The WordPress community has grown exponentially over the last couple of years and a number of premium services have piggybacked on to this growth. One of the most popular premium offerings are WordPress themes. It is now possible to buy a theme from $20 to $50 dollars from a market place like Theme Forest or join a monthly subscription service like Woo Themes and be up and running with your new business website within an hour.

But should your business use an off the shelf template? Or should you make the investment and have a bespoke website made by a professional web designer? In this post I hope to shed some light on this decision and highlight the key things you should consider before choosing what’s right for your company.

The inspiration for this post came the other day when I was asked by a small business owner, “Should I use an off-the-shelf WordPress template?”. I think this is quite a complicated question to answer on the surface because the answer should be determined by the company’s situation and goals for their specific website. Here are some questions you should answer to be able to make a decision on using an off-the-shelf WordPress template or not.

What are the goals of your business website?

As I’ve mentioned previously, conversions are the foundations of a business website and so it is extremely important to work out what are your specific goals for your website. Do you want to generate leads? Make sales? Or just build a brand? Before going any further with your company website, you should have a clear road map for what you want to achieve and a hypothesis for achieving it. Without a plan or a set of goals, you will end up with a website that won’t really do anything and will be a waste of time, money and resources.

Part of your goals might be to build a successful company blog in order to become an industry thought leader and gain incomming links, or perhaps you want to integrate an ecommerce section for future sales. These kind of decisions need to be taken into consideration because they could lead to future stumbling blocks. Whilst a template might be cheaper and quicker to get up and running today, your future business goals might be better served with a strong relationship with a good web designer and developer.

How do you see your company’s website growing?

The creation of a website is not a one time thing. Only when the website has been designed, developed and launched does the real work begin. It is important to always be trying to improve and update your website to get closer to your initial goals or to formulate new goals in order to improve your business. If you simply launch your website and then forget about it, you’re missing out on the huge opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over your rivals.

One of the most important aspects of creating a successful website is using data to make decisions and improve conversions. For instance, you might have a landing page that allows users to sign up for your email newsletter. In order to improve the conversion of this page you will need to monitor your analytics and constantly tweak the design and copy to increase the number of conversions. This can be very tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing, and by ignoring this aspect of your website, you are leaving a huge amount of value on the table. Again if this is something you are looking to optimise, you will be better off with a web designer rather than an off-the-shelf template.

How close is the template to your desired website?

There are literally thousands upon thousands of WordPress templates available online these days. If you browse a theme market place like Theme Forest for example, you might find a number of templates that come close to what you imagine your company website should look like or how it should function. However it is extremely unlikely that you will find a template that looks and works exactly how you want it to and so you might have to do some “customisation” in order to get it how you want it.

Whilst installing WordPress plugins is a breeze for just about any user, customising a template can become quite a bit more complex if you are not familiar with HTML, CSS and PHP. It is therefore important to consider how much customisation is required to turn the template into the business website you want.

If you haven’t got a big budget for your company website, but you want quite a specific design or functionality that is not quite right in any template you can find, you will probably be better off finding a web designer or developer to make the customisations for you, rather than hacking away and trying to do it yourself.

How popular is the template?

The popularity of the theme that you choose is another important consideration before you go ahead with your new website. This theme for example has been bought over 13 thousand times! As you should already know, your company’s brand is a very important thing. I’d even go as far as saying that a well designed company brand can make a huge difference to the future success of the company. If you decide to use a WordPress template that is already being used by other companies all over the world, it does not reflect well on your business. In fact, there is nothing stopping one of your smaller rivals from downloading and using the exact same theme as your company, and therefore potentially ruining your company’s brand to your current and potential clients.

A bespoke template will cost you more, but you will know that it is unique and exactly how you want it.

Is the template compatible with the plugins and features you want to use?

When you purchase a template from a reputable provider like Theme Forest or Woo Themes you can pretty much guarantee that it will be compatible with all compliant plugins that are available from the WordPress community. However, you should ensure that this is the case before your purchase it. There’s a good chance that you decided to use WordPress for a particular feature, or you admire a website that is also built in WordPress. Well, you should ensure you can achieve what you want with your website, and the template you choose should not hold you back.

Always check that the template you want to use, and the plugins or specific features of WordPress you want to use sit well together.

What kind of support is available?

Many of the designers and developers that produce WordPress themes for large market place websites are doing it as a secondary or passive income. They most likely already have a full time job or are also freelance designers or developers and so they might not be able to offer the same kind of support that a company could. If you think you might need help with installing or customising your theme, you will probably want to go with a company like Woo Themes who have a dedicated customer service department.

However, I would argue that if you think you will need help to get up and running and make the changes you desire, you will be far better off dealing with a web developer in person. Communication over email can be frustrating, and this website should be extremely important to the continued success of your company. Don’t try and save money if you think you will need good quality support, you might do irreparable damage to your company’s good name if you release a poor quality or broken website.

So, should my business use an off-the-shelf template?

I’m a big fan of WordPress theme market places and services that offer really high quality themes for people who want to quickly set up a WordPress website. WordPress is my favourite Content Management System, and I love the fact that people without technical experience can start their own hosted website without much trouble at all. However, starting a little blog and building a company website are two very different things. I believe that a company website shouldn’t be just another part of the business as I believe that a strong company website can make a significant contribution to the future success of that business. I also think that non-technical business owners are missing a huge opportunity by not taking full advantage of what their business website can achieve. By partnering with an experienced technical person, a company website can be turned for a low trafficked website, to a large profit making entity of the company.

Finally, to answer the question of this post, I would only use an off-the-shelf WordPress template if your company falls into these strict categories;

  • Your website will never be a high priority for your company
  • Your website will never generate new business and you will never try to
  • You can find a template that fits your business straight out of the box
  • You are not going to make any customisations
  • You don’t want to invest any money into your website
  • You only want a website to display a little bit of company information and a telephone number
  • You feel you need to have a company website, but you don’t want to invest any time or resources into making your company website valuable

If you do want to have a valuable company website, you want to generate new business and you want a website you can be proud of you should always hire or contract someone with the knowledge and experience to create the website your company deserves.

Remember the amount of value you get out of your business website has an exact correlation to the amount you invest into it.