Theme Customizations vs. Custom Development

When you need a website, there are so many possibilities to choose from. When making your decision, it is important to understand the difference between a theme customization and custom development.

Theme Customization

A customized theme is when an existing theme is tweaked and adapted to fit your website and brand. Content management systems offer a variety of off the shelf themes that can be customized to your brand identity, color scheme, and typography.

There are two types of themes: (1) a free theme, or (2) a premium theme. A premium theme often costs between $50-$100 but brings the benefits of improved stability and flexibility. We recommend investing in a premium theme for a more professional look and improved functionality.

Custom Development

Custom development means the website will be built uniquely for your business and functional needs. WordPress, Kraft, Joomla, or pure HTML can be used for custom development.

Custom themes tend to be more user-friendly than a pure HTML website. A custom theme is a website theme that is built specially for your business based on your precise design specifications. The developer creates the specific website functionality and page templates.

How do you decide?

Consider the following questions when you are evaluating a customized theme versus custom development.

1) Does the design need to be unique?

If you like the way a theme looks, then we can customize it to your preferences. If you want your website to be one of a kind, it may be best to invest in the development of a custom-built website.

2) Do existing themes fit your needs?

If you find a theme that fits your needs, you can save on development time and have more time dedicated to content and SEO. If you cannot find a theme that meets your needs, then you may need a custom-built theme.

3) Will your website functionality needs evolve in the future?

When selecting a theme, the necessary functionality dictates which themes are appropriate. If a theme is chosen and the client’s needs change in the future, the new requests may not be compatible with the theme and could require additional development time.

4) How important are fast page loading speeds and quality?

Sometimes a theme contains errors. Sometimes a theme has additional code and scripts that aren’t being used but slow down page loading times.

5) What is your budget?

A customized theme is relatively simple for a savvy WordPress user. A custom-built theme requires a team of individuals – the developer, the graphic designer, and the marketer. A custom-built theme often takes a longer time to develop and costs more.


In summary, follow these guidelines to determine if a customized theme or custom-built website is best for your business.

A customized theme is appropriate when:

1) The website is small and simple
2) You have a limited budget and time
3) You found a theme that fits your business’s needs

A custom-built website is appropriate when:

1) The website is large and complex
2) Your business needs may evolve and become more complex in the future
3) You cannot find a theme that fits your business’s needs

If you are unsure, you can work with an agency who is skilled at evaluating your business needs and familiar with the technical details. Bring an example website and we will be able to guide you. Skilled developers and designers can often identify the CMS and template based on the home page.

If you would prefer to do some research on your own, there are a variety of tools you can use. BuiltWith is an online tool that allows you to identify the content management system (CMS). Once you know the CMS, you can dig deeper. If a website is built in WordPress, you can use a theme detector, such as ScanWP or WP Theme Detector, to identify if the template is customized or custom built.

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