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Differences Between a Prebuilt Theme vs. Building a Custom Theme

Andrew Engstrom

4 min read

WordPress is one of those great moments where a group of people built something that is not only flexible, but easy to use. There is no shortage of “WordPress Themes,” out there. Some are free to use, and many are premium themes, which require a one-time price or yearly subscription.

But what goes into a WordPress theme? It can take six months for a small team of developers to develop some of the big, well-known themes. I know this seems completely backwards, considering WordPress’ famous five-minute install. It doesn’t take a long time to set up a WordPress site, install a theme, and build out some content. But somewhere, there is a team of people that built that theme. And if it’s a premium theme, they’re likely supporting and developing new versions to download and use on your site.

As anyone can imagine, this has an associated cost with it. This is why many companies who build premium themes have a subscription model. They need ongoing support from the customers who love their themes. Without that customer support, they can’t continue developing updates. The themes will lack longevity, and won’t remain secure and up to date with the latest core WordPress codebase.

What happens if you want something completely custom?

Well, that’s the golden question, isn’t it? This usually involves hiring a company experienced in dealing with creating custom WordPress themes, or at least modifying existing ones, and creating something unique for you. Maybe it involves having them also design the site as well.

The biggest downside to having something unique is that you typically need to fund the development and maintenance of that new codebase. Therein lies the major difference between enterprise development for medium to large companies, versus small companies or local mom-and-pop shops. The smaller companies really can’t afford active, ongoing development.

There is a “Hail Mary,” however, for those smaller companies who want a piece of the action in the overwhelming and overpopulated World Wide Web. Customization of an existing, well supported theme.

Your potential solutions

The cheapest and easiest route is to purchase an existing theme. You’d spend maybe a day putting together the site and configure the theme options that come along with it. Or, you could hire a development company to do that work. You could also hire them for consultation work, to help you learn how to use the new site.

The “Hail Mary,” involves taking an existing theme you’ve acquired, having a development company not only set it up and do all of the above, but also customize it based on a set of requirements. This can help modify the theme enough to make it look unique, while still relying on an existing theme developer who is actively pushing out updates to keep their product current. The downside is that anytime they update the codebase, you may need another developer to update the customized child theme created for your site, if it becomes out of date with the parent theme’s codebase.

If you find that you’re spending too much time trying to customize an existing theme, you’re likely better off building a fully custom theme. Usually, a development company can help you put together project requirements. From there, they can assist you in making an informed decision on what direction is needed to achieve your goals.

If speed and optimization are paramount, as is having your own look, feel, and branding, you may require a fully custom WordPress site. Nowadays, there are many theme frameworks that can help to build out a custom theme for your company.

At Curious Minds Media, we use up-to-date, current web standards to execute a design (if needed), and the implementation of exactly what you are looking for. A fully custom WordPress site isn’t the cheapest option, but you’ll have your exact desired design and implementation. And you’ll still be able to edit your content!

There’s a solution for everyone, and Curious Minds Media can fulfill you, and your company’s goals, for years to come.

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