Anyone who runs a business loves to save money. After all, the more a business can save, the more it can reinvest and enable positive growth.
It seems like the deal of the century. Seriously, a beautiful theme for only $55? That’s way better than plunking down a few thousand for someone like me to create something original, right?
Well, yes and no. Let me explain.
What You See is Not Always What You Get
Looking at many of the ready-made themes available, some of them are simply gorgeous. They ooze class and sophistication. But, as your Mom told you, beauty is only skin deep.
While the look of your theme is certainly important, what’s under the hood means even more.
Here are some things to consider when shopping for a theme:
Will it look like the demo you browsed out of the box?
Sometimes it takes quite a bit of hacking away to get a theme to look exactly like the thing of beauty you thought you were purchasing. Since there are so many theme authors out there, you really can’t be sure how easily the exact look they’re selling you on is to recreate on your own. It’s an ideal question to ask before you buy.
Does it really fit the type of content you have or are willing to create?
There are some really powerful “magazine” themes out there that, when done properly, can look stunning. The problem I’ve found is that most organizations simply don’t have the depth of content to take advantage of what the theme has to offer. Unless you’re a mass media organization, you probably aren’t going to come up with enough content to fill the thing up. And if you are a mass media organization, then you probably have the budget to build something custom that will suit your needs exactly.
Another issue at play is whether you’ll need to change your content to fit the theme. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Your website should reflect who you are and what you do. It should not only look great, but it should also properly focus on the content you have. You shouldn’t have to change your brand’s identity for the sake of a cheap theme.
How Much Customization Will it Allow?
Most of these themes have a settings panel inside the WordPress admin that will allow you to make some changes. How much customization they really allow for varies greatly from theme author to theme author.
Some themes may give you granular control over the look and layout while others may only allow a few basic edits to be made. This is a very important consideration. You might want to think about how easy this theme will be to edit to your liking.
When I’m asked about using a ready-made theme, my response is to make sure that the basic layout they see in the theme store is really what you want. I’ve had folks ask me to take these themes apart and move “Section A” over to “Area B”. Truthfully, it isn’t always so easy. How much flexibility there is really depends upon the theme author and how they created it.
It’s possible that you’ll find yourself with a website that is very inflexible. If so, also consider that your site may look like 1,000 other companies who purchased the same theme.
When Ready-Made is Appropriate
Budget considerations are probably the biggest reason to go with a ready-made WordPress theme over having one custom-developed for you. If you’re just starting out and you’re really on a shoestring budget, it might be the right move.
Another reason you may want to go with a ready-made theme is if you’re really into DIY. Some of these themes have a lot of settings and it can be fun to see what different things do and how you may be able to change them to your liking.
They’re Not All Bad
Obviously, as someone who creates custom websites for a living, I have a bias here. I’ll freely admit that. But I also must admit that I’ve run across some themes that actually are pretty good.
The best ones allow for some measure of flexibility. If the author has done a great job of planning for how different users will want to customize the theme, it’s going to make your life much easier.
The lesser themes haven’t been as well thought out. Generally speaking, the author will have created something that is a bit more rigid. Perhaps you’ll be able to easily change colors and your logo, but the rest of the layout is for better or worse going to stay the way it is.
I hope this guide to the ins-and-outs of ready-made WordPress themes has been helpful. If anything, I’d like to at least get folks thinking about flexibility and how a theme fits their brand before making the purchase. There are indeed some nicely done themes out there, but it probably won’t be the first one you see. Check out as many as you can and don’t be afraid to ask the author some probing questions!