The actual cost of buying a commercial WordPress theme

closeup of a drawn mockup

WordPress out of the box comes with a pretty decent theme from the security and technical standpoint, but it works for a blog site, not for a marketing site.

There are many websites out there that sell WordPress themes with wonderful design and features. They promise custom home pages, product/service pages, integration with other services like BuddyPress or WooCommerce, useful widgets, and so on. It’s very tempting to acquire one of those beautiful templates for a reasonable price, and avoid hiring a web developer for a month or so to create a custom theme.

However, those beautiful themes can really hurt your website, most of them are created by web designers who just focus on the look and feel but disregard other important features such as performance and security. They also look great when you demo their features before you buy them, but it could be really cumbersome and confusing to configure the same settings you saw in those demo sites in your own site, it’s like if your content didn’t match with the nice features you liked of that theme when you bought it.

I say that because I have already felt the pain of configuring and using a commercial theme. I own a personal blog that had been running with the default WordPress Twenty Sixteen theme. I decided to install BuddyPress and bbPress at some point to incorporate social features and that theme really fell short, so I decided to look for a new theme that were compatible with those plugins, instead of spending hours creating my own theme. I found one that seemed to cover all the limitations of the Twenty Sixteen theme and decided to buy it.

Commercial theme that I bought and used for few months to improve the design of my personal website.

I was very happy the first few days, until I noticed major usability issues in some areas, like links that don’t look like links, clickable photos that don’t take you anywhere, pagination links that don’t lead you to the right page. I also struggled to find the right content to fill in predefined widgets, and had to disregard like 30% of the features that came with the theme.

Then, my hosting provider started complaining about the amount of resources that my site was consuming, and started offering to upgrade my plan to handle the load. Yet, I didn’t see much increase in the number of visitors my website was receiving. I indeed started experiencing server errors when creating new content, so I decided to diagnose the problem.

I ended tweaking some features of the theme without noticing significant improvements in the website load. I fixed some usability issues but others required a major redesign. Finally, I installed MouseFlow, a tool that allows you to record the interaction of your users in your site, and found out that many people were waiting minutes to load a simple page. Some of them weren’t even able to load a page. It was horrible and embarrassing.

For all those reasons, I decided to sacrifice design, and removed that commercial theme from my website. Twenty Sixteen is still powering the user interface until I find the time to extend that theme or create a new one that satisfies my needs.

There are many benefits of designing and developing your own WordPress theme:

  • You can actually design every template that suites your content.
  • The resulting theme will perform better than other commercial themes because it will only contain widgets and template files that you really need.
  • You can focus on performance and security from day one, and ensure that you offer the best experience to your target audience.
  • You can also design the specific custom post types that you need to categorize and capture your content.
  • You can ensure it’s SEO friendly so it has better chance to rank on Google, and accessible so you also reach audiences with disabilities.

In conclusion, buying a commercial theme could be helpful, but most of the times it will hurt your website.