One of the reasons of WordPress being so popular is the great choice of free and premium themes. Have you also heard this statement many times? When a new client reaches out to me, a very common question is whether I’ll help them choose a theme for their new website.
My answer in most cases: no, I’ll create a custom theme for you!
Actually I don’t build a new theme entirely from scratch every time. That would mean unnecessary work and unwanted expenses for the client. But I prefer to use a very basic and clean theme that has some common layout areas and functions built in. Fonts, colours, content boxes, icons, forms, sliders – all this can be styled with HTML+CSS and we really don’t need a pre-built theme for that.
There’re 5 major reasons why I don’t recommend using a pre-built WordPress theme.
1. Theme design is not unique
The first and the most obvious reason: your website will probably look very similar to hundreds of other sites out there. You can customize colours, fonts, content blocks, but it’s just not the same thing as creating a custom theme. Unless you’re just starting and on a very tight budget, using a pre-built theme is not so good for your reputation I think.
2. Themes don’t look good out of the box
Any theme needs to be set up. When you browse for WordPress themes, they all look pixel-perfect and ready to use. In reality, there will be a long list of settings like colours, fonts, layout etc to go through. There will be blocks and widgets that you don’t need, and some of the necessary features will be missing.
Another thing to keep in mind is that theme developers use carefully selected demo images and videos that complement their theme design and create a polished look. So when you replace the images with your own pictures, they may not match the fonts, styles, and colours of your theme.
Many clients think that web designers are familiar with all WordPress themes out there and can set up any theme in a breeze. But let’s have a look at the biggest repository of commercial WordPress themes – Themeforest. There’re currently more than 11.000 themes on Themeforest, and there’re even more sites that sell WordPress themes. So don’t necessarily expect your web designer to know what’s inside the theme you bought.
3. Themes may install unwanted plugins
Some themes rely on certain plugins or are compatible with certain plugins only. For example, a theme may force you to use a specific contact form plugin because it’s optimized for this plugin. If you use another solution for your contact forms, it’ll be probably more time-consuming to set them up. Sometimes you’ll have to install some plugins in order for theme functions to work. More plugins = longer load time. Longer load time = higher bounce rate and lower conversion rate.
4. Themes may not be updated regularly
This is usually not the case with premium themes, but quite a frequent issue with free themes. If theme developer abandons it, the theme won’t get updated regularly and your site will probably look screwed up after a few WordPress udpates.
5. Themes may slow down your site
Pre-built themes are often slow due to all the unnecessary features. Theme developers try to include as many features as possible so that their themes are more flexible. Of course you can disable the components you don’t need. But not all themes handle disabled features well – the files can still load in your browser and slow down your website. You can measure load speed of a theme demo website with a tool like Pingdom or PageSpeed Insights, but be aware that many demo sites use a CDN (Content Distribution network), so the results may not be accurate.
So what’s the alternative to pre-built WordPress themes? Of course the best solution is a custom theme built right for your website. But a cheaper solution is using a WordPress theme framework – it’s a basic theme that can serve as a starting point for a new theme. A framework usually includes components like navigation, basic layout blocks and elements and is fully customizable. Genesis, Divi and Avada are some of the most popular WordPress theme frameworks.