WordPress: A Custom Theme? A Premium Theme? Which One is Right For You?

When it comes to WordPress, should you use a premium theme or a custom theme? What’s the difference and which one is right for you?

At Millennial Web Development, we’re known for our innovative and lightweight approach to WordPress development. WordPress is a popular web-building tool that powers over 30% of the internet’s websites, and 14% of the world’s top 100 websites, and we use it to develop your site in one of two ways, depending on which suits you best:

  • A custom WordPress theme
  • A premium WordPress theme

In this blog, we’ll break down the difference between the two, and help you decide which is the right approach for you.

What is a WordPress theme?

Each WordPress site that you visit has a theme, which determines the general structure and layout of your website. From the purely visual (the look, design and aesthetic) to the functionality of the site (forms, eCommerce etc), the WordPress theme is the framework on which you build the website. This framework should make it easy for you, the admin, to maintain the site, and it should also present your visitors with the most seamless user experience possible.

Custom or Premium?

Your website’s theme can either be custom-built from the ground up, or it can be built using a variety of pre-set premium WordPress themes. Both options are customizable and can result in excellent, functional and easy to use websites. But they have important differences that are good to understand as you plan your approach.

Food for thought

You can think of the difference between custom and premium WordPress themes like different types of meal planning: A custom WordPress theme is akin to shopping at your local market, getting the specific ingredients you want for your meal, and then preparing them all to your personal taste in your kitchen. This is initially a bit more work, but you end up with a meal that is one-of-a-kind. A premium WordPress theme is more like a meal kit delivery service like Blue Apron: a box of pre-portioned ingredients arrives at your door and you can quickly and easily go about assembling them. If you like the meal you’re delivered, then great! But if you’d like to swap out ingredients for those that are not included in the box, then you’ll need a bit of expertise in order to make the whole meal work.

Premium Themes

Premium themes are prefabricated sets of page templates comprising both the visual elements of the site, and plugins for functionality. These themes are designed and built by professional WordPress developers, and then sold on sites like ThemeForest, or TemplateMonster. At MWD, we have worked extensively with a few premium themes and we can customize these themes to make each website we build unique. Because of our facility with the themes, we can design and build the website at the same time, even if the underlying structure of the theme is a bit more complex (because it is built for more general use). Using a premium theme, we design you a custom homepage and anywhere from one to ten custom inner pages, and then go straight into development using a premium theme as a framework.

Easy to get started, and faster to the finish

Compared to a custom theme, as we shall see, a premium theme requires relatively few pages to be designed before the development stage begins, and the rest we can do on the fly as we go. Thanks to our experts at MWD, rather than having to design each new page in Photoshop or Sketch before proceeding to the development stage, these new pages can be designed and built simultaneously based on the existing theme.

Highly customizable… if you know what you’re doing

Premium themes can be extremely versatile and fully customizable, provided that you or someone on your team is knowledgeable about coding (HTML, CSS) or page building (WPBakery, Elementor). However, if you have relatively little web admin experience, you may find that customizing premium WordPress themes can be a bit complex. Simple functionality changes sometimes require many hours of re-coding with premium themes. So while a premium site is fully customizable when you know what you’re doing, it can be more cumbersome in certain instances because you are working with an established framework rather than building from the ground up. At MWD, our developers are very familiar with certain premium themes and can make extensive changes quickly and easily, but ongoing changes after we hand the site off to you might be more cumbersome. If you don’t anticipate making sweeping changes to the site after it’s built, then a customized premium theme might be a great option for you.

Mmmm…. Premium food

In some cases, a premium theme is like getting all the ingredients for a roast beef sandwich – you can only make a roast beef sandwich, but if that’s what you want then it’s perfect. Other times, a premium theme is like getting all the ingredients for a nine course meal delivered to your door when all you want is a bowl of rice. If you’re a well-seasoned chef, this won’t be a problem, but if you’re not Julia Child herself, it might be time to consider the Custom theme.

premium vs custom wordpress themes
Our team can help you decide how to approach wordpress development.

Custom Themes

A WordPress custom theme is a site that is designed to be completely unique to your business, with no pre-set templates in place. With a custom theme the sky’s the limit: you have full control and you aren’t working with any pre-set framework.

Specific to your needs

A custom theme is built from the ground up, which means that the design stage takes more time, as each page is specifically designed to do exactly what you want it to do. From there we move on to the development stage. This differs from the workflow of the premium theme, where the design stage is less involved and is often coextensive with the development stage.

Streamlined and flexible

With a custom theme, a lot of power and flexibility comes from MWD’s use of Advanced Custom Fields with Flexible Content, a framework that allows you, the admin, to make changes to your website as you see fit with no knowledge of coding required. Using simple drag and drop tools, and the helper text we include to guide you through what each field is for, you can make whatever changes you like and even create new pages without having to worry about compromising your site’s fundamental aesthetic and functionality.

At the head table

You’ve brought home all the ingredients for your ideal dinner, and you’re all ready to go – good news! The best part is that if you want to swap out one ingredient for another, you’re in a well-stocked kitchen with all the ingredients you like. A custom theme is a selection of all the ingredients you can imagine so you can cook up that special, one-of-a-kind meal you’ve had in mind.

Chef’s choice

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to custom vs premium WordPress themes. As in all things at Millennial Web Development, the important thing is that it perfectly captures the tone and feel of your business.

In general, a premium theme may be for you if:

  • You need a small website, or have a tighter budget
  • You have access to someone with knowledge of HTML, CSS, WPBakery or Elementor on your team
  • You are eager to get your website up and running, and like the idea of a simultaneous design/development process

In general, a custom theme may be more your speed if:

  • You plan on updating the site’s content and functionality regularly, and it’s important that updating is remarkably easy, with no particular admin expertise required.
  • You want the customization options on the admin dashboard to be streamlined, eliminating the clutter of unnecessary update options.
  • You plan on having a large website that needs to be lightweight.

If you want to talk through the options and see whether a premium WordPress theme or a custom theme is the right approach for your business, just give us a call. We’re happy to learn more about your project and begin on a beautiful website just for you. Contact us now for a free consultation.