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The Opportunity Cost of Premium WordPress Themes

This post is the third in a series on website and digital publishing best practices from The Marcom Group’s Dave Plivelich. Read the first post here and second post here.

When companies of almost any size consider building a new website, they are often tempted to use a less expensive or “quicker” solution like a premium WordPress theme. That’s because that option offers very attractive motifs with many fonts, colors and templates available, and thousands of them from which to choose. The logic is sound: WordPress is well-known (one in three people has heard of WordPress), and the technology enjoys a good reputation. Plus its themes have been around for more than 10 years. Even web development companies use premium WordPress themes and other paid themes to help their clients save money.

Premium WordPress themes are useful to an extent, but here’s the problem: People don’t know what they don’t know. Premium themes look easy, but there are hidden challenges. It is important for a company to know that premium WordPress themes can ultimately build up surprising opportunity costs (the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action) and thus limit their marketing reach.

Three WordPress Levels

There are three levels of WordPress theme types: free, premium and custom.

  • Free: This theme type has only a few options. While fairly easy to get up and going, these sites are not easy to customize, and support is DIY.
  • Premium: In WordPress language, the middle grade—unlike gasoline—is premium, and simply put, it is not free. In this tier there are more options, such as color choices, plug-ins to extend functionality and support that can be upgraded. However, the amount that can be customized depends on the skill of the developer, business owner or marketing person. The price for a premium, single-site license can be as little as a couple of dollars on the low end, though many sell in the $48-68 range. More robust premium WordPress themes may be offered at the $99, $197 or $299 price points for example. Sellers use terms like “retina ready” or “fully responsive” to add value, but most premium themes carry these attributes already. These higher-priced premium themes may offer a much greater variety of blog styles and layouts, landing pages, sliders, widgets and more. Annual support packages are extra. But still of major concern is that although some of the fancier features make a premium WordPress-themed website somewhat different than the competition’s, the finished site will not be totally unique or distinctive.
  • Custom: The price for a custom-built WordPress website would likely be in multiples of $1,000s. The pricing varies with the number and the complexity of the necessary pages (e.g., product pages, landing page, shopping cart). A custom website is best created by web designers and agencies that know how to build a website from the ground up. Every page, every color, every feature is personalized, like a custom home. Nothing is “off-the-shelf” with a custom-built website, and the company’s unique branding and messaging will be enhanced by the individuality available through this approach.

Good idea, but …

Premium WordPress themes provide a low barrier to entry—almost anyone can afford one—and they’re touted as being relatively easy for making changes. By using the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) content editing tool, users see their changes immediately. They’re excited. But as they add an extra page or more images, say for gourmet recipes or cutting-edge gadgets, the tasks grow harder, and things start to break in the HTML code behind the user interface. The coding behind the scenes is deep and complicated. Changing one thing in the visual front end can break something else as the code tries to conform to the user’s input. Fonts may not match. Formatting is thrown off. Hours are invested, and the website is still not right. Moreover, the staff’s time is valuable and better-spent running and growing the business. Equally troublesome, down the road, the premium theme could become incompatible with a newer version of WordPress or plugins, which can cause major security issues. This opportunity cost is often overlooked.

The biggest disadvantage of premium WordPress themes is that companies have to change their content to fit the site. That’s backward. In order to fully leverage the entity’s unique branding as offered by a custom website, companies should build a custom website to fit their content.

The greatest advantage of custom WordPress web development projects, then, is that they start with content development. This critical and fundamental phase is at the core of an effective, professionally designed and executed website that ensures proper alignment with the company’s branding, messaging and unique selling proposition (USP). It’s the best way to attract the right visitors and convert those prospects into qualified leads and great customers—those who will be happy to find a partner who can fill their needs.

While it makes sense that support packages for premium themes cost extra, the actual support received varies among the premium theme designers. They may build great frameworks, but they are sometimes unable to offer long-term support. If support is difficult to obtain or if it disappears altogether, a less tech-savvy company is stuck. Then, when they try to transfer from one theme to another, the content doesn’t always make it over to the new site, causing more work to repair it or even having to start over from zero.

Flying first class

A custom-built site frees companies to run their business instead of administering the website. Every step of the project carries a purpose and a direction. The best finished products present a more specialized face to the prospects and customers who visit the website and attract prospects with higher expectations. Whereas a premium WordPress website can look like many other popular themes, custom sites carry the cachet of exclusively. It’s like flying first class.

The premium websites increase in price and value because they are more multifaceted. The time required to tweak, fix and reformat also increases. It all adds to the overall cost of the site. A marketing team member who is a part-time coder and part-time customer service rep may lose a customer for the company if his or her head is buried in a website problem. The lesson here is people don’t know what they don’t know. That’s where the costs mount up. Website design looks easy, but it’s not.


Don’t overlook opportunity costs. An attractive premium website is sometimes a good choice, however a custom-built website achieves the company’s specific goals and vision. Professional web developers, who are worth their weight in gold, take the time to understand the business and industry in question to create a unique web presence that will grow with the business. Ultimately, a custom website that brings in the most perfect clients is priceless.

David Plivelich is the CEO and creative director at The Marcom Group Incorporated. David can be reached at or by phone at (661) 489-4444.