WORDPRESS THEMES: FREE, PREMIUM OR CUSTOM BUILT?
By• July 16, 2015
This article has been written to serve as an overview of WordPress themes, commonly known as templates. Specifically, it will elaborate on the differences between free, premium and custom themes. We will also demonstrate why Azura specializes in custom WordPress development and never uses third party themes, finishing by illustrating these differences with a quick but relevant case study.
Chances are that even if you are only vaguely familiar with modern web development industry, you have heard of WordPress more than once. This comes as no surprise, because based on recent statistics, the vast majority of today’s CMS-based (content management system) websites are built with WordPress.
WordPress is an open-source content management system based on PHP and MySQL. Open source means that the platform is free and there is no cost for anybody to use it. It also means that there is a large community of developers specializing in developing, updating and maintaining the WordPress platform and its features such as themes, plugins and widgets.
A WordPress theme is a collection of files that will determine how the website will look and function. A WordPress theme can be free, premium or custom-built. This basically means that a web developer can either find a free template for your website and fill it in with your content (texts and images), pay a small fee for a premium template to fill it in with your content or develop a custom theme from ground-up.
Let’s begin by comparing the key characteristics of these three options, based on standard web development features – design, code, functionality and support.
• Average design: free themes usually look generic, have average design and lack key features such as mobile optimization, responsiveness and originality.
• Questionable code quality: more often than not, free themes are built with poor code quality, which may result in slower website performance and many errors.
• Poor functionalities: free theme packages may come with many unnecessary and useless features that slow down the website’s performance, while missing some key functionalities potentially relevant to your business.
• Bad technical support: the theme’s author is often unavailable for support, making your website’s upgrades and maintenance difficult and sometimes even impossible.
• Better design: although premium themes usually feature more original designs and are better adopted for mobile use, they are still lacking in uniqueness and are not tailored to your particular brand story.
• Standard code: coding is generally more compliant to web development standards in premium themes.
• More appropriate functionalities: because the premium theme is developed for a large group of users, functionalities are not optimized for your particular needs, generally requiring customization and fine-tuning.
• Limited support: the theme’s author may be reachable through forums or email, however the support is usually limited to certain clarifications on existing theme’s functionalities.
• Unique design: when a digital agency builds a truly custom theme, a graphic designer starts with a unique design that is adapted to your brand story.
• Superior code: a web developer codes the website to be fully compliant with modern web development standards.
• Optimal functionalities: since everything is being built from the ground-up, your custom theme’s functionalities are tailored to your business requirements, allowing for extra features and integration of third-party services, such as various CRM software or others. No unnecessary functionalities bog down your website’s performance and every feature of your website is specific to your unique business needs.
• Personalized support: since your agency is the sole author of your website’s unique theme, you can expect quick and proactive service when it comes to your website’s maintenance or updates.
Based on these comparisons, it is easy to see why most professional web development agencies choose to create their own custom themes for clients and Azura is no exception to this rule. Our team consists of experienced professionals who share deep respect for each others’ respective fields. We pride ourselves on delivering custom tailored web solutions that perform flawlessly on any modern platform and are easy to update and maintain.
Over the years, we have often dealt with customers who chose to hire an agency or a freelancer who specialized in customizing free or premium templates and more often than not, many of the shortcomings discussed above arose as time went on. Although the initial time and money investment may appear smaller at first when using an existing template, many issues can arise over time. To demonstrate this, we decided to present a small case study of a website that we were recently hired to fix.
GCS Forklifts’ website 2012
GCS Forklifts had their website built using a free WordPress template back in 2012. In 2015, they came to us with a number of issues that their website encountered over just 2 years, such as:
- 1. The website had not been updated since it’s launch.
- 2. Because it was using an older WP version, it had a number of security issues, which could result in the website being hacked.
- 3. There was no backup solution integrated into the website.
- 4. The website’s design was not only generic, it also contained some major issues such as cut off images and some badly formatted texts.
- 5. The website had a large amount of unused functionalities that significantly slowed down its performance.
- 6. The multi-language plugin used on the website was outdated and did not function properly, resulting in some pages displaying both English and French content.
- 7. The catalog’s plugin had issues with correctly displaying categories, subcategories and images on each item’s detail page.
Upon closer inspection of the website, our first recommendation was to rebuild the site completely. Understandably, the client’s budget has already been exceeded so we decided to work with what we had. Although certain important features were not possible on the current website, we managed to make it look much more professional. Aside from updating all of the WordPress software, plugins and widgets used on the website, we also resolved its design, coding and plugin issues. Needless to say, all these efforts were costly, time consuming and could have easily been avoided if the website had been built correctly to begin with.
GCS Forklifts’ website 2015
Before starting your next web project, be sure to invest the extra time into researching a digital agency that does not simply customize an existing template but actually has the resources to build and maintain a completely custom WordPress website. You will be rewarded with a hassle-free, quality web presence that will always function flawlessly across all modern platforms and devices.