Learning Hub | Planning a Website Design Project

A Better Alternative To Commercial WordPress Themes

October 7, 2015 | Jon Teodoro

Commercial WordPress themes can be convenient, especially if you’re trying to save a few bucks. WordPress is a very well-known CMS, and with the lower cost and effort required to get a decent website up and running, why not use one of those WordPress themes off of Themeforest?

The answer: because it could do more harm than good. Here are three reasons why we are transitioning away from offering pre-packaged Wordpress themes as an option for our clients:

Reason #1: Poor Quality Control

If you head over to ThemeForest and check out the profiles of the developers who build these pre-packaged WordPress themes, they are often from overseas. When you purchase, download, and install these pre-built themes onto your web server, you are essentially saying “Yes Mr. Overseas Developer, I trust your code to not royally screw up the presentation of my brand.

Poorly coded PHP can leave gaping holes in your website’s architecture, allowing hackers to potentially steal your passwords, change the appearance of your website, or even worse: gain access to your server where your files and database live. If you’re a business, this could spell out big trouble for you and your brand if something does go wrong.

Reason #2: Bloated Website Code

It’s true: Getting a WordPress website up with a store bought theme can take significantly less time to get a working site in motion. But this ease of use comes at a cost.

Virtually all commercial themes have some kind of fancy drag-and-drop content page builder to eliminate or minimize the need to write code. This is fine and dandy until you view the amount of code it takes to spit out these page layouts. What we’ve seen is that it takes four to five times more code to produce a page versus developing it the normal way.

Browsers read code, and the more code you have, the longer it will take for your website to load. This hurts the user experience and also, your Google rankings. Which leads to the biggest factor of why we are straying away from offering commercial WordPress theme development…

Reason #3: Overall Poor Performance

Most commercial themes are meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution. You may see a doctor’s office utilizing the same WordPress theme as a digital agency. Commercial themes achieve this by making sure they pack in as many features as they can into a single file so anyone can use it.

There’s one huge downside to this approach: poor performance. Let’s explain why:

If a theme comes with 100 features and you only use 20 of them, the other 80 features are still there. That means your theme is most likely still loading them even if you’re not using them.

In the past, we’ve tested demo sites of some WordPress themes that took over ten seconds to load! Now, imagine adding even more code for customizations, compounded with the extra bloat from the drag-and-drop content builders mentioned earlier. It’s a nightmare waiting to happen.

What you’re left with is a decent looking but incredibly slow website that indeed took less time to develop and was cheaper, but is actually working against you in terms of driving more traffic.

But what if I can’t afford a completely custom website?

Completely custom websites that are architected from scratch can run all the way up into the tens of thousands of dollars. Although expensive, custom websites that are designed and developed by an experienced company will combine the best of both worlds in regards to looks and performance.

But not every business has that much cash to dish out. So we’ve actually created an alternative option that gives business owners a great looking website for a lower cost than a custom build but can still offer similar performance. We call this option our Design Driven option.

Instead of beginning with a packaged, bloated, and slow WordPress theme, we start by selecting an attractive and responsive HTML/CSS template. No extra features or plugins to worry about, just the literal front-end of a website.

From there, our designers will then take the template and port it into either Photoshop or Illustrator and customize it to your brand. After you’re happy with the look, we’ll ship it out to our development team to code from a bare bones WordPress theme with no extra fluff. What you get as an end product is a clean and lean site that looks great for a significantly lower cost than a completely custom website.

We hope in the years ahead, other agencies start to pickup on this trend. Most of the world is going mobile and performance will be a huge factor to consider, especially when chipsets get smaller and users’ expectations grow larger.