Why templates aren’t the money savers you think they are

So in the past month, we’ve had 4 clients come to us to fix problems with their site. In 3 of the cases the root of the problem was a WordPress template that they had purchased. In all 3 of these cases, the total cost exceeded what it would have cost for them to hire a professional to build them a custom theme the right way.

How much is your time worth?

The first consideration is time. While it doesn’t take long to setup WordPress, the time it takes to get your site looking the way you want can be much more. If something goes wrong? Well you’re looking at spending even more time trying to figure out why, and how to fix it. All this is time that you could be spending running your business and making money.

All the useless extras

Templates are a one size fits all approach. This means that they include a whole ton of stuff that you probably will never use in order to appeal to as many people as possible. All that flexibility comes at a price, and that is the amount of time it takes to load a page. These templates load a whole bunch of resources that are never used but still need to be downloaded by your visitors.

Page speed has a small impact on search results, and a big impact on people’s decision to stay on a site or not. So all those useless extras may be costing you business.

Not all templates are created equal.

Just because you bought the template, doesn’t mean it’s well built. In fact, most templates available are not. One of the biggest issues that we’ve come across is improper, or more often complete lack of internationalization. If you want to translate it, well good luck, you’ll have to cross your fingers and hope. (Plugins seem to do a better job at this, I can only assume it’s because plugins require a bit more programming knowledge, and so the barrier for entry is higher). This isn’t the only problem, but it is the most common one that we see – working in a bilingual market.

Because these templates are poorly built, when things go bad, and we need to get involved, it often involves a lot of time tracking down where things went wrong and how to fix them (or going file by file to update and fix localization problems). Often this can take a few hours. This doesn’t include the time they you’ve already spent trying to fix it before you call us in.

Templates are rarely updated.

Most templates are rarely updated. This means that you could easily buy a template that is a few years old. While this isn’t always a bad thing, coding standards evolve, security vulnerabilities are found, and WordPress updates and changes. This means that the template that you get might not be all that effective, or might not work at all.

There are good templates out there, ones that aren’t loaded with useless extras, and that are updated on a regular basis (the ones that come with WordPress are a good example). But it’s not easy for someone who is buying the template to know how good it is beforehand, and for those that aren’t developers, hard to know even after purchase.

In the end, all three of those customers are now up and running, but at a cost much more than what they would have spent if they had just hired someone to do it right the first time, rather than to buy a template, and waste hours trying to get it to work.

What about that 4th customer? It was a WordPress template that was purchased and then modified by another developer. It had security vulnerabilities, and we couldn’t update it, because all the custom work that the developer did would be lost. It was quicker and less expensive to rewrite than to reconcile the differences. Sadly, they thought they had hired a professional, but it turns out they didn’t.