WordPress, we love you, so it’s only fair that we talk evenly about all your options. Themes have long been associated with WordPress, with many in the dark about its custom build sibling. Whilst custom would always be our preference, pre-built themes serve a purpose – at least some of the time.
We’re making like the BBC and showing balance with this blog post all about the advantages and disadvantages of the pre-built WordPress theme.
Advantages of a Pre-built WordPress Theme
Let’s begin with the positives, here are some of the advantages you can expect to benefit from as a pre-built user.
Reduced Upfront Investment
There’s no denying that pre-built WordPress themes can be more affordable when compared with a bespoke option. Some of these themes are even completely free and available for download. Huzzah! Who doesn’t love a freebie? Admittedly, if you are just starting out and are testing the market to see if there is a desire for your product or service, opting for a pre-built WordPress theme might just cut the mustard – for now.
Cutting the mustard is all gravy, right up until you start to try and manipulate the pre-built WordPress theme to fit with your visual identity and we haven’t even started on the security issues. But let’s stay positive here and discuss that more in-depth when we get to the disadvantages of a pre-built WordPress theme.
Faster to Implement
If it’s speed you require, then a pre-built theme might be the solution for you. Generally speaking, if you already know you way around WordPress and it’s page templates, you can have a pre-built theme downloaded, customised and live within a day.
A pre-built WordPress theme does assume a level of knowledge though, so if you don’t know your single-page.php template from your page.php template, the reality is, you may end up spending longer on googling solutions.
In light of positivity, however, you could find a WordPress freelancer who would be able to easily customise your theme for you, this may take longer than a day but it will certainly be quicker than an agency building a custom WordPress theme for you.
Who even browses on their desktop computer anymore? (Well a lot of people actually but that’s an entirely different blog post). Many people will first come into contact with your brand whilst browsing on a mobile device. Developers know this, so naturally many pre-built WordPress themes are already set up to be mobile-friendly out of the box.
If you are expecting a “however”, “but” or other conjunction here, there isn’t one! Pre-built WordPress themes genuinely seem to do a decent job at making their theme optimised for mobile.
It’s worth bearing in mind that bad user experience on mobile devices can negatively affect your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) efforts. Search engines have the ability to scan your website and determine how it would display on mobile devices. So it’s crucial that you do toggle on that option!
Websites such as Theme Forest will make you feel like a kid in a candy shop, thousands of pre-built WordPress themes all looking for your attention. You can also make your search more specific by adding your industry to the search terms as many pre-built WordPress themes are categorised by the industries which they can serve.
A pre-built WordPress theme that is made specifically for your industry will generally come with the plugins you need. For example, if you are a hotel, your pre-built theme will likely come with a booking plugin straight out of the box. Handy little tools like this will also ensure you are ready to start operating your business sooner – who knows they might even have thought of something you didn’t.
So there you have it, Forty8Creates have written, maybe to the detriment of our business, the benefits of a pre-built WordPress theme. Yes, there are some.
However, proceed with caution, your shiny new pre-built theme might not be all it’s cracked up to be, when down the line you are struggling with page speeds, have 40,000 plugins and buying more anti-ageing cream than ever before, for which your pre-built theme is now personally responsible for.
I digress, let’s look at the disadvantages.
Disadvantages of a Pre-built WordPress Theme
Here are a few reasons – fairly big ones too – why a pre-built WordPress theme might not be a great choice for your organisation. It gets ugly.
Security is a very important issue to address in WordPress Themes and is usually the word that people scream when we tell them that we build using this framework. These chicken little’s do have a point, but only when it comes to pre-built themes. Here are some of the most common security risks associated with pre-built themes that will make the sky seem like it is falling if they happen to you.
Developers, whilst many are legit, a few of them simply do not care about the quality of their build. These pesky developers will build a theme, release it and then poof! Disappear when they have your money. Pre-built WordPress themes need to be updated regularly and if they are not, small bugs in the code will become giant cockroaches.
When you have a bug in the code of your website, not only can this severely affect your user experience and SEO rating, bugs pose a security risk to your website.
Well, it’s not so much the bugs, it’s security loopholes which can be exploited if they aren’t patched. Because WordPress and its plugins are open-source, anyone can view the code behind it which means they can potentially exploit any vulnerabilities if there are any. Because of this, WordPress is worked on around the clock by a team of developers across the globe who constantly improve and update the code. Those patches can only be applied if the developer of your theme keeps plugin and core WordPress files up to date….unfortunately many don’t. Be sure to check when your theme was last updated.
Bugs are not exclusive to WordPress though, American Airlines, found their profit affected by the sudden need to layover of one of their jets due to an iPad bug in their piloting software. So even the big guys get them.
So your theme is up and running, hunky-dory! But wait, what if you want to extend its functionality and make your website even more jaw-droppingly awesome? Enter plugins.
On occasion, you will be using a specific plugin to add some functionality to your website. This functionality might not display consistently with your theme or it may look out of place. It could be that the theme you have chosen isn’t made to work with this plugin.
You’ll notice this if some elements of your website have gone weird, broken or the plugin itself isn’t displaying. To make this work, more often than not you will need to hire an expert to integrate the plugin into the website for you.
For example, some themes are built specifically to work with WooCommerce (one of the most common e-commerce plugins for WordPress). If the theme you’ve chosen is made to work with WooCommerce, it may not play ball with other plugins such as Bigcommerce or WP eCommerce.
To avoid compatibility errors, ensure you read the theme and plugin documentation. We’d always advise for you to research and choose compatible well-built plugins.
Pirated and Hacked Templates
Hidden malware may be found on some themes. Pirated themes can even cause errors on your server. According to Safety Detective, malware infections have been on the rise for the last 10 years and new threats are always being created.
If you find a premium or a paid theme available for free (pirated) – double-check the legitimacy of the source. Only use trusted and legitimate sources. There are a handful of websites that give away premium themes for free. These “nulled” themes, are not only illegal but are likely to contain malware and viruses.
In a worst-case scenario, a nulled theme can result in legal action taken against you and/or your website, and possibly even complete suspension of your website….that’s extreme cases though.
Personalisation is one of the biggest downfalls of pre-built WordPress themes. As mentioned in the previous blog we’ve written: Think You Know WordPress? Think Again, “most of the off-the-shelf themes will not suit your brand, as they aren’t made for your brand.”
Many of the pre-built WordPress themes will come with a customisation panel of sorts. This will usually allow you to amend global colours, change fonts and switch between a “light” and “dark” mode. personalisation beyond this is where pre-built WordPress themes struggle to function. A whole web of bulky code that allows for millions of combinations sits beneath a pre-built WordPress theme which makes the customisation on any level very difficult. Not impossible, but very difficult.
Remember to always use a child theme, else your customisations will be lost the moment you update your theme to the latest version.
Compromise is Key
The ultimate disadvantage of a pre-built WordPress theme is that you will have to compromise.
Often, it’s very difficult to re-create or have a pre-built WordPress theme altered to fit with your brand requirements. Even the most experienced developers will struggle to fix issues generated by trying to alter a WordPress theme if the theme is coded badly, and doesn’t comply with WordPress coding standards.
Do expect to compromise for certain features, in order for your website to work.
Remember that assumption of knowledge we were talking about earlier? Well, your time, and the time you will invest in going on a WordPress learning curve will soon become a distinct disadvantage.
Time is money and money is time. Spending too much time “tweaking” to make your theme look original and truly yours will more likely end up being just as expensive as creating a bespoke theme in the first place. Personalisation will be compromised and may even be very restrained when opting for a pre-built WordPress theme. Not to mention the hours of your time where you could be doing something far more productive and revenue-generating.
Products and services now days are rarely different from one another, it’s your brand and visual identity that will differentiate you in the end. When a consumer is faced with exactly the same options in front of them, they will choose the cheapest – most likely. From here on it will be a race to the bottom.
One of the risks of using a pre-built WordPress theme is that your business website might just end up looking like your competition. In order to stand out and differentiate yourself from the market, your first customer touchpoint – your website – should be distinct and leave an impression on its user. Websites with the same block elements will merge into one.
No Technical Support
Are you going to do this all by yourself?
If just like 90% of people, the idea of WordPress sends your brain into over-drive, you’ll want support before you throw your laptop across the room, your marriage breaks down and your dog emancipates itself from you….won’t you?
Most free themes don’t offer technical support or help. If anything goes awry, that’s it, you’re by yourself, Chuck. You can, of course, have paid support which can add up quickly – and can be limited as the developers have lots of other support requests. As for priority support? Yes, you guessed it – you need to pay more.
If you pay to download a pre-built WordPress theme, then you’ll likely have limited support for the theme itself. Many of the answers you’ll get, however, will be something that requires a knowledge of .php making it difficult for you to rectify the issue.
So, pick up your laptop, tell your partner you love them and give the dog a bone because now you know what issues to expect before running into any of the disadvantages of a pre-built WordPress theme.
One last thing before you go;
Is My WordPress Theme Safe?
Remember, if you do/have to go/gone down the route of using a pre-built WordPress theme, exercise caution. Here are some available tools to check whether your current theme is safe.
Theme Check (the plugin and website)
This tool checks for compliance with the Theme Review guidelines.
Exploit Scanner (CXS and plugin)
CXS stands for ConfigServer eXploit Scanner, and as the name suggests, this tool will scan the files and check for web vulnerabilities. This tool doesn’t delete or remove any file, it just flags any suspicious behaviour.
Pre-built themes must comply with WordPress Theme development standards to ensure they’re meeting the standards set out by WordPress.
Hopefully, this helped you make up your mind and save your marriage*.
Do reach out to Forty8Creates if you have any other additional questions.
*WordPress has not been noted to be the cause of any marriage breakdown. This was for dramatic effect only…please don’t sue us.
Categorised in: Website Design & Development