WordPress theme or custom build? Info to help you choose

According to Robert Mening at http://WebsiteSetup.org there are over a billion web sites published on the world wide web today. Extrapolating on this figure would mean that one in every seven of us knows how to code? Not true.

With the advent of the CMS (content management system) the power to publish to the web is in the grasp of many more people and more importantly: coding skills are NOT required to publish online with a CMS.

What exactly is a CMS?

I will try my best to eliminate incomprehensible tech jargon for you

A content management system (CMS) is software that is used to create and manage digital content. It is made up of 2 components:

  • a content management application (CMA) and
  • a content delivery application (CDA).

The CMA is a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows you to control, create, edit and remove content from a website without needing to know anything about HTML.

This is commonly referred to as the “back end”.

The CDA component is made up of the web server services that enable management and delivery of the content once it has been created in the CMA.

Translated: the engine and mechanics that make your web site load on a computer or device browser

Together the CMA and CDA creates a digital space that enables you (as the owner) to enter your website address, log in and create or edit your site’s content from any computer or device anywhere in the world. Neat hey?

Choices Choices Choices

As with many things, there is a wide range of CMS’s available in the market, and so choosing one can be difficult. The table below lists the ten most popular with supporting statistics.

# CMS Market Share Active sites Number of sites in the top 1 million
1  WordPress 58.8% 20 580 941 311 682
2  Joomla 6.5% 2 486 271 26 474
3  Drupal 4.8% 1 194 014 31 218
4  Blogger 2.5% 798 125 21 205
5  Magento 1.5% 501 036 18 897
6  Typo3 1.5% 425 730 8 481
7  Bitrix 1.4% 217 541 4 057
8  Prestashop 1.3% 250 000 + 3 888
9  Shopify 1.3% 201 900 8 590
10  Squarespace 1% 233 752 8 440

Source https://websitesetup.org/popular-cms/

WordPress is the clear winner by far – most popular sites created with WordPress include:

How do these websites get their look and feel?

Metaphorically, WordPress software is the chassis and engine of a car and the theme is the body and optional extras. Once your chassis and engine are in place you can customise the body and extras. Themes control the look and feel of your website and add features such as:

  • How your website is laid out e.g. 100% use of the screen width or boxed layouts:
Full width layout and boxed layout
  • The typefaces it uses
  • How it presents your images – slideshows, photo albums and image effects
  • Page templates – for home pages, about pages, services page, showcases of your products, news items, blog posts and many more.
  • Responsiveness – how your site looks when it is viewed on a smart phone or tablet or desktop. Many of the themes available today are responsive and it is an important aspect to consider when selecting a theme

Where to get your theme

From within WordPress

There is a huge selection of themes available from within the WordPress back end and these can be installed in one click.

Many themes are available in the WordPress admin dashboard

From WordPress.org

At the time of writing this, there are 9 736 free themes available on WordPress.org, luckily you can narrow the options with advanced feature filtering.

Advantages Disadvantages
Free Support

This can be limited in terms of availability, response times from authors and language barriers if the authors are based in a locale using a language different to yours.

Wide variety of styles Author credits

Frequently, theme developers give their themes away as a marketing tool and will place links to their sites in the footer area. Unless you are a sumo-weight developer, the chances of removing that credit are rather slim.

Easy to install Teaser features

Once you have chosen a theme for its features you may find that the features are limited in their functionality and have banners and adverts built into the back end prompting you to “Upgrade to the Pro version and unlock all features” expect to pay anything from $9 to $169 (US)


Can be brilliant. Can be absent. Pay attention to this as you wouldn’t want to find yourself in knowledge void when your project is nearing completion.


From a theme shop

Three popular theme retailers include:

  1. Themeforest – Currently 9 890 WordPress themes are on offer. Visit Themeforest
  2. Template Monster – Currently 1814 WordPress themes are on offer. Visit Template Monster
  3. Elegant Themes – Currently 87 WordPress themes are on offer. Only 87 themes? I will present their edge in the table below. Visit Elegant Themes
Advantages Disadvantages

Nearly all themes available for a price will come with user documentation and instruction guides. Although no coding knowledge is required, customisation options can be very extensive and these guides will assist in achieving your desired outcome.


Most purchased themes are licensed to one domain or web site only and have a built-in verification system which will unlock the full features once the verification has been passed. This means one purchase for every site.

Themes from Elegant Themes are not limited like this. An annual subscription of US $87 entitles you to unlimited use and downloads of their themes. One of their most popular canvas themes is Divi


Have a good look through the theme comments at theme retailer sites – all themes offer a support site or portal, pay attention to their response times and nature of the comments. This will give you a good indication of the efficiency and efficacy of the theme support.


Can become very expensive depending on the niche and extras included. Be aware of extras that have an annual subscription.


Cantaloupe’s favoured canvas themes have excellent support portals as well as popular user groups on Facebook enabling community support as well as great ideas to use on your own site.

Custom theme development

Inevitably you may have special requirements which cannot be found in existing themes. To meet these needs an entire theme or part thereof will need to be created. Consider the following if you reach this point:

  • Custom development comes at a higher cost. Can the requirements be tweaked in existing themes to achieve the same objective?
  • Will support and customisation be an extra charge every time a change or customisation is required?
  • Will the user interface in the custom work be easy to use and train users to use it?
  • Is it an established agency? Unfortunately, agencies do go under – be confident that the development agency you choose will be around in future because you don’t want to be stuck with unsupported software which is out dated and not future proof.

Unsure of what to choose? Contact us to help you make this choice.

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