Custom-built site vs WordPress theme: which is best for your business?
Choosing between a custom-built site and a WordPress theme can be a minefield. Custom sites are built from the ground up by a developer or web development team; with bespoke designs and no functionality restrictions, they're the go-to option for many businesses. However, WordPress themes provide pre-built options that are easy to install and modify. If you need a live site quickly or have minimal in-house technical knowledge, a WordPress theme could be your best bet. Here's what you need to know about both options before you make your decision.
Pros of custom-built sites
Developing for future growth: bespoke site are scalable
Custom-built sites provide flexibility to adapt to evolving user expectations, keeping your business moving forward with digital trends. From functionality to design, you can tailor your website to provide an experience that delights users and helps further business growth. For example, if you know your account area is highlighted as a vehicle for growth in your digital strategy, developing that area for future scalability means less hassle - not to mention development costs - in the long-run. As industries are changing to fit the digital requirements of their consumers, being able to scale your site as needed is key for longevity.
Rise in the SERPs with SEO-friendly custom sites
If you're creating your new site from scratch, you have the advantage of being able to build it with search engines in mind. Ensuring SEO best practices are implemented from the start means future requirements should be quicker to develop. Equally, the better your site performance is, the higher it'll rank in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Remember that search engines love fast sites, as demonstrated by Google’s page experience update which gives a ranking boost to sites that load quickly.
The beauty of custom sites is that they can be built to suit your requirements, so your new site can be developed using only necessary code. Without the extra fluff, your site won’t suffer from code bloat (where unused scripts are loaded, slowing down the overall page load speed), meaning faster performance and better rankings!
The flexibility of custom-built sites means there’s very little chance of conflict between your site’s code and the plugins you wish to use. Unlike custom sites, themes are built on WordPress systems which means they can’t always integrate with certain plugins. If the theme and plugin aren’t compatible, they can conflict with each other and break pages or functionality in the process. With a bespoke site, you can pick and choose which plugins you use without limitations due to the flexibility of the code. This also reduces the risk of code-related issues further down the line, ensuring less time and money spent on code fixes in the future.
Once the site is built, any future maintenance should take far less time than with a theme. If you’ve used an expert development team, your site will be built using best practices. Subsequently, there shouldn’t be any heavy development work for further SEO, performance or code related changes.
The main factor here is the skill level of the development team you work with. Collaborating with a company you trust, who has proven results in the field, is vital to ensuring your custom-site is built to the highest quality.
Cons of a custom-built site
Expert knowledge needed
Custom-built sites require a multi-disciplinary approach; on top of development and design expertise, it’s good practice to get UX and SEO experts involved too. These elements may not seem as important as development and design, but without them, your website won’t perform to its full potential.
The easiest way to cover all bases is to hire a trusted development agency for the build. Rather than managing the project and resource yourself, you can hand the reins to the agency, who’ll do all the hard work for you.
Longer build time
Compared with WordPress themes, custom-built sites have a longer build time. When you’re starting from scratch, developing bespoke functionality and designing a unique site, a sufficient amount of time is needed to transition from the initial design to the finished product. Complicated functionality, intricate designs and further iterations all add further time onto the build, so be sure to consider this before setting off on your custom-built journey.
Custom-building a site can be a costly project. Whether you keep the build in-house or work with an agency, it’s a lengthy process with various expertise and disciplines required. The cost involved will differ depending on the experience you already have in-house, and what functionality you require from the new site.
However, although the cost will exceed that of a WordPress theme, a custom-built site may be better suited to your business in the long-run.
Pros of WordPress themes
Pre-made themes provide everything you need in a few clicks. Some themes are design led, with minimal functionality options but various aesthetic customisations, others are geared for high performance with lightweight code and less customisation choice.
Whatever your requirements are, there are free and paid premium theme options. For those on a budget, many paid themes range from £40 - £100. Using a theme instead of custom building your site means you get to choose a design that suits your business, without the financial commitment of a site build.
Shorter build time
Even with initial tweaks, themes have a much shorter build time than custom-built sites. As the design, functionality and structure are already determined with a theme, only a few modifications are typically needed in order to personalise your site. For extra functionality, there are thousands of plugins to choose from to provide additional security, reporting features and much more. Plugins, content and minor design changes can all be added and modified on the fly, so you can get your site live quicker with minimal initial work.
Minimal expert knowledge needed
WordPress themes require very little technical knowledge; you can typically bypass the need for a developer, designer and other disciplines’ involvement when using a theme. Whilst any development or design knowledge is advantageous, it isn’t necessary. There are a large amount of resources online to guide you through the process of installation and customisation. Once you’ve purchased your theme, you should also receive access to documentation from its developers which answers FAQs, provide an easy step-by-step installation guide and includes customisation information.
Themes are known for being modern, aesthetically pleasing and designed around visual appeal. With so many options to choose from, you’re bound to find a theme that works for your brand. These up-to-date designs also mean your site can easily incorporate on-trend aesthetics. Simplified designs, asymmetric layouts and videos in the header of the homepage are all modern trends that can be accommodated by themes. Whether you want to keep it simple, or you’d like a design that has all the bells and whistles, there’s a theme that will match your requirements.
Cons of WordPress themes
Less flexible & scalable
Most websites need more functionality and scalability options than themes can provide. In terms of future scalability, WordPress themes are limited, so adapting your site for growth plans may become a difficult task. With your site locked into certain designs and settings, you may find that investing in an adaptable custom-built design is a better decision for finances, resources and time in the long-run.
When you purchase a theme, you should receive support from the theme developers for a short period of time. Most theme developers offer the option of extended support for an additional cost. However, you don’t have much control over the theme developer’s time, so if you have an urgent query it could take them a couple of days to get back to you.
If for any reason your theme developers decide to stop updating or offering support for your theme, there isn’t much you can do. Out of date themes that aren’t regularly updated can lead to security vulnerabilities and out-dated code which requires development time to fix. If a WordPress theme is your chosen option, make sure you have a go-to trusted WordPress developer or agency that can help if any issues arise.
WordPress themes offer beautiful designs and easy-to-use functionality, but there is a hidden disadvantage. Performance issues can come back to bite you if not identified early on in the process.
Themes usually have multiple scripts that allow you to customise your site in a multitude of ways, but you’ll only be choosing one out of many, so what happens to the others?
In many cases, these unused scripts are still loaded, which causes code bloat and an immense drain on your page load speed. The more bloated the code, the worse the performance issues. With search engines factoring performance into their ranking algorithms, making sure you’re working with an experienced team who can review the theme is vital.
Choosing between custom-built and WordPress themes
Deciding between custom building a site or using a WordPress theme is dependent on multiple factors, such as your industry, growth plans and budget. If your business plans to adapt and scale it’s digital offering, you may benefit from a custom-built site to accommodate additional functionality. However, if you’re looking for a quick and easy solution that suits a tighter budget, WordPress themes are a great place to start; they can even be used as a placeholder whilst your custom site is being built, giving you the best of both worlds.
Need help deciding which route to take? Drop us a message for trusted, expert advice. We’ve been helping organisations solve commercial problems with digital solutions since 2009, so our in-house team has all the right industry knowledge to help you decide which option is best. Building your new site doesn’t have to be problematic when you have the right expertise to support and guide your project.