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Using bespoke vs commercial themes for WordPress?


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By Gareth Lockton

Since WordPress started all the way back in 2003, it has become one of the fastest growing CMS platforms, running more than 60 million websites and blogs all around the world.There are some notable users in that mix too, including The New York Times, CNN, Sony, eBay and even Jay-Z and Katy Perry (whoever they are!).

The beauty of WordPress is it’s wide range appeal. The ease of which both everyday web users, and seasoned developers, can get sites of all shapes and sizes up and running in no time at all. From simple blogs to e-commerce stores or Facebook style communities, WordPress can very much be seen as a one size fits all solution (in most cases anyway).

Then there are all the thousands of different themes available, some free, some commercial, all different in their own way.

***For those less familiar with WordPress, “themes” are pre-designed layouts that you can apply to your WordPress installation to change the style and layout of all of your pages.***

You can browse a range of themes directly on wordpress.org, from within your installation, or from any websites selling commercial themes, such as ThemeForest or WooThemes. For only £30 – £40 or so you can buy yourself a professional looking theme and be up and running with your new website.

When should you buy Commercial themes?

I think that commercial themes certainly have their place in the market. Under the right circumstances they are perfectly acceptable to use. For example if you simply run a personal blog. Or if you are just starting up a small business with a limited budget, and need to create an online presence. In these cases it is a no-brainer.

When not to buy Commercial themes?

If you are a web designer offering a web design service and charging hundreds of £££’s to install and customise a pre-bought theme, you are ripping people off! I’m shocked at the number of sites I see that are clearly a slightly modified commercial theme. Often a quick glance at the source code tells its own story!

As a customer, you want a website that is unique to your brand. In many cases, commercial themes are not unique. That’s the point of them being commercial. They are available to buy for as many people who want them. Sure, the logo and the colour theme may have changed, and a funky background pattern has been added. But there are hundreds of people or businesses using the exact same theme as you.

The what ifs…

You want a colour change? No problem. But if you require any significant changes to the structure or your website then you should be aware of the increased development time. And what if the original developer of your theme no longer keeps the code up-to-date? What if the theme requires a bunch of plugins that are no longer supported? What if the theme no longer works with the latest version of WordPress?

Bespoke WordPress Themes FTW!

Personally I always recommend working with a bespoke WordPress theme, custom built to requirements, for a number of reasons:

Creating something unique for you and your business is important. You want your website to stand-out from the crowd. You want your brand to be carried through your website in a consistent and effective way. If the layout needs changing on a certain page to accommodate a unique product or feature, no problem! Custom themes are as flexible as the designer you work with!

WordPress offers a wide range of features and functions. With your own custom theme you don’t have to be restricted to the functions that are already in place when you use a commercial theme. You have complete control of what you want your website to be.

If your developer is working on a custom theme for you, development time can be much faster. Your developer is not building your website on top of someone else’s code – and that’s a big incentive when it comes to reducing time spent on a job. Working around another developer’s code can be a real pain. Custom themes also make the code much cleaner and faster, which brings me on to my next point…

You dont need all of those features!

Commercial WordPress themes often come with lots and lots of features. There are a set of minimum requirements developers need to meet of they are to sell commercial themes, and it often seems more like a competition as to who can fit the most features into one design! Not only are all these features (a) unnecessary, and (b) probably never going to see the light of day on your website, but they are slowing your website down!

As website speed increasingly becomes an important factor in web design – and even more so for mobile devices – your website needs to be as fast and efficient as possible. All of the features that you are never going to use in your theme are only slowing you down and putting your visitors off as they have to wait for your pages to load. These days every second counts ans users quickly look elsewhere!

Another bugbear of mine – plugins! I’ll save the bulk of this for another post, but in brief…

Plugins are great. I have nothing against them, per se. I even use some myself (honestly!). They allow you to add useful functionality to a website relatively easily. But most of the time you don’t need a plugin to get what you are trying to achieve. A simple bit of code in functions file, or a little bit of jQuery, can go along way!

Plugins bring along extra code, extra css and javascript files that need loading (often in an inefficient way if not built correctly). Extra calls to your server, slowing things down again. Extra care and attention every time a WordPress update is released. Even more care and attention when (or if) the plugin you are using gets updated itself. Why would you rely on someone else’s code when you can get exactly what you want in a cleaner, faster and more effective way?

Do you need some help with your WordPress website? If you would like some advice on how to handle updates, or anything else WordPress related, please call 01457 854 418 or complete an enquiry form and we will call you back!

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