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Custom WordPress Development vs. Pre-Built WordPress Themes

By Somer Athari

November 23, 2022

custom wordpress development

Building a website in WordPress is a lot like shopping for a suit: you can buy one off the rack, or you can have one custom-made. Custom WordPress development offers something that’s totally yours: a website that fits your brand like–well, like a perfectly tailored suit. In contrast, a pre-built theme can be affordable and ready to buy. (You just might see a few other people wearing the same outfit when you get to the party.)

It’s important to note that neither of these options is necessarily the better choice. Buying a suit off the rack–that is, using a pre-built WordPress theme–can certainly be a time-saver when the wedding is next week. But if you’re after something that’ll last for years (and fits your unique sense of style) it’s well worth your time to explore custom WordPress development services. After all, in the wise words of ZZ Top vocalist Billy Gibbons, “everyone’s crazy ‘bout a sharp-dressed man.” 

What’s the difference between custom WordPress development and pre-built WordPress themes?

Custom WordPress development is a mix of individualized front-end, back-end, and design services, usually provided by a web development agency. The goal is to build a website tailored to your business’s current and future distinctive needs. Here, the word “custom” is essentially synonymous with “unlimited”–anything is possible with enough time and budget. The finished product is totally unique with a user experience that meets your detailed needs and wants.

WordPress pre-built themes are much simpler. Think of them as the design portion of the service we’ve described above, without the front-end and back-end elements. These third-party themes work out of the box and are generally built by a community of theme builders and profit-minded developers. You can buy them online in theme marketplaces, which means you’re very likely to share the same theme with one, or ten, or a thousand other people who purchased the same one.

Custom WordPress Development

Buying a custom suit is a top-to-bottom bespoke experience. The same is true of custom WordPress development. You’ll work directly with a team of experts whose sole job is to create a beautifully branded website that’s exclusively yours, meets your exact business requirement needs, and is built to last. 

This also means your website will be created with your business goals in mind. Conversion rate optimization, accessibility, SEO and security will all be accounted for in the design, content creation, and build. And as your business grows and changes over the years, you’ll be able to easily update your custom website with new elements as they become standard or leading-edge. (Timeless, like a tuxedo.)


What are the benefits of custom WordPress development?

Complete Control

Don’t like these buttons? Don’t like that pattern? Get rid of them or replace them for features you want. The custom WordPress development experience puts the power in your hands. Create and enhance anything about your website without the limitations that confine pre-built themes and templates. 

Tailored to You

Your business isn’t like any other out there, so why settle for a one-size-fits-all website? When you go the custom route, you’ll have the opportunity to tailor every area of your brand’s new digital home, from design to functionality with no superfluous features or code. Make every bit of real estate work to support your business strategies and delight your customers.

Plug-In Independence

Plug-ins make so much of the world go ‘round that most WordPress websites use them. A plug-in is a way to add functionality, like SEO siloing, or features to your WordPress website by installing either a free or paid model from the plug-in creator.

But the more plug-ins you use, the more likely you are to run into performance, maintenance, and/or security risks in the future. With custom WordPress development services, you can be selective in the plugins you choose and the reliance your website has on them. 

What are the drawbacks of custom WordPress development?

Custom WordPress development services may not be the right choice for every situation. Like every business decision, it is important to balance the pros and cons. Here are a few key factors to consider before you go the custom route.


Like all good things, developing a totally unique website takes time. From stakeholder interviews  and competitive research and analysis, to design and development, there are many steps involved in ensuring your new website is the perfect fit for your business. Many would say that it’s time well spent–but if you’re in a hurry, a phased approach to the custom WordPress development journey may be your next best step. (One leg at a time, of course.)


It helps to think of the service as an investment: upfront costs may be higher, but in the long run, the time spent upfront leads to cost savings on overall site health and performance, future maintenance and website enhancements.  

Custom WordPress Development security

When does custom WordPress development make sense?

Looking for a sign to seek custom WordPress development services? Here are some conditions to consider, based on our experiences with businesses who came to us for custom websites.

  • When security is a priority. Unlike pre-built WordPress themes, well-made custom WordPress websites should leave fewer openings for cybercriminals looking for vulnerabilities in your code.
  • When you have an established brand. With both feet firmly planted on the ground in your market, a custom website built around your brand’s unique characteristics and offerings can help you stand out in a highly competitive arena, as well as strengthen your overall image.
  • When performance and design matter. Simply put, a custom-built WordPress site can offer a superior user experience. Quicker loading times, cohesive content flow, full flexibility, and seamless designs can all go a long way in converting visitors and building your brand’s authority.
  • When accessibility and SEO are vital. As more and more industries expect ADA compliance across the web, it’s important that your website meets the necessary standards laid out by W3 in the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG). It’s important to note that many SEO strategies follow accessibility best practices as search engine bots also need a structured readable web experience in order to better index and interpret your website’s content.
  • When you have a proven user journey. Are you already familiar with the types of users you’re attracting and what they want from a business like yours? Here, the level of customization, personalization, and increased performance via SEO really have the chance to shine and evolve alongside your user base.
Custom WordPress Development Services

Pre-Built WordPress Themes

There’s a lot to be said for simplicity. And pre-built WordPress themes are just that: simple. Simple as buying a pair of sunglasses, you might say. 

With limited development experience you can visit an online marketplace, browse hundreds or even thousands of pre-built options, purchase one you like, and then go through the journey to build out a working business website. Sure, the fit and finish may not hug the contours of a user experience like a custom WordPress theme, but, there’s a pre-built WordPress out there that does most of what you want and at a cheaper price than a custom built website.

What are the benefits of pre-built WordPress themes?

Pre-built WordPress themes offer a fair share of benefits: affordability, speed and variety, to name a few.


Everyone loves a discount. When you buy a pre-built WordPress theme, you’ll pay a fee and have use of that theme with or without the annual support and updates– unless it’s discontinued by the original developer or a newer, non upgradable version is released.


How long did it take you to read the section directly before this one? Because that’s about as long as it’ll take to add a pre-built theme to your WordPress site–a few clicks and reading. There is of course the time it takes to configure the design options available in the theme, the templates, laying out the page content with the provided page builder, etc. but if you know what you are doing, this may not take significant time or require a development background.


The WordPress community, as well as third-party developers, have spent years building a huge marketplace of themes. From retro to modern and classic to contemporary, the choices are endless.

pre-built theme functionality

What are the drawbacks of pre-built WordPress themes?

Unfortunately, compromises mean prêt-à-porter will never be bespoke. Where do pre-built WordPress themes fall short? 

Unnecessary Code

Pre-built themes are frequently made to fit as many users’ needs as possible. The more users that fit the theme, the more that buy. Many offer large amounts of features you won’t use and will never use, leaving you with bulky or awkward code that can slow down your site experience to your website visitors as well as your administrative time to maintain your site content

Third-Party Reliance & Features

Marketplace purchased themes come with a prepackaged set of plugins they rely on and available features. If you don’t like the options provided, you may find yourself shopping for even more plugins along the way or restricting your digital strategies to what is available rather than what is possible. 

Standardized User Experience

If user experience matters to you as much as it does to us, you may want to avoid pre-built WordPress themes. Business needs such as custom integrations with first or third party tools like CRMs, career portals, and other services may be restricted. Additionally, trying to tell your story through an immersive digital experience is limited to the functionality available in the theme. 


Unfortunately, there is no universal standard to which pre-built theme developers are held. Anyone can create a theme and put it out into the world. You may uncover an assortment of issues, likeversion or plugin incompatibilities, security holes, performance or page speed latencies, little to no consideration for accessibility or SEO standards.

This is not to say that all pre-built themes experience the same fates, but it is critical that you select the theme that’s right for your business needs and goals.


The web industry changes rapidly and thus your digital experience must too. What is important now, may not be later and a pre-built theme may restrict ability to pivot around such changes as:

  • Search engine evolution of their algorithms
  • Technology companies frequently roll out new models and gadgets
  • Cyber security strategies and approaches
  • Government regulations and web standards ompetitive marketing strategies and trends 

When do Pre-Built WordPress Themes make sense?

Pre-built themes can be a mixed bag when it comes to website creation, but there are absolutely times when we recommend them. It all depends on your goals for your business.

  • You’re starting a new business. Startups and new businesses, especially those without proven customer experiences, can learn the ropes with pre-built themes.
  • You don’t need much functionality. Businesses like restaurants and auto shops, which typically don’t require complex or fancy features, do well with pre-built sites.
  • You’re moving up in the world. Looking for something a little more sophisticated than a boxed solution such as a  Wix or GoDaddy provided website? A pre-built WordPress theme could be your next step as you continue to grow your digital experience.
  • You don’t have a huge budget. If you’re not ready to make the jump to a custom website experience, then a pre-built theme may be your next-best choice.
  • You have a tighter timeline. Want to get something launched more quickly? A pre-built WordPress theme could work in a pinch, especially if you are willing to compromise on user experience and functionality.
choosing Custom WordPress Development Services

Choosing Custom WordPress Development Services: What to Look for

If you’ve decided a custom solution is right for you, the most important thing is choosing a service provider that fits your needs. Remember, custom WordPress development is a multi-phased approach–research and discovery, performant strategy and implementation, design, development, quality assurance, and post-launch support–so be sure you’re getting the full package from the start.

  • Third-party reviews and testimonials. If other people and businesses report good experiences with the provider you’re considering, you can be fairly well assured you’ll have a good experience, too. Be sure to check multiple review websites for the fullest picture. 
  • Case studies similar to your use case. Reviews are good. Reviews from people like you–or businesses like yours–are even better, because they help you visualize your experience in the context of situations similar to yours.
  • Experience and portfolio. Don’t hesitate to ask for samples and case studies. The right provider will be happy to offer concrete examples of their work (and be proud to show it off).
  • Additional service offerings. Custom website development is nice, but it’s the perfect launching point for other complementary services: brand development, conversion rate optimization, ongoing search engine optimization, online lead generation strategies, ongoing development enhancements, maintenance and security monitorization, to name a few.
  • Vibe and connection. Do you connect with the people who will make your website? Do they understand your concerns and priorities? Do you get their classic rock references? That rapport is important, so don’t say yes unless you feel good about the relationship.
  • Integrity and Principles. Make the most of the custom website experience by talking with providers that have integrity, are principled and have a track record of success. It’s that Better Every Day kind of experience that helps avoid costly delays and pitfalls that can sink your project.


There’s a time and a place for pre-built WordPress themes and custom WordPress websites. The one that’s right for your business? Well, that depends on you. 

It’s no secret that we pride ourselves on our reputation as a creative digital performance agency. We love opportunities to delve deeply into the website creation process, mixing our digital prowess and creative chops to make something that’s totally unique and totally yours. Not only that, we know that when we start with a website, whether it’s a custom or pre-built theme, it’s easy to build an integrated strategy around it–one that can serve your business for years to come.

Ready to learn more about our agency’s approach to custom WordPress websites? Contact us to talk shop (or talk about your favorite ZZ Top song–we’re not picky).

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