Should a Website Developer Build a Custom Theme or Use a Purchased Theme

Here is a question that comes up multiple times a week: should a website developer build a custom theme or use a purchased theme? The answer surprises many potential clients and usually leaves us needing to spend a lot of time explaining our position.

In short, we do not build custom themes and, if you are unhappy with a custom theme, we will not support or maintain it.

Understanding this means understanding the nature of WordPress.

Unlike other content management systems, WordPress updates often (very often).  These updates are intended to tighten security issues and add features and flexibility. At times, these updates create changes in the core application files that need to be matched by the widgets, applications and THEME files that are running within WordPress. This is also the reason why you are often prompted to update your plugins.

Using a respected, licensed theme means that when WordPress updates, theme developers will quickly issue a release that is easily integrated into your site at no charge. With a custom theme, the only solution to this is to pay the developer to recode the theme. If you miss enough of these updates, your site will simply crash.

There are many themes that are versatile and highly supported. Enfold and DIVI (from Elegant Themes) are a part of IdeaZone’s regular solutions.

Now before I get nasty emails from my competitors, there are some local companies that create custom themes and do so outstandingly well. Two that come to mind are The Hatchery and Leap XD. The majority, however, are developers that mistakenly feel that they are providing a better service. In reality, they are stuck in outdated development philosophies.’s mandate has always been to provide the most reliable and creative solutions for our clients and at the best possible price. Custom theming does not serve that mandate. If properly implemented, WordPress will allow clients to update not only their content, but also the WordPress core, applications and theme with ease. Our websites will always be built to put that power back into our clients’ hands without requiring them to pay for additional maintenance.

A perfect case study for this is Tally-Ho Carriage Tours. The owner of Tally-Ho came to us for a few simple edits. The design provided by the initial development firm was outstanding, leaving us to wonder why these edits could not be performed by the client. When we logged in we discovered that the WordPress editor was jammed with bad code, making it impossible for anyone other than a programmer to do most of the edits. This very pretty, custom-themed website was what we affectionately call a ‘Franken-Site.’

After spending 10 hours on “simple” edits I had to explain to the client that it would take us less time to rebuild the entire site. Afterwards there would not be any area that she would not be able to easily edit herself. The entire rebuild was done by our Senior Developer, Danielle Hobbs.

One of the biggest arguments that we hear against purchased themes is the belief that they do not give enough control over design and branding. This is simply not true. An advanced platform like Enfold or DIVI provide experienced developers complete creative freedom. I would challenge anyone to browse through our portfolio and say that the sites we build are not unique or are off brand.

Another benefit to these themes are the advanced editors that are built directly into the framework. These editors allow the client to easily set up interesting page layouts that include sliders, parallax effects and more. Yes, there are third party editors that are available as plugins, such as WP Bakery, but these have been problematic.

These themes also allow for custom development within a “child theme.” Such custom development extends the functionality of the original theme while also allowing the base code to update properly. We have created estimate calculators, lead forms, and other tailored solutions, giving our customers all the benefits of a purely custom theme within an updateable and user-friendly framework.

I have had developers scoff at me saying that we are leaving a lot of money on the table by not forcing clients to come back to us once a year to recode their themes. This is true! With over 1200 websites built over the last fifteen years, this could indeed have been a very lucrative revenue stream for us. But, this is not how we do business.

If we have clients that want to invest with us annually then I would prefer to see them spend that budget working with our Digital Marketing team.

Contact us today and let’s get to work on your online presence.


Jon Valade