Before we start, let’s keep in mind that we build custom WordPress websites, and never (ever) buy a theme and modify it. That being said, I’ll try to fairly explain both options.
To get going, we first need to know what custom and purchased WordPress themes really are:
Custom WordPress Website
A unique website that has been built from the ground up based on a company’s brand and an agreed-upon strategy. All aspects of the website are planned, designed, then developed to reach a goal.
Purchased WordPress Theme
A theme that has been designed and developed to accommodate functionality and content for a large number of uses. Generally easy to install and customize with built-in management options.
But which is best?
That depends on your specific requirements, timeline, and budget.
Purchasing a WordPress Theme
If you’re a small business with a small budget, a purchased theme might be a good option until you have the funds to build a custom site.
While there are thousands of free (or very inexpensive) WordPress themes available online, you still need someone to install and configure the one you choose. This installation and configuration process is generally pretty quick, but depends highly on the options available in the theme.
Pre-built theme developers are targeting the most users they can, so their themes will include quite a bit of functionality that you may or may not use on your site.
If there’s something you want that’s not already included in the theme, you may not be able to get it without significant custom development time.
To write code that modifies the theme, your developer will first need to learn how the theme is built. With some research, a seasoned PHP developer should be able to do most, or all of what you want.
All custom code used to modify a pre-built theme should be placed in a child theme – a theme that builds on the main theme you purchased. This way, should be able to continue installing theme updates without erasing all of your customizations.
Once your developer is done, your pre-built WordPress theme can end up costing you upwards of a couple thousand dollars. The resulting website will be quite similar to any other that uses the same theme.
Building a Custom WordPress Website
Going custom means getting a unique website that fits your needs, but there’s more involved than simply selecting and customizing a theme.
At a high-level, the custom website development process goes something like this:
- Content Population
You’ll work closely with a designer or developer to identify your needs, then see your website evolve from ideas to blueprints, to sketches, and to a fully-functional website that’s ready for your content.
There are reviews and revisions during each phase, so you’ll always end up with what’s best for your users, and your business.
Since everything is built from scratch, you end up with a unique website that includes what you need. Should you choose to add functionality down the road, that functionality will be planned, designed, and developed in a similar manner, ensuring that it fits nicely with the rest of the site.
The time needed to build a custom website means that you’ll be paying quite a bit more than purchasing a theme and customizing it, but for most businesses, this investment results in a better online presence, and higher returns.
A typical custom website falls somewhere in the range of $7,000-12,000 CAD, with more advanced websites coming in higher.
So which do I choose?
If you have the funds, a custom website is the way to go. If not, a purchased theme can get you up and running on the cheap.