WordPress Template Websites vs WordPress Custom Websites: Pros & Cons

By Julie

WordPress Template Websites vs WordPress Custom Websites: Pros & Cons

At Ankit Designs, we offer two different kinds of websites to our clients: WordPress template websites, and custom WordPress websites. Both website types come with a laundry list of advantages and disadvantages, as well as very different price points. So we’re often asked two questions when talking with new clients:

  • What’s the difference between them?
  • Which one is best for me?

Different companies have different goals, and very different needs. Today, we’re aiming to answer both those questions to help you decide what sort of website is best for you and your business, now and in the future.

So What’s The Difference?

In a previous blog post, How does WordPress Make Our Sites Better? we examined the three key parts that make up a WordPress website: content, themes, and plugins. Today, we’re mostly concerned with contender number two: themes. Themes are the ‘skin’ of your website, controlling things like colours, fonts, navigation, and more. It also controls whether your website will display nicely on mobile or force your visitors to pinch and zoom in desperation to read your witty one-liners.

Side note: If your website looks like the inside of a trash compactor on mobile, visitors won’t pinch or zoom. They’ll just leave — like you should if a developer tells you they don’t build mobile-friendly websites.

When you get a generic theme from someone else with the intent of customizing it to your business, that’s a WordPress template. You can find free WordPress templates hanging around, but like all things in life, you get what you pay for. So for the purposes of this post, we’ll be looking at premium templates purchased from reputable marketplaces like Envato’s Themeforest. There are over 47,000 templates available on Themeforest, with the vast majority of them available for under $100.

Image of that weirdly expensive theme in Themeforest that's over $1000
Except for this guy. We’re not sure what’s up with this one.

Meanwhile, a custom WordPress website is the opposite of a WordPress template website. It still has a theme, because a WordPress website without a theme is like a skeleton walking around without any skin, but the theme of a custom website is built from scratch. A good custom theme is tailored to the individual needs of your business. WordPress is such a robust CMS that custom websites can vary drastically from one to the other.

But we’re still talking about things mostly designers and developers care about. If the website works, why does it matter if it’s on a template or not? For the real difference between these two builds, let’s take a look at their pros and cons.

WordPress Template Websites

Pro: Cheaper, Faster

When you’re building a website, a lot of work goes into things that the average user will never see, or even think about. WordPress template websites are a developmental shortcut. Template developers have already figured out most of the tough parts, and designed their creations to be plug-and-play. Even a great premium template will need a bit of tinkering to fit your vision, but using one can be an easy 100-hour head start for a low price (most decent templates hover around the $40-60 USD mark). Depending on how large your website is, this could mean launching your website much sooner than a custom website would allow.

And when you’re using a good template, this can be enough for a lot of businesses who just need a working, modern website.

Con: What Do You Mean I Can’t Change This?

WordPress template websites are out-of-the-box solutions designed to cater to a wide range of businesses — the more people who buy the template, after all, the more money the template developer makes. Unfortunately, this means template websites can end up looking rather generic — when you try to make everyone happy, you end up with a very lukewarm, ‘safe’ product. A good template will give you a large amount of customizable options, for sure, but you’re working with the same base as thousands of other people and can only stray so far from that base.

We’ve even run into a few instances where a client request farther into development — after the template had already been approved — simply couldn’t be done because of template limitations. It sucks for everyone involved.

Con: Not That Type Of Faster

Development might get a boost in speed by using a template, but your website probably won’t.

Templates make for notoriously slow load times. There’s a logical reason behind this: because templates don’t know exactly what you want to accomplish with them, they try to offer as many robust options as possible. That weighs down your website a lot. It’s like filling the back of your car with extra tires, a new radiator, a mini-fridge, camping equipment, and your youngest son’s smelly hockey equipment on the sheer possibility you ‘might’ need some of it today.

Image of the trunk of a car, filled with boxes, bags, and miscellaneous objects
Are you moving? Why do you need all this stuff?

Good templates attempt to be as lightweight as they can — bad templates don’t even try — but the cards are stacked against them.

Con: Where’d The Support Go?

Templates are purchased from third-parties, and maintained by third-parties. We’ve talked before about how important it is to keep your website updated, How WordPress Makes Our Sites Better and that includes your theme. It’s up to the template developers to patch any bugs that arise with time, but those developers can easily close up shop and disappear one day. Some templates can even be bought out exclusively by a company, losing support for everyone else. Granted this doesn’t happen everyday, but it does happen. When it does, it leaves behind thousands of customers with websites that won’t receive much-needed theme updates. It doesn’t take long for an unmaintained theme to become a liability.

Custom WordPress Websites

Now, let’s switch gears and talk about the other type of WordPress websites we build.

Pro: A Website That’s All You!

Say so-long to templated, same-y designs. These websites are built from the ground up with you and your business in mind. This means a far wider range of customizability is possible, and we can create features we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. For an example, check out Corporate Event Centre’s Our Work: Corporate Event Centre intuitive room search. That moving banner on the homepage wouldn’t have been possible on a template website either.

GIF of Corporate Events Centre homepage animation
Gotta love customizability.

Pro: Brand Is Everything

If you want to stand out on the web, you need a strong brand presence. While you can do this somewhat with a WordPress template website — logo, brand colours, all the basics — users will connect with the feeling they get when they visit your website faster than they would seeing your logo all over the place. The uniqueness a custom website offers your brand ensures you’re putting your best foot forward.

One of our favourite custom websites is Hans Dairy Our Work: Hans Dairy , adding unique animations, layouts, and highlighting their fun, family-friendly brand.

GIF of Hans Dairy menu animation

Con: All Good Things Take Time

The more customizations you want done to your website, the more development time it’s going to take. This means longer projects and higher costs.

You also don’t get that 100-hour head start a template website benefits from. In many ways, this is a good thing. As an example, custom websites tend to load much faster than their templated counterparts because we only build and load what’s needed for your specific website — not thousands of website possibilities at the same time. But that extra care and attention to detail can add up.

The Verdict: So Which One’s Better For Me?

Certain types of businesses benefit more from one type of website than the other.

If your business is just starting out, with low capital and no web presence, a template website might be just what you need to get started. If you’re working with nothing, having a professional, modern website will make a world of difference to your business. If you’re not concerned about your brand at all, but your website isn’t mobile-friendly and looks like it was designed in 2003 by a pro-bono high school student (no judgement), a WordPress template website will give you a quick, less expensive boost into the modern era. We can still make that template website look good.

On the other hand, if you’re a business thinking strongly about your brand and setting yourself apart from the competition, we suggest getting a custom WordPress website. Customers are comparing your website to dozens of others every day. If you look the same as everyone else, you’ll fade into the background. Your website is a valuable marketing resource that shouldn’t go to waste.

Still not sure? We can help! Ask us which website type we recommend for you and let us help you pick the one that will benefit your business the most.

About the author

I'm a designer and programmer with a can-do attitude and a song recommendation for every mood. Good design is like music: it moves people. If at first you don't succeed, try again with a different soundtrack.
Read more posts by Julie
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