February 16, 2021  |  Expertise

Advantages of a Custom Website vs. a Pre-Built Theme

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Ideabar’s Interactive team specializes in building WordPress and Shopify websites. There are two methods of approaching a WordPress or Shopify website – building a custom theme or using a pre-built theme. We prefer the custom method for a variety of reasons, including performance, security, design and UX freedom, flexibility, and simplifying the admin panel editing experience.

What is the difference between a custom theme and a pre-built theme?

A custom theme is built from the ground up. The website is completely custom from conception to deployment. The process will begin with a UX designer strategizing the experience of the website. Next, a UI designer will design every unique page on the website with both desktop and mobile considerations. A developer will then code the back-end of the website based on the custom design layouts, functionality and UX strategy.

A pre-built theme is a theme that is purchased from a third-party seller. This provides a base for the design and code of the website, and functionality is dependent upon the capabilities of the theme. Pre-built themes can be a good option for brands that need a website quickly or companies with less development resources. But, they can be problematic in the long run.

Performance: Custom websites typically have faster page load speeds

Most pre-built themes come with a ton of plugins and redundant code. This can slow down the performance of a website by adding unnecessary JavaScript and calls to outside servers which will hurt page load speeds. Building a custom website enables us to have full control over the back-end code, where we can build the website to be performance-driven and minimize the use of plugins or apps.

Seventy percent of customers say site speed impacts their purchasing decisions, and 37% of site visitors bounce if a site takes more than five seconds to load (Trinity). Investing in a custom website will have a higher ROI in the long term and will provide a better experience for users.

Security: Custom websites don’t need to rely on redundant plugins and code, meaning less vulnerabilities

Pre-built WordPress themes can cause security vulnerabilities due to the number of plugins and the code within the theme itself. Using too many plugins and not updating them frequently can make a website susceptible to attacks. When using a pre-built theme, it is important to update plugins and themes on a regular basis. With custom development, we don’t need to rely on plugins to add functionality and can structure the code to be secure.

Design Freedom: Having full control over design means more flexibility and customization

Pre-built themes come with a variety of layout options and different customizations, but there are always limitations when you are not building the theme from scratch.

Building a website from the ground up means that a designer is building a custom design system and strategy tailored to your brand. This is especially important for brands that have a specific identity that could get lost in a pre-built theme. Having freedom over the design with a custom website means more customizations to animations, typography, iconography, illustration, design elements and layouts.

Having full control over design also means more flexibility for changes. Changes may arise during the project that are difficult to plan for in advance due to the unique needs of your business. With a pre-built theme, customizations are challenging if the feature does not already exist within the design or code base.

Better UX: A custom theme allows for a custom UX strategy tailored to your target audience

 A solid UX strategy is essential to developing an engaging, consumer-centric website experience designed to drive conversions. With a custom website, we have full control over the UX strategy which is strategized from the beginning of the project through information architecture, wireframes, navigation schemas, and content maps. Every element on the page should be intentional with the end goal in mind. Pre-built themes can often times have a disjointed user experience, which can affect your audience’s perception your brand and lead to less conversions.

Editing Capabilities + Admin Panel Simplicity: Building a custom theme gives full control over the admin panel editing experience

When we build custom websites, we consider the editing experience in the admin panel just as much as the front-end user experience. We use custom fields that match up easily to content on the website so administrators can easily swap copy and images. For websites that require more flexibility, we develop content builders where pre-built modules can be added anywhere in the page, offering flexibility for unique layouts.

Pre-built themes are typically built with page-builder plugins, which offer a variety of modules but can be difficult to maintain. Design elements such as colors, fonts, padding and margin are often controlled through the admin panel, which can be confusing for editors without design or development knowledge. Sections can also easily be deleted or moved, which can break the layout of the website. A custom admin panel will save time and create efficiencies for teams responsible for maintaining website content.

Scalability: A custom website can scale with your brand as the industry evolves

Scalability is critical for the long-term success of a brand’s digital presence. As a brand evolves over time, different needs will arise that require updates to the website. Having full control over the website’s source code will make it easier to iterate on the website as user needs and industry trends change over time. With a pre-built theme, brands may find themselves needing to redesign or redevelop their website more frequently, leading to more long-term costs. As your brand grows, more visitors will be coming to your website and a custom website will ensure that the code structure can scale with your brand.

Ideabar’s Interactive team specializes in building custom WordPress and Shopify websites. We take a performance-driven, consumer-centric approach with a focus on usability, accessibility and scalability.