Benefits of a Bespoke WordPress Theme

By Alex Linek, Lead Developer

When you visit a WordPress website — which there is a pretty good chance you do daily, since it powers over 40% of the web — you are interacting with that site’s theme.

A WordPress theme is a collection of files that determines the look and feel of your website; it’s the way your content is displayed to users on the front end. When choosing a WordPress theme, there are three options: free, premium, and custom. Free themes are, as their name suggests, free to download and install. They typically have limited features. Premium themes charge a one-time fee and are often built with a ton of features so that they can sell to a broad user base. Custom themes are built specifically for your business and your website.

Although free and premium themes can be convenient and affordable, there are a few drawbacks you’ll want to consider before deciding which option is right for your business. It’s important to keep the goals of your website in mind. Are you looking for lead generation? SEO improvement? Brand credibility? If so, these are some of the reasons that choosing a custom theme can greatly benefit your business and help you achieve those goals:

Originality & Memorability

We’ve all visited uninspiring web pages that look and feel exactly the same. Often these sites use mundane layouts, common fonts, stock photos you’ve seen all across the industry, and large walls of text with an indecipherable hierarchy. At best, there’s no incentive for visitors to stay on the site to complete a call-to-action or learn more; they leave and don’t give it a second thought. At worst, visitors could be frustrated with the experience and leave with a negative impression.

Generic WordPress themes can also portray your business as less credible or less established. If a site visitor sees the same theme that many businesses in your industry use, they’ll subconsciously group you in with your competitors. This is especially true if you’ve done very little to customize the theme or if the theme doesn’t suit your content. It immediately signals to your customers that you aren’t willing or able to invest in a unique digital experience.

Custom themes, on the other hand, come with an enticing guarantee: your site is, quite literally, one of a kind.

Efficient Development & Support

Many businesses are surprised to learn that custom WordPress themes often have more efficient development times. Because the site is tailored to your business’ unique goals from the start, there’s no time wasted tooling around with features you won’t ever need or use.

Premium themes, for example, often have a ton of customization options since they’re built to target a very broad audience. As a result, it can take a lot of time to tweak the theme to suit your company’s unique needs. There’s usually a lot of trial and error as you sift through all of the options, and sometimes the theme is still missing functionality that’s crucial to the effectiveness of your site.

Free themes, on the other hand, typically have very few customization options. In most cases, you’ll need something on your site that the free theme doesn’t provide. That means you’ll either be adding a lot of plugins (leading to maintenance nightmares) or hiring developers to customize the free theme.

Speaking of maintenance and hiring developers, another drawback of generic themes is the lack of support. Free theme developers rarely, if ever, provide any support. Even premium themes that promise support can take days or weeks to respond, and they may not be very helpful if you’ve added any customizations or plugins on top of the theme.

With a custom theme, you get exactly what you need right out of the box. Your site is already tailored to achieve your goals and future growth. And if you need support or maintenance in the future, you’ll have an actual person to reach out to and a dev team that’s familiar with your unique site.

Performance & SEO

There’s no question that performance and SEO are high priorities for any website. Things like page load time, content hierarchy, and accessibility have major implications for user experience and how your website ranks on search engines (as per Google’s updated SEO algorithm).

Another drawback of feature-packed premium themes is that all of those unnecessary files and plugins dramatically slow down your website. Free themes often lack hierarchy and accessibility features, and can quickly become bulky and slow because they need a variety of plugins to work for your goals.

On the flip side, custom WordPress themes are much more performant because they only integrate the features and functionality you actually use. Plus, quality custom themes are developed with Core Web Vitals in mind and semantic markup tailored to your site content, so content hierarchy and many aspects of accessibility are built in from the start.

Security

One downside of WordPress’ popularity and open source codebase is that it’s frequently targeted by hackers. Cybercriminals can easily download a popular free or even premium theme, and then comb through its code to find any weaknesses.

However, themes only account for 11% of attacks. Plugins are the most common way that hackers exploit WordPress sites, accounting for 52% of attacks (source). A custom theme can help eliminate unnecessary plugins by building core functionality into the theme itself.

Maintenance is also critical for security. In 2019, 49% of WordPress installations were outdated at the point of infection (source). Keeping plugins, themes, and WordPress core up to date is easier and less time-consuming when using a custom theme. You won’t have to worry about updating plugins and themes you aren’t using, and it’s less likely that any plugin updates will cause conflicts with one another.

One of the best features of a custom WordPress theme is that hackers cannot access your theme’s code. Custom themes are not open sourced, so the only way for hackers to access it would be to access your hosting server. Although it’s not possible to be completely immune from cyber attacks, you can rest assured that a custom WordPress theme is more secure than if you’d installed a free theme or purchased a premium one.

Ease of Use

In addition to simplifying plugin and theme updates, a custom theme also makes updating your content easier and more efficient. There are no confusing widgets to work around or unused features cluttering the admin interface, because the site is built for content specific to your site.

Many agencies will also provide a comprehensive training session to help new users navigate through features and learn the basics of WordPress maintenance. And, as we’ve mentioned already, support for a custom theme from an agency or freelancer is generally much more reliable than support from theme developers who have to support a much larger user base.

Conclusion

If you can’t tell, we’re all in on custom themes. Investing in a custom WordPress theme is an investment in your company’s long-term success and growth. If Covid has taught us anything about the future of the digital workplace, it’s that your website is one of your organization’s most valuable assets. Does your website set your business apart from your competitors?

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