WordPress Theme vs Custom Website Design

So, you need a new website designed, but you’re not sure if you should go with a WordPress theme vs a custom website design.

What’s a guy or gal to do? Fear not new, non-web-developer friend: we’ve got your back.

Here are the 3 approaches we (here at Timmermann Group) recommend:

  1. Buy a WordPress theme website design, populate the WordPress CMS with your content
  2. Buy an HTML Template website design and customize it to your liking, connect it to a WordPress CMS, populate it with your content
  3. Build a Custom Website Design from scratch, connect it to a WordPress CMS, populate it with your content

Truth be told, you’re going to need a little professional help to really knock it out of the park with ANY of the above and that’s where this blog comes in. Welcome to your handy guide on how to pick which approach to a new website is best for you. We’re assuming you’ve come to terms with the fact that the best way to get the website job done is to work with a WordPress web design agency or web design shop. Where today’s journey starts is identifying which approach your web-partner should take when they are building your new digital property and, just to make said journey super easy to navigate, we’ve developed a fancy little metaphor to help you better understand the finer points of selecting a framework for your new website that prioritizes digital marketing.

Are you ready for it?


That’s right: building a new website is like a delicious pie of plugins, graphics, and a beautiful arrangement of clean code.

Allow us to explain.

Difference Between Theme vs Custom Website Design

Let’s just admit something to ourselves, right now: frozen pizzas are more about convenience than flavor. Sure, you probably have your favorite pre-made pizza treats, but nothing is quite as fantastic to chow on as the labor-of-love which is a custom pizza. There’s also the allure of the pizza kit, which lets you do a little customization, but with a lot less planning and prep than a custom build. This is where our metaphor begins by describing two out-of-the-box web solutions: WordPress themes and HTML Templates.

WordPress Themes

A WordPress theme is the frozen pizza of the website world. We don’t buy a frozen pizza for its cardboard crust and its sparse cheese; we buy it because it’s affordable and it’s quick.

The same goes for people who select WordPress themes over custom web design: you know you’re not going to get everything you want but it’s faster and much less expensive. If your tight budget is the reason you’re leaning towards a theme, maybe a WordPress theme is right for you. The key here is working with experts like Timmermann Group to preheat your web design to exactly the right temperature, pop that theme in, and make sure your final pre-built product is baked exactly the way it should be. Here are some of the unique challenges and benefits of being a frequent shopper in the frozen food aisle of WordPress themes:

Price & Timeline Conscious: Just like picking your fav pizza from the stack of 20 you’ve got in your freezer when you’re starving after a long day at work, WordPress themes are great when you need limited customizations on a tight timeline with a minimal budget. Don’t forget though, you might pay the price tomorrow morning.

What You See Is What You Get (Literally): There aren’t going to be any surprises with the web design and functionality of a frozen WordPress theme. It is what it is. This leads us to the next point…

Difficult to Customize (without help): Remember what we said about the frozen pizza and the custom pizza? If you order a frozen WordPress theme, there’s only going to be so much you can do to make the design better. When you buy a template site or theme, there can be significant limitations on how many customizations you can make, as well. The WordPress theme is the most rigid of our three options.

Everything You Need and Some Things You Don’t: One of the joys of a theme is that you’re getting a fully-loaded item ready for use as soon as you buy it. The downside of this is that you might have too many “toppings” and you won’t end up using everything that comes with your pre-built theme. Like a supreme pizza when all you really want is a veggie delight, you’ll be stuck with a lot of options that you’ll never use and might not even understand. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to remove the things you don’t use or want without damaging the integrity of the website itself. Essentially, you’re stuck with what you’ve got.

Core Theme Updates: Basically, there’s a guy out there that made your pizza. He has the master recipe. From time to time, he’ll change something in that recipe and it’ll also change on your existing pizza (that you’re in the middle of eating) without any warning. Don’t like anchovies on your pizza? NOW YOU DO. That’s what it’s like to experience a WordPress theme update.

Plugins: That same guy that made your pizza before? Well, when he was coming up with the recipe for it he knew he wanted the pizza to have jalapeños, but he wasn’t sure where to get them, so he bought some from someone else. Now he has to pass that cost along to you. That’s right, you may have just paid extra for some jalapeños you’re just going to pick off later.

Slow Load Times: When it’s time to eat your pizza, when do you want it? Now! Not 45-min from now, while you wait for a bunch of ingredients to cook – especially when they’re ingredients you didn’t even order! While WordPress themes are usually pretty affordable, they may also come stuffed with a lot of features you didn’t want. This can result in slower website load times, as each plugin or feature loads on the page. This can be frustrating for your audience, causing them to leave your site before they’ve even had the chance to see it.

Not Search Engine Friendly: A part of what makes a pizza so enticing is that fresh-baked pizza smell! When you throw a pizza in the oven, everyone starts asking for a slice! By comparison, what attracts people to your website is often its SEO. Without it, people may not even know your website is there! A lot of what makes a website SEO-friendly comes down to how it is coded. With a WordPress theme, you don’t have control over how it’s coded, so your website might be more difficult to find than others. That can be a big problem for businesses looking to increase their traffic or sales.

Lack of Cross-Browser Coding: Imagine that you ordered a pizza for you and your friends, but one of your friends is vegetarian and the other is gluten-free? You need that pizza to be good for everyone who might want to eat it, right? The same should go for your website, no matter what web browser people are using to access it. Not every Website theme is designed to be universal to every browser, meaning that your template site may work in Safari and Opera but look broken in Chrome. That can be a serious issue, resulting in frustrated customers and possible loss of leads.

Almost No Security: In other words, your pizza’s gonna get hacked. Here’s the deal, WordPress theme developers make said themes so that people will buy them. What if you made a pizza that was so good no one ever bought another pizza again? That’s no good for business. Consequently, those WordPress developers will just flat out stop supporting your current WordPress theme (the one you love) and then BOOM, your site ends up with a bunch of hacky-stuff on it. Now you’re forced to abandon your old site and buy a new one. Bad news for you. Great news for that WordPress developer.

Mobile Un-Friendly: Sometimes you want a sit-down meal, but the world is a busy place and you just need a slice you can take on-the-go. With more and more people relying on their phones and mobile devices for searching the web, having a mobile-friendly website is a must. Not every theme is designed to be mobile-friendly, meaning that your business could be at a serious disadvantage. Additionally, once the WordPress theme stops being supported it will start having issues with people trying to view it in certain browsers.

HTML Templates

Not keen on the limitations of a frozen pizza, but still looking for something a little easier to digest than the price of a fully-custom website build? Look no further than the HTML Template. Essentially a high-end pizza kit, the template, similar to a crust, provides the foundation and then a team like Timmermann Group can help you build something unique to your business with the provided toppings (and an awesome content management system).

Website Layout: HTML Templates have a little bit more functionality than your basic HTML website. Like a pizza-kit, we’ll be able to use the toppings provided with your purchase to create something a little more unique to you. However, the crust and sauce (i.e. the layout of your website) won’t change at all. You get what you get.

Content Management System: If the website is built correctly the Content Management System should be manually connected to the HTML Template. The great news is that WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems in the whole world, so even with minimal customization, your website experience will be delicious.

Not Scalable or Future Proof: You’ve got the structure of your pizza, but it isn’t adaptable. With an HTML Template that isn’t custom-created, it won’t be able to grow with the business the way a good website should.

There are indeed drawbacks to both WordPress themes and HTML Template sites. However, some of these challenges are easily overcome by working with a professional web development team. Think of a professional web development team as a team of expert chefs, trained in Italy at the art of pizza creation, with access to the world’s finest wood-fired brick oven. For every pizza-based roadblock that comes from selecting a WordPress theme or HTML Template, a professional web development team may have an expert solution.

Custom Website Designs

Imagine a world where every pizza you eat is 100% made-to-order. We’re talking about pizza that is made from scratch, using only the freshest ingredients. That’s what a custom web design is like. Think we’re crazy? Here are the benefits of custom web design, served by the slice.

Custom Design: How do you like your pizza? Thin crust? Deep dish? Square pieces? Triangles? Whatever you like, get can have. You’re not just stuck with whatever pizza they happen to sell at the grocery store.

The same comparison can be made between a custom website build and a template website. With a custom website build, you can have it your way. No compromises, completely made to your preferences. With a template, you get whatever designs are currently on the market.

Built for Your Audience: So you’re wanting to invite someone over for pizza, but how do you get them to accept? If you know they like bacon, you’re going to want to throw some bacon on there. Once they find out that you’re making a bacon pizza, they aren’t going to be clawing to sink their teeth into it.

You can do the same thing for your custom built website, adding content and features that your audience finds useful. If you’re not sure what your audience likes, our content and SEO experts can help you learn more about your audience before it’s built, so your site can accurately reflect the needs of your target audience.

Fully Adaptable: With a frozen pizza, you get what you get. Once you’ve purchased it and you get home, there is no changing your pizza. I mean, sure, you can try to pick off the pepperoni but now you’re also pulling off some of the cheese with it. Your whole pizza is a mess! With a custom built website, on the other hand, you can make any changes you like that meet your tastes or preferences. No cheese lost! (Thank goodness)

With a template website, you get what comes in the box, while custom built websites are fully adaptable to your needs – even if they change down the road. Remove features, add features, whatever you need; with custom websites, changes can be made more easily without breaking other components of your site.

The Ability to Plan Ahead: So maybe you can’t afford that really great mozzarella you love but, right now, you can afford a really killer crust. With a freshly made website, you’re able to do that: you can plan ahead for extra website features you want in the future, even if you’re not ready to buy them right away.

When you use a template for your website, it can be very difficult to add features later. But when you’re building custom built websites, you can make a wish list of future features and build a website infrastructure that will support those changes when your budget allows.

Better Security: When you make a custom pizza, you can rest assured that you won’t have your toppings… hacked? Okay, so there isn’t a pithy comparison for this one but just trust us that a custom built design and build offer stronger security than a premade theme. This is because you’re able to build a secure site from the get-go, rather than trying to find and fix any security flaws that may have come with template sites.

Unique to You: What if you’re not just a traditional pizza person. Sure, traditional pizza is good, it’s fine, but maybe you like things to be different. Maybe you’re a BBQ pizza person! Or a Mac N Cheese pizza person! When you’re the one making the website, you get to think outside the box and create the custom built website that perfectly represents who you are.

When you’re choosing to build a website for your business, you want it to accurately reflect what your business represents: every color, every font, every function. When you buy a template, you’re working to edit it and force it to fit your brand. Yet no matter how much you edit, at the end of the day, it’ll largely look the same. With custom websites, you get to decide what you want your website to look like so that it accurately fits your brand – down to a T.

Is a Theme or Custom Website Better for Your Business?

Pizza metaphor too much? Let’s summarize in some normal business terms:

  • best choice for low budget
  • best choice for a strict & quick timeline
  • no customization
  • short shelf life (2-3 years)

  • best choice for a moderate budget
  • some customization
  • medium shelf life (5 years)

  • willing to invest in the superior end result
  • completely customized
  • endless possibilities
  • lead generation tool
  • literally the perfect pizza for both you and who you’re serving it to
  • shelf life beyond 5 years

If you have a very limited budget, a super strict timeline, and you just need to get a website up, a WordPress theme may be the right fit for you. Just remember you are going to have to find a WordPress theme that doesn’t require ANY customization to meet your needs and you’re going to have to be fine with your new website having a shelf life of only two or three years.

If you have a decent budget an HTML template may be the best bet for you. You will have to find an HTML template that has the layout you want and connect a WordPress CMS to it. After that is complete, you can customize it to your liking, populate it with content, and it will have a shelf life of about five years.

If you have a good budget and you want to have a website that is completely customized to act as the perfect new and existing salesperson for your business, a custom website design is a right fit for you. The possibilities are endless and it will perfectly match the look and feel of your business all while having functionality that steers your customers through a user experience that seems second nature to your end-users. On top of that, if a custom website design is built properly it can be a lead generating machine for your business. This is because custom built website design is developed with a very detailed SEO strategy that is targeted around several keywords throughout the consumer’s buying journey. The number of leads that custom sites can generate is only limited by the amount of traffic you can send to it. You can expect the shelf life to extend past five years and possibly even up to about ten years.

Are You Hungry for a New Website?

The value of a theme vs custom website template truly depends on the needs of your business and prime digital marketing strategy. Just reach out to us and we will walk you through how to identify what approach is best for your needs.