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Why does custom Wordpress theme development cost so much?

Wednesday, March 18 2015 8:08 AM
By Kalen Kubik
Why does custom Wordpress theme development cost so much?

Wordpress is one of the most popular CMS on the web, and has been installed on over 60 million websites. It's a decade old, which is an eternity in the web world. There are tens of thousands of plugins that provide advanced functionality and the community of developers and designers is willing to answer any and all of your basic and technical questions. It truly is the CMS of the people.

The question we seem to always receive is, "Why are you charging me that much money for a free CMS product. A nice WP theme is only $100 on ThemeForest."

I understand the confusion.The Wordpress CMS is a free download. You can run the five minute setup and install it yourself on most hosting site's admin panels. They even have free themes and the nicer themes cost only $100. However, we're a web design company, not a WP theme company. Our price for a custom website is similar to our price for a custom Wordpress website. The price does not go down based on your choice of CMS.

We are not a Theme Farm

Many companies and individuals spend their time creating beautiful WP themes and selling them cheap. Why? They lower the bar for entry so they can make money from downloads over time. When a small team builds a theme and sells it for $100 a pop, it takes 100 downloads to reach $10,000. No telling how long it takes to reach that number. A great return on their investment of time. However, with tens of thousands of themes to choose from, a web design firm such as ours is not going to gamble that a client's dream website, built to a client's design tastes, is going to make us several more thousand dollars by putting it for sales on a theme website. Heck, what customer would be happy that their competition could go purchase the exact same theme they just paid more for?

Theme-Jacking has Limited Applications

A common request from budget-conscious business owners is theme-jacking. With well-built Wordpress themes being as cheap and numerous as they are, theme-jacking is the act of downloading a paid theme and gutting it to implement your own design, radically altering the theme and its templates. Typically, this is requested so the client can avoid paying for custom Wordpress functionality, such as parallax image controls or custom product page admin functionality. It is not a poor idea, it is just poor practice and typically does not end up saving much money as some theme elements never make it to the admin panel, but are hard-coded in. Once a new design is implemented over-the-top of the original, there is no way to get the theme's latest theme updates or plugin options, because the updates would overwrite the template changes and the default theme would re-assert itself. The theme is now severed from updating to the latest theme version. If a client then wanted more custom coding atop the theme download, it is a quagmire of some other developers code and notes that takes time to figure out and implement complementary code alongside it. Typically a rewrite is necessary or poor hacks are put in place to prop up the original code or work around it.

Creating a child theme off of an existing parent theme framework is not the same as theme-jacking, as the main framework provides a great deal of functionality and allows for parent theme updating. However, creating a great child-theme takes time and tends to become a custom theme buildout.

The Plugin Parade Falls Short

Many clients ask why we cannot use a host of plugins alongside a default theme. Most plugins work elegantly, but some are clunky or the design requires code to be added to the template files, which would disappear at update. Plugins come from developers all over the world and a five-star rating doesn't mean that the next update will crash your webstie. Updating core can break the plugins. The more plugins you use, the more bugs your website tends to accrue. It is possible to get the theme and plugins working together, in harmony, but then every update you run in the future risks toppling a jenga tower that requires a re-install and debugging.

Custom Theme Coding

Custom-building a theme, or child theme takes skill and a great knowledge of Wordpress. Building a WP theme adds two layers of complexity: scalability and controlability. As a CMS, the website must be able to scale with the users needs, be fully responsive on desktop to mobile while providing the admin panel the ability to change the content, whether that be in-page parallax images or simple content edits. A custom design typically does not fit into the default Wordpress theme controls and needs its own written into the WYSIWYG. Extra text inputs, page image controls and header image elements are all capable of being implemented through plugins and discovered through the WP community, but it's been my experience that most business owners do not wish to learn how their website works or have the time to explore advanced functionality.

The reason custom WP themes cost more than a free Wp theme is because a designer and developer are distilling complex functionality into a user-friendly admin panel so a site owner does not have to think about where or how to implement a change they wish to see. They don't have to install seven plugins to accomplish their needs or wonder why there are twenty widget on their hacked theme that they don't need, nor will ever use. Custom theme coding is done to provide a user with a high-quality, custom website they can be proud of and leverage to increase business sales.

Wordpress on the Cheap

If you're looking to do a WordPress website on the cheap, simply purchase a $100 theme or use one of the thousands of free themes floating around on the internet. If you're looking for something custom with advanced functionality, it is going to cost you more than you're willing to spend. Use the cheaper theme, grow your business and once you're profitable invest in a better website. We are happy to help implement purchased themes if the WP admin panel is too advanced or it requires child theme color changes.

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