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Custom and Theme-Based Website Development: What’s the Difference?

Author: Ronen Hirsch

When businesses are looking to build a new site or to redesign their existing site, they can opt for either a custom website design or a theme-based website. If you are unclear about the difference between the two, this article has all of the answers for you!

Custom and Theme-Based Website Development: What’s the Difference? Custom website coding
Custom website coding

There's always the question when a business is looking to redesign their existing site. Do they choose a custom website design or a theme-based website? What are the differences? What are the advantages and disadvantages? These questions are important to understand in order to take the correct path in growing your business.

What is the Difference Between a Custom Website Design and a Theme-Based Website?

Website developers can utilize WordPress, Shopify or other content management systems (CMS) platforms to build a website from scratch. These CMS’s get customized to accommodate the specific needs of the organization in terms of appearance, content and features to create a custom website design.

In contrast, theme-based websites take advantage of pre-made templates. All that remains for the developers are minimal tweaks here and there to translate the company’s identity into the website. With the constant emergence of new technology, transforming your website’s appearance and functionalities is now easier than you might think. There are now readily available templates out there for use. 

Both of these options create a website that you can optimize across devices and platforms and update content. Using CMS tools, companies can conduct updates on their existing pages and layouts even without technical support.

So there are three main ways to build your website: A pre-built theme, a modified theme, or fully customized. 

What are Custom-Built Websites?

These websites usually get created from nothing. The designer and developer have to come up with the design and functionalities on their own, based on the needs of the business. Since they are built from the ground up, organizations can implement all of the features that they wish to have. Simultaneously, it is often required to work with developers who have extensive knowledge and skills with this endeavor. 

There are many many reasons why you would opt for a custom-designed website, especially if you’re selling products online. For example, the Shopify e-commerce platform is one of the most popular solutions out there and allows for a wide range of customizations. 


Unique Design and Functionalities: Since your website gets created from a blank canvas, you can guarantee that there is no other site like yours. A unique website sets you apart from your competitors, considering that you allocated time, money, and expertise to enhance user experience.

Adaptability: With full control over your website’s functionalities and design, it is easier to adapt your growing needs and requirements of your site. Although you can also optimize theme-based websites, with custom websites you have full control over everything that goes on to the page and can add elements that might be missing from pre-built themes/templates.

Scalability: As your business grows, it is imperative to make changes to your website to adapt. Developers utilize CMS tools that make it effortless to apply developments to update your website. Seamless implementation of updates is required if you are planning on expanding your venture towards the future.


Expensive: Custom-built websites according to your preferences and needs can be costly. Apart from hiring an expert web designer and developer, there are other things that you need to invest in to include all the features you need. This becomes costly compared to building your website using a Shopify or WordPress theme that only requires a one-time payment.

Website Development Takes More Time: In comparison to readily available theme-based websites, the latter takes a more significant amount of time to build. Web development can go on for a few months before the website gets finalized and launched.

What is a Theme-Based Website?

One of the easiest ways to develop a website is by acquiring pre-made themes online. CMS tools like WordPress and Shopify have many templates for you to download from ThemeForest, Template Monster, or Elegant Themes while Shopify also has its own marketplace of vetted themes. 

Organizations can also take advantage of website builder platforms like Wix and Squarespace that provide pre-built themes and you can easily customize these designs to align them to your brand. 

Thousands of themes are widely available. Some themes are free, while others are reasonably priced. Overall, theme-based websites are ideal for people who want to launch their page as soon as possible and who don’t have the need for customized elements or the budget to invest.


Launch your website ASAP: Most of the code already exists for you. All you need to do is make minor edits to make the website fit your brand and requirements. In this way, you can essentially launch your website within a few days.

Cost-effective: Since there are so any themes out there, these theme-based websites are immensely cheaper than building a website from scratch. There could also be no upfront costs for the development since most of the code already exists, but usually, you would still want to hire professionals with experience to set everything up the right way.

Customizable: Even though theme-based websites come with templates, you can still modify them to make them your own. Organizations can alter the colors, fonts, and features to make the website look unique. You could also tweak existing sections, elements and pages if there are functionalities that are missing.


Lack of Originality: With your theme readily accessible to other people, the chance of other companies’ sites looking extremely similar to yours is high. They’ll use different images, colors, or fonts, but the layout and framework resembles yours. Users can quickly notice this and get put-off with your brand.

Limited Customizable Features: Although it is possible to add change and tweak existing code, most features are more difficult to access and alter. But with the help of a seasoned web developer, most elements within a pre-made theme can be customized with some work. Some are easier than others and this could cause conflicts and inconsistencies with the operation of your site, but it’s definitely possible.

Difficulty modifying the website’s functionalities: More often than not, users need to rely on what is available to them. It is sometimes difficult to find plugins that work well with the theme and it’s also more difficult to optimize the site. Solutions can always be found, but some concessions sometimes need to be made.

Limited Technical Support: When purchasing a high-quality theme, you may receive some amount of technical support for issues directly related to the theme. However, this support will not be able to help you with your overall site as they are not responsible for any of the plugins or other customizations you make to their theme. This can result in issues that are difficult to work through particularly if the issue is not directly tied to the theme. With a custom-built website, the team you hired to develop your site will likely include a specified time-period of included technical support for any issues you encounter.

So what’s right for you? Custom, theme-based or a mix of both? 

So there are a few different options to choose from and they can all result in a website that will serve your needs. It all depends on the factors mentioned above that will ultimately help make that decision as to what’s best for your business. 

If you’d like to discuss this further, don’t hesitate to reach out! We’ll be happy to help find the right path for you.

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