WordPress is an open source content management system based in PHP that utilizes MySQL. In simpler terms, that means that a WordPress website is programmed to call information from a database to populate content. This kind of framework allows for the creation of vibrant and dynamic websites that can be easily updated on a day-to-day basis.
The foundation of every WordPress site is its theme, which includes page templates (layouts), style rules (CSS), and basic features. Plugins can be added to the base theme to incorporate more complex functionalities. Essentially, a WordPress theme controls the look and feel of a website, from the way content appears on a page, to the fonts and colors, to the way the page elements are structured.
There are different types of themes available for WordPress, ranging from basic themes to premium and custom themes. Costs also vary based on the type of theme—some are free, some have a nominal cost, and some can range in the thousands of dollars.
The theme that is right for your website is dependent on the type of work you do and the functionality that you require from your website. Below we detail the pros and cons of different types of WordPress themes. Regardless of which theme you choose, it’s important to work with an experienced web development agency to ensure a perfect end product.
BASIC OR FREE WORDPRESS THEMES
At its very basic, WordPress themes cost nothing. There are plenty of free themes available, and many of them are even responsive and work on mobile devices. Setup is also simple; you simply install the theme and then add the content. For those with a small website budget, these free themes can help keep costs down.
It’s important to note, however, that free themes are often a “take it or leave it” type of situation. These themes offer little flexibility in terms of design or functionality. Want the header to appear smaller? Prefer the navigation on the left instead of the top? Unfortunately, customizations like this are difficult to make on basic WordPress themes.
Moreover, many of these themes provide little to no customer support. If you encounter a compatibility issue with a plugin, for example, there will be little help when it comes to fixing the issue.
Recommendation: Use a basic WordPress theme for non-professional use only, and only if you’re happy with the theme’s design as is.
PREMIUM WORDPRESS THEME
For those with limited budgets, but who desire a high-concept website with some customization, a premium WordPress theme may be ideal. Premium themes, which come with a nominal one-time fee (usually ranging from $25-200), often allow for more design flexibility. Additional add-on widgets can also extend functionality to the theme.
One major benefit of premium themes over free themes is support. As new WordPress updates are released, theme developers will make necessary adjustments to ensure the theme stays up-to-date and compatible with the software.
For all premium themes, working with an expert web development agency is necessary to ensure that you are getting the right look and functionality you need for your site. Once a premium WordPress theme has been customized to your satisfaction, I recommend having the development agency create an official child theme from the original theme—this helps prevent any unforeseen challenges that could arise if the theme’s developers make updates that affect the customization of your site. These tasks can be managed ongoing with proper website maintenance.
Recommendation: Premium WordPress themes are great for startups and small businesses.
CUSTOM WORDPRESS THEME
If you want to develop a distinctive website that delivers specific and complex functionalities, a custom WordPress theme is your best option. Coding a custom theme is not meant for novice developers—in fact, not all WordPress developers have the necessary skills and experience to create a fully custom WordPress website. This type of development requires experience with PHP, CSS, and HTML as well as familiarity with specific functions that call to WordPress.
Custom themes are especially important for companies that depend on their website for a major part of their business. This includes (but is not limited to) online retailers and e-commerce businesses, large enterprise companies that rely on the web for generating opportunities and leads, and high-end brands that need a very specific design or look to the site.
It’s important to know that any custom WordPress theme will also require ongoing website maintenance, which will need to be calculated into the overall budget. The frequency of maintenance updates is dependent on the website, but we recommend no less than once per quarter. Additionally, website security is also important to help deter attacks from hackers and remove malware.
When creating a custom WordPress website, the sky is the limit on what you can achieve. You can:
- Design a custom look that exactly matches your branding
- Create a user experience that is tailored to your customers’ needs
- Enhance and test the effectiveness of your conversion strategies
- Integrate company software and processes that enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of your business
- Eliminate extraneous scripts that are often present in pre-built themes that impact loading time
Recommendation: Custom WordPress themes are ideal for companies and organizations ready to make the greatest possible impact with their website. If you are unsure whether or not you should use a custom WordPress theme, it helps to talk to a web development expert like Code83. Experts can provide the level of business consulting you need to identify your needs. If your website budget is conservative, a custom theme is probably beyond your reach. However, an investment in a custom website that attracts more customers and eliminates inefficiencies in your business will pay for itself many times over.