So you need a new website. You’ve approached a few agencies and obtained quotes. It should be simple enough, but some are quoting $10,000 for a custom designed website and others are quoting $5000 for a customised WordPress theme. Confused? You’re not alone!

What’s the difference?

In a nutshell, a custom designed site is built completely from scratch (still using the WordPress CMS), while customising a WordPress theme involves taking a pre-made theme and customising it to fit your requirements. Because much of the coding work is already done with a WordPress theme, they are much quicker and cheaper than their custom counterparts.

Which is best?

Despite the cost and time required for a custom site, I consider them worth the investment if:

  • You have a large business;
  • You need a complex site with advanced functionality;
  • You have a generous budget to build, maintain and market the site;
  • You’re able to accommodate a longer development time.

As a small or medium business, chances are you simply don’t have the time or budget for a custom designed website. Like most business owners, you’re keen to generate income from your site and see a return on your investment. In this case, a customised WordPress theme is one of the best ways to deliver an affordable yet effective website within a reasonable timeframe.


Some agencies will tell you that a custom designed website is the only option for creating a unique site. If you use a WordPress theme, your site won’t match your brand and it will look just like everybody else’s.

Not true!

There’s pretty much nothing a skilled designer can’t do with a WordPress theme. The key is to start with the right template; we use Genesis because of its simple framework and easy-to-modify code. From here, our developers can customise the theme to achieve a truly unique site that’s 100% faithful to your brand identity. As far as customisation goes, there really are no limits.


Another argument against WordPress themes is that they can be ‘bloated’ with functionality and features that aren’t used and make the website sluggish. In reality, WordPress themes have become so advanced that this is easily avoidable with a good designer/decveloper, and it’s just one more reason we favour the clean, simple Genesis framework.  All web sites which we build are equipped with the Rocket Caching plugin (premium paid plugin) and use a CDN which makes the sites lightening fast.


Themes offer the advantage of being very easy to edit and optimise for conversion purposes. For example, if we discover that a form is failing to convert your visitors, we can easily change or move it in the WordPress CMS.

This wouldn’t be so easy with a custom site. You’d need to have the page redesigned and then converted to HTML, with no guarantees that your changes would be effective. If not, you’d have to repeat the lengthy, time-consuming process until they were.


A great website is about more than just looking pretty. Assuming that it looks good and works on a technical level, it must also work for you on a marketing level. Is it fully SEO-optimised? Does it bring in traffic? Does it deliver a positive user experience? Does it convert visitors? It’s absolutely vital that your website ticks these boxes, but the associated marketing costs are often overlooked.

For your website to be successful, it must sit within a wider digital strategy alongside SEO, PPC and Content Marketing. After all, even the best-looking site won’t be worth much to you if nobody sees it. That’s why, when your budget is limited, I prefer to start with a WordPress theme to allow for the marketing activity necessary to get results from your website.

My Recommendation

When deciding between a custom design and customising a WordPress theme, I ask myself what the end goal of the site is. To make sales? Convert customers? Promote the brand? If those things can be achieved by starting with a WordPress theme, and they usually can, then that’s what I recommend.

While I definitely see the value in designing a custom site from scratch if you have the budget, it’s my opinion that, in many cases, a WordPress theme is a more than sufficient starting point. Fast, secure, highly customisable and easy to manage, a WordPress theme has all the advantages of a custom designed website at a reduced cost.