Off-the-shelf WordPress theme – the advantages and disadvantages

A relaunch of your existing website is pending or you are just starting your business and of course want to present yourself professionally on the web. For many, WordPress is the first choice when deciding on a CMS. This is probably mainly due to the popularity, the large selection of often free plugins and last but not least the almost endless selection of so-called themes probably also plays a major role.

Especially the price and the promised flexibility of the themes is tempting for many companies. With this article we want to critically question the use of WordPress themes and transparently show the advantages and disadvantages.

What actually is a WordPress theme?

The task of WordPress itself is primarily to provide the administration interface (WP Admin) through which the content is maintained and to store the data accordingly in a MySQL database. A so-called theme is ultimately responsible for the output and display of the stored content and subpages.

The most important components of a theme are the templates (display of the content), style sheets (styling of the elements, typography, etc.), JavaScript files (implementation of dynamic web elements such as a slider or a popup) and possibly various helper functions that are used internally in theme development to keep the source code clear and tidy.

Themes are technically independent of the WordPress instance. Any number of themes can be stored in one installation. The themes can be freely exchanged and activated. However, a theme must always be activated, otherwise WordPress will not know how the content of the website should be displayed.

The difference between a purchased theme and a custom developed theme

In the world of WordPress themes, there are basically two types of themes: purchased themes “off the shelf” and individual themes.

Purchased Themes are ready-made themes that were developed by the developers for the mass market and are available on marketplaces such as e.g. B. ThemeForest for prices (one-time) around 40$ are offered. There are themes that are sometimes sold up to half a million times. Of course, the developers try to cover as many target groups (sectors) as possible with the themes and to implement all conceivable web elements. The individual themes often contain the option of importing different stylings internally. This makes it possible to create websites for the roofer, the cleaning lady, an advertising agency, the car workshop and the cosmetic surgery practice with a single theme. Examples of popular themes are e.g. B. Divi, Avada, X or Enfold.

Individual themes are specially developed for a company by an agency for web development (such as us πŸ˜‰ ). The requirements, wishes and corporate design of the company are dealt with in great detail. Since the theme was developed individually, there is no risk that the neighboring company will implement the website with the same theme.

A notice: This article is only about purchased, ready-made themes

Advantages of purchased WordPress themes

#1 Inexpensive – with reservations!

The main argument for using a theme is the supposedly saved development effort. If a theme meets the requirements exactly and no adjustments need to be made, using a theme can save a lot of time.

However, caution is advised here: Changes, optical adjustments and functional extensions are often very time-consuming for a purchased theme and can even nullify the advantage under certain circumstances.

Disadvantages of purchased WordPress themes

#1 performance

In the meantime, nahazu is flooding our inbox with calls for help from companies whose website is based on a ready-made theme and whose performance is unacceptable. Poor performance unfortunately has a double negative effect on the website. On the one hand, the usability for the visitor suffers greatly from excessively long loading times – which under certain circumstances can even lead to a high bounce rate. And on the other hand, many factors that a theme brings with it lead to a bad Google PageSpeed.

The so-called PageSpeed ​​is a Google factor that indicates in numbers from 0 to 100 how good the performance of the website is in the eyes of Google. This value is also included in the rankings of Google search results. Unfortunately, Google cannot handle many CSS files, many JS files, unoptimized images or slow loading times due to a number of plugins when it comes to PageSpeed. Unfortunately, these are exactly the problems of ready-made themes.

#2 User-friendliness in content maintenance

If you’ve used a ready-made theme before, you’ve probably experienced it yourself. To get a theme “up and running”, ten or more plugins are often required right from the start. These can be plugins for content management, sliders, menus, contact forms or similar. Sometimes we log into the admin area of ​​our customers and are greeted by so many menu items that the screen height is not sufficient to display them all.

The maintenance of the content of such bloated themes usually takes place in many different places in the admin area and makes the maintenance of the content hardly manageable for a layperson.

At this point, our opinion overlaps with the opinions of some of our WordPress customers: WordPress is far from living up to the reputation that WordPress is so easy to use. Especially when the opposite z. The Craft CMS, for example, quickly makes this even clearer.

#3 Extensibility and customization very expensive

Off-the-shelf themes usually offer various options with options to adapt some attributes of the website to your own wishes without developer knowledge. This includes e.g. B. the logo, colors, fonts, etc.. The attributes that can be edited vary greatly from theme to theme.

However, most of our customers quickly reach their limits with the available options. The website should of course reflect your own corporate identity. And a booking form for the hotel room, an appointment request for the consultant or a digital menu for the restaurant would also be nice? In itself, all this can usually be realized with ready-made themes. However, the effort for the same integration or change is often many times greater than with an in-house development.

#4 Not unique

Ultimately, everyone has to judge for themselves about this disadvantage. There are certainly companies that value having a unique website more than others. However, everyone must be aware that it can happen that direct competitors use the same theme as you. Who wants that?

#5 Security

Unfortunately, WordPress as a system does not have the best reputation in terms of security. This is mainly because such a popular and widespread system naturally offers an attractive and worthwhile target for hackers. It is similar with the themes, which can also open up security gaps for hack attacks. Of course, it is also a lot more interesting for hackers to find security gaps in a theme that we use thousands of times than in a single website.

#6 Familiarization

If you hand over the maintenance and expansion of your website to an internal employee or a new agency, for example, the training time in a purchased theme construction is many times longer than the training in a lean individual theme.

Conclusion

Buy a theme for $40, install WordPress & theme, add content and adjust the look a little – done. Sounds tempting. But unfortunately, the individualization of ready-made themes and the eradication of the disadvantages caused by the themes, such as B. the loading time so much development effort that the costs are sometimes similar to those of an individual development. Regardless of the cost, it is clear from comparing the pros and cons of WordPress themes above that a custom theme is vastly superior to an off-the-shelf theme in many ways.

Are there cases where the use of themes is still an option?

Yes. If the budget for the new website is very tight and if a theme is too 99.9% of the customer’s wishes met, no future expansion of the website is planned and a longer loading time must be accepted by the customer the use of a theme can be useful. In any case, we always recommend the use of a theme with subsequent performance optimization to compensate for the disadvantages in loading times.