Why Custom WordPress Themes Are A Mistake

by | Jul 1, 2023 | WordPress

So, you’re embarking on the journey of creating a new website or giving a facelift to your current one. It’s likely that you have grand visions regarding its appearance and the innovative features you want to include. You browse through various themes, including the top-rated ones, but nothing seems to hit the right chord. You’ve likely tripped over the limitations of other theme engines like Elementor, Divi, GeneratePress or Avada. People often view using a ready-made theme engine with scorn, as if using a cake mix while everyone praises recipes made from scratch. Two recent prospective clients insisted on a custom theme. They were so invested in the machismo of a custom theme that they were willing to spend an extra $10,000 in one case, and over $30,000 in another, rather than paying $100 to $500 per year for licensing.

You might be thinking, “Hire someone to construct the whole thing from the ground up with a custom WordPress theme makes it exactly how I want it.” The same people would never buy a custom coffee maker, a custom car or a custom word processor think nothing of going for a custom theme.

Standardization is key to success: everything from units of measure to railways are built with standardization. They allow for features to be added on known factors. People with standardized skillsets can take on work without much of a learning curve. When something goes wrong with a commercial theme, Googling an answer can resolve issues quickly. A bespoke design has no community support.

Why a Custom WordPress Theme is a Bad Idea for Your Web Project

Some reasons why a custom theme can be problematic.

  1. To Bake A Cake, First You Need To Create The Universe
    That’s what Carl Sagan believed and I agree with it. Everything that creates the final input needs to be accounted for. The theme needs to interact with as many existing WordPress functions as possible

    • Here’s a list of what a WordPress theme needs.
      • Display for a post
      • Display for a page
      • Display for archives, or lists of posts
      • Custom post type support
      • CSS theming elements
      • Javascript theming elements.
      • WordPress Theme Customization Support
      • Heading support (sizing, styling and font face)
    •  Here’s a list of nice to see built into a theme.
      • Caching controls
      • Template building
      • Error log system
      • Header addition
      • Footer controls
      • LD-JSON controls
      • Meta-data control
      • Integration to third party plugins (popular ones like
      • Integration to third party services (social media, etc.)
  2. You need to keep paying for updates.
    Sure, you might have set aside funds for the initial development of the custom theme, but have you considered the ongoing costs for code updates? Without regular code reviews and updates by a developer, your custom theme could be susceptible to bugs, security issues, and compatibility problems.
    It’s crucial that your website is compatible with the latest versions of PHP. For instance, PHP 7.4 was highly recommended for WordPress and offers numerous performance improvements compared to older versions.
    If your theme isn’t compatible with PHP 7.2, and your server’s PHP version is updated to 7.2, this mismatch could cause significant issues for your website. But hang on: most servers have upgraded to PHP 8.1 and some are onto PHP 8.2.
    WordPress core updates are something to keep an eye on. As new WordPress versions are on the horizon, Beta and Release Candidate versions are made available for developers to test their themes and plugins. If your custom theme isn’t actively updated, it may not function properly once the new WordPress version is live.
  3. Who’s Checking Out The Security?
    When you purchase a commercial theme license, it comes with support and updates: vital for site security. As security flaws are identified, theme developers update their code to address these vulnerabilities. However, with a custom theme, unless you’re paying for regular security checks, your theme is probably not being updated or examined for security issues.
  4. Incompatibility with Popular Plugins
    One of the frequent issues we resolve for sites under our care at Web321.co is conflicts between plugins and themes. Well-established commercial themes are tried and tested with top WordPress plugins, either by the developers or by the community.In contrast, a custom theme won’t undergo these tests until you attempt to use the plugins on your site – and they might just break your website.
  5. Missing Opportunities with Popular Plugins
    When I roll out a site, Yoast, ACF Pro and a handful of other plugins are a given. There is a suite of plugins that make WordPress work really well. If someone is making a custom theme, these plugins need to be considered– how could they integrate with the theme. If there isn’t work put in to make a custom theme work well, the case for a custom theme gets all the weaker.
  6. The Coding Quality Might Be Weak
    With commercial themes used on multiple websites, users consistently report issues to developers. Developers familiar with a theme’s code often communicate with the theme developer to address any problems.However, for a custom theme used solely on your site, the only scrutiny it gets is from you and the developer. This limited oversight can let bugs slip through, the code could perform poorly or your site could be prone to malware.
  7. No Community Support
    One of the perks of using reputable commercial themes like Divi or Beaver Builder is the support from the developer and an active user community that shares advice and lends a helping hand.When I, as a Divi builder, get stumped I hop of the Elegant Themes support and work through the problems with them.In contrast, a custom theme doesn’t have a community of developers experienced with that theme. This means that whenever the theme requires maintenance or modifications, you’re likely going to incur extra costs.
  8. Go Boldly… Where Everyone Has Gone Before
    Creating a completely custom theme essentially means redoing what others have already achieved and refined. Regardless of the developer’s expertise, they remake features that likely exist in a commercial theme. Setting skills aside, consider the labor and time to launch. A commercial theme typically involves over 1000 hours of labor. If one developer tackles it, they would need 25 weeks of full-time work to deliver the theme. Save 20 to 24 weeks of development and launch faster by building a child theme, which is much easier. Almost all commercial themes worth using support child themes.
    A child theme lets you enjoy the benefits of modifying a commercial theme and demands less coding compared to building one from scratch. The savings in time and cost are significant. You can allocate the development budget saved from not reinventing the wheel to theme enhancements, performance improvements, and quicker delivery time.

Compared to some IT projects, $10k or $30k may seem tiny in comparison, but it’s unnecessary and it’s a poor value proposition compared to using a well-supported commercial theme. Our specialization at Web321 is working with the Divi theme. We spend every day getting the most out of the system and bending it to our will. We’ve encountered plenty of sites hobbled by an outmoded or inefficient theme. We’ve worked with them to make their site work better by replacing their theme with a Divi deployment.

For those who have a hate on for commercial themes, there are open source starter themes available:

  • Underscores – A theme meant for hacking, to use to build next, most awesome, WordPress theme out there.
  • Understrap – WordPress starter theme framework that combines the aforementioned Underscores and Bootstrap.
  • Joints WP – JointsWP is a blank WordPress theme built with Foundation 6. It’s a go-to for many agencies as it looks like custom theme build.
  • WP Bootstrap Starter – It’s a starter theme that like some of the above use the Twitter Bootstrap, Font Awesome along with some other libraries.

If the idea of delving into a custom theme concerns you, your concerns are valid. At Web321, we assist companies through technology consulting. Our wide range of services includes WordPress support and web design. We would be happy to provide insights on your theming decisions and demonstrate the possibilities with a commercial theme like Divi.

From speed optimization, unlimited website edits, security, support, our experts are here to assist. Collaborate with Web321: a team that provides every facet of exceptional WordPress support services. Involve us as webmasters who are ready to deliver advice on the best path to realizing your online strategy.

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