‹ Blog / Hints and Tips

WordPress Themes: Custom vs off-the-shelf

Oct 15th 2014

If you’ve ever looked at building your own WordPress website, you’ve probably considered using of the 1,000s of off-the-shelf themes available. But are they good value, or more trouble than they’re worth?

These days WordPress is practically a household name for web authoring and it’s no surprise that it’s become the most popular Website publishing platform in the World (don’t just take our word for it)

The reason WordPress has become so popular is that it’s easy to use, it has thousands of add-ons that extend its functionality (called Plug-ins), and that there are 1000s Themes available.

A theme is a pre-defined “skin” when loaded in to WordPress, instantly transforms the look and feel of it and adds ready-made functionality.

Every WordPress website needs a theme, so what’s the big deal?

Themes come in all shapes and sizes, there are free themes, some if which are worth using, some poor quality and not readily usable.

There are thousands of paid for themes that can be bought from sites like WooThemes and Theme Forest, these are often much more feature rich and can make very fine websites. Best of all, most paid themes are under $99, so with the exchange rate in our favour, us Brits, can pick up a good Theme for well under £50. That’s not bad value for money, whichever country you come from!

You could pay a professional web designer, they design and build a Theme for you. A good designer will make it easy to use, no need to get your hands dirty and you’ll get exactly what you want, but it will cost you a lot more than £50!

So that’s solved it, off-the-shelf themes are cheaper and can look great, problem solved!

Not quite…

The truth is there are pros and cons with both, so here goes:

Off-the-shelf Themes

They’re cheap! There’s no getting round it, they’re incredibly cheap, which is a good thing!
They can look great too, they’re often Responsive so perfect for Tablets and Mobile phones.
There are thousands to look through, so you’ve plenty of choice, lots of opportunity for inspiration and lots of food for thought!
They’re pre-made, so once loaded, no coding needed, your site is built…well, nearly anyway…so they’re very quick. In theory, if you’ve got everything to hand, and know what you want, you can build a WordPress website from start to finish with an Off-the-shelf theme, in a matter of hours!

How do you know they’re any good?
You can’t try before you buy, so you’ll need to buy it first, then set it up, they try it out.
That takes time…a lot of time, and money. Quite often it will be nearly right, but not quite, and it’s the not quite where hours upon hours can be spent trying to customise it. What about if you run in to problems?
Some Themes are very well supported, some not at all.
So you have an empty shell of a site, but do you have the content, the art-work and imagery, the know-how and the time to build it?

Off-the-shelf themes are built to provide as much functionality as possible which in turn makes it more saleable. This can make Themes over-complicated, prone to bugs and difficult to set up.
Every Theme developer builds their Themes differently, so once you’ve learnt one Theme, switching to a new Theme will more often than not require a whole new learning curve.

Finally, if you’re building your site yourself with no prior experience, do you really know what needs to go on it? The Theme’s just the start of it, Your site will still need to be optimised for Google, have art work and imagery chosen, sized and optimised, content written, functionality added and your WordPress installation Hardened.

Professionally Designed Themes

Paying a professional or building a Theme yourself takes all the time and effort out of the process.
With the right advice and expert, the Theme can incorporate the right plug-ins, have all the functionality set up, be secured, and ready to go.

Many people get involved with adding content to a new professionally built site, this is something we encourage as it’s simple to do and puts you in control of your own site.

Cost! There’s no getting round it, you’re paying a professional to build a Theme for you, that skill in itself often takes years to train and develop and involves extensive knowledge of technologies such as XHTML, CSS, Javascript, JQuery, HTML5, JSON, PHP, MySql not including some of the common code libraries modern developers use. That expertise comes at a cost.
Time: It takes longer. Average websites take between 4 and 12 weeks depending on the size, so if you need your site tomorrow, this perhaps isn’t the best route to go.


There are pros and cons with both types of Theme, but to summarise: If you want to keep costs low, have the time, the inclination, and happy to take a little risk, Off-the-shelf Themes represent excellent value for money.

Why not take a look at one of our WordPress Training and Support packages, to get a professional helping hand but still doing it yourself?

If you’re happy to pay a little more and have an expert take care of it for you, get a custom Theme built.