing and flowing the way they do, why lock yourself into a design style that might suddenly become so last year?
Opting for a custom WordPress theme presumes that you will never want to change to look or functionality of your site.
Custom themes have cleaner code
It may be true that premium themes contain exterraneous code – to cater to a wide variety of users – which may slow the site down, but that doesn’t mean that code cannot be cleaned up later.
The code in a custom theme may be “clean” but it may not be as functional as the developers promise, as my client found out after the fact.
And, what if the needs of the site change over time? What if the user decides she wants a footer after all. Instead of just checking a “Show Footer” checkbox in her premium theme options, she will need to go back to the developer and pay them to alter the code.
Getting customer support
Everyone talks big about offering support, but where is the better support found?
Is it in a theme mill that cranks out themes for the masses and employs dedicated support personnel?
Or, does better support come from the little design studio that made your theme to order, where the developer is now onto the next project and would rather not talk to you?
Complicate that with a language barrier to understand why my client is loathe to deal with her theme developer.
Getting what you pay for
Conventional wisdom says, you get what you pay for, as if the best things in life are worth a long wait and high cost. This is the biggest argument used in favour of custom WordPress themes.
The reality is, you wait a long time and pay thousands of dollars for a theme designed specifically for your site that has been road tested by no one, may soon go out of style, and cannot be easily customized by anyone but a developer who will then charge $100 an hour to update it according to your constantly changing needs.
If you call that value, I have rare Beany Babies to sell you.
Premium vs Custom WordPress Themes
The next time you consider whether to purchase a proven premium theme or to strike out on the road less traveled with a custom WordPress theme, ask yourself this: are you going to use the theme for a long time, or do you want more nimbleness in how your site changes with the times.
Otherwise you might end up a frustrated client, seeking another developer to customize your site.
How about you? Are you happy with your custom theme? Can you contradict any of my statements? I’d love to hear it.
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