So, you are launching or re-launching your website and are trying to decide between using a pre-built theme or having someone custom build your site. There are many reasons to do both, but you really need to have answered a few key topics before deciding.

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What is your budget?

For limited budget customers, there is really only one way to go. Themes. Choosing the right theme can give you all the functionality necessary to launch your site quickly. The first step here is to list out all the features that you NEED on your site. Bells and whistles can come later when you have more budget to spend. Then find a theme that has EVERYTHING on your list. The important thing to remember here is that the pre-build theme is just a start; eventually as your site grows and becomes move complex, the cost savings becomes far less if not inverted.

When you have the budget to do some custom work, please do! Pre-built themes can often have loads of functionality that are not relevant to your needs. Also, they are usually not developed with the best coding practices. I have looked at hundreds of themes and you start to see the same components over and over. Mixing these all together can make the site slower and harder to maintain.

Even if you go custom, you can certainly use the themes for inspiration and give your designer / agency a head start on the direction you would like to go.

If you are looking for a theme, or simply some inspiration, we recommend http://www.themeforest.net/

Is there any custom functionality that isn’t native to an existing solution?

If you need a feature, and it is not part of the theme…beware! Themes can be a good option if you use the native functionality. Once you start to customize, you lose the ability to upgrade (in most cases) and take advantage of the bug fixes and enhancements of the original developer.

Some things to look out for when buying your theme:

  • Find trusted or popular designers
  • Make sure the theme is light-weight to ensure quick load times
  • Theme should be SEO optimized, well coded and responsive.

Do you want a unique/customized design?

If you are willing to stick with the look of a pre-built theme…go for it. If it has a lot of downloads, you may look like a lot of other sites. If you want a custom design, you might be better off with a custom design. A custom theme will always be better than a premium theme in this regard because a premium theme has to have loads of different functionality where a custom theme doesn’t need to be as flexible. With page loading times a custom theme will always load quick and will always have to make less calls to the database.

The Answer

As you have read, there is no real answer to the question. It is driven by your budget, business goals and design preferences. My personal preference is to build a custom solution so that the code can be clean, we know exactly what is in the site and we can grow/adapt fast.