Custom Themes vs. Premium Themes in WordPress

WordPress powers a whopping 39% of all websites online and over 63% of websites with content management systems, as of November 2020. If you don’t think that sounds like much, just look at the competition (or lack thereof).

Platform, Market Share

  • WordPress, 39%
  • Shopify, 3.1%
  • Joomla, 2.2%
  • Drupal, 1.5%
  • Wix, 1.5%
  • Squarespace, 1.4%

Source: W3Techs

WordPress is dominating the market more and more every year. Back in 2011, only about 13% of websites used WordPress. In 2016, that percentage jumped to over 25%. Now, look at it go, rising roughly 2-4% yearly. Those are some impressive strides.

We wanted to let you in on why we’re so head over heels for WordPress. So, now you know. And we’re just getting started.

In today’s guide, we’ll walk you through one of the most critical decisions you can make when building a new website on the world’s hottest CMS. We’re discussing custom WordPress themes versus premium themes and throwing templates into the mix as well.

In other words, we’re covering a lot today, guys. So buckle up.

Before you start building your website with WordPress, you have to decide whether you want to buy a pre-built (premium) theme or hire a design agency to create a custom theme for you. There are, as always, pros and cons to both options.

This guide will do a deep dive into the good, bad, and ugly sides of each option. By the end, you should have a good idea of the best route to take for your business.

What is a WordPress Template?

Some people refer to a website’s entire design as a template, but this is an incorrect definition. A template is one page’s layout. Think about your About, Contact, Home, and Blog pages. Each one, generally, is built using a different template.

A template includes things like

  • Headers
  • Footers
  • Sidebars
  • Body content
  • Forms
  • Images
  • Full-width vs. fixed-width options

In other words, a template affects the overall layout of a single page.

WordPress Template Kits

Template kits are pretty much exactly what they sound like. They’re sets of templates you can purchase as a collection. You can buy a template kit for your specific type of business. It will help make your website look cohesive.

For example, let’s say that you need to set up a shop for your new online boutique. You could find a template kit with all the necessary pages and components you need to sell products successfully online. It should include a home page template, a product page, contact forms, an about page, and shopping cart functionality.

Unlike a theme, a template kit allows you to make changes to a theme without breaking code and losing content. Hang tight. We’ll explain more in a minute.

How is a WordPress Template Different from a Theme?

As we just covered, a template is a layout on your website that you can apply to individual pages. You can use as many or as few templates across your website as you want.

A theme encompasses the overall design of your entire website, including things like:

  • Color
  • Typography (font size, style, spacing, etc.)
  • Graphics and images
  • Templates
  • Page builders
  • Plugins
  • Unique features

Did you catch that? A theme includes the templates, allowing you to publish different types of pages across your website.

Your theme is the foundation of your website. Every WordPress site has a theme. You can choose a default, free, custom, or premium theme. These can vary a lot, so it’s essential to know the differences between them.

To apply a new theme to your site, you’ll simply download the files – to your computer or your web server – and install them through your WP admin dashboard. Once you’ve installed it, you can customize it to fit your business and give it some personality.

What are Free and Default Themes?

A default theme is what you see when you first install WordPress – before you change any of the design or layouts or install your theme. It contains essential features and can be used to design a simple, basic website.

If you install a new theme and something happens to it, WP can fall back on the default theme so you don’t lose your entire website.

Free themes are available on WordPress for you to download. We typically don’t recommend using a free theme because you’ll be limited in customization, support, updates, plugins, and overall security. Free themes often look much less individually branded and professional than premium or custom themes, which we’ll cover next.

What is a Premium WordPress Theme?

Premium themes are themes you can buy directly from WordPress or other developers. They typically will range from approximately $30 to $100. The more functionality you need for your website, the more you’ll need to invest. Higher-end themes are usually more sophisticated and offer you more control.

If you’re considering a pre-built theme for your website, do your research first to make sure the developer is reputable. You’ll find reviews on the design, functionality, support, and other important information. Also look at the number of downloads the premium theme already has, and make sure it has high approval ratings.

Even then, we have to be honest. You’re still taking a risk.

Benefits of Using a Premium Theme

Here are a few benefits of installing premium themes:

  • Easy to Install: Even if you have limited experience with WP, you can follow step-by-step tutorials for setting up your website using a pre-built theme.
  • Fast to Set Up: You can buy and install a theme in minutes and set up your website within the week if your content, branding, and images are ready to go.
  • Modern Design: Some themes are well designed with clean, modern layouts. Just make sure you check reviews before buying.
  • Easy on the Budget: Compared to paying a web designer to build you a custom website, installing a premium theme yourself (or even hiring someone to do it for you) can be very affordable.

Downsides of Using Premium Themes

Here are several pitfalls of pre-made WordPress themes:

  • Lack of Control: Make sure you’re happy with the layouts of your chosen theme because it can be tricky (if not impossible) to make alterations. Ensure it has the right “bones” for your business needs before you buy. Your customization options will be limited.
  • Bloated Code: Many themes require numerous plugins and extensive code to work correctly, which can immensely slow down your website.
  • Low Standards: Some templates fail to follow basic SEO and HTML standards and are built with low-quality code.
  • Errors: It can be challenging to uncover the source of the problems you encounter. The underlying problem could be buried under several surface-level issues.
  • Difficult to Change Themes: If you decide you want to upgrade to a different theme, you could lose a lot of your website. Premium themes aren’t designed to migrate to a different theme or page builder without breaking the code.
  • Abandoned Themes: Some developers stop supporting their themes and allow them to become outdated. It’s a huge bummer when it happens, but it happens a LOT and can result in various errors and security problems.
  • Lack of Security: Poorly coded themes are susceptible to malware, particularly when combined with various plugins. Some theme developers intentionally insert malicious coding, so make sure you buy from a reputable business.
  • Lack of Support: Many themes lack quality support. Test a theme’s responsiveness before investing in it.
  • Built for the Masses: WP theme developers generally build their themes to be multipurpose, meaning they contain as many different features as possible. This packs your site with stuff you probably don’t need or want and can make it sluggish.
  • Learning Curve: If you buy and install a premium theme, you need to know how to manage it properly. You’ll have to install the right plugins, uninstall any default plugins you don’t need, and make sure it always remains updated and secure. If you’re not familiar with WP, the learning curve can be pretty steep.

ThemeForest: Why We Don’t Recommend Using It

We want to slide in a bit about ThemeForest – a vast theme and template marketplace for WordPress websites. You may have heard of it.

You might find yourself scrolling through various themes and thinking, “These look awesome!” On the surface, it looks like they have some pretty great options – many with perfect or near-perfect ratings.

In our experience, however, and in that of countless other web designers and developers, the backend of many TF themes is, well, a big mess. And you might not notice the problems until months down the road.

Many of the themes have a boatload of plugins to accompany them, along with multiple slider options, numerous widgets, and a funky page builder. These cool-looking themes all too often result in a bloated website that’s slow and un-customizable. Websites can be difficult to scale, hard to update, and just plain unreliable.

Here’s a little firsthand insight. While less than 10% of our clients use purchased pre-built themes, we spend 80% of our maintenance time working on their websites. It’s a massive pain in the you know what.

Bottom line? Don’t use ThemeForest. If you do, be VERY careful before buying. No matter how much research you do, you’ll be taking a risk that could end up costing you a lot of money in the long run. Building a cheap website never ends up being cheap in the end.

What is a Custom WordPress Theme?

There are two types of custom themes. One is built entirely from scratch. The other is created using an existing theme and modifying its code. Usually, when web designers refer to a custom theme, they’re talking about creating a website from the ground up.

Custom themes are attractive for businesses of all shapes and sizes for a myriad of reasons. Your designer is custom coding your online entity just for you. You have the power to add unique design elements and the functionality your business website needs to thrive.

If you want to add some crazy-cool design features, you can. If you wish to build a website unlike anything that exists on the web, you’ve got it (and good luck).

The sky is truly the limit when starting with a blank canvas. Your designer will make sure you include what you need, and you can add whatever else you want.

C’mon, now we’re talking!

Benefits of Custom WordPress Themes

Here are some of the top benefits that come with designing a custom website.


Like we mentioned above, you can truly make your website unique with custom themes. They’re versatile. Just make sure you clearly communicate your needs with your web designer from the start and offer feedback throughout the process.

You can brand your website with all the right logos, colors, images, graphics, animation, illustrations, and whatever other features you want. Choose exactly what you need to make it work for your company perfectly. Your one-of-a-kind website will stand out from the crowd to attract the right people for your business.


In general, a custom-built theme will be faster and more refined than a pre-built theme. Your web designer can build you a custom website without all the excessive features and code that’re included in premium themes.

Your custom website should contain only what’s absolutely necessary to function correctly and perform well. You won’t have to deal with extra plugins and features that slow down your site and frustrate visitors to no end.

Strategic Design

You’re playing with the big kids now. A professional designer working for a reputable marketing agency will build your website to intentionally lead visitors through the buyer’s journey to convert leads and customers.

A Suite of Experts at Your Service

When working with a web team, you’ll have professional developers, graphic designers, web designers, and strategists all working together to build you a powerhouse website.

Ongoing Maintenance and Support

No more worrying about your theme developer dropping off the face of the earth. Your web designer will stick by your side for better or worse.

Website maintenance is crucial. Without it, hackers, bugs, malware, and outdated code and content could overcome your website. You could end up losing your good reputation, along with a lot of traffic and SEO. Shoot, search engines might even kick you off their results pages completely.

With ongoing support, you have someone to call if something goes wrong. With ongoing maintenance, you have someone watching your back and making sure your website stays healthy and optimized at all times.

Focus on SEO

A good web designer will optimize your website for search engines. That way, more people can find your business organically by searching for specific terms online.

Your web team can also design your site architecture and navigation so it’s easy to use. You want your visitors to find what they’re looking for immediately, right? Build your website to attract a target audience and intentionally convert them into leads and loyal customers.

Downsides of Using a Custom WordPress Theme

There are a few cons too when you choose to build a custom WP theme.


A new custom website can cost anywhere from around $2,000 to $50,000 to build, depending on the size, complexity, and type of website you need. Who you hire to create your website will also play a role in the price.

For example, hiring a freelancer will be less pricey than hiring a whole agency (an entire team of experts). But when it comes to web design, you always get what you pay for.


Developing a website from scratch can take weeks, if not months, to complete. It involves graphic design, strategy, coding, and lots of trial and error. Getting the job done right can be time-consuming. But the result should be well worth it.


You won’t be able to just hand over the reins to your web designer, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. You’ll need to be involved throughout the entire process to ensure you get what you want. The more information you can give your web design partner, the better.

Together, you will develop a detailed marketing plan with sound strategies so your website can reach your goals. If no one from your business has the time to feed into the process, it may not be worth the investment right now.

Ongoing Maintenance

We put this one on the cons list because you will need to pay for ongoing professional web maintenance. Make sure to hire someone you trust to take care of your website. That way, you never have to worry about it! Specific maintenance tasks should be done daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly.

Required Expertise

“Anyone can build a WordPress website,” says no one ever. If they do, they’re lying to you. Building a WP website requires specific knowledge and skill. It’s not for the faint of heart. That’s why you should hire an expert to do the work for you.

Custom WordPress Themes vs. Premium Themes: Who’s the Winner?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re well aware of who the clear winner is. We highly recommend going custom over choosing a premium theme for your website. If you’re serious about building a successful business, a custom website is the best way to go.

Why You Should Build Your Business Website with a Custom WordPress Theme

Here are the spark notes of why custom themes knock premium themes out of the water:

  1. Customization options are virtually limitless.
  2. They can be much faster, cleaner, and “lighter” than premium themes.
  3. They’re more reliable (you don’t have to worry about your developer disappearing on you).
  4. They’re generally much more secure.
  5. You can work with a whole team of experts to build your site exactly the way you want it.
  6. You can optimize your website for traffic, search engines, conversions, and your target audience.
  7. Your web designer can maintain your website for you (and bail you out if you get into a mess).

Ready to Build Your Very Own Custom WordPress Theme?

At Fingerprint Marketing, we build all our websites from scratch. And every website we make fulfills the client’s every need. That’s right! You heard it right here, folks.

We start with nothing and create whatever our clients ask of us. But don’t you worry. We’re REAL good at giving our input and feedback, too. We’re all in this together. We may want you to succeed even more than you do.

Creating custom websites gives us the creative freedom to build something unique for every business – because every business should be unique. Your website should be a reflection of your business’s personality, style, people, and services.

We can build you a speedy website with top-of-the-line security and only two or three scripts (versus dozens that come with many premium themes). As a result, your site will require less maintenance and have fewer errors and problems.

We encourage you to sneak a peek at our custom-designed website portfolio. We’re proud of it. So tell your boss, tell your friends, tell your mom. We won’t judge. In fact, we’d be flattered.

If you’re ready to dive headfirst into creating a custom site of your very own, schedule a Discovery Call with our team! We’d love to chat with you to learn a little about your fabulous business and the kind of website you’re looking for. We’ll also quote your project so you can see if we fit the bill.

Contact us to book a free consult!

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