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Why shouldn’t I use a pre-built WordPress theme?

8th August 2017

There is an ever increasing use of pre-built WordPress themes on the web and with prices starting from under £30 the allure is obvious. It may be that you are keen to buy the theme yourself and have a go at building the website in your own time or it may be that you have contacted a web developer willing to buy one of these themes on your behalf, bringing the cost of your website down. There is even a chance that an unscrupulous web developer will buy one of these without telling you – if someone is promising you a WordPress website for less than £2,000 then it is quite likely they will be starting the build from a theme they have purchased. On the surface the only drawback is that you site will look and operate like lots of others around the web. The truth is the pitfalls run much deeper than that. There are large issues with loading times, page errors, search engine optimisation, usability and security to name but a few.

Our studio manager and front end developer Jamie explains why we avoid pre-built WordPress themes and why you should too.

Why are pre-built WordPress themes a popular choice?

Many people opt for a theme when choosing a website for a startup venture or when refreshing their website for an existing business.

You can pick up a theme from online marketplaces fairly cheaply and if you are familiar with WordPress you can install them very easily. They also tend to be packed with features that have been shoehorned in by the themes developer, which can make them appealing on face value to the user.

So what are the downfalls?

1. Slow speeds
The features on offer are often unnecessary for the user and all they tend to do is increase the page loading times. Dynamic content that can look great should be used in balance to ensure your page load is not sacrificed. After all, a slow page load is a major negative in Google’s search algorithm and isn’t going to inspire visitors to continue using the site. Which leads us nicely onto search engine performance…

2. SEO standards that give us the jitters.
The majority of purchased themes we have seen or been asked to maintain are littered with major flaws in basic SEO standards. We have frequently seen a header 1 tag wrapped around the logo in the header of the site and broken links scattered across pages, in basic terms that is very bad news for your websites rankings.

For example: One of our recent website rebuilds moved away from a pre-purchased theme and we reduced page errors across the site from 115 down to 0 and broken links from 45 also to 0. This is a big indicator to Google that the site is being maintained and is still relevant. These common errors, although not immediately obvious in a lot of cases, can have a considerable impact.

3. Website Security
Purchased themes often include large numbers of plugins which makes the theme incredibly vulnerable to malware and hacks. WordPress often takes the blame for security breaches but in reality, it is the poor coding of site themes and plugins that opens up these vulnerabilities. Keeping them all up to date is a must.

4. Hidden costs
Not all plugins are included completely free with a theme. There is a chance that the plugin may be a free version which will only give you limited scope or that it has a license that runs for 12 months and then will need renewing. This can leave the end user with a bill larger than that of the original site after 12 months if the theme is heavily reliant on plugins.

5. Lack of bespoke design
In order to use a theme successfully you will need an eye for design and some great images to make the finished product aesthetically appealing as out of the box bought themes are generic and can be pretty dull. 

6. Website support and updates
You never know when a purchased theme will no longer be supported. The developer might just lose interest in the project or move onto another one, meaning your theme may no longer receive updates, some potentially critical to security or performance. The big problem with support being withdrawn is that the theme may be incompatible with the latest versions of WordPress itself. And if you don’t update your version of WordPress… you guessed it, it becomes a major security vulnerability.

7. Moving data
A growing trend in purchased themes is the use of page builders so that users can manipulate the layout and styles of their page all in the editable regions of the WordPress dashboard. Although this is a clever tool it is not particularly helpful if you ever want to move page content from one theme to another, due to the nature of how this content is written to the database.

These page builders also give our graphic designers nightmares. The thought of the user adding their own bespoke styles, colours and fonts to a site with clear brand guidelines send shivers down their spines and leaves them cowering under their desks.

Why limit yourself?
If you choose a pre-built theme you will find that you can only customise to a certain point and there will always be compromise somewhere. If you want a bespoke site that perfectly meets the needs of your business you need to contact a friendly web design agency in Norwich, (that’s us by the way) who can take you through each step of web design and development and leave you as the proud owner of the website you really want.

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