In last week’s post, I talked about the difference between a custom WordPress website and a customized WordPress theme.
This week, let’s do a breakdown of free versus premium versus custom themes and the pros and cons of each, so you can make the best choice for your business.
Free WordPress Themes
Free Themes: Pros
One positive thing about free WordPress themes found specifically in the WordPress theme repository is that they undergo review and only quality ones are typically approved, but when I say “quality”, I simply mean that nothing that could harm your site will be in there.
So yes, the one pro I have is that the theme itself won’t actively hurt your website.
Free Themes: Cons
If you are serious about building an effective website for your business, I would strongly advise against using a free theme.
Since the theme is free, you’re likely going to have very limited or no support on the theme from the theme developer. This could result in a greater chance of things breaking or potentially having security vulnerabilities in the future.
Basic Features & Design
Free themes typically have very basic, limited features and functionality. They also tend to be very basic in their design as well.
For all of those reasons, I strongly recommend against using a free theme if you are considering building your website on WordPress.
Premium WordPress Themes
You’ll likely be familiar with names like Avada or Astra which are premium themes, and Divi or Genesis which are theme frameworks.
Don’t be misled by the term “premium,” as it doesn’t mean that it’s a well built theme.
Premium in this context simply means that you’ve paid a fee for it.
Premium Themes: Pros
What are the pros of using a premium theme?
- The code for your website is already written, which can save you a lot of time and money.
- Most of the popular premium themes have significant features and customization allowing its users to build out complex designs with relative ease and no coding skills.
- They are relatively inexpensive for what you get from them.
- When you choose a decent theme, they will come with regular updates and support.
Having access to a pre-built theme or framework to help guide the creation of your website can be useful in many ways.
However, like all things that seem simple and easy, there are downsides to using a customized theme.
Premium Themes: Cons
For many business owners, the potential limitations will not be significant enough to warrant the additional cost of building a custom WordPress theme.
That said, it’s important that you understand what you’re agreeing to when you go that route.
Premium themes are often loaded with a lot of features because the creators of those themes are trying to appeal to a wide variety of business owners’ tastes and needs.
As a result, they include every feature under the sun and all those unneeded features bloat your website’s code.
In other words, it adds a significant amount of extra code to your theme, whether you use it or not.
In some cases, themes allow you to turn off certain features, but this is not commonplace yet.
You can think of premium themes like Swiss army knives.
They’re designed to do a ton of different things for a wide variety of different needs, but as a result, they end up being less compact or streamlined.
Having a lighter website that isn’t loading a bunch of unnecessary features is important if your website’s page speed is of importance to you
Page Builder Bloat
Additionally, many premium themes come with page builders. If you have a WordPress website and it uses something like Divi, Elementor, Beaver Builder or Fusion Builder – those are page builders.
And just like with feature bloat, having a page builder can add a significant amount of extra ‘stuff’ to your website, whether you use it or not.
Again, this can have a noticeable negative impact on your Google PageSpeed Insights score and on the speed with which your website loads.
Theme Update Concerns
Beyond page speed issues, one of the biggest concerns about using a premium theme is the increased chance of having problems with website updates down the road.
As theme authors update their code and release major updates, you may run into problems if you aren’t regularly updating your theme.
Also, sometimes theme authors stop supporting themes altogether, which can result in sites becoming vulnerable to being compromised by hackers or malware, or simply just breaking as plugins become incompatible.
I have seen this happen on multiple occasions, forcing business owners to build a new website when they weren’t planning on it.
Limitations on New Features
Finally, if in the future you want to introduce new layouts or features or functionality to your website that wasn’t available as part of the original theme, it may prove incredibly difficult and time-consuming to add the new features to your theme.
Sometimes features that seem incredibly easy, like ordering a gallery by date instead of alphabetically, may simply not be possible because of the way the theme author coded the website.
If you are going to go the premium theme route, it’s important to be aware of what the limitations may be in the future.
Custom WordPress Themes
Let’s move on to looking at the pros and cons of using a custom-developed WordPress theme.
Custom Themes: Pros
Building custom enables you to use the newest and greatest technologies, which allows you to focus more on building a faster responsive website that works exactly the way you want it to.
It enables you to have your website’s code developed from scratch and if you’re working with a competent and capable web developer, they will be able to optimize your website code for both speed and mobile responsiveness.
It’s fully customizable to meet your specific website design and feature needs and because it isn’t built on top of a pre-developed premium template, there is no bloated coding on the back-end that you’re not using that will slow your site’s performance.
Having a theme custom-developed ensures your ability to easily keep your website updated in the future, as your needs change and as you wish to add new features and functionality to your website.
Finally, everything belongs to you; the site, the content, the theme, all of it.
If you want to move it to another hosting platform, you can.
Custom Themes: Cons
There isn’t a lot in the way of cons, but there are a couple of things worth noting.
Because building a custom website requires a much larger investment of time to code, it also requires a much more significant investment of budget as well.
CREATING New WEBSITE COMPONENTS
You’ll need to build out any new components as they are needed.
For example, with a premium theme that uses a page builder, for example, something like Elementor, you can easily build out complex new pages without requiring additional support from a website developer.
With a custom website, anything new that’s being introduced has to be coded and added to your website, so it’s an added expense each time.
That second point is more of an issue for business owners who want to build quick sales pages, and this is why something like Divi ends up being so popular, despite it currently having issues with page load speed.
At the end of the day, I’m not trying to scare you off of using a premium theme. That’s not my goal at all.
For a lot of entrepreneurs, investing in a high-quality, custom-developed website simply is not in the budget at this stage in their business.
For many small business owners, customizing a premium theme is the most appropriate approach given time or budget constraints.
With that in mind, watch for next week’s video and blog post, when I’ll be providing you with some guidance on what to look for if you decide to choose a premium theme for your website.