A question we are asked on an almost daily basis is “why would I build a custom website when it’s cheaper to use a premade theme?”

Having travelled down the pre-purchased theme road many times in the past, I can confidently say that 99 times out of 100 a custom theme will deliver a significantly better investment for your new website.

At BirdBrain, our specialty is Magento and WordPress, for which there are literally thousands of theme options. Many of them are visually stunning, offer a great interface, are flexible and can be readily customised.

So with all of this available are we reinventing the wheel when we build a custom site?

If your objective is to save money and you’re not particularly focussed on creating a purposeful user experience, a pre-purchased theme may be suitable. However in our experience there are some significant shortfalls, some of which may not be immediately apparent, and these should be weighed up before making your decision.

Limited flexibility

When taking the website development journey with clients there’s almost always a point when the client realises there’s a specific feature, enhancement or design tweak that they’d like to introduce. The beauty of a custom site is that this is not a problem. As we’re building to the exact client requirements there are no limitations, whereas with a pre-purchased theme it’s rarely that simple- if at all possible.

Support and Maintenance

We’ve encountered many situations where pre-made themes are no longer supported. If you are buying a theme just remember you’ll always be at the mercy of the maker, so make sure they have a good support policy.

We believe building a relationship with a reputable developer with a commitment to supporting your website over the long term is a prudent approach.

Negative SEO

In our experience premade themes often use bloated and inefficient code. Poor code will reduce user experience and deliver negative indicators to the search engines, which may impact on traffic.

Code quality

When using a premade theme you don’t know the integrity of the code and the extent of the issues you may face after your site is launched.

A good example of this is a premade theme based Magento site we launched recently. Building the site was relatively painless and we were able to implement several custom features that the theme didn’t have (the client didn’t realise they were needed until after the site was underway).

After the site was launched we discovered 2 significant issues which were caused by poor code by the maker of the theme:

Both of these issues are caused by the theme and couldn’t be foreseen until the site went live.

Problems with updates

If you need to customise a premade theme in any way it’s possible you’ll experience issues when updating it down the track. There are usually workarounds to prevent this, however it’s a scenario we’ve seen clients experience on many occasions.

Each of these points relates not only to Magento, WordPress & Shopify but most other open source CMS’s, and I believe it speaks more to the mentality of web design than simply the technical limitations of a premade theme.

A great website with a high ROI should be built with a clear purpose and a desire to deliver users with the absolute best experience, and a custom theme built specifically with your goals in mind is the best way to achieve this.