WordPress is the most popular web development software in the world, now powering over 30% of the web. The WordPress development team has accomplished this by not only creating a stable, durable platform, but also by fostering a community of developers and designers who have created literally thousands of themes and plugins to extend it.

One of the first decisions to make when starting a new blog or website in WordPress is to choose a theme. Your theme determines the look and feel of your site, and sometimes its functionality. Listed below are the three general types of WordPress theme, each with its own advantages and pitfalls:

1) Out of the Box Themes

Your first option is also the easiest and often cheapest, to find an existing theme and use it as-is. The best place to start for these is the WordPress repository, since these have been vetted by the WordPress community, but there are many private vendors that sell their own themes.

  • Easy and fast setup.
  • Little to no developer help needed
  • Later move to Type 2 is easy
  • Generic look and feel
  • Features you don’t want or need
Best for:
  • New blogs and hobby sites
  • Brochure sites with limited functionality needs
  • Sites with limited technical staff and marketing budget
  • Experimental sites, testing an idea without committing too much time or money

2) Child Themes

Another option is to take an existing (Type 1) theme and extend it with additional design or functionality. The best way to do this, by far, is with WordPress child themes, a sort of sub-theme that builds off of another, without altering its original code.

  • Cheaper and faster than Type 3
  • More flexible than Type 1
  • Requires more developer help than Type 1
  • Less flexible and customizable than Type 3
Best for:
  • Small, single-location businesses
  • More advanced blogs
  • Sites needing 1-2 custom functions or design elements

3) Custom Themes

The third and final option is the opposite extreme from Type 1, to have a developer and/or designer build a fully custom theme for you.

  • Full customization, built to your brand
  • No unwanted features or code
  • Most expensive and slowest to build
  • Requires support, ideally by developer who built it
Best for:
  • Larger and multi-location businesses with healthy marketing budget and either technical staff or a digital marketing partner
  • Sites requiring several custom functions or design elements
  • Site owners wanting full control and flexibility

None of these options are inherently better or worse than the others. It all depends on you and your individual needs. If this article has helped you make the decision about which theme type is best for you (or if you’re still feeling overwhelmed by the choices), we’d love to hear from you and help you take the next step toward the best possible site for your business.

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