Should you build a custom WordPress theme?

Hint: the answer is “no”. So you’ve decided to jump into the wild west of online business and start a website (!!!). Congratulations. It takes guts to step outside your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done before.

Whether you’re starting a personal blog or opening an E-Commerce store, you should feel great about taking the first steps to (finally) make it happen.

If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably decided to use WordPress. Smart decision!

WordPress is the simplest, most popular way to create your own website. From big business websites and E-Commerce stores to membership forums and social networks, WordPress can help you create pretty much any kind of site you can dream up.

So! Chances are, you’re considering building a custom WordPress theme for your WordPress site. This is where we want to urge you to pump the brakes. Creating a new site is exciting, but you don’t need to do it all on your own. In fact, we recommend that you don’t do it all on your own.

Why shouldn’t I create my own WordPress theme?

Because we firmly believe that starting a new website should be fun! And unless you’re a professional web developer, building your own custom WordPress theme is not going to be fun for you. Even if you enjoy this type of work, it’s going to take a ton of effort – effort that’s going to take away from other areas of your new venture in need of attention.

One of the biggest differences we see between successful entrepreneurs and their ineffective counterparts (or “wantrepreneurs,” as we like to call them) isn’t intelligence or ambition. It’s the ability to delegate tasks and outsource help when they need it.

Taking on too much doesn’t make you a superhero – it makes you inefficient and, ultimately, burnt out.

Getting bogged down in coding, plugins, and themes is one of the easiest ways to lose that spark of excitement that lead you down this path in the first place.

Trust us when we say that this is not the time to reinvent the wheel theme.

So what is a WordPress theme, anyway?

In the words of WordPress: “A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.”

In plainer terms, a WordPress theme is responsible for the overall look and feel of your website. Most popular WordPress themes will provide the following:

  • Overall style & design
  • Font styling
  • Color scheme
  • Page layouts (or templates)
  • Widget locations
  • Style options for blog posts & archives
  • Additional stylistic details

Experimenting with different themes can be really fun. Clicking through some free WordPress theme options in the WordPress Theme Directory is a good place to start (there are hundreds!). You probably won’t find a theme that is exactly what you’re looking for, but this is a great way to pick out some features that are important to you.

Maybe you’ll find that you prefer your menu to appear in the upper right-hand corner, or that you’d like your blog archives to be listed a certain way. Since your website is essentially an extension of yourself, you’ll want to pay attention to stylistic details like these – even if they seem small.

WordPress themes: free, pre-built & custom

You’ve essentially got three options when it comes to WordPress Themes:

  1. Free
  2. Pre-built
  3. Custom (because remember – you’re not going to build one yourself!)

Pre-built and custom (paid) themes generally have a more reliable code base and offer support if you run into an issue.

Some themes are inherently more flexible than others (typically the well-built, paid versions) and operate more like design software, allowing users to create their own designs and page layouts. The more robust, off-the-shelf themes generally offer a higher degree of customization, which often includes a toolkit that can be used to design and populate fields. Given that we’re the Divi theme experts, we highly recommend the WordPress premium theme called Divi.

Think of free themes as more of a ready-made approach.

The framework of the website is already built and ready for you to plug your site’s content into. Because the framework was pre-developed by someone else, your customization options will be limited. You may also run into trouble finding support for free themes if you run into an issue. That said, it still may be the right option to get your website off the ground if cost is your biggest concern.

While you don’t have to be a professional web developer to work with a WordPress theme, you should possess a solid working knowledge of WordPress and a fair amount of design sensibility.

If that’s not you, it would probably be best to hire someone – even if you choose a pre-built theme. In these cases, the hired developer or firm will help with content strategy, population of content, and customizing the theme. This is still a significant task, and you’re going to save time and money by hiring the help you need right from the start.

Another big advantage of working with a pre-made theme is that it’s easier to build out additional pages and make other functional changes once your site has launched (since chances are, you’re not the first person to have a similar need). It should be relatively easy to add a blog, additional pages, or any other type of content – even after your site has gone live.

Most pre-built templates are significantly cheaper than custom variations (usually around $50 to $200, occasionally more for special features or elaborate visual effects). If you’re just starting out and you can’t work a custom theme into the budget, pre-built is a solid option. These templates tend to be user-friendly and offer a decent amount of customization. If you do a little digging, you can find some nice looking options.

On the other hand, a pre-built theme is not the right choice for anyone who needs unique functionality or non-standard design elements built in to their site.

Pre-built templates are simply too limited in this regard, and you can quickly wind up with more of a headache than if you’d just started from scratch. The level of customization is really nothing compared to a custom theme.

It’s also important to remember that pre-built themes are available to anyone and you won’t be the only one buying this template. Of course you can customize it, but you’re essentially purchasing a one-size-fits-all type of product. The framework and overall feel of the site will be the same across the board for anyone who purchases this theme.

Custom themes are just the opposite. Built entirely for the needs of your specific site from the ground up, these themes are like a bespoke Italian suit vs. the rack at Men’s Wearhouse (we love Men’s Wearhouse! But it’s not the same.).

Building a site from scratch comes with a price tag, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This type of an investment means that you’ll have a completely personalized experience, along with access to top-quality customer service. The development team you work with will be familiar with every inch of your site, which will make tweaks and troubleshooting much easier.

Custom themes can also give you an advantage in terms of setting yourself apart from the competition. With millions of blogs and websites running on WordPress, any pre-made theme is going to be used by many others. If you want to do something out of the ordinary in terms of functionality and design, custom is the only option.

Overall, custom work is great if you have the budget for it (again, we do not recommend trying to tackle this type of project on your own).

At FreshySites, we offer a range of website design packages (perfect for brands and businesses looking for something beautiful and reliable) as well as custom design and development (endless options for ambitious individuals and larger organizations).

Contact us today to discuss your goals and find out how we can help!

Tips to budget for a great website design (or redesign)

Since it all comes down to budget (doesn’t it always?), we’ve put together some tips to help you plan for hiring the help you need. There are a number of factors that influence cost, and the extreme ranges between web design agencies and developers can be confusing. Here are some variables you’ll want to consider:

  • Experience level of developer – Are you working with a team of professionals or your cousin’s boyfriend’s brother? Set your expectations accordingly.
  • Size of website – How many pages of content will you need?
  • Cost of developer or agency – Know that many agencies will offer pricing that does not include marketing, hosting services, or other ongoing support you’ll need. Be sure to double check that your provider offers the additional resources you need and factor them into the overall cost.
  • Approach (pre-built vs. custom, etc.) – See details above.

Regardless of your industry or niche, there are a few factors all website owners should keep in mind when planning a website design budget:

1. Design approach: custom or pre-built

We have already covered this topic pretty thoroughly, but it’s worth mentioning again because it’s one of the main factors that can influence the cost of your site design (or redesign). Underestimating the cost of functionality is one of the most common mistakes we see. Even though there are thousands of pre-built templates and plugins, you shouldn’t assume that a free or low-cost option will be a good fit for you. Also, don’t forget to account for research time, installation, and configuration if you do decide to go with a pre-built option.

2. Number of unique page templates

These days, most websites have at least 3 unique page layouts to accommodate different types of content (and lots of sites have plenty more). A women’s lifestyle blog, for instance, will have the standard Homepage, About Me page (or About Us, Our Mission, History, etc.), and Contact page. It may also include a separate blog page or group posts by category (style, food, design, travel, relationships, motherhood, etc.).

When you consider the additional time and work it takes to build and populate each of these templates to look and function differently, you’ll see how it can quickly add up. Each unique template you need can potentially add hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to your price tag.

3. Content creation

Often, your content is the part of the project you’re most passionate about (and the reason you started a website in the first place). If you’re just starting out, you’re probably full of ideas and inspiration. If you’re working on a redesign, you’ve likely got an exciting vision of all the things you want to do to make your site better. Either way, here are some content items you may want to budget for:

  • Content strategy
  • Content creation – copyrighting, photography, video production, graphics, etc.
  • Content entry
  • Content formatting and optimization
  • Content audit
  • Content migration – moving content over from previous blogs, websites, etc.

Whether you’re starting a brand new site or a redesign project, it’s best to get started on content production right away. If you don’t have most of the content ready by the time development wraps, it can add weeks (or even months) to the overall timeline. A situation like this will cost you time and money – effectively destroying the budget you worked so hard to put in place.

4. SEO tracking & adjustments

Any good web developer or agency will make an effort to make sure your site is found on the major engines. At FreshySites, we provide SEO audits to help our clients track key metrics and make sure their SEO efforts are successful and informative. You’re going to want some visitors after all this work, right?

5. Time = money

This should go without saying, but it’s important to have a well-defined process from start to finish. Most experienced agencies have seen it all and understand the potential challenges and pitfalls involved. Working with a well-established agency (like FreshySites!) generally results in a more efficient project. It may be tempting to compare rates at face value, but the value really lies in the skill and effectiveness of the people behind it.

When it comes to timelines, we’ve found that the most well-organized and successful projects have somewhat aggressive deadlines. Consistent momentum helps keep both sides on track and reduce down time and overall costs.

Secrets to successful site design

So if building your own custom WordPress theme isn’t the key to a successful site, what’s the secret? Based on our years of experience, here’s what you really need (hint: it’s not just pretty pages):

Know what you want your website to do

This may seem obvious, but the goals you set for your website should be crystal clear: Do you want to generate leads? Boost your credibility? Make online sales?

It can be easy to lose focus of what you actually want to achieve if you haven’t established the purpose of your site at the very beginning.

Know your audience

This is one gets overlooked all the time, but understanding your ideal visitor (and what their ideal experience should be) is instrumental to the success of your site. Some companies benefit from creating an ideal target customer (or visitor) profile. Depending on your business, this description could include demographic characteristics, geographic location, psycho-graphics (mental characteristics like goals, beliefs, motivations, and anxieties), as well as buying patterns and purchase history. Tracking these trends in your viewers can help inform your decisions and make it much easier to attract more viewers who will be a good fit for your site.

You need to know:

  • Who will be visiting your site?
  • What does that person want to find?
  • How can you connect them with that information in the easiest possible way?

Answering these questions is one of the simplest ways to connect with your visitors and establish an advantage over your competition.

Study your competition

Whether you want to admit it or not, competitors are out there. Keeping tabs on them is important for a number of reasons, from staying on top of industry trends to growing your business.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be an expensive or time-consuming process. Online tools like SpyFu, Google Trends, and Google Alerts make it easy to keep an eye on the competition.

Develop an online strategy

Everyone involved in the design process of your new site needs to be absolutely clear on your online strategy. This includes each point we’ve discussed thus far:

  • Goal: What you want your website to achieve?
  • Audience: Who will be viewing your website (including your ideal visitor profile)?
  • Competitors: What are similar businesses or brands doing with their websites?
  • Sources: How will visitors find your site? Search engines, social media, print marketing, etc.

Each page of your website should speak to your online strategy and add value to your visitors’ experience. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

Always look ahead

If you want your website to continuously improve, you have to look ahead. As your business evolves, as you learn and grow, your website will likely evolve as well. Be open to making changes based on key metrics and user data (not guesswork).  Changes should always be tested and measured. If they improve the site’s performance, they stay. If they don’t, it’s time to redesign and try another approach.

Which brings us to our final point…

Work with the right team

Choosing the right team to work with is critical to the success of your website. You need a partner who will be there to advise, make suggestions, and implement changes when necessary.

At FreshySites, this is what we do (and love)! We’re passionate about building beautiful websites and we believe in delivering exactly what our clients need.

Get in touch if you’d like to chat about your website project or see samples of our website work. And unless you dream in JavaScript, leave the coding to us! We’re more than happy to build you a custom WordPress theme or handle any other web design needs.

We’d love to work with you!

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