Custom Theme or Pro Theme? Which is Better?

By: | March 6, 2019 | Tags: , , , , ,
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I am biased. It’s true I really am. It’s a well known fact that I am a website developer / designer so my argument will center around promoting custom hand-built and bespoke WordPress themes over downloading the Pro themes that are used on thousands of other websites and blogs across the globe.

But dear reader I want you to bear with me on this and read this to the end as I will outline the facts of my argument and convince you that a Custom theme is better for you in the long run if you are serious about your website / blog.

Whats the difference between a pro and a custom theme?

In a nutshell there are the 2 main differences. I will go further down the rabbit hole and explain the main advantages and disadvantages of using both further down this blog post.

A premium WordPress Theme is a theme that usually costs anywhere from $50 – 1000+ and is prebuilt by a team of developers and designers that come with many options and of course is overloaded with code. Remember the saying “Too many cooks spoil the broth.

A custom WordPress Theme is a theme built around you, your brand and your blog/business by a freelance WordPress developer/designer like me. These usually stand out more and are one offs compared to the thousands of blogs/websites using premium themes. Custom built themes are usually a lot lighter and more streamlined than others due to the fact that less code is being used making it faster, more efficient and less prone to bugs and hacking attempts.

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my Custom theme compared to 2 other premium WordPress themes

The above image shows the properties between three different WordPress themes the middle one showing this custom theme I have created for this blog I have named phillip. The other 2 are the popular Divi theme and one called Directory +. Lets compare the stats:

  • phillip theme : 379KB, 25 Files & 3 Folders
  • Divi theme : 3.12MB, 204 Files & 29 Folders
  • Directory + : 22.2MB, 836 Files & 227 Folders

Lets work out the percentage difference between mine and the Divi theme shall we?
First off lets subtract my file size from Divi’s which is 3,274,648 (Divi) – 388,556 (mine) = 2,886,092 (Increase number).
Taking into account the above numbers that leaves us with a 743% increase in theme size.

But what about the percentage increase from Directory+? 23,308,126 (Directory+) – 388,556 (mine) = 22,919,570 (Increase in file size). This leaves us with a 5,899% increase.

Of course these file sizes are not fully accurate as these themes will contain fonts and images that inflate the filesize and end up not actually being used in the runtime. But the above gives you a fair idea between a pro WordPress theme and a custom WordPress theme.

It’s not just Filesize that’s different

But pageload speed. Of course as above these are open to interpretation and are not fully accurate but again it gives you a good idea of what to expect. Before I go on I want to tell you that at the time of writing this, my blog is not using any caching plugin and is only on Cloudflare. I will eventually be adding this blog to Stackpath CDN to get even better speed results.

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4s loadtime and 865KB Pagesize

For a theme that is still very new, not fully finished and not taking full advantage of CDN’s and Caching there pretty impressive results. Let’s now compare mine with a well established site that has taken advantage of the above.

Still quite fast but the grades really do let it down. What about mobile responsiveness / speed. In this case we will use chrome and lighthouse starting with mine…

Again here were being let down by Accessibility and Best practices but with an SEO score of 100, a performance of 93 and a fully loaded time of 3.9s it’s not to bad a result for an unfinished theme like mine. Lets see how it compares with our Divi themed website.

Wow need I say any more on this. Yes of course it looks good on mobile but with a 12.4s load time you will be hanging around for images to load and JavaScript to fire off.

I’m sure by now that your seeing the advantages to hiring a freelance WordPress Developer over getting a pro WordPress theme. But with what I have outlined above these are not the only arguments against a mass produced theme like Divi.

Lets delve even further into Themes.

Let me first touch on the fact that WordPress themes are in fact just a collection of files, scripts and assets that make a WordPress website look and function the way it does.

Apart from the distinct advantages of the speed and file size a custom WordPress theme has over a premium WordPress theme, there are plenty more advantages to be had to hiring someone to build you a custom one.

premium WordPress themes are usually built by multiple developers and designers working for companies like ThemeForest and Template Monster that sell these in bulk to as many people as possible and these usually come prebuilt with multiple plugins that make the theme “Work”. Think of these as the ASDA / Walmart of the web development world.

These themes do have features you may want and are great as long as the theme does exactly what you want it to do so there is some flexibility there. However they become inflexible when you want it to do something it does not do.

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Elementor Bugs

But there is a plugin for that I hear you cry.

Yes of course there usually is, but as I have alluded to before more plugins add more code and add more vulnerability. That as well as the fact that the plugin may “Not play well“, or even worse “Break” the theme itself. If I had a pound for every post I see on a Facebook WordPress Group asking for free help because a certain feature does not work or a plugin has broken, I would be a very rich fellow.

But I can contact the Theme Developers.

Absolutely you can, but you will find they can only fix issues with the theme itself and not be able to deal the plugins you have installed or even a problem with the hosting. On top of this the support usually only lasts for 6 months and to extend it will cost you further cash with no guarantee of success.

You could always hire a professional developer?

Yes of course you can, but the developer does not know the code of the theme and will have to take an enormous amount of time to fix or implement the feature’s you want on the website, with no guarantee of success.

Let me give you an example. A few months ago I was contacted by a client who was happy with the website but they wanted it speed up and have a certain famous contact form implemented on the site. Naturally I asked for access to the hosting and admin area of the website.

What I was greeted with was a vision of hell. The site had over 50 plugins most of which needed updating and the hosting was with EIG. The site was running on the outdated php5. After speaking with the client I was advised not to update any of the plugins as doing so will break the site.

Naturally I advised the client of all of the above and that these updates include security patches and should be updated as well as updating the php to 7.4 (something the then hosting provider did not offer at the time). I also advised the client that it would be much better to rebuild the site from scratch making it look the same, have all the same functionalities (provided by the many plugins but this time built into my custom theme) and be fully updated. I also advised that it would take me a week or so and that it would be cheaper in the long run.

The client did not want any of that and he advised me that he wanted the best possible speed as well as replacing the contact form (that was prepackaged with the theme) with another one that offers the functionality he wanted.

I advised him that without guaranteed success and the possibility that it could break the site even further it would take me at least 2 weeks and would cost the same as if I built the entire theme from scratch. I gave my client one last chance before sending out the contract and invoice. He was happy with my quote and told me to carry on with replacing the form and adding the relevant caching methods and a CDN.

Unfortunately for my client he ran the backups after I finished and upgraded to php7.4 and the site fell over. I am now rebuilding the site from scratch with a custom theme based on what he had before which has cost him a lot more in the process.

In Conclusion

Ultimately it’s entirely up to you. Yes premium WordPress themes are good for the general blogger and business owner. But be prepared for disruption, problems and spending hard earned cash should you want to change the themes functions or to repair the site.

On top of that heed the advice of your website developer. A decent website developer will have the knowledge and experience to know what works and what is good for your website’s speed, security and functionality. The developer will work with you and guide you through the jungle that can be setting up a website or blog.

You will also find that a good website developer a lot easier to work with and they can easily add more functionality to your established website / blog with ease and without the headaches caused by changing the functionality of a mass used premium WordPress theme.

To recap here are a few points you should think about when upgrading or building a new website or blog. Go with a premium WordPress theme if:

  • You need a smaller website or blog and not serious about upgrading it
  • You have a budget on the lower size
  • you don’t have the skills of a developer and happy to produce a site/blog using drag and drop elements
  • you are not that bothered about site speed or file size
  • you have found a theme that you are happy with right out of the box
  • you don’t plant to change the theme or add custom elements and functionality in the future.

Go with a Freelance Website Developer and Designer who will build you a custom WordPress theme if:

  • you want a unique design and custom functions built in.
  • you have not found a theme that fits your needs, functions and requests without it being modified.
  • you want to add other functionality and extend the capabilities of the website or blog in the future.
  • you don’t want to deal with a huge team of developers and designers or spend hours searching google / forums for answers and getting frustrated at the same time.
  • you want a site that is lean and streamlined for speed and security and one that can be easily be extended.
  • you are serious about your blog, website and business and want to deal with one developer / designer who you can build a long lasting relationship with over the years.
  • you want an excellent return on your investment and time in the long term and a quality website or blog that is futureproofed and of a quality that you want and deserve.

I hope that you have a much better insight and that this post has helped you. If you have any further burning questions then do please leave a comment below or visit my FAQs page.

  1. Janice Wald | at 4:59 pm

    H Phillip,
    I’m really pleased with the custom theme you built for me. Sometimes I feel it looks like Entrepreneur’s blog which makes me really happy. Tweeted!

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