Custom Website Design vs Out-of-the-Box Theme

When starting your business website, one of the first big decisions you have to make is whether you’re going to have your website custom designed or build it on a prebuilt theme.

Both options are very different and carry their own advantages and disadvantages.

Prebuild, Out-of-the-Box Theme

When you choose a theme, you’re selecting a prebuilt design for your site and adding your content to make it your own. There are thousands of themes available, and most include a wide range of customization options.

There are both free themes and premium themes. While premium theme prices vary, they usually cost between $50 and $100. It’s a wise decision to choose a premium theme instead of a free theme since premium themes (often) have better features and more support.


  • Cost
    Themes are among the most economical ways to build your website. Developers put quite a bit of time into building their themes and for the small cost of a premium theme, you receive an excellent deal.

  • Theme Options
    With all the themes on the market, you can find one that fits your needs instead of settling for anything less. Many developers build themes with certain types of websites in mind, which makes it easier to narrow your options down. For example, a developer may build a theme that’s designed for writing portfolio websites.

  • Customization
    Even though each theme has its own style, you’re able to modify it quite a bit with all the customization options available. Between adding features and choosing from multiple layout options, you can create a site that looks and feels unique.

  • Updates
    Most themes, especially premium themes, get frequent updates to keep them running smoothly and to patch up any issues. If an out-of-the-box theme is discontinued, you will need to hire a web developer patch and update the theme as needed.


  • Difficult Setup Process
    Users often expect building their websites to be a fast, simple process after they purchase a theme, only to end up wondering “what happened” a few hours later. If you don’t have a significant amount of experience on your site’s platform, you may find customizing your theme to be difficult. One way to get around this issue is hiring a web designer to build your website on a specific theme. You have to spend more money, but you don’t have to worry about designing your site, and it’s still not nearly as expensive as a custom website.

  • Generic Designs + Cookie-Cutter Site
    When you use a theme, odds are that hundreds of other websites are also built on that same theme. Choose one of the most popular themes, and there are probably thousands of websites that have the same design as yours. If you keep your theme close to how it looks out of the box, it’s going to be obvious that you’re using the same theme as quite a few other websites. You can get around this issue by using your theme’s customization features, but it will still be apparent that your site was built on a theme.

  • Unnecessary Options and Code
    Many themes are bloated with unnecessary extra coding or theme options. This can slow down your website and, in the case of theme options, make building your website more complicated than it has to be. These issues are less common with high-quality, premium themes.

Custom Website Design

If you go with a custom design, you’re hiring a web designer to create your website from scratch, according to your preferences and specifications. As you’d expect, this option is far more expensive but also results in a completely unique website.


  • A Fully Customized Website
    Obviously, when you go the custom route, you can have your website built with the exact features and design that you want. If you’ve already developed a specific style for your brand, having a website custom-made allows you to match that style, keeping it consistent across all channels. Your website will also have its own unique look, instead of being one of many websites made on the same template. If you’re going for the most professional website possible, then custom is the way to go.

  • Nothing Unnecessary
    Since you’re choosing the features your website has, you don’t have to worry about sorting through a bunch of options that you don’t need. While there’s still the possibility of extra code or other coding issues when you have a developer build your site, it’s far less likely than an prebuilt theme.

  • Able to Grow
    With a custom website, you can have the website developer add features and adjust the site at any time. You’ll have to pay your developer to do so, but you at least have that option. When you use a theme, there are always limitations on what you can change and add.


  • Cost
    Building a website from the ground up definitely isn’t cheap. While pricing varies from developer to developer and depending on your needs in a website, expect most professional developers to charge several thousand dollars to create a website. That’s for a standard site with anywhere from five to 20 pages. Can you find a cheaper deal? Yes, but becareful who you choose to design your website. Skilled developers know their worth and expect to get paid accordingly. Remember that your business’s website is a huge part of its success, so you don’t want to skimp on it to cut costs.

  • More Time-Intensive
    Anytime a developer has to create a website from the ground up, it’s going to take far longer than it would to just build a website using a theme. With a theme, you can have your website ready in a few days of work, although it can take longer depending on how advanced a website you need. If you hire a developer to build a custom website, expect the project to take at least 12 weeks.

  • No Updates
    Once your custom website is complete, that's it. Although bug fixes are often included in the cost, you'll need to hire a developer to apply new features and update code as technology changes.

Making Your Decision

The choice between a custom website design and an out-of-the-box theme comes down to your budget.

A custom website tailored to your business and its needs will always be the best option, but you have to determine if it’s worth the extra money. Even if you pay a developer to assist you in setting up your website on a pre-built theme, you would still save thousands over having your entire website custom-made.

If you can fit a custom website into your budget, it’s a worthwhile investment, because a professional web presence goes a long way. However, if you’re looking for a more economical option, you can still build a high-quality website on a theme.

If time is of the essence, a website built on a theme will be ready much faster than a custom website, although you should try to avoid using time as your deciding factor. It’s better to plan ahead than to rush the design process and end up with a subpar website.

There is no right or wrong choice, so choose the option that is best for your business’s current situation. No matter which route you go, focus on creating the best website possible.