Here at The Smart Bear, we offer premium themes with our builds – and there’s a reason for why we do that; so we thought we’d discuss the main differences between a premium commercial theme, a free theme and a custom ‘coded-for-you’ theme.
Let’s start with free WordPress themes
There are a lot of free themes out there, most can be found in the WordPress themes repository…. and there are some good ones available, too.
Some have basic options like changing between preset colours, changing the logo, the width of the layout, and so forth.
Some have the option to upgrade to a premium version with more facilities and these are called freemium themes. But on the whole free WordPress themes are usually very basic.
Having said that, they can be appropriate for sites like brochure websites or blogging websites as they don’t require much setup and are usually a clean, simple design. And, obviously, they also suit those on a very tight or non-existent budget.
The downside to free themes is that they sometimes, albeit not very often, contain malicious code or security holes. And it is this reason why we generally avoid them when building for our clients.
Premium WordPress themes (aka Commercial themes)
Some developers look down on premium or pre-made commercial themes but they do have their place in web-design and development, and they are way cheaper than having a theme built from scratch both in the short and long term.
Most can be customised greatly, or come with pre-built layouts (sometimes industry targeted), which can be modified to suit the brand. This cuts down the build time…and therefore cost…..considerably, meaning that this saving can be passed to the client.
Premium themes are often supported by the developer who built it for at least a few years (often at no extra cost or for a very small amount) so they are regularly updated to continue to work with the very latest software, and to make sure there are no security holes.
In addition, they usually have a lot of great documentation or community discussion if help during the build is required, and are designed to work with the majority of plugins on the market if you want to develop the site further.
The downside to premium themes is that they are often bloated; containing code that is not necessarily needed for everyone and that can sometimes make the website a bit slow if they’re not on the right hosting.
However, on the whole, they are perfect for the micro/small business who want to be able to self-manage their own website.
Custom coded themes
We have a few clients with custom coded themes – they’re either made on a framework or coded completely from scratch using standard WordPress as a base.
The benefit of this is that they’re usually super fast, only containing the code they were employed to write and no extra unnecessary features. They’re often unique to the brand (unless the developer uses the same basic framework), and designed to order which can be a big draw for a company who doesn’t want to have a similar site to anyone else.
The obvious downside to this is that it is often more difficult to leave the developer who built it should you have a disagreement or can no longer afford their services. Some developers won’t take on other people’s coding and will insist on the site being rebuilt, and others charge a premium.
The other long term issue is that they aren’t always designed to be future-proof, or designed to work with other plugins. So if you do want to develop the site further, it might not be as easy or as quick as it should be, and may require more custom coding.
Custom built themes occasionally are built in such a way so that they are difficult for the client to completely manage themselves. The developer will hard code parts of it – for example a footer – meaning that the client can’t go in and change something on the front end if it’s needed without some coding knowledge or by going back to the developer for help. For a large company with an in-house team this is, of course, generally not an issue but it’s not always a practical solution for smaller businesses.
What’s the right type of theme for your business website?
So before you even look at the design of a theme for your website, first think about your budget now and in the future.
How much do you want to spend on the theme? How much support are you going to need? How much do you want to self-manage or customise? Are you going to want to add functions and features at a later date?
Once you’ve considered all the above, you’ll be able to make the choice that’s right for your business needs.
If you need further help, feel free to contact us using the form below to organise a free consultation