Pre-designed WordPress themes: Good enough for professional websites?

By Updated: March 26, 2018

In Is web design as we know it dying? Connor Turnbull shows how web design has changed direction:

“It’s no longer about creating a static page with a heading, some text and a couple of images to boot. However, the biggest change to traditional web designers has arrived only in the past year, with the rising popularity of services like WordPress with their plethora of pre-designed themes.”

He explains that more and more website owners – bloggers and businesses alike – are choosing pre-designed premium themes instead of custom web design. This is true – so why do so many of our clients still turn their nose up when we suggest that a pre-designed theme might be their best option?

Why do WordPress themes get such a bad press?

A few years ago, the options for using themes weren’t very attractive. When CMS platforms such as WordPress were less well-known, the choice of pre-designed themes was very limited. The standard was low and you could tell a website was using a theme just by looking at it.

Even nowadays, the free WordPress themes are generally not great. WordPress theme designers often release free themes as a taster, hoping you’ll upgrade to the premium version – or just to get their name out there. But now WordPress has grown into one of the world’s most popular website platforms, the choice and quality of premium themes (i.e. the ones you pay for, often costing as little as £30) – has improved exponentially. Many are now so good that there’s no reason for most small and medium businesses to consider designing from scratch. Yet some clients still struggle to see the appeal.

Bespoke is best, right?

If you’ve got a couple of thousand pounds to spend on a website then a custom WordPress web design is a great choice. Your website can appear exactly how you want it, skilfully crafted around your brand by a professional graphic web designer. You can afford for them to put in the hours to make your website truly great, with meticulous attention to detail. We can then convert the PSD/HTML/CSS design to WordPress, giving you a fully functional website that will grow with your business.

The problem arises for clients with less money to spend, who still want a professionally designed website. People shop around to find a web designer, and are often faced with two competing types of quote that fit their budget:

  1. One quote promises them a custom web design
  2. The other promises them a website built using a premium WordPress theme

On the face of it, 1. is the obvious choice – why get something mass produced when you can get something bespoke for the same price? My answer is, do the maths…

The numbers game

When you think about it, 2. is the best option for clients on a budget – almost by definition. It’s all in the numbers.

Say you have £800 to spend on a website and a web designer charges £40 per hour (this is about average for a professional web designer). This gives them 20 hours to spend designing your website. What’s the best use of these 20 hours?

  1. Designing the website from scratch? It certainly is possible to design and build a website in 20 hours, but not with any real attention to detail. No complex features such as social networking integration or eye-catching image galleries: all the time goes into the visual design of the site. And to make things worse, most web designers offering custom designs for this price build old-fashioned static sites that are harder (and more expensive) for you to maintain or upgrade in future.
  2. In the same 20 hours, you can install a high quality premium WordPress theme and have time left over to add extra features and impressive finishing touches.

For small and medium websites, in 20 hours we can often:

  • Source and install a great premium WordPress theme
  • Set up the theme’s built-in features and layout options – blog, sidebar, footer, widgets, online contact form, etc.
  • Do a keyword analysis to identify the most popular search terms for your industry and provide search engine friendly professional copywriting for your website
  • Source and format high quality photography to illustrate your website content
  • Lay out the website with your content, which will look fantastic with the theme’s built-in styling and formatting options
  • Install and customise numerous other features to make your website stand out from the crowd – social media integration, customer testimonials, etc.
  • Install our favourite tried and tested WordPress plugins to further enhance your website and make it run smoothly including security, performance, SEO, Google Analytics, anti-spam, anti-virus, search engine optimisation and broken link checker plugins
  • Write personalised instructions and record tutorials to help you update and maintain your website in future using the WordPress content management system

So which would you go for?

How can a WordPress theme be that good if you can buy it for £30?

Again, it’s a numbers game. If you spend £30 on anything bespoke then you won’t get much for your money. But if hundreds or thousands of website owners all over the world each spend £30 on the same theme then the WordPress web designer can justify spending many hours on it.

Imagine that a WordPress web designer is anticipating that 100 people will spend £30 on a theme – £3,000 in total. For £3,000, they can afford to spend weeks working on a single theme – paying meticulous attention to detail; developing multiple page templates; custom post types; unique shortcodes; easy-to-use theme options; and a multitude of additional features. Yet each customer can get all this for just £30!

It takes about the same amount of time to create a web design for a single client (if it’s done properly), as to develop a WordPress theme that can be sold many times. You can significantly reduce your costs by sharing the development cost with others who purchase the same theme. This gives you the opportunity to obtain a web design that would normally have cost many times the price.

But I want my web design to be unique!

Some people worry that a competitor will use the same theme. Since tens of thousands of WordPress themes are available, this is highly unlikely. And even if it does happen, your website will still be unique to you.

A WordPress website is much more than its theme: it’s the theme options and colour scheme chosen; the website structure; the text; the images; and any customisations that have been made to the theme. No one can copy that. Our clients are often pleasantly surprised at how different the end result is to the sample theme they saw at the start of the project.

So themes really are ok?

It’s nothing to be ashamed of! For clients on a budget, we believe that a WordPress theme is the best way – indeed, the only way – to achieve a highly professional website for the minimum cost.

Katie Keith

An active member of the global WordPress community, Barn2 Co-Founder Katie loves collaborating with other plugin companies. Her articles have been published on high profile sites including WPTavern, Torque and IndieHackers. She oversees all plugin support and deals with 'Tier 2' support requests about how to use Barn2's plugins in advanced ways.

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