Limitations of Customized Theme Based Websites


When comparing proposals for custom websites and customized themes, the price of a customized theme (and timeline to launch) can seem like a good deal. This article outlines the limitations of theme-based websites and why they really are too good to be true.

Imagine this, you’ve just received quotes from a few different agencies and there are some big cost variations, but they all seem to be saying the same thing. What gives? 

You’re probably not comparing apples-to-apples. The most common scenario is that you’re comparing quotes for custom websites to customized themes. In this circumstance, it’s not why are some quotes so expensive (or timelines are so fast), you should be wondering why some are so cheap. And that’s because you’re buying something that’s already built. 

A custom website is built from scratch using a content management system (CMS) (or not) based on your unique goals, functional and design requirements. For custom websites, the CMS is like the poured concrete foundation for a house and the visual website designs is the house - tailor made to your exact specifications. 

A customized theme also uses a CMS like Wordpress, SquareSpace, Wix, etc. but in this case, you’re customizing a website that’s already built. Working with the house analogy, customizing a theme is like picking a modular home from a catalog of options. The overall design and layout options are already done, now you get to choose what color the house is, if it has the main floor office or not, etc. 


Limitations of Customizing a Theme

I will start by saying if you’re a B2B company, you should never be considering a pre-built theme. You will never get exactly what you want with a theme. They just are not built for your needs, but I’ll explain why. 

  • You will never find a theme that represents your company’s unique brand. That’s why there are custom websites. Your brand can be shoehorned into a theme, but it will never be exactly what you want. 
  • You can’t do exactly what you want. Want 2 layers of navigation at the top so your phone number is prominent, but you also have a call to action button and a mega dropdown so everyone can find your pages quickly. With a theme, you don’t often know ahead of time what can and cannot be done from a customization standpoint. You might have to work with what you got and you have to get used to hearing no, because you very likely can’t do that.
  • B2B features aren’t available. Need a filtered resource section based on more than one filter? Want to have a special section for product sheets, interactive graphics or ways for clients to find a representative/partner or distributor? These features are just not available in themes. Adding customized elements outside of the theme may require a complete teardown of the theme.  
  • Themes cannot support a deep or complex navigation structure. Did I lose you? If you have a lot of pages and a lot of layers of pages, a theme website won’t have a way for people to get to these pages. Themes generally are not designed to accommodate custom dropdowns (like mega dropdowns) and most don’t include on-page navigation options. Even if you can install a plug-in to create a mega dropdown, they never look exactly as you’d like them and don’t translate to mobile particularly well.


When Pre-Built Theme-Based Websites are an Acceptable Option

Today, literally anyone can build a website… because they’re already built. It would be more accurate to say anyone can customize a website. Which is great! Themes over the last few years have seriously upped their game in the design and functionality department. They can look pretty slick. So, when are they a good idea? 

  • You need something online, like yesterday. Getting a quick and dirty customized theme website up and running while you get your brand and offerings sorted out is a good way to go. Something is always better than nothing. They’re cheap, fast and ready to go. 
  • Your site is 99% eCommerce. Sites like SquareSpace and Shopify have great looking themes that will cover your needs pretty darn well. They have great built in features and for a decent price, are a great option. 
  • You need a portfolio website. Themes are great for photography portfolios or showing off other photo-based design work. There are many themes that will look great to plug and play your photography and put together a professional-looking website.
  • Your site is small (under 10 pages) and you have graphic design capabilities in house. If you only need a handful of pages and have an experienced graphic designer on staff, you can make a theme work. Themes are based on large-format photography and custom graphics. The theme demo is the best that theme will ever look. If you don’t have a great graphic designer and high-resolution custom photography, it will never look as good as the theme demo.


The Unseen Limitations

As in most things in life, you get what you pay for. Just because you CAN customize a website yourself or can get an agency to custom a site for you for cheap, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. What’s that saying, pick 2: fast, cheap or good. I can tell you right now, fast and cheap never equals good.  

At Carbon8, we pride ourselves on the incredible amount of value we provide our clients. We are not order takers or dictators. We are information gathers, synthesizers and creators. We not only listen to your wants and needs, we listen to your customers and provide our professional input from a technical, visual and best practices standpoint. What results is a website that is not only the best representation of your business but meets the needs of your visitors. Best of all, we set your business up for measurable success based on the key performance indicators that mean the most to your unique business goals. 

We build websites right, the first time. We have a proven process the yields successful results. Don’t limit yourself and your business with a crappy website. 

You actually are a unique snowflake and your website should reflect that accurately. Contact us today and see the difference a professional, custom website can make for your business.



Shay Ruggles
written by SHAY RUGGLES

Shay Ruggles is the Director of UX at Carbon8 who ensures we are creating compelling experiences that balance user intent, clients’ business needs and site performance. A former Account Manager, Video Producer and Carbon8’s first employee, Shay leveraged her years of experience, education and research to transition to the creative team of Carbon8 in 2012.

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