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Custom-Tailored WordPress Themes vs. Premium Themes

Custom-tailored WordPress themes vs. premium themes

You know all these markets floating around, that promise to provide a solution to all your problems for the cost of around 50 bucks? Yeah, we are aware of them too. We’ve even tried a fair amount of them, be it for personal projects for some of our team members, or for smaller clients.

Sadly, they’ve almost always proven to be more of a pain then a bliss.

What is the problem with premium themes? When you look at their description, it simply looks amazing! Their features offer custom builders to craft appealing landing pages, a multitude of sliders to pick from, galleries and whatnot. Why say no to that? Apparently, everything you could want is, there for you to use.

But of course, as any business owner knows, when something looks that great and promising on the surface, there are always some underlying problems that occur now and then.

From our personal experience with some of the most famous and best-selling premium themes, these issues include:

Support for Premium Themes

Almost all premium themes limit their support to the usage of the product, which is understandable, but more than half of the buyers demand custom features. As a part of our contribution to WordPress.org, we’ve been providing support to the public support forums for the free themes hosted on WordPress.org, and many of the users there ask “How to change a theme to look as I want?”

This type of questions is often answered by showing what option (one of the hundreds) to change to get a similar result. Others advice copy-pasting some CSS code snippet into your theme’s custom CSS setting, which might or might not work.

Although, if you really need something custom, then you’ll most likely have to buy a paid service that they offer for that, which brings you back to paying for custom development. The difference is that you’re stuck with that original theme, for which it’s possible that you’ve had to make a compromise somewhere regarding the look and feel.

Code Quality Can Vary

There are very well build premium themes, no denying that. Some provide a minimal amount of custom features that focus directly on a specific niche. Of course, the support problem from above remains. For any custom or maintenance work, you need to pay the developer or another agency depending on the scope of your requirements.

But sadly, these well build themes are probably only a very small fraction of the market. There are many that don’t support older browsers. Many themes trust that their fancy animations sway the buyers’ attention for the cost of performance. Which in return causes stuttering and low frame per second on the low-mid range machines.

Load Times and Perceived Loading

In addition, they load countless of files which add up to the number of requests sent to the server. That has many disadvantages for everyone on the line, which is why all developers, site performance tools, and guides suggest lowering the number of HTTP requests.

Who doesn’t want a fast site? Custom build themes are focusing on that in particular as they don’t try to impress with hundreds of options to customize. It’s the client who decides what’s the vision for the site and everything is build to match that.

There are various techniques that we use in order to achieve the best experience for the end user. There are many articles that explain why load time is crucial to your site’s SEO.

Here is a short list of the techniques we use in order to speed up our customers’ sites:

  • Serving optimized images, using font icons, using SVG images as much as possible, smart choice of fonts and optimizing the performance of the site while scrolling or animating.
  • Smart loading for various assets, where you get your content early on and load other resources like images later on. That increases the perceived load time of the site.
  • Server-side optimizations that lower the load times several times by implementing smarter caching, optimizing the database or migrating to better hosting.

You can read more about, “What Does “Speeding up Your Site” Really Mean and How to Achieve It?” – which also includes reasons for slowing down your site — plugins.

All of the abovementioned is often ignored when developing a premium theme for a market.

The developers are most often focused on providing lots of features that go against what was mentioned previously. A simple example can be a widget that shows random posts on every page refresh. That alone will destroy caching. In order for the cache to work it needs to serve the same HTML content every X minutes while the widget is constantly changing it.

The Added Cost of a Premium Theme

When your site scales, you will probably hit some problems like slow loading, high server load or heavy pages in general. When that happens, people start looking for possible solutions, among which we often come across upgrading your hosting plan.

But then you upgrade again, and again until you reach $500+/month plans. Shortly after the upgrade, your site becomes unsustainable and the need for a professional agency arises. Well made optimizations can remove the need for high-cost servers for many clients and introduce improvements to nearly all aspects of the site!

The path business owners most often take when developing their site is as follows:

  1. Search for premium themes that look like what they have in mind ($50).
  2. Try to set it up. After some attempts, you get an okay result.
  3. Have the need of new features -> browse for plugins providing such. They get close, but not exactly.
  4. Have the need to show custom information here and there. No good way to do that except for a builder, but that means adding and copy-pasting data all the time, everywhere.
  5. The business grows, need for more than one language. Everything goes bananas.

It’s after point 3 that business owners find out that they need a professional agency to fulfill their needs. But most of the time that happens after there’s been a lot of trial and error, undue problems and monetary losses.

And speaking about business, Mario Peshev, founder of DevriX did a great overview of what are the risks when using premium themes for your business. He outlines the fact, that the time spent by the author of a premium theme closely matches the time an agency needs to build a custom tailored solution for you with all the added benefits of speed, quality, and professional maintenance.

There are countless examples of product engineering teams having to start all over again because of the wrong foundation. Terms like “rewriting”, “re-engineering”, “building from the ground up” are not random. This happens because the original base is faulty and because some clients use an “okay” solution for their needs.

Summary

Premium themes are a solution to a problem, but not to all problems as they try to be. Niche-specific themes can serve you well for a while, but the moment you start growing your digital presence you will see the need for custom development. And it’s important to note that developing on top of a custom build theme can prove to be more challenging than building a new clean solution that perfectly matches your needs.

There is nothing hidden behind the functionality of a premium theme. All of it, plus more, can be made through custom development where most of the time it’s done by using better practices. New functionality is separated into plugins so that it’s reusable and it will work even if the theme is changed! The single price tag doesn’t include everything there is when building your business’ website.

Trusting your digital presence to an agency is more beneficial than just downloading a piece of software. It’s the combined knowledge of dozens of skilled individuals with thousands of hours of practice in web development, server optimizations, marketing, content writing and running a business.

Remember, the choice is, “To buy a theme or to pay for custom development”. Both come with benefits, so it’s important to have a good understanding of what the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches are.

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