Pre-built WordPress themes are low-cost alternatives to custom coding, and power millions of websites around the world. However, in the long run they can prove to be costly mistakes.
I’ve been building websites since WordPress released its initial 0.71-Gold version back in 2003, when it was strictly a niche blogging platform.. Over the past 12 years, however, there have been over 50 versions of WordPress released for general use, and the platform has evolved into a solution for creating everything from business websites, online magazines and ecommerce stores.
Insane fact of the day: at the time of publishing this article, WordPress powers over 74-million websites and accounts for over 18% of the entire internet. Say what?
WordPress is perhaps most famous for its user-friendliness, as it allows even those with little knowledge of web development to single handedly build, launch and manage a website. This has allowed WordPress to dominate the “self serve” website creation market, and it’s now the go-to option for those looking for a quick and dirty way to launch on online business.
One extremely popular method of developing WP sites is purchasing pre-built templates, or themes that can be populated with content and launched in a matter of weeks, or even days.
Themes are one-size-fits-all solutions that do not require knowledge of programming or even the help of someone who does. The most powerful themes include the ability to change front-end design elements like fonts, colors, icons, content and even page layouts with the click of a button.
However, as we’ll explain later in this article, WP themes have some major drawbacks that should be red flags to anyone in search of a truly viable business tools.
The just-add-water appeal of pre-built WordPress themes has undoubtedly allowed many businesses to launch cost-effective websites that have helped them grow. However, it has also been a major factor in the “cheapening” of the web industry.
The ease of building sites in WordPress attracts legions of so-called “web developers”, who use WordPress in lieu of having the development knowledge needed to code a site from scratch. Even worse, it has given rise to two types of web consultants that we can blame for destroying the web industry as we know it:
The con artist selling websites at prices high enough to justify custom development, but building sites on off-the-shelf templates without informing the client.
The novice building sites in his/her bedroom for $500 a pop, and giving the impression that any site can, and should, be priced as such.
To make matters worse, many business owners have adopted the philosophy of the novice, and now compare all web development work to the effort and cost of a WordPress theme.
1. Branding: Using a pre-built theme means your website will look similar (or even identical) to hundreds or even thousands of other businesses. “Avada”, the most purchased theme on Themeforest.net (the most popular seller of WP themes) has been sold over 139,000 times! Not the best way to establish your presence as unique and worthy of merit.
2. Code integrity: WordPress themes are created by 3rd party developers, and each theme may require the use of multiple 3rd party plugins for features like page builders, contact forms or ecommerce functionality. Theme code is often poor and riddled with bugs that put site stability and usability in jeopardy.
WordPress does not monitor or regulate themes created on its open source platform, so using a pre-coded theme should be done at your own risk. There’s usually no way to verify the legitimacy of the theme creator, or the quality of the code.
3. Site speed: WordPress has some well documented issues related to site performance:
– Poorly coded themes or sites without proper speed optimization will lack in performance.
– Too many plugins can slow a WP site down considerably
– Heavy front-end elements like multiple CSS and JS files, and robust page builders and CMS tools can result in heavy loads on a server.
– Cheap hosting plans from generic providers like GoDaddy and Blue Host, which are not properly configured or optimized to handle WP sites that receive a lot of traffic and usage, can result in sub-standard site speed.
Only within the past several years have dedicated and reliable WordPress hosting options become available. Hosting companies like WPEngine and Synthesis provide solutions only for WordPress, and have dedicated a lot of time and money into ensuring their platforms are finely tuned to handling its nuances.
4. Plugins: WordPress themes rely heavily on plugins that can be installed with the click of a button, and add functionality that would otherwise require custom programming. As previously mentioned, all plugins are created by 3rd party developers and are often unstable and difficult to maintain.
5. Maintenance Costs: WordPress now releases several new versions of its CMS each year. It’s a best practice to keep your website current with the latest release, which often involves a tedious process of ensuring nothing breaks when you perform upgrades.
Also, most 3rd party plugins release new versions, which must always be compatible with your current instance of WP. Outdated plugins can cause major site issues, and need to be replaced.
Want a clean, well-built WordPress site that you can rely on to anchor your online business? It’s time to build a bespoke site that uses a fresh WordPress install and has all customization done by a single development team, with minimal reliance on 3rd party plugins or foreign code.
The downside is it will cost substantially more than opting for a pre-built theme; however, the upside is you’ll have a stable and reliable product, devoid of extraneous code and plugins that put a damper on site speed, performance, usability and your bottom line.
If you’re serious about your digital footprint, why risk damaging it by repurposing code created by a developer you’ve never met and that is not tailored specifically for your business needs?