Custom web site themes are tempting, especially in WordPress. Many WordPress designers/developers make a point of promising to hold down costs by taking existing templates and customizing them to create a web site look that's all your own.
Sounds like a great deal, right?
Not so. Customized WordPress themes can be a very bad idea, depending on how they're done.
2 problems with custom WordPress themes
First, custom coding – if handled poorly – is vulnerable to updates, which happen frequently in WordPress. These can be updates to themes, plugins, and even WordPress itself. The coding changes can be wiped out, breaking your site and requiring someone to dive into the code and fix it.
Second, all of this makes you completely dependent on the designer/developer to keep track of these changes and perform updates. If he or she goes out of business, which happens frequently in web design, your new guy or gal is stuck trying to figure out the changes. This could become costly.
3 solutions to custom coding woes
So, what is the answer? There are actually three solutions for those who like WordPress but still want a customized theme.
First, always ask the designer/developer to provide documentation on coding changes. Ask him to provide copies of both the original file and the modified file, plus details on the change and where the files are located in the system.
Second, have the designer/developer make use of "child themes". This WordPress feature allows the creation of duplicate files in the system where needed. The duplicates can be modified to achieve the desired look or function in the site without being overwritten during core system updates.
Finally, and better still, use flexible templating systems that allow customization without permanent alterations to the WordPress base code. Many such systems are available, often for free or at a nominal cost. These systems leave your changes intact during updates.
Beware of customized WordPress themes. The site you save may be your own.
WordPress designer Robert Pitts of Lakeland, Florida, is the owner of Web Designs by Robert G. Pitts, which specializes in the WordPress content-management platform. View the company's "No-Surprises Pricing" policy.