Are Custom Web Designs Being Replaced By WordPress?

Posted by Mark Thompson - March 30, 2010 - Design/Development - 8 Comments

Typically, a fully custom website can cost anywhere from $10,000 – $50,000, depending on a number of factors including functionality and the size of the site and this is a bit more than any cheap cash advance you can get so keeping costs low is important.

I totally understand the need for a unique design to help your company stand out from the crowd, however would it be more beneficial to spend that additional money towards developing better content, than having a complete custom design?  Would it be just as effective to install WordPress, purchase a premium theme, and customized the look enough so it accomplishes the goal of being unique?

This seems to be the trend I have noticed recently.  Companies and organizations can accomplish exactly what they need, without having to pay tens of thousands of dollars to create a totally custom design.

Premium Themes

Regardless of the type of site you are looking for, you will find a WordPress premium theme you could use to accomplish your website goals.  Find themes for business, news, portfolios, shopping, forums, Q&A, membership, etc…

Most of the premium theme websites offer a number of CMS and functionality options that allow users without development knowledge to make changes and updates.  Here is a brief list of features I have seen for many of the premium themes.

Premium Theme Options

  • Layout Options
  • Custom Homepage
  • Integrated Lightbox/Image Gallery
  • jQuery Sliders and Plugins
  • Custom Widgets
  • Customized Color Scheme
  • Navigation Menu Control
  • Auto-Sizing Thumbnails
  • Integrated Blog
  • Cross Browser Compatibility
  • Stable Framework/Clean Code

Places to Download Premium Themes


From a functionality standpoint, there is probably a plug-in already developed for what you need your site to do.  WordPress plugins are usually as simple as downloading the plugin, moving the files to the plugin folder and activating it.  There may be some additional styling, but the bulk of the work is already done for you.

Type of Plugins Available:

  • SEO
  • Social Media Sharing
  • RSS Feeds
  • XML Sitemaps
  • Comment Management
  • Google Analytics
  • Sidebar Features
  • Images
  • Page Load Time
  • e-Commerce
  • Advertisement Management
  • Contact Form Integration
  • and much more…

SEO Best Practices

WordPress out of the box is for the most part, SEO friendly.  There are of course tweaks you can make to further improve the SEO, but the foundation of WordPress is search friendly.  You can easily add keyword-rich title/meta tags, optimized url and directory structure, and clean html/css code.

WP Hacks

If you are unable to find a plugin to do exactly what you want, there are lots of WP blogs that focus on hacks, tips and tricks to assist you. There are lots of developers out there that love to share cool functionality that they have coded in WordPress.

Here are examples of awesome WordPress Hacks:

As you can see, this is just the tip of the iceberg of neat hacks you can do within WordPress.  Why spend potentially thousands of dollars to have a web development company create functionality from scratch, when there is probably something out there that has already been built.

So is it still worth it to pay 3x – 5x the cost for a custom site, when you could leverage what has already been built and designed?

About the Author

Mark Thompson

Mark is the creator of StayOnSearch and president of Search Creatively, a full-service Internet Marketing Company located in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also contributes to many industry related blogs including Search Engine Journal and is active on Facebook and Twitter. Follow Mark on Twitter
Paul Gailey
Paul Gailey

i agree with David. This post deserves more attention despite the age, because you've hit a big nail on the head that is a reality that too many web design agencies don't like to admit. the true cost of great webdesign has come down with premium themes. where the skill comes is in the integration and API exploitation with back ends and true high quality content production. you may not have to reinvent the wheel but there are lots of tyre options to choose from.

Jeremy Martin
Jeremy Martin

Mark,This was a really good post. I really enjoyed how you brought up the idea that possibly spending more on the developing the content, marketing, etc. will essentially give you results. I know a lot of people I have worked with want the mist innovative site on the Internet (don't we all) and will spend thousands and dollars and hours on getting just that, then to see the site not 'take off' as they expected.Using templates, skins, premium themes is a great way to get your site online because that is really the most important part.

David Lanning
David Lanning

I'm in the camp that feels the days of starting a website from scratch are on the way out.The short answer here is for your site to be found, read and, at the end of the day, useful... it's all about the content. Not how pretty it looks.I remember a few years back looking at the site and thinking, "This is the most confusing and poorly laid out site I've ever seen". Boy was I wrong. About a billion (yes, with a B) dollars worth of wrong.There are TONS of great site templates for Wordpress (and other blog platforms) available that are beautiful and laid out according to eye tracker studies... meaning the stuff you want noticed is positioned in the places that WILL get noticed.So, my opinion is to focus on content. It goes without saying that you need other components to make your site pleasing to the user and easy to use.But, the bottom line is content...

Steinar Knutsen
Steinar Knutsen

I'm a huge WP fan and the line between custom sites from scratch and Wordpress is blurring. In my experience, most small business clients don't know the difference anyway ... and that's really OK.In most cases, they want a site that does A,B,C and is easy to update ... and for a little extra they're interested in some custom style elements and SEO. This is all very achievable in Wordpress.Plus with some essential plugins and hacks you mention, you can build a pretty sweet, custom site in Wordpress.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

Tommy,Thanks for offering your opinions on the other side of the argument. I totally agree that there are different levels of design, just like the example you gave of buying a car. The question is does paying extra for that custom design, show a greater return on your investment...I guess that depends on a case by case basis. I just found it interesting that maybe design companies I have talked to recently have felt that can accomplish what the client wants by using wordpress as the foundation.I guess it all comes back to your strategy and the type of users that will be visiting your website.Some excellent points. I appreciate your opinions!

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

I agree with that fact that you will start to see more "blogs" or socially driven websites, rather then your typical brochure website. Content is what drives visitors to a site, so making websites easier to add content through blogs and social communities is the trend we are already starting to see.


In regards to the Real Estate industry, once IDX was perfected for Wordpress, the website began to slowly fade away. By 2015 you will see very few true "websites" and a majority of "blogs" that appear as websites. Good post Mark! @CBRELongBeach


Mark, great post. I agree that there seems to be a trend towards buying/selling Premium Themes, but I don't believe they will ever be a suitable replacement, at least not in their current form, for custom-designed Themes or websites (even though many people believe they could be).While one can purchase a one-size-fits-all Theme for $0-$100, the average, non-tech-savvy entrepreneur will, at the very least, need help with the implementation-- but as you've suggested, this can probably be accomplished for a lot less than $10,000-$50,000. But, you can also buy a car for $500 instead of $35,000, or save yourself a lot of money by hiring a butcher to perform your next surgery. There is definitely a difference, and sadly, most people, including many designers, don't realize it. But website visitors do.Recently, I wrote about this same topic, but, as you might expect, my post is a little more slanted to the "going custom" approach. At the moment, I'm thinking that using a custom Framework (a functional "wireframe" or "skeleton"), would be a better, more customizable (and potentially cost-saving) approach.Please feel free to add a link from my blog post to yours-- I believe both posts complement one another.