Within this blog post I will be exploring WordPress themes, the different methods that developers can take in creating a client’s theme, the pros and cons of each and the dos and don’ts that you should query when working with a web agency.

WordPress themes are essentially the design or ‘skin’ of the website, and contain a collection of files that the developer has created. You may have previously seen an assortment of themes on the backend/control panel of your current site.

Within the theme files, the developer can fully control both the frontend and backend of the website whilst maintaining the strong user experience that WordPress offers ‘out of the box’.

Once a client and web agency have settled on the structure, design, and type of content management system (such as WordPress), there are three ways in which a theme can be developed or used:

Purchase or use a free existing WordPress theme.

Purchasing and installing a good looking, functional website is nothing short of easy when it comes to WordPress. You can literally create or change a website in minutes by purchasing or finding a theme online which can be very cost effective.

However, with sales of themes averaging at least in the hundreds and in some cases in the thousands from just one retailer, this approach will not set your company apart from the competition and could detract from your brand or business message as it would be easy for lesser competitors to gain the same brand image easily through buying the same theme.

There is also the chance you may not like or find a theme with a piece of functionality that your site needs. Plugins may offer some additional functionality, but styling and placing this into a theme can sometimes be challenging especially if you do not understand HTML, CSS, JS or PHP. This could potentially lead to a broken, slow or poorly structured website.

Purchased themes that aren’t specifically catered to your business will most likely be bloated with additional code or functions that you will never need or use, potentially slowing or clogging the frontend and backend of your site.

Do – Consider a free or premium theme if your budget is low and you don’t mind other companies/competitors having the same design and layout. Many online theme re-sellers can offer an extensive and diverse range of themes for competitive prices. These will usually come with support from the developers through FAQs, guides and forums, but technical support and custom changes are charged.

Don’t – Never allow a web agency to create a site for you from a pre bought theme, or worse, a free theme, unless they have fully made this clear to you before the work has commenced, (which should be accounted for within your budget). The turn around time for the site going live might be short, however some web agencies will use this none-customised method to gain a larger amount of profit whilst leaving you with a site that looks like the competition – something Cornerstone never does.

Create a child WordPress theme.

Child themes are a way of using a pre-existing themes design and functionality whilst also being able to fully customise, overwrite and add to it without having to edit the core parent files and worry about breaking the parent theme.

For example, the parent theme could offer a certain piece of functionality that the client has requested and the developer could then create a child file, style it accordingly and use that in the place of the parent file. The good thing about this solution is that if the child file is missing or something has gone wrong, WordPress will fall back to the parent theme, meaning your site doesn’t break or suffer any downtime.

Do – Consider a child theme if your budget is low and you believe that the web agency will be carrying out enough custom work to justify the cost difference from just using the parent theme yourself.

Don’t – Be fooled into thinking your website design is now bespoke with the added functionality of the parent theme. A web or digital agency in theory does not even need to configure any files apart from the basic styling for it to be considered a child theme. Even then, they could just slightly configure one file, leaving you with a website that looks identical to the parent theme and potentially your competitors’ sites too.

Create a Bespoke WordPress Theme.

A Bespoke theme is a fully customised and designed theme that caters specifically to the clients needs without any compromise. Whether it is frontend or backend design, or both, a bespoke theme will do exactly what you and your users require without the ‘bloat’ and generic design of a pre-existing theme.

By creating a totally bespoke website theme through an agency you are setting yourself out from the crowd and competition, and ensuring your online presence matching your offline and outdoor marketing activity.

You can customise, tweak and make it not only a website but your online brand image and identity.

Whilst this option trumps the previous two, it is understandable that the price may also reflect the work that will go into making the theme unique from anyone else’s. When debating the cost of a website, you have to consider that a website is often the first point of contact a potential client may have with your company. If the website is poor, generic or recognisable as similar to a competitor’s site, then this will make you lose custom no matter how good your company actually is.

Bespoke themes are also developed to be much more enhanced in terms of search engine optimisation, ensuring best practices are followed, adhered to and often exceeded, allowing your site to not only look great, but also function well for Google and other major search engines. This is not always the case with the other two options.

Do – Consider a Bespoke theme if your budget will cover the extra work that will be put into making a unique web presence. Select an agency you feel you can work with, trust, and one that will support you and your site for many years to come. Whilst price is always going to be a determining factor, weigh up the quality of work compared to the associated price, it’s often cheaper to pay a little more once, than have to re-do something that’s been done cheaply soon after launch. It may even be a good idea to speak to a previous client of the web agency if possible and have a quick discussion on how the process went (This is advisable on all work until you become familiar with the company).

Don’t – Be fooled into thinking a custom theme will cost you a fortune. Bespoke or custom website themes can be very competitively priced and great value for money if you find the right web agency.

At Cornerstone we pride ourselves on the fact that every client is given a totally bespoke designed theme that is developed specifically to the clients business goals and objectives, whilst being priced competitively from the competition.

The idea of using pre-existing themes/child themes is non-existent at Cornerstone. As a web developer, my philosophy is not only to develop something that the client is proud to put their name to, but also my own.

Cornerstone DM