Does it make sense to use ready-made WordPress themes?

Probably everyone who works with WordPress websites come across with paid or free multi-use themes which include readymade layout – both in good and bad. Ready-made themes make it easy for the developer to become familiar with the WordPress world. And yes, we started with them and we’ve done successful projects utilizing them.

I decided to write about this issue because nowadays when I take an offer containing a ready-made theme to our developers to be evaluated I get desperate looks as an answer and a question of whether we could offer something else. Always that is not possible because there is a clause in the offer to use customer’s already pre-selected or purchased theme. Below are some thoughts why it would be better and also cost-effective to build the website from the scratch.

The ready-made theme becomes expensive over time

The ready-made themes are mostly free or very low-cost. Rarely can ready-made theme be used as such – installation and customization requires purchasing of expert work. Themes may be dependent on paid plugins that do not update without buying a license. This may be even more expensive investment than the theme itself. The quality and security of the selected plugins cannot be guaranteed.

If in the offer phase a specific ready-made theme is defined to be used the developer has to familiarize with it before the work estimate can be given. Likewise, in the editing phase the developer needs to familiarize with the ready-made code and overwrite it which is often laborious and impairs the quality of the code. From the workload point of view it is often quicker and cheaper to do the same job from the scratch.

Lifecycle of the website and further development

Developers of the ready-made themes can stop developing the theme or so-call pivots them, i.e. start developing it into different direction. In this case the WordPress platform using these themes can no longer be updated. Problems may arise with the plugins used resulting a security risk. If the ready-made theme is developed to become very different than the original version, the content of the website that uses it may not be applicable to the revised version. If the content is transferred somewhere else later on it may be that a piece of code (shortcode) related to the ready-made theme accompanies that needs to be “cleaned” from the content.

User orientation suffers

From the designer’s point of view all ready-made website solutions are challenging because they are technology-driven. The best way to start a website project is to think about its’ objective and function and to determine the functionalities to be used only after that. If the website is designed only in terms of functionalities it will not serve the company or the end user in the best possible way.

Lots of (too many) features

Ready-made themes include lot of functionalities. However they are not always enough or suitable with the needs required from the renewed website. A large number of “vain” features will slow down page performance and make maintenance of the website unnecessarily complicated because the maintenance is not designed keeping an eye on just one certain purpose of use.

Ready-made theme radar

As designers and developers of web services at least we have developed so-called ready-made theme radar which means that pages made with ready-made themes are identified at a glance for some reason or another. Small signs such as redundant animations hindering user experience, not translated texts and theme-specific page structures often reveal the website as a ready-made theme. This does not necessarily mean major impact for the end user but by designing the website to be one of a kind from the beginning it will certainly stand out from competitors.

However, if you are still considering using ready-made themes make sure that:

  • The developer of the ready-made theme has long experience and good recommendations
  •  The content of the ready-made theme is flexible for all the features required on the website
  • and also in the further development phase or at least is compatible with the other required plugins
  •  The ready-made theme can be translated into other languages if needed

Sometimes using a ready-made theme can be a good solution. For example if one wants to make a low-cost blog site or another very simple site which is not going to be expanded in the future, probably using a ready-made theme is the most cost-effective solution. Otherwise, a direct quotation from behind couple of desks: “Do not use a ready-made theme”.

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