When planning website development, one of the hardest initial decisions to make is to choose between using a stock theme and going with a custom theme development. Let’s discuss these two options.
It’s 2016 and website is not only a fancy url listed on your business card. It’s a powerful tool for doing business, getting new customers, selling products or services and engaging your audience. How many times have you googled a company name to look at their website, before deciding to use their services? Have you got an initial impression about the company based on their website? I bet many times and almost everyone is doing that. Online reputation is very important for any company nowadays. What could represent your online presence better than a professional looking site?!
So, how is it related to WordPress themes and which theme to choose? Well, WP is the most popular CMS (content management system) out there and it powers more than 24% of all the websites on the internet. So if you need a website, you will most likely decide using it. Why? Because it has a very user friendly admin panel, developer-friendly back-end and almost anything can be built using it as a framework. Even pretty complex web applications, and we have done this.
If you are reading this article, you probably already know what WordPress is and you have decided to use it as the backbone of your project, but you have faced two development paths: using one of the ready-to-use themes or developing a custom theme. One of them seems to be pretty easy, getting a stock theme and populating it with your content; while the other requires much more time, investment and efforts. So, let’s discuss the benefits of using a custom theme, compare it to stock themes and determine which way is preferable for you.
Defining the purpose of your website
In the first place, when planning to build a website, you should clearly understand the purpose it’s going to serve. If your website is going to be a marketing tool that you are going to use to attract customers, you are planning to do SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (Search Engine Marketing), SMM (Social Media Marketing), create custom landing pages, then you should probably avoid using stock items. If you are going to invest time and money into marketing your website later, then it is a good idea investing into building quality custom website as well. At the end of the day, the custom solution will become cheaper than the cheap stock options with all the customization you will require later.
Custom theme vs. stock theme comparison
Time and budget required for development
Web development process is really the very beginning of your journey and that’s where you need to decide wisely. If you are going to invest a lot of time into marketing your site later, then it would be a better idea to invest into a quality product in the beginning. Here are the differences in time and budget.
Let’s assume that we are building a standard, small or medium business website, which will have around ten pages, including blog or news section and a contact page.
In WordPress terms, it should have:
- Home page template;
- Standard page template for inner pages;
- Blog post page;
- Blog archive page;
- 404 error page;
- Contact page template;
For any website you will have some costs that are applicable in both cases:
- Web hosting – normally shared hosting plans are $200+ per year. If you decide using VPS consider hiring a good system administrator to set everything up for you.
- Domain name – $10+ per year
- Content – you can write it yourself or get a professional copywriter
- Graphics – You can hire a photographer or go with stock photography
- Illustrations – Not every website needs custom illustrations, but if your site does, then consider finding a good illustration designer
- Logo – prices vary a lot from designer to designer
If you decide to pick a stock theme for your web presence, then you should be prepared that it might take even longer than building a quality custom theme. It really depends on the developer you have contracted. A simple few-page website that is using theme’s features can take from one to a few days to structure up. Cost will also depend on developer’s hourly rate or per project rate. If you hired a good developer with a rate of $60/h and it takes him one day (10 hours), then you will have the site constructed for $600 + the cost of the theme, which is $50-$200 on average. You might also need to use some plugins, that do not come with the theme and you will need around a couple of hundred bucks for the plugins. You might also face the problem that these plugins do not integrate well with the theme and the developer will need to do extra work and spend extra hours on integration. So, you can easily jump over $1000 for development and software licenses.
If you hired a newbie ‘professional’, he might help you to get rid of some additional costs, such as buying a theme and plugins by using hacked ones and that might make your website vulnerable to hacker attacks. Many of the hacked themes and plugins contain backdoors so you should keep away from using them. Not to mention that it is completely unethical and it’s considered stealing from the author of the intellectual property.
Now, the custom solution. The good thing in this case is that you are not just buying a ‘frame’ you will need to adjust your content to, but you are building a custom product that will present your content the way you want it to.
Normal development process takes several steps:
- UX (User Experience) development. That can be a list of pages with wireframes for each page. But this step needs a lot of attention and research, because the usability of the final product will greatly depend on good UX design. This is very important step for any successful project, but it is being neglected very often. Often, it is confused with UI design, but they differ a lot. I will discuss it in another article in more details. Good UX will immensely boost your conversions.
- UI (User Interface) development. This a design in Photoshop, Illustrator or Sketch (other tools can be used as well but I listed industry standards).
- Conversion from Design to HTML.
- Conversion of html into a WordPress theme (Sometimes steps 3 and 4 can be combined but it is less time-efficient).
- Adding the content and launching the website.
This is the standard procedure when it comes to web project development projects.
Here, at Everycode, we do each step of the development chain, but often excluding the UI development part. The reason behind that is, that design is a very individual thing and there is no universal designer who can satisfy each client’s taste or each any project requirement. We usually do UX development with design guidelines for the UI designer, with the future target audience in mind. Once the UI is done, we are doing the rest.
Sometimes, UI design part can be skipped and a more precise wireframe can be developed, which already includes types, colors and sizes of all the elements across the theme, so it can be directly converted into HTML / WordPress theme.
The whole process can take up 50+ hours. If the development rate will be $60 per hour, then theme development will sum up to $3000 or more.
We have already discussed how the budget for development a custom theme differs from the budget of using a stock item, but what are the benefits of paying three times more?
Well, there’re many benefits and one of them is performance. When you are purchasing a stock theme, it usually comes with a bunch of integrated plugins, custom post types and dozens of different page templates and functions. You might think that it is good, but in a fact, the theme is so overloaded that is becomes slow. Slow loading can dramatically decrease your SEO performance. It can load slowly on mobile devices and ultimately, you will be loosing a lot of conversions.
Now, let’s assume that you are spending $1,000 per month on marketing. It’s $12,000 per year and even if you loose just 20% of potential visitors, because of a poor performing theme, then you are wasting $2,400 of your marketing budget not even counting loss of potential clients.
When it comes to maintenance, the nightmare starts here. Lately, a lot of stock themes come with integrated plugins, which you need to update from time to time. But many of those plugins are pre-customized so it often happens that you update a plugin and it is not compatible with your theme any more. You end up with a broken theme and you need to hire a developer, to fix the issues.
Security is one of the weakest parts of stock themes. The case is that if the theme is very popular, then it probably has some vulnerabilities and hackers are constantly searching for them. WordPress is one of the main targets for hackers because of the amount of websites it powers, but WP itself is pretty secure.
What makes it vulnerable to attacks is the functionality in the themes and plugins that you might be using. So, the more popular the theme, there is greater chance that there will be a lot of hacking attempts. To keep everything secure, you need to keep the theme and plugins up to date and install some security software on your website. That will minimize the threat.
Custom themes built by experts, are usually much less vulnerable to attacks.
If a custom theme development costs more in the beginning compared to stock item based website, then any future customizations (such as adding new features) of stock themes will take more time and money later.
With a custom theme, your developer knows every part of it so you can ask him to add some bells and whistles later and it will not require studying the whole theme structure to add some new features.
At the same time, if you are using a stock theme, your developer will need to study its code first, make changes and then test everything to make sure that the changes did not affect the other parts that were not meant to be affected and nothing is broken.
In the end, I can say that is fully up to you which option to choose but make sure to choose wisely and keep the future costs in mind. Even if a custom theme development will cost 3x amount you are likely to spend on building stock theme based website, in the long run, a custom solution will hit your budget much less.